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Financials Top Market Concerns

U.S. futures up slightly, just off highs of morning, European markets flat, Asian markets down 2-3 percent. Malaysia's KLSE Composite down 9.5 percent; Malaysia stock market temporarily halted during session; political unrest after major upsets by opposition party during weekend elections.

McDonald's keeps knocking the cover off the ball. February same-store sales were strong in the U.S. up 8.3 percent, but Europe stronger, up 15.4 percent. Asia/Pacific, Middle East, Africa up 10.9 percent.

Financials very much in the news this morning. Countrywidedown 7 percent on reports that the FBI has begun a criminal inquiry for suspected securities fraud.

MBIA said they were seeking a withdrawal from Fitch's rating system, that the value of Fitch's ratings were "limited at this time" and only adds extra volatility to its stock. They see a $200m in mark-to-markets losses from CDO business.

Annaly Capital up 6.4 percent, they raised their quarterly dividend to $0.48 from $0.34. The company said, "Our leverage has been running at the lower end of our range, which enables us to manage portfolio financing operations with our diverse and strong roster of counterparties, including handling the haircut adjustments that are typical for volatile periods like this. Moreover, the vast majority of our assets are Agency pass-through MBS, the most liquid and financeable securities in the Agency space."

Blackstone reported earnings of $0.08, estimates were for $0.19, down 3 percent. Dividend (8.2 percent) appears safe. They are holding a conference call at 11 AM this morning.

Morgan Stanley cut estimates of several large-cap banks due to weaker market and credit condition, and said they saw a higher probability of "more cuts coming." Cut estimates for Bank of America by 21 percent, Wachovia and Citi by 20 percent.

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