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U.S. Pending Home Sales Up 2.1%; India Exports Plunge 21.7%; U.S. Manufacturing Gains Traction; Nigerian Market Down 37% This Year; KMPG Sued for $1 Billion; Carmakers' Incentives Help Sales in March; Macy's Debt Downgraded to Junk; Billion-Dollar Hedge Funds Drop 40%
- Pending sales of U.S. homes increased 2.1% from January to February, nearly doubling the expectations of economists polled by Reuters. The National Association of Realtors Pending Home Sales Index, which measures contracts signed, rose to 82.1 from 80.4.
- India's exports continued falling in February, but at the fastest pace in at least 13 years, according to government figures. Merchandise shipments fell 21.7% from the year earlier. "India essentially only started feeling the pinch of the global downturn in the December quarter and the worst is yet to come," Sherman Chan, an economist at Moody's Economy.com in Sydney, told Bloomberg.
- U.S. manufacturing activity scaled back in March, but at a slower pace than in February, according to the Institute for Supply Management manufacturing index. "The March ISM manufacturing report was mildly encouraging because new orders look relatively strong," said Pierre Ellis, senior economist with Decision Economics in New York, told Reuters.
- The Nigerian stock market has fallen 37% so far this year, the worst performance of the 89 benchmark indices tracked by Bloomberg. Nigeria is Africa's largest oil producer but regulation issues have driven investors away from its market.
- KPMG was slammed with a billion-dollar lawsuit over claims its "grossly negligent audits" helped trigger the collapse of New Century Financial Corp., the largest independent provider of subprime home loans to people with poor credit, Reutersreported. New Century filed for bankruptcy two years ago amid mounting customer defaults. The lawsuit accuses KPMG of helping cover up "catastrophic" problems at New Century that led to its collapse.
- General Motors Corp. (GM) Ford Motor Co. (F) and Toyota Motor Corp. (ADR: TM) all posted smaller March sales declines than analysts estimated as spending on incentives rose to a record in the United States, Bloomberg reported. But, in a month where job losses increased and consumer confidence remained low, the results still signal another monthly retreatfor the U.S. auto market, which last grew in October 2007.
- Moody's Investors Service (MCO), cut Macy's Inc.'s (M) credit rating to junk status yesterday (Wednesday), saying the department store chain will likely remain under pressure amid weak consumer spending, Reuters reported. The ratings agency cut Macy's senior unsecured rating by two notches to Ba2, the second highest junk rating.The outlook is stable, meaning another rating change is not expected over the next 12 to 18 months.
- The number of hedge funds around the globe managing more than $1 billion fell by more than 40% globally in 2008, the Financial Times reported. According to a survey by PerTrac Financial Solutions, about 200 funds had assets of more than $1 billion, down from 350 in the previous year's survey. Total assets stood at $1.33 trillion, down more than 33% from the year before.