Updated with AutoZone earnings, Microsoft tablet news, Geithner quotes, Congressional hearing on credit rating agencies.
NEW YORK (
) -- Here are the top stock market headlines for the morning of Wednesday, September 23, 2009.
Wednesday's Early Headlines
- FOMC Statement on Interest Rates Coming - The Federal Open Market Committee, the Federal Reserve's policy-making arm, will release its statement on interest rates when it concludes its two-day meeting today at 2:15 p.m. EDT. While the Fed is widely expected to keep the fed funds target rate at zero to 0.25%, investors will be watching to see if the FOMC will offer similar comments to ones Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made last week that the recession is likely "technically" over. The dollar was trading near its one-year low against the euro ahead of the meeting, an indication that traders may be expecting optimistic commentary rom the Fed.
- BofA to Give Congress More Merrill Documents. - After missing a Monday deadline, Bank of America (BAC) - Get Report executives met Tuesday with House Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns (D., N.Y.) and agreed to hand over more documents related to its acquisition of Merrill Lynch, except for some material the bank deems protected by attorney-client privilege. The committee had asked BofA to disclose all relevant information about its discovery of Merrill's mounting losses following a separate probe by New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo and an inquiry by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- BofA's Lewis Won't Resign Unless Charged by SEC. - CNBC reports that Bank of America CEO Ken Lewis won't resign if he is slapped with civil charges from Cuomo, but he's likely to leave if he is charged by the SEC, according to sources inside the bank.
- BofA, JPMorgan to Limit Overdraft Fees. - Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase (JPM) - Get Report will overhaul the way they collect overdraft fees. Bank of America said starting next month it won't charge overdraft fees when a customer's account is overdrawn by less than $10 for one day. BofA also said it won't charge overdraft fees on more than four items per day. BofA customers also will be allowed to opt out of the overdraft program, meaning purchases won't go through if a customer doesn't have enough money in an account to purchase an item. A JPMorgan spokeswoman told The Associated Press late Tuesday that starting in the first quarter of 2010 it will make overdraft protection opt-in for all customers, eliminate fees when accounts are overdrawn by $5 or less, and will reduce the maximum number of fees per day to three from six. The changes will apply to all customer accounts, the spokeswoman said.
- Geithner Brings Reform Plan to Congress. - Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner is set to testify before the House Financial Services Committee, offering his views on financial regulatory reform. Geithner will tell the committee that reform legislation must include the proposed watchdog Consumer Protection Agency and more regulatory authority over too-big-to-fail firms, according to text of his speech. "The flaws in our financial system and regulatory framework that allowed this crisis to occur, and in many ways helped cause it, are still in place," Geithner will say, according to prepared remarks. "We may disagree over details of how to best fix those flaws, but that cannot mean we do not act."
- Congress to Take On Credit Ratings Agencies. - In a separate meeting of Congress, a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform will take on credit rating agencies, such as McGraw-Hill's (MHP) Standard & Poor's and Moody's (MCO) - Get Report. The Wall Street Journal reports that former Moody's analyst Eric Kolchinsky will testify before the panel that credit agencies are still issuing inflated ratings on complex debt securities. The Journal reports that Kolchinsky blew the whistle on Moody's after the firm gave a high rating to a complicated debt security in January despite knowing that it was planning to downgrade assets that backed the securities.
- Microsoft's Courier Tablet Unveiled. - With Apple (AAPL) - Get Report expected to launch its own tablet in early 2010, Microsoft (MSFT) - Get Report got a jump in the tablet frontier after introducing its own Courier tablet on tech Web blog Gizmodo Wednesday. The Courier has two screens that fold together like a book and has an external 3-megapixel camera. Users use finger gestures and a stylus with the Courier's interface, demonstrated in a video on the Gizmodo site.
- Weekly Inventory Data Expected from Energy Department - The Energy Department will release its weekly inventory report at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Crude oil inventories likely fell by 1.4 million barrels last week, which would be the fourth straight decline, a Bloomberg survey of analysts shows. Gasoline inventories should increase by 200,000 barrels, and distillate stockpiles probably increased by 1.2 million barrels, according to the survey.
Wednesday's Earnings Roundup
- General Mills (GIS) - Get Report posted fiscal first-quarter earnings of $420.6 million, or $1.25 a share, well above year-ago levels. Excluding items, the company earned $1.28 a share in the quarter, easily beating the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of $1.03 a share. Revenue climbed 1% from a year ago to $3.52 billion, also exceeding Wall Street's targets. Looking ahead, General Mills upped its 2010 profit to a range between $4.40 and $4.45 a share, up from the previous range of $4.20 to $4.25 a share.
- AutoZone (AZO) - Get Report reported fiscal fourth-quarter earnings of $236.1 million, or $4.33 a share, falling short of the Thomson Reuters consensus estimate of $4.45 a share. Revenue rose 1% to $2.23 billion, matching estimates.