10 things you need to know before the opening bell

Yanis VaroufakisREUTERS/Kai PfaffenbachGreek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis speaks to media outside the European Central Bank (ECB) in Frankfurt February 4, 2015.

Here’s what you need to know.

The European Central Bank lifted an important waiver for Greece. The ECB scrapped the waiver which previously allowed the country’s banks to use (junk-rated) Greek government bonds as collateral for lending, which has been removed now that a successful completion of Greece’s bailout now looks unlikely.This is a problem as Greece runs out of money. GREK, an exchange-traded fund (ETF) that tracks Greek stocks, plunged 10% on the news. Greece’s ASE index was down by as much as 9.4% earlier today. It’s currently down by around 5.5%.

Greece’s radical new finance minister will meet his German opposite number today. Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis will meet his German counterpart, Wolfgang Schaeuble on Thursday, a day after the European Central Bank piled fresh pressure on Athens by cutting off Greek banks’ access to a key source of much-needed cash.

Markets are mixed. In Europe, Britain’s FTSE is down by 0.4%, France’s CAC 40 is down by 0.7%, and Germany’s DAX is down 0.4%. Japan’s Nikkei closed down 0.98% and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng closed up 0-.3%. US futures are in the green with Dow futures up 95 points and S&P futures up 13 points.

Pfizer-Hospira $US15 billion mega-merger. “Drugmaker Pfizer Inc said it would buy Hospira Inc for about $US15 billion to gain access to its biosimilars,” Reuters’ Vidya Nathan reported. “The offer of $US90 per share represents a premium of 39 per cent to Hospira stock’s close on Wednesday.”

Ukraine hikes rates, allows currency to float freely, hryvnia crashes. Ukraine’s central bank is one of the few actually tightening monetary policy. It raised its benchmark rate to 19.5% from 14%. “The Ukranian
hryvnia is down over 40% hitting new record lows against the dollar after a central bank rate hike failed to calm nerves,” BI’s Tomas Hirst reported. “Central bank governor Valeriia Gontareva stressed that the decision not to intervene in currency markets at this time does not constitute a free-float — though, she added, people will have to ‘get used to market volatility.'””

Bank of England stays the course. Bank of England maintained its benchmark rate at 0.5% and the size of the Asset Purchase Programme at £375 billion. This was expected.

UBS is being investigated over tax evasion accusations again. The Swiss bank is being investigated over whether it helped US clients avoid taxes. It paid up $US780 million over the same charge six years ago, according to the Financial Times.

Siemens is cutting 7,000 jobs. “German industrial group Siemens plans to cut over 7,000 jobs worldwide as part of a reorganization under Chief Executive Joe Kaeser, a source familiar with the situation said,” Reuters’ Jens Hack reported. “About 3,000 of those jobs will be in Germany, the source said on Thursday.”

Weatherford is cutting 9,000 jobs. “Weatherford International Plc plans to cut 5,000 jobs, or about 9 per cent of its workforce, by the end of the first quarter as the oil services company tries to save costs amid sinking oil prices and budget cuts,”

Yum Brands continues to suffer from its food safety scandal in China. “Yum Brands Inc on Wednesday reported a decline in fourth-quarter sales at established restaurants in China that was less than feared as the company fights to recover from a safety scandal involving a minor supplier,” Reuters’ Lisa Baertein reported.

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