U.S. stock futures are pointed lower this morning, indicative of a potentially negative start to the regular session of trading. In overseas trading, financial firms were leading the trek into the red, pushing the Hang Seng Index to its lowest level in more than a year. In focus this morning is some bearish brokerage action for both Lehman Brothers (LEH) and AstraZeneca (AZN), as well as an interesting new investor in The New York Times (NYT).
Turning to currencies and commodities, the U.S. Dollar Index has jumped 0.4% higher, trading near 80.15. As a result of the greenback's trek higher, front-month gold futures have fallen about $13.40, or 1.75%, to trade near $749 an ounce. Elsewhere, October-dated crude oil has backpedaled about 50 cents, or 0.5%, to hover near $102 per barrel.
Turning our attention to Lehman Brothers (LEH: sentiment, chart, options) , the shares of the battered bank are set to open roughly 20% lower than yesterday's close of $7.25. The stock was hammered in pre-market activity after several brokers downgraded the financial firm. J.P. Morgan was one of the bearish brokerage firms, slashing its fourth-quarter earnings prediction to a loss of $1.80 per share, compared to previous projections for a gain of 46 cents per share. Meanwhile, the broker now predicts LEH's 2008 loss per share to dock at $12.32, compared to its prior forecast of a loss of $6.77 per share, citing concern over the company's ability to execute its strategic plan without further depleting its capital base. The analyst also deemed Lehman's core business prospects "uncertain," and said that additional write-downs could be looming.
Speaking of downgrades, early this morning, the shares of AstraZeneca (AZN: sentiment, chart, options) were downgraded to "sell" from "neutral" by Goldman Sachs. The broker said the drug giant isn't supported by fundamentals after a 22% outperformance of the Europe pharmaceutical sector and a 32% outperformance of the FTSE 100 over the past 3 months. It also cut AZN's price target to 25 pounds from 26.78 pounds, noting the strategic challenges ahead. In pre-market activity, the shares of the medicine mogul are set to open moderately lower than yesterday's close of $46.19.
Elsewhere, according to a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and family have built a 6.4% stake in The New York Times ( NYT: sentiment, chart, options) . The Wall Street Journal reported that Slim, the Forbes second-richest man in the world, told Reuters that the investment was financial in nature.
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