Good morning. Here's what you need to know.
Copper continues its slide. Copper futures fell another 5% in Shanghai overnight as the sell-off sparked by weak Chinese trade data and headlines about defaults in China's corporate bond market. "The decline in copper prices is understood largely as an indicator of the financial squeeze in China and the use of copper as collateral," says Marc Chandler, global head of currency strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman. "Last week saw the first onshore corporate bond default in recent years, and this has been followed by increased attention to news that a utility company was delisted in China and that the Jilin Province Trust Co. has now missed its sixth interest payment. The product, like many in the wealth management space, was to finance mining projects. The decline in iron ore prices may be both cause and effect of the financial squeeze."
Risk off. The predominant theme in global markets today is risk aversion. S&P 500 futures are in the red, the Japanese yen is strengthening, and U.S. Treasury futures are getting a lift as rumbles from China emanate around the globe. European indices are lower across the board, with France's CAC 40 index leading the way lower, currently down 1.6%. The Japanese Nikkei 225 closed down 2.6%, the Hong Kong Hang Seng finished 1.7% lower, and the Shanghai Composite gave up 0.2%.
Japanese consumer confidence falls. Japan's consumer confidence index fell to 38.3 in February from January's 40.5 reading, marking the lowest level in two years. The consensus forecast of market economists predicted the index would decline, but only to 40. The Business Outlook Survey index for large Japanese firms, on the other hand, reached an all-time high of 12.7 in the first quarter of 2014, up from 8.3 in the fourth quarter of 2013.
South Korean unemployment surges. South Korea's unemployment rate spiked to 3.9% in February from 3.2% in January as a wave of people — 308,800, to be exact — entered the labor force in search of work, marking the largest monthly increase in the labor force on record going back to 1999. At the same time, the employment-to-population ratio hit a 15-year high.
Euro zone industrial production contracts. Industrial output across the euro zone fell 0.2% from the previous month in January on seasonally adjusted basis. The drop was smaller than December's 0.4% contraction, but missed consensus estimates for a 0.5% rise. Year over year, however, industrial output rose 2.1% in January on a work-day adjusted basis, accelerating from December's 1.2% year-over-year pace of expansion.
Thailand cuts rates. The Bank of Thailand lowered its benchmark policy interest rate by 25 basis points to 2% in order to support the local economy in the wake of extended political turmoil and street protests. The move comes as many other central banks in the region are looking at rate hikes instead of cuts.
Mortgage applications drop. The Mortgage Bankers Association said mortgage applications fell 2.1% last week after posting an as-of-late rare gain the week before. MBA's refinance index fell 3%, and its purchase index fell 1%.
10-year auction this afternoon. The U.S. Treasury will auction $21 billion of 10-year notes today at 1 PM ET. "We don’t see the 10-year stand out one way or another in terms of relative value on the curve, so the auction result may largely hinge on pre-auction price action," say Nomura interest rate strategists. "Net, we expect a small tail unless levels become much more attractive from here."
Candy Crush maker eyes big IPO. King Digital Entertainment, the maker of the popular Candy Crush Saga game for mobile, expects to price its U.S. initial public offering at between $21 and $24 per share, giving the company a $7.6 billion valuation.
Obama's approval rating hits all-time low. U.S. President Barack Obama's approval rating hit the lowest level of his presidency, according to a new WSJ/NBC News poll. It fell to 41% in March from January's 43% rating amid frustration over the White House's economic and foreign policy efforts.
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