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Monday, July 20, 2009

Market Recoils as CIT Edges Toward Bankruptcy

By Jason Simpkins
Managing Editor
Money Morning

The probably bankruptcy of CIT Group Inc. (NYSE: CIT) could have major implications on the retail and manufacturing sectors this week, as many related companies are reliant on the financing giant.

With options running out over the weekend, CIT advisors began preparations for a bankruptcy filing. As of Sunday, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) and Morgan Stanley (MS) were talking with other banks about a debtor-in-possession loan, used to fund a company’s operations after it seeks court protection from creditors, Bloomberg News reported.

Bondholders held calls last week to discuss whether to swap some claims for equity to reduce indebtedness. Thomas Lauria, a lawyer at White & Case LLP, told Bloomberg that a group of CIT creditors he represents offered to provide $3 billion in new loans to bridge CIT to an out-of-court restructuring or an orderly bankruptcy, but had yet to hear back from CIT management.

“It seems CIT was ill-prepared for this moment, so they’re scrambling,” Scott Peltz, a managing director at consulting firm RSM McGladrey Inc. told Bloomberg. “Unless you have all these bondholders holding hands and singing Kumbaya, I think they’re too far behind the eight ball to avoid filing.”

While CIT is not nearly the household name of Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) or Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), the lender finances over 1 million businesses – including Dunkin Donuts and Eddie Bauer.

Three prominent retail trade groups sent letters to financial regulators this week warning that the failure of CIT would undermine the industry supply chain.
“[Retailers] are unbelievably concerned right now,” New York bankruptcy lawyer Jerry Reisman told the Buffalo News. “What we may have here is a total disruption in small business.”

Reisman said he received more than two dozen calls from panicked stores and apparel manufacturers, some of which said they may not have the money to pay their employees.

An otherwise light week on the economic calendar gives way to the next round of earnings as Apple Inc (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Texas Instruments Inc. (NYSE: TXN) highlight the corporate releases this week, while consumer companies The Coca Cola Co. (NYSE: KO), McDonalds Corp. (NYSE: MCD), and Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) join the mix.

U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke will head to Congress where several critics await. As for the healthcare debate, the August deadline seems less likely, though the Senate has its two cents to add in the coming days. Expect plenty of politicized talk about the ballooning deficit and the impact on small businesses.
Market Matters

The financial sector appears to be on the mend as earnings season brought several positive signs that the worst is over and soon “business as usual” will return to Wall Street. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) easily surpassed analysts’ earnings estimates on solid trading revenues, while JP Morgan got a boost from its investment banking division to shatter the forecasts.

Even Citigroup and Bank of America posted solid results (thanks to one-time gains), though both entities have many ongoing challenges to overcome before the Feds let them fend for themselves.

Of course, the possibility that CIT will file for bankruptcy protection has left panicked customers without a significant source of funding for their daily operations. After late hour negotiations failed, the government chose to pass on another sizable bailout and allow true capitalism to play itself out. CIT turned to private firm and bondholders to help devise a financing plan and avoid the fate of Lehman Bros. and others. But now, nervous retailers and manufacturers are lining up alternative funding sources with the hope of dodging significant business interruptions.

Bed Bath & Beyond (Nasdaq: BBBY) and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE: WMT) are among CIT’s largest customers, though many are small independent operations. A CIT failure could prove devastating for those firms considered the lifeblood of American business.

In other earnings news, techs enjoyed another decent quarter as Intel Corp. (INTC) easily bested expectations (that is, before that $1.45 billion antitrust fine) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM) earnings grew by double-digits, while management raised its outlook for the next few quarters. Though both offered encouraging signs for the sector (and economy as a whole), Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL) warned that lower margins are impacting its operations and Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) experienced its lowest rate of revenue growth since going public five years ago.

The travel industry continued to struggle as consumers and business professionals delayed trips and Marriott International Inc. (NYSE: MAR) and American Airlines parent AMR (NYSE: AMR) posted disappointing results.

Economically Speaking

The White House also experienced a “good news/bad news” week as House Democrats began to push forward a major healthcare overhaul. Before the real lobbying could begin in earnest, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Director proclaimed the proposal would have no positive results on reducing costs or expanding coverage and would actually increase government spending.

Investors shrugged off the CIT developments and focused on positive earnings and economic data. Stocks surged early on the Goldman news and soared right through the technology reports. Technicians joined the fun as the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index broke beyond resistance at 930, a strong sign for traders who monitor charts. Major indexes snapped a month-long losing streak and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite climbed to levels not seen since last October, while fixed income suffered reverse “flight-to-quality” trades. Oil rebounded on the favorable market and economic signs.

While the debate over a healthcare overhaul rages on, the Treasury Department reported that the budget deficit ballooned beyond a record $1 trillion and seemed prime to move even higher if Congress cannot reign in spending. Analysts fear that interest rates ultimately will move higher should the alarming trend continue and foreign investors shy away from U.S. securities.

But for now, inflation seems very much under control, despite sizable jumps in both the retail and wholesale gauges. Though gasoline prices surged by 17% in June, prices have already begun dropping at the pumps and most economists do not expect a repeat performance in the months to come.

Though retail sales increased in June for the second consecutive month, much of the gain was related to the rising gas prices and consumers remain reluctant to part with their hard-earned income in light of the weakening labor picture.

On a positive note, weekly jobless claims fell to its lowest level since January. However, naysayers claimed that much of the decline was due to calculation problems stemming from auto closures and layoffs are still very much on the rise.

Finally, the hectic economic calendar ended on a positive note as the housing sector showed renewed signs of a rebound as both new construction and permits for future activity experienced unexpected strength. Even Dr. Doom himself, NYU professor Nouriel Roubini, the man best known for predicting the current crisis, reversed course and claimed the global economy would move out of recession by late 2009.

The minutes from the June Fed meeting showed that policymakers revised (positively) their forecasts for economic activity in 2009 and 2010, though they expect the unemployment situation to remain weak through next year. Most Fed watchers do not see any change in the funds rate for the foreseeable future.

On another note, numerous renown economists (about 200), including a few Nobel prize winners, called on Congress to cease the grandstanding and stop criticizing the Fed’s handling of the financial crisis and economic downturn (particularly Bernanke’s “tactics” surrounding the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch deal). The strongly worded letter by some of the nation’s sharpest minds stated that such politicizing could prove detrimental to the recovery.

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