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Crouching tiger, hurting dragon: Chinese PMI hits market

Adam Young | Flickr | Getty Images

Stock futures were trading up after the close yesterday, as earnings from eBay and Netflix contributed to the upbeat mood. That all changed around 8:30 PM ET, when China's HSBC flash manufacturing figures came out.

It dropped notably in January, falling to 49.6 (indicating contraction) from 50.5 in December. New orders, exports, employment and backlogs all saw declines.

We are going into the Chinese New Year, so not clear if this is slower growth or just a seasonal issue.

China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, and Japan market were all down in the wake of the dour numbers. That said, European PMIs were stronger; German manufacturing was actually near a three-year high.

India managed an historic high.

Elsewhere

1) speaking of China, a ruling from a Securities and Exchange Commission administrative law judge late yesterday could put additional pressure on Chinese internet stocks today, particularly internet names. The judge ruled that the Chinese accounting arms of the "Big Four" (Deloitte, Ernst&Young, KPMG and PriceWaterhouseCoopers) should be suspended in the United States for six months.

The firms audit the books of hundreds of Chinese companies listed in the U.S. They have been asked to provide audit papers to U.S. regulators investigating possible fraud at Chinese companies. The firms have refused to comply, saying it would violate Chinese law.

All four accounting firms said they would appeal the ruling.

There was a similar event in December 2012, when the SEC brought administrative proceedings against five accounting firms for refusing to hand over documents. Chinese internet names dropped about 20 percent then, but recovered in the following months.

The issue is simple: whose standards are we using? Can U.S. officials force Chinese audit firms to adhere to the U.S.'s regulatory standards? With the controversy swirling, watch for names like Baidu today.

2) McDonald's: how much more downside does the stock have? They did beat earnings estimates modestly, but December global comparable store sales were down 1.2 percent, worse than expectations. U.S. comps fell 3.8 percent (ouch). We need to see some sort of turnaround in same store sales, but there doesn't seem to be any big sales drivers that will do that. With that said, expectations are very low. They still have a strong dividend yield (3.4 percent).

3) Despite Carl Icahn's investment and his call to spin off Paypal, eBay reduced its long term revenue and earnings per share (EPS) targets. 2014 guidance of $2.95-$3.00 is below consensus of $3.12; revenue guidance is also below consensus. The online auction giant is now more expensive than just yesterday; several firms (Stifel, Susquehanna) downgraded the stock, and almost everyone took down their 2014 forecasts.

Bottom line: forget about eBay spinning off Paypal. Weaker fundamentals are what matters. They will likely have to pick up spending, which, as Susquehanna notes, limits its potential for higher earnings power.

4) Yesterday the Association of Financial Professionals published their 2014 Risk Survey...a snapshot they say, "of which risks more than 500 finance executives consider to be the biggest threats to their companies' earnings."

There's a bit of good news for those worried, as I am, about revenue growth. Sixty-one percent of the 500 CFOs surveyed said they were raising their revenue growth targets. There was some good news on capital expenditures as well: 61 percent also said they were investing more in their information technology (IT) systems.

Eighty-six percent of respondents anticipate they will have as much, if not more, difficulty in forecasting critical risks to their businesses over the next three years. Nearly half are focused on how potential political/regulatory risks (48 percent) and competition (48 percent) could potentially destabilize corporate performance.

5) American Eagle's CEO, Robert Hanson, is leaving. He noted last week that 2013 had been a difficult year and attributed much of the problem to poor execution and product assortment. Jay L. Schottenstein, the company's largest investor and executive chairman of the board, will fill in on an interim basis until a successor is named.

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

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  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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