The assembly line producing the Ford Fiesta car in Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico. © Susana Gonzalez/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Mexico will soon be next car capital

Some 80% of the vehicles built south of the border are exported to other countries, mostly to the US.

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Oil is surging to seven-month highs on worries the Iranian navy will close the crucial Strait of Hormuz transit point. Here's a look at the potential impact.

By Anthony Mirhaydari Jan 3, 2012 6:21PM

So, 2012 started right where the old one left off: Turmoil in the Middle East pushes crude oil higher, defanging the Federal Reserve on inflationary fears and threatening an already weak and fragile economy.

 

Sure, it's all about Iran this time and its boisterous saber rattling and nuclear ambitions instead of the blossoming of democracy during the Arab Spring. Specifically, with the European Union moving toward an embargo of Iranian oil imports, and with Israel and the United States getting itchy trigger fingers over Iran's nuclear program -- which claims it just enriched its first fuel rod -- the regime there has stepped up its threats to shut down the Strait of Hormuz through which 17 million barrels of oil per day flows. That's worth 35% of seaborne traded oil. 

 

Yet the result is the same: Higher energy prices and the predictable consequences that will surely follow, as the U.S. Oil Fund (USO) closes at its best levels since June. Here's why.

 

The company's Asian variable annuity assets have been growing consistently at over 15% in the past couple of years.

By Trefis Jan 3, 2012 5:45PM
Manulife (MFC) recently launched a new annuity offering in Thailand that helps customers save taxes before the end of the year and facilitates early retirement by limiting the premium-paying period to age 55.

"Happy Annuity," as it is called, requires no underwriting and offers guaranteed income for 15 years. It also offers dividends in addition to the annuity benefit at 16% of sum assured annually after the age of 55. Manulife is a leading Canada-based financial services group that has significant insurance and wealth management operations in Asia. 
Tags: METMFCPRU

Surprising 2011 outperformance has left many big Dow stocks close to overbought, but several strong performers still have upside potential.

By MoneyShow.com Jan 3, 2012 5:38PM

Image: Arrow Up (© Image Source/Photolibrary)By Tom Aspray, MoneyShow.com


The disparity in the performance of the major averages in 2011 was unusually pronounced, as the Dow Jones industrials ($INDU) gained 5.5%, while the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) was flat and the Nasdaq Composite Index ($COMPX) was down 2.2% for the year.


This does not typically occur, as seen in 2010, when the Dow was up 1%, the S&P 500 gained 12.7%, and the Nasdaq Composite led the pack, up 16.8%.

 

The stock's IPO quiet period ends, and weak recommendations follow.

By InvestorPlace Jan 3, 2012 5:31PM
Image: Young man and woman holding power tools, low section (© Thomas Barwick/Photodisc/Getty Images)By Tom Taulli

When it comes to IPOs, there are several arcane rules. One is the "quiet period," which bans a company's insiders and underwriters from making any forward-looking comments about the offering.


But once the quiet period expires 40 days from the IPO, you'll typically see plenty of analyst recommendations. While they usually glow, there are some exceptions. Just look at Groupon (GRPN). In mid-December, when Groupon's quiet period expired, the company's analysts issued recommendations that ranged from "neutral" to "sector perform" to "hold."

 

Stocks in the S&P 500 have been moving up and down with the broader index, making it hard for individual names to stand out.

By The Fiscal Times Jan 3, 2012 5:31PM
stock marketsBy Suzanne McGee, The Fiscal Times

"Correlation” isn’t usually a dirty word on Wall Street. The term refers to how closely two asset classes or securities move in relation to each other. As long as traders know what the relationships are, and are quick to catch on when those relationships change, they don’t tend to gripe too much about the specific ties that do or don’t exist.

Ask an investment manager what he or she thought of the correlations among stocks in the S&P 500-stock index in 2011, however, and you’re liable to meet with dark looks and unprintable comments. 

Berkshire Hathaway shares did not perform well in 2011.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 3, 2012 5:19PM
© Mario Tama/Getty Images
Warren Buffett is still history's greatest investor, even after a year in which Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) shares fell 4.7% and underperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX) for the second time since 1990.  

Investors in Berkshire should be thankful that their money wasn't with a hedge fund manager such as John Paulson, who recently released a 24-page letter of apology after his fund tumbled more than 32% in its worst performance in 17 years. Disappointing performance at Soros Investment Management led to the departure of the firm's chief investment officer and prompted billionaire George Soros to return money to outside investors. 

Could this mean long-term growth for Mead Johnson?

By Benzinga Jan 3, 2012 4:57PM
http://moneycentral.msn.com/content/data/images-v2/136/Children_Baby_136_0022A4EC.jpgBy Brandon Pilzner, Benzinga Staff Writer

Shares of Mead Johnson (MJN) were soaring higher Tuesday along with the Standard & Poor's 500 Index ($INX), though for different reasons.

The United States Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control announced this weekend that health inspectors had completed testing on formula samples collected from Mead Johnson and concluded that the Enfamil formula in question was safe.
 

A continued dispute with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts may cause Walgreen to lose prescriptions and sales.

By Jim J. Jubak Jan 3, 2012 4:13PM
Image: Prescription medicine expenses © Don Farrall/Photodisc/Getty ImagesGood news for CVS Caremark (CVS) in the Dec. 21 bad news from Walgreen (WAG), the largest U.S. drugstore chain. (CVS Caremark is a member of my Jubak’s Picks 12-18 month portfolio.)

Walgreen reported earnings for the first quarter of fiscal 2012 of 63 cents a share. That was below the 67 cents a share expected by analysts. The bad news from Walgreen dropped the company’s share price by about 0.3% on Dec. 21.

The biggest factors in the miss were a delay in the onset of flu season -- which cut flu shots administered by the chain to 5 million through November from 5.6 million in the same period in 2010 -- and Walgreen’s continued dispute with pharmacy benefit manager Express Scripts (ESRX).
 
Tags: WAG

In a move that hints at a renewed focus on merchandising, the company picks a Brookstone exec.

By Jonathan Berr Jan 3, 2012 3:51PM
Sears Holdings (SHLD) chairman Edward Lampert has finally figured out that the way to turn around the ailing chain is to hire people who know the retail business. It's a long-overdue step in the right direction.

The company said Tueday it has hired away the CEO of Brookstone, Ron Boire, as its chief merchandising officer. Boire will report to CEO Lou D'Ambrosio, whom Lampert hired last year despite a lack of retail experience. Brookstone, long a fixture in America's malls, is holding its own financially -- which is more than can be said for Sears, where sales have declined for 18 straight quarters. 

Dreamliner launch should help profits soar at this aerospace industry supplier.

By TheStockAdvisors Jan 3, 2012 3:31PM
Image: Airline (© Christie & Cole/Corbis)This post is one in a series in which over 50 newsletter advisors share their Top Picks for 2012.  

 By Geoffrey Seiler, BullMarket.com

Our top stock pick for 2012 is Titanium Metals (TIE), or TIMET for short. 
Tags: BATIE

Janney Capital Markets is concerned with the company's inflated margins and ability to sustain sales growth.

By Kim Peterson Jan 3, 2012 3:10PM
Image: Home kitchen (© Tim Pannell/Corbis/Corbis)Williams Sonoma (WSM) is a great company. But a great company doesn't always make for a great stock.

That's the message behind Janney Capital Markets' downgrade Tuesday of Williams Sonoma to "sell" from "neutral." The stock fell more than 3% to $37.19 as a result.

Williams Sonoma owns its namesake brand of home goods stores as well as the Pottery Barn and West Elm names. 

Despite the recent slump in share price, Amazon's valuation remains sky-high.

By InvestorPlace Jan 3, 2012 3:01PM
Credit: Amazon
Caption: Kindle FireBy Dan Burrows


The nattering and chattering over Amazon's (AMZN) foray into the tablet field with the Kindle Fire -- a product that costs more to produce than the company is selling it for -- is ultimately just a lot of smoke.


Yes, absolutely, Amazon is risking short-term profits and margins. So what? CEO Jeff Bezos always has managed the company beyond the quarterly demands of Wall Street's expectations. Amazon's razor-thin margins always have been under close scrutiny, and any time they come up short, investors punish the stock.

 

The company's fuel-efficient car batteries should help generate rapid growth.

By Trefis Jan 3, 2012 2:42PM
Image: Man working on car © Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty ImagesJohnson Controls (JCI), a diversified technology and industrial company, generates nearly 49% of its revenues from automotive interiors systems and another 36% from heating, ventilation, air-conditioning (HVAC) systems and solutions. The company is also a leader in the production of lead-acid automotive batteries and advanced batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Johnson Controls competes with major players such as Honeywell International (HON) and Siemens Building Technologies (SI) in the HVAC industry; Lear Corporation (LEA), Faurecia and Magna (MGA) in the automotive interior systems industry; and Exide Technologies (XIDE) and GS Yuasa in the automotive batteries industry. 

Akamai, Verizon and Williams-Sonoma receive downgrades.

By MSN Money Partner Jan 3, 2012 2:12PM

Theflyonthewall.com on MSN MoneyInformation provided by Theflyonthewall.com

 

Tuesday's noteworthy analyst upgrades include:
Cisco (CSCO) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at JP Morgan

American Eagle (AEO) upgraded to Overweight from Neutral at Piper Jaffray

Chipotle Mexican Grill (CMG) upgraded to Buy from Hold at Deutsche Bank

 

Satellite television, railroads and beverage packagers should be early beneficiaries of any recovery.

By Gene Marcial Jan 3, 2012 1:41PM

Image: Railroad Crossing with Train (© Edmond Van Hoorick/Photodisc/Getty Images)The market could have done better in 2011, but, frankly, it didn’t do too badly either, considering the tumultuous challenges it had to overcome. Rather than collapse under numerous burdens -- including a wayward Europe, a tsunami in Japan and discombobulated leadership in the U.S. Congress -- it still ended higher, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average ($INDU) up 5.5%.


Taking a closer look at market activity, almost all of the brand-name stocks -- like McDonald's (MCD), Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), IBM (IBM) and Pfizer (PFE) -- excelled over the year. It might be time now to revisit the non-brand stocks, at least for the intermediate term.

 

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[BRIEFING.COM] The stock market ended the Thursday session on an upbeat note with blue chips showing relative strength for the second consecutive day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (+0.4%) and S&P 500 (+0.3%) settled ahead of the Russell 2000 (+0.2%) and the Nasdaq Composite (+0.1%). It is worth mentioning the benchmark index posted its fourth consecutive gain, registering a new record closing high at 1992.38.

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