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Ian Wyatt

Atlantic Tele-Network Leads Small Caps on Acquiring Verizon and Vodaphone Assets

Interest rate concerns and inflation worries put pressure on stocks today after the government's sale of $19 billion had a harder than usual time getting buyers. Investors seem concerned about the government's growing debt and that it could spur higher inflation and interest rates.

The Dow lost 24.04 points to close at 8,739.02; the Nasdaq shed 7.05 points to end the trading session at 1,853.08; and the S&P was down 3.28 points for 939.15.

Stocks comprising the Russell 2000, comprised of the 2,000 largest small-cap stocks, brought the index down to 523.41 on a loss of 4.52 points.

Today's small-cap gainers were lead by communications firm Atlantic Tele-Network (Nasdaq:ATNI) up 42.29% at $37.92. ATNI was up on news from yesterday's announcement to acquire wireless assets from Vodaphone (NYSE:VOD) and Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ). Primarily doing business in the Caribbean, ATNI now picks up nearly a million wireless subscribers in the U.S. southeast and Illinois and Ohio. Because of regulatory requirements on Verizon to sell off some subscribers as part of its deal with Alltell, ATNI is substantially changed from a small operator overseas to a real player in the U.S. market.

Other small-cap leaders include one of yesterday's leaders, Satyam Computer Services (NYSE:SAY) up 35.7% after being rated "overweight" by an analyst from JP Morgan; American Axle & Manufacturing (NYSE:AXL), another of yesterday's leaders, up 25.7%; and Corel Corp. (Nasdaq:CREL) up 34.75%.

Decliners were lead by NCI Building Systems (NYSE:NCS) down 26.1% on worries over its reports of larger than expected Q2 losses. Shares were going for $3.16 at market close, down from an opening price of $3.80.

Other small-cap decliners include one of yesterday's leading gainers, Sequenom (Nasdaq:SQNM). Yesterday SQNM lead small-cap gainers with a 45.97% gain but today lead decliners by shedding 22.83% of its opening price to close at $4.09. And after shedding 20.17% off its price yesterday, Quiksilver (NYSE:ZQK) saw shares drop another 12.71%. So far this week investors holding shares in Quiksilver have endured a total loss of 27% since Friday's close.

*****"The worst is to come…"

That's what MetLife's (NYSE:MET) Chief Investment Officer Stephen Kandarian told Bloomberg this morning.

He was talking about commercial mortgage defaults. He notes that "[t]ypically there's a lag between when the economy softens and when the defaults actually occur."

Bloomberg also cites a study from Real Estate Econometrics LLC that forecasts default rates for commercial real estate may hit 4.1% by the end of the year.

What does commercial real estate have to do with an insurance company? Plenty…

*****Insurance companies take in cash in the form of the premiums we pay. They then invest that money in order to pay off claims down the road. As their investment returns compound, they profit.

But when their investments lose money, trouble starts. And trouble is exacerbated when insurance companies sell guaranteed returns to investors in the form of annuities.

The promise of annuities forces insurance companies to seek riskier investments to boost their returns. And many have turned to mortgage-backed securities to make more money.

Whoops.

*****MetLife has a $300 billion investment portfolio. That portfolio lost 23% in the first quarter of this year. Mr. Kandarian freely admits he's looking for higher returns to make up the losses. And he's looking at adding securities backed by commercial mortgages, in addition to continuing to originate loans to the commercial real estate sector.

It reminds me of the gambler, who after suffering a big loss, decides to start doubling down and taking more risks to win his money back. It usually doesn't end well.

Of course, what he should do is simply step away from the table. But MetLife and other insurers can't -- they have to make money to meet their obligations. It's not a sure thing, but I can imagine it ending poorly for some insurance companies.

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Kevin Pendley

Small caps point the way to green pastures

Small-cap stocks posted a solid rally Tuesday, bolstered by sinking crude oil prices, a strong dollar and enthusiasm over a steady spate of merger and acquisition activity. The Russell 2000 (NYSE:IWM) rose 19.19, or 2.75%, to 716.82, marking the 9th-largest one-day gain of the year.

The recovery bounce in stocks from a morning slide was clearly paced by small caps as the Russell 2000 moved into the green well ahead of its large-cap brethren — and even well before the crude oil collapse gained momentum.

“Crude was helpful to sectors in the market, but today’s action was also dominated by a wave of earnings. The lack of material downside follow through in the financial sector post Wachovia, Keycorp and American Express sparked a bid. The market was able to shrug off the initial bearish news with surprisingly little downside, which is a big positive. In addition, M&A activity is perking up,” said Nick Kalivas, vice president, financial research with MF Global.

Kalivas said that the deal by Brocade Communications Systems (Nasdaq:BRCD) to purchase Foundry Networks Inc. (Nasdaq:FDRY) helped secure a positive tone for the market, particularly in small caps. FDRY gapped higher on huge volume today, and added some 30% to its market cap on the news.

Several airline stocks are in the small- to mid-cap range, and those stocks really took flight today as crude oil tanked. The AMEX Airline Index shot 22% higher today, and small-cap carrier US Airways (NYSE:LCC) jumped a whopping 59% despite reporting huge — but not surprising — quarterly losses. Small-cap firm Alaska Air Group Inc. (NYSE:ALK) was up 19%, while JetBlue Airways Corp. (Nasdaq:JBLU) rallied 20% and UAL Corp. (Nasdaq:UAUA) gained some 63%.

As for crude oil, the market for black gold went into a tailspin, sinking some 3% to 6-week lows. Clearly, the rise in the U.S. dollar went hand-in-hand with the plunge in crude, but one could argue that the dollar rally also played in a role in pulling down commodity prices across many markets. For instance, corn was down 3%, sugar down 3%, orange juice down 2.7% and even gold reversed overnight gains to . . .

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Kevin Pendley

Resilient small caps choppy despite sliding techs

Small-cap stocks pushed lower on the opening, but edged back into the green about 30 minutes after the open as a slide in tech stocks and a turn for the worse for key financial shares was offset by money moving into small-cap commodity and consumer stocks. At 9:52 a.m. ET, the Russell 2000 (NYSE:IWM) was down 3.43, or 0.49%, at 694.20.

The tech-laden Nasdaq index bore the brunt of early selling interest, fueled by disappointing earnings results from benchmark companies like Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL) and Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN), which were off 9% and 15% shortly after the open. Also, Vodafone Group (NYSE:VOD) slumped 13% as the mighty European-based mobile phone company lowered its outlook.

Within the financial arena, Wachovia Corp. (NYSE:WB) shed 10% early, snapping a run of positive surprises in the banking sector from recent days. WB, the fourth-largest U.S. bank, posted disappointing earnings, slashed dividends and announced sizable job cuts. Also, American Express (NYSE:AXP) was down 10% after missing the Street’s forecast, which triggered some analyst downgrades and a widening of credit default swap spreads (meaning it costs more to protect debt on the firm).

Comments this morning from Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Plosser had a decidedly hawkish tone and pulled down interest rate futures while supporting the U.S. dollar, but his remarks seemed to have a muted impact on stocks. Plosser said that “we will need to reverse course” on the policy front, and that the inflation picture is getting worse. Plosser is seen as one of the more hawkish members of the Fed and there seems to be a growing divide between policy members lately.

Goldman Sachs analyst Ed McKelvey addressed that very topic in a research report this morning titled “Mixed Messages from the Fed: Listen to Bernanke First.” Goldman’s McKelvey said that not all Fed officials are created equal and that the Bernanke Fed allows more dissent than typical policy boards. More importantly, the . . .

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Kevin Pendley

Tech results to trigger early rout in stocks

Small-cap stocks are expected to open sharply lower, pulled down by a spate of disappointing earnings, particularly in the tech sector. In addition, the recent run of bullish surprises on the banking front appears at risk on soft results from Wachovia Corp. (NYSE:WB). The Russell 2000 (NYSE:IWM) was off about 0.8% in overnight action, which would suggest an opening near 691.50.

On the tech front, bellwether Apple Inc. (Nasdaq:AAPL) was clobbered overnight, sinking some 9% when the maker of iPods projected forward earnings below the Street forecast. Vodafone Group PLC (NYSE:VOD) tumbled some 14% during European trading as the company lowered its outlook. Also, Texas Instruments (NYSE:TXN) failed to meet earnings projections and was off some 11% in after-hours trading. Heading into the open, the tech-laden Nasdaq futures market was flirting with 2% losses.

The banking sector has been rejuvenated in recent days by a string of positive earnings surprises, including Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE:WFC), JP Morgan (NYSE:JPM), Citigroup (NYSE:C) and Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). However, that momentum should be halted today as shares in Wachovia Corp. (NYSE:WB), the fourth-largest U.S. bank, slumped 6% in overnight trading as the firm’s earnings disappointed and the bank slashed its dividend. Also in the financial sphere, American Express (NYSE:AXP) flirted with double-digit declines overnight after earnings missed . . .

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Paul Rolfes

NMS Communications: Getting into the Groove

So what jingle-linga-ling brings your cell phone to life? Beethoven’s 5th? Your sweetheart’s favorite love song? Some Grateful Dead?

That’s ringtone. But what about the beeps and blips that someone hears while waiting for you to pick up? That’s ringback.

In an impersonal world, consumers enjoy personalizing mobile phones in many ways, and adding ringback tones appears to be a growing fad — plus there’s a potential for video content. NMS Communications Corp. (Nasdaq:NMSS) is making some noise about becoming a leading player in this blossoming market, and has made some strategic changes to its business model while serving up a suite of added services.

Investors in NMS Communications might like the sound of that, since this Framingham, Mass., company has posted losses for the past two years. Now this 20-year-old company is feeling the Groove (as in Groove Mobile; more on this later).

NMS Communications is transitioning from a nuts-and-bolts, equipment and products sort of company, to a company with a services-oriented focus. And it could lead to a divorce of its NMS Communications voice, video and data platform business from its LiveWire Mobile suite of managed personalization services.

Of the four analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, three have NMS Communications as a “buy,” with another calling the stock a “hold,” with a median price target of $2.50.

NMS appears to be pinning its future on the cutting-edge mobile media services field. Shares hit a 52-week low of $1.16 on Friday, three days after NMS reported first-quarter results. The stock traded as high as $1.97 last June 4, but has not . . .

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