Huge Day of Facebook Buys, Emerging-Market Scares, Coffee Highs, and Fed Freakouts

Good morning, good lookin'. Here are the four things you need to know on Feb. 20.

Feb 20, 2014 at 6:00AM

We hope you ate your Wheaties this morning. If not, time to carbo-load, bro. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) fell 90 points on a meaty Wednesday, protein-packed with major emerging-market, central-bank, corporate, and acquisition headlines.

1. IMF sends big emerging-market warning
"Warning" is the word of the day. That's what the International Monetary Fund tried to make clear Wednesday. The Washington-based organization acts as a bank lending to the world's neediest countries, but it issued a report detailing major potential financial problems across many emerging markets this year. It's like your mom telling you not to play with the kid next door because he's "unstable."

So what was the gossip? The IMF argued that too many emerging-market countries (especially India and Turkey) haven't controlled their monetary policy well enough and could risk inflation, in which prices of goods soar, causing their currencies to lose value. Fellow emerging markets Argentina and South Africa have also been suffering from political instability that's scaring away investors.

The takeaway is that emerging markets are the focus of Wall Street because their economies are growing rapidly and offer great potential reward as the nations develop -- but with fragile governments, emerging markets also provide great economic risks. The fact that Ukraine erupted Wednesday in borderline civil war, with scenes of Kiev that looked like they were taken straight out of a video game, only added some serious weight to the IMF's dire warning.

2. Coffee prices soar on heat wave
Arabica ... you ever heard of it? The premium coffee beans that are grown in Brazil are suffering from dry, dry weather. The country known for sick soccer moves also produces half the world's Arabica and a third of the world's coffee. Coffee prices posted the biggest two-day gain (23% this week) in 14 years on news of Brazil's worst two rain months in 30 years. Like, not even a drop of agua.
Commodity traders already pay more for a pound of coffee. But are you ready to pay more for Starbucks? Prices of Arabica coffee have risen 55% already in 2014 -- meaning your favorite Williamsburg coffee shop is going to need to erase its chalkboards and write up a higher price for your standard cup of joe. Or else profit margins will shrink, or disappear.
Suffering in Brazil, but booming elsewhere. Coffee is a commodity, meaning there's little difference from a bean in Brazil to a bean in Guatemala -- global investors pay the same price. So the spike in prices caused by Brazil have created a boost in cash for producers in Colombia and Central America, two other major coffee producers, where they're selling plenty of bean at top prices.

3. Facebook drops $19 billion on app you don't have
Whatsapp? If you ever hosted a foreign exchange student, you know that Whatsapp is the way Europe does texting. The technology boasts 450 million users worldwide, it's growing faster than Twitter, and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) wants in. After first meeting the Whatsapp execs over coffee in L.A., Mark Zuckerberg is dishing out a cool $19 billion (Facebook's largest purchase ever) for Whatsapp to be its friend.

Facebook has tried messaging before and has utterly failed. Nobody uses its mobile messaging app, and Facebook Poke is a pathetic knock-off of Snapchat (which eschewed FB's $3 billion offer many moons ago). Now after two years of romantic courting, Zuckerberg sealed the deal, and Facebook's foot is solidly in the messaging service's door.

It's going to cost $4 billion cash and $15 billion of Facebook stock. That's more than $300 million for each of Whatsapp's 55 employees. Is it worth it? To Wall Street, that's a heckuva lot more than Facebook dropped on the $1 billion Instagram, so it had better pay off.

4. Federal Reserve minutes surprise investors
The Federal Reserve just scared people. According to details (aka the minutes) from the Fed's most recent policy-setting meeting three weeks ago, more of the central bank's leaders than expected supported the idea of scaling back economic "stimulus" measures over the next few months.

Keep in mind that investors love stimulus. Under its "quantitative easing" stimulus policy, the Fed purchases billions in long-term bonds monthly to drive down interest rates, encouraging economy-boosting lending. But as the economy improved over the past year, the Fed has decided to buy fewer bonds (only a mere $65 billion a month now, instead of $85 billion).

The takeaway is that these meeting minutes were actually from former Chairman Ben Bernanke's last meeting in January before he retired. The new Fed chairwoman, Janet Yellen, took over on Feb. 1, after Bernanke's meeting. Yellen has publicly stated since then that stimulus will continue, but the news that so many other leaders of the Fed want to cut it sooner rather than later activated Wall Street's stimulus-craving ulcer.

  • Weekly jobless claims
  • Fourth-quarter earnings reports: Wal-Mart, Nordstrom

MarketSnacks Fact of the Day: About half of the food sold at Wal-Mart would not be "acceptable" by Whole Foods standards.

As originally published on

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