Possible Deal in Iraq Has Market Upbeat

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Last week's feel-good tone in the stock market is extending into today, bolstered by news that

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan

has brokered a weapons deal with Iraq. Asia's stable. Europe is again in record territory. The bond market's cruising. The futures look good.

Everything's coming up roses.

Unless, of course, your company depends on high oil prices. Brent crude, off 60 cents at $14.07, has pretty much fallen off a cliff. It's now at a near four-year low.

At 9 a.m., the

S&P 500

futures are up 5.10, indicating a hop at the open.

"Obviously there's a bit of euphoria because of this deal with Iraq," says Todd Clark, senior vice president of U.S. equity trading at

HSBC

. Clark points out, however, that the market wasn't really worrying all that much about Iraq, anyway, hitting new highs despite the standoff in Baghdad. Stocks are going up for other reasons.

"I don't think the Iraqi thing is going to be it, even though it's going to be cited," he says. "I think it's more a continuation of the strength we've seen over the last few weeks."

That the economic stimulus plan Japan's ruling

Liberal Democratic Party

released on Friday disappointed wasn't really surprising -- the market had telegraphed a disappointment for weeks. That the government did not come forward today, after significant pressure from the other

G7

countries at this weekend's meeting of finance ministers, and say that it was working on yet another plan, was a bit of a surprise, and not a pleasant one.

So stocks went down, and with the fiscal year coming to a close on March 31, and "big bang" financial deregulation starting April 1, perhaps it is a bit much to hope for a new plan right away. But the pressure on the government is severe, and some are saying that

Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's

days are numbered. With an upper house election coming in spring, Hashimoto may opt for a fiscal plan that is something more than a paper tiger.

The

Nikkei

fell 146.75 to 16,609.49.

Hong Kong stocks climbed in quiet trading. With

HSBC

-- the juggernaut of the Hong Kong exchange -- reporting after the close, many investors rode the pines. The

Hang Seng

closed up 85.42 to 10,685.21.

The HSBC earnings came in more or less in line. It's trading higher in London.

With Wall Street's strength on Friday, a stronger dollar and the good news on Iraq, German stocks headed to new highs. The

Dax

closed at 4657.54, up 54.89, and another record.

London stocks are also in record territory, with those HSBC earnings helping smooth some jitters. The

FTSE

is up 14.60 at 5766.20.

The apparent diffusion of the trouble in Iraq, and a stronger dollar, is boosting the Treasury market. The long bond is up 13/32 at 103 30/32, dropping the yield to 5.84%.

Stephen Wiggins, the chairman of troubled

Oxford Health Plans

(OXHP)

(and so sincere he could give Mike McCurry and Bob Herbold lessons), is reportedly going to step down, perhaps as soon as today. Norman Payson, former CEO of

Healthsource

(HS)

, is expected to take over. The company will also reportedly announce a

Kohlberg Kravis Roberts

$700 million equity and debt rescue package.

None of this is really new -- Payson has been expected to take over for some time now, and that

The New York Times

,

The Wall Street Journal

and

CNBC

all got the Oxford "scoop" says something about how the company is trying to build up a buzz -- and lure institutional investors, many of whom traders say have fled the company, back into the stock.

Sunday,

Union Planters

(UPC)

announced that it is buying

Magna

(MGR) - Get Report

in a stock deal valued at $2.3 billion. The move could fuel a little more speculation in the rapidly consolidating regional banks.

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

splits today.

Merck

(MRK) - Get Report

said that the

FDA

has granted marketing approval for

Singulair

, its one-a-day pill for asthma.

H&R Block

(HRB) - Get Report

reported a third-quarter loss of 17 cents per share, 3 cents lower than

First Call

consensus expectations.