In sign of strength, S&P 500 breaks past 1,000 as Wall Street rally blows into August

August 3, 2009

By Sara Lepro and Tim Paradis, AP Business Writers
Monday August 3, 2009, 6:02 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) — The Standard & Poor’s 500 index (SPX) is four digits again now that the stock market’s rally has blown into August.

The widely followed stock market measure broke above 1,000 on Monday for the first time in nine months as reports on manufacturing, construction and banking sent investors more signals that the economy is gathering strength. The S&P is used as a benchmark by professional investors, and it’s also the foundation for mutual funds in many individual 401(k) accounts.

Wall Street’s big indexes all rose more than 1 percent, including the Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), which climbed 115 points.

The market extended its summer rally on the type of news that might have seemed unthinkable when stocks cratered to 12-year lows in early March. A trade group predicted U.S. manufacturing activity will grow next month, the government said construction spending rose in June and Ford Motor Co. (F) said its sales rose last month for the first time in nearly two years.

“The market is beginning to smell economic recovery,” said Howard Ward, portfolio manager of GAMCO Growth Fund. “It may be too early to declare victory, but we are well on our way.”

The day’s reports were the latest indications that the recession that began in December 2007 could be retreating. Better corporate earnings reports and economic data propelled the Dow Jones industrial average 725 points in July to its best month in nearly seven years and restarted spring rally that had stalled in June.

On Monday, a report from the Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing executives, signaled U.S. manufacturing activity should increase next month for the first time since January 2008 as industrial companies restock shelves. Also, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose rather than fell in June as analysts had expected. The reports and rising commodity prices lifted energy and material stocks.

Ford said sales of light vehicles rose 1.6 percent in July. Other major automakers said they saw signs of stability in sales. Investors predicted that the government’s popular cash for clunkers program would boost overall auto sales to their highest level of the year.

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U.S. distressed debt best performer in 2009: report

June 2, 2009

Tuesday June 2, 2009, 1:19 pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. distressed debt, among the hardest hit asset classes last year, has become the best, with returns of 39.5 percent year to date as risk appetite improves, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said.

For the month of May, distressed debt was second only to emerging market equities after returning 25.4 percent, Bank of America Merrill said in a research note late on Monday.

Distressed issuers are those whose bond spreads trade at or above 1,000 basis points over comparable Treasuries.

Distressed issuers drove 95 percent of the strong performance of the U S. high-yield corporate bond market in May as a resurgence of new debt sales improved sentiment, the report said.

“Some deeply distressed issuers were able to access new issue markets and enjoyed significant improvements in pricing of their existing bonds as a result,” said Oleg Melentyev, lead author of the report.

Companies including Ford Motor Co’s (F) finance arm, Harrah’s Entertainment and MGM Mirage (MGM) sold more than $23 billion in junk bonds in May, the most since the credit crisis started in mid-2007, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The high-yield cash market outperformed high-yield derivatives by 2 percentage points in May, the report said. The main index of high-yield credit default swaps returned 5.1 percent while Merrill Lynch’s high-yield Master II index returned 7.1 percent.

The junk bond market has retraced all of the losses it sustained in the financial meltdown late last year, Melentyev said.

(Reporting by Tom Ryan; Additional reporting by Dena Aubin; Editing by James Dalgleish)

GM, Ford Scale Back Car Leases as Era Ends

July 30, 2008

July 30, 2008; Page A1

Detroit’s money troubles are starting to put a key part of the American dream — a pricey new car — out of reach for some people.

Squeezed by falling used-vehicle prices, as well as continued tumult in the credit markets on Wall Street, Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. are significantly scaling back their auto-leasing business.

Ford on Tuesday began telling dealers that it is essentially ending leasing deals on most trucks and sport-utility vehicles. GMAC LLC, GM’s financing arm, is also expected to rein in leasing offers in the U.S. soon, possibly this week, people familiar with the matter said. On Tuesday, it said it will no longer offer subsidized leases in Canada. Chrysler last week said it is ending all leasing deals in the U.S.

Leases at the Big Three auto makers account for about 20% of their total new-vehicle business, according to Automotive Lease Guide.

The rise of hefty auto incentives — including subsidized leases — came amid the same broad expansion of easy borrowing in the 1990s and 2000s that buoyed American housing prices. Now, in both houses and autos, the previous virtuous circle has yielded to a vicious one, with prices falling and credit growing tighter.

Banks are also turning their backs on leasing as falling used-car prices make the business less profitable. The auto-finance unit of Wells Fargo & Co. has also told dealers it will no longer finance leases beyond this month, a spokesman confirmed. In reaction to Chrysler’s announcement, Chase Auto Finance, a unit of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., decided it will no longer provide lease financing for any Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep models.

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