News That Matters

Some notes on statistics and unemployment, and how they can show you what you want to hear. From D. Amerman. When we look at broad measures of jobs and population, then the beginning of 2012 was one of the worst months in US history, with a total of 2.3 million people losing jobs or leaving the workforce in a single month. Yet, the official unemployment rate showed a decline from 8.5% to 8.3% in January  and was such cheering news that it set off a stock rally.

Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister, Ali Naimi, made a rare intervention into overheating oil markets on Tuesday, declaring that high oil prices were “unjustified” and vowing that the kingdom would boost its output by as much as 25 per cent if necessary. As the west’s nuclear stand-off with Iran escalates, oil prices have rallied this month to a post-2008 peak of $128 a barrel with markets bracing for European Union sanctions on Iranian crude that could knock out a chunk of global supply.

European banks are preparing a new type of securitised vehicle bundling together loans to commodity trading houses to try to resolve the credit crunch in the commodities industry. The banks, including BNP Paribas and Société Générale, are testing the appetite from European pension funds and insurance companies for the instruments and hope to launch the products before the end of the year, executives said. The move comes after French banks, the main financiers of trading houses, reined in their lending due to a shortage of US dollar liquidity. BNP Paribas and a handful of other European banks provide most of the credit lines that underpin the business of the Swiss-based traders that dominate global raw materials markets. Commodities bankers and industry executives said the securitisation would allow the industry to access fresh credit.

A battle has broken out between Apple and its rival smartphone makers over the standard industry template for miniature Sim cards for the next generation of slimmer handsets. Apple is leading a bid against Motorola Mobility which Google is in the process of buying BlackBerry parent Research In Motion and Nokia for its technology to be recognised as the standard for the so-called “nano-Sim”, an important technical step in the miniaturisation of smartphones. Micro-Sims are already common in the latest generation of smart devices, such as Apple’s iPhone 4S and Nokia’s Lumia. The nano-Sim is thinner and about a third smaller than the micro-Sim, and would allow more space for other functions.
Most Asian stock markets were lower Wednesday as concerns about slowing economic growth in China weighed on investor sentiment, with resources plays underperforming across the region. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average fell 0.5%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 skidded 0.4%, South Korea’s Kospi Composite slipped 0.7%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index declined 0.4%, China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.5%, and India’s Sensex was flat. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose 23 points in screen trade.

The Obama administration on Tuesday said it won’t impose sanctions against Japan or 10 European Union nations that have moved quickly to pare their purchases of Iranian oil, a move that reflects U.S. efforts to squeeze Tehran’s finances without upsetting global energy markets. The waivers, announced Tuesday, are part of U.S. efforts to phase in legislation that President Barack Obama signed in December to sanction foreign firms that do business with Iran’s central bank, the primary conduit for Tehran’s oil sales. The White House is giving countries until June 28 to “significantly reduce” their Iranian oil purchases or face the threat of sanctions. Japan and the EU nations, it said, have already made “significant” reductions. But the State Department said 12 countries remain at risk of facing U.S. financial penalties this year because of their continued purchases of Iranian oilincluding allies such as South Korea, India and Turkey, as well as China and South Africa.

Mitt Romney racked up a decisive victory Tuesday in the Illinois primary, shoring up his claim that he will inevitably take the Republican presidential nomination and dealing another blow to Rick Santorum’s bid to block him. With 99% of precincts reporting, Mr. Romney led with 47% to Mr. Santorum’s 35%. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas had 9%, and Newt Gingrich trailed with 8%.  That gave Mr. Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, fresh momentum heading into a month in which the race moves largely to Northeast and mid-Atlantic states that are friendly terrain for him.

Russia said Syria’s leadership has made “many mistakes” that have fed the country’s crisis and that it is ready to support a United Nations effort to endorse Kofi Annan’s plan for settling the crisis, seeking to distance Moscow from President Bashar al-Assad amid a diplomatic push for peace. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s comments were some of Russia’s toughest criticism of Damascus in a year of bloodshed. But he also took aim at the West and reiterated Russia’s position that Mr. Assad’s exit must not be a precondition for a solution to the crisis, setting the stage for tough bargaining over the wording of the document at the U.N. Security Council.

A Pakistan parliamentary commission called for the U.S. to end drone strikes on its territory and to formally apologize for killing 24 Pakistani soldiers in November. The demands were made as part of a debate in Parliament Tuesday over how the country should pursue relations with the U.S. in the wake of public anger over the unintentional killing of the Pakistan soldiers by firing from U.S. helicopters.  Pakistan’s government retaliated last year by stopping the North Atlantic Treaty Organization from using its territory to provision troops in Afghanistan, forcing NATO to route more of its equipment and other supplies through Central Asia.

For Wall Street banks worried about the controversial “Volcker rule,” help may be on the way. Senators from both parties are working to give regulators more time to write the rule, potentially easing banks’ concerns that their activities will run afoul of the law as a July deadline passes. The Volcker rule, which restricts banks’ ability to trade with their own money, is set to take effect July 21, whether or not regulators have a final rule in place, according to the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial overhaul law. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said last month that regulators likely wouldn’t have
British Treasury chief George Osborne faces a tricky task Wednesday as he attempts to deliver a government budget capable of convincing ratings firms that the country should keep its triple-A rating while avoiding pushing the economy into a double-dip recession. Osborne, Britain’s chancellor of the exchequer, will deliver the budget address to the House of Commons at 12:30 London time, or 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. The budget sets the government’s spending plans and tax policies for the year ahead. Budget office to raise U.K. growth outlook

If commodity prices fall, the Reserve Bank of India has room to cut interest rates, Subir Gokarn, the central bank’s deputy governor, said here on Tuesday. Gokarn was speaking at an International Monetary Conference here on how India and China can boost growth. The RBI last week kept its key lending interest rate unchanged at 8.5%, citing risks of inflation from rising crude-oil prices, pressures on the rupee, and fiscal spending. Since then, the government has announced a budget plan that would reduce India’s fiscal deficit to 5.1% this year from an estimated 5.9% last year

Australia’s mineral and energy exports will rise at a slower pace of 4.6% to 208.32 billion Australian dollars (US$217 billion) over the next fiscal year, weighing on the resource-rich nation’s economic growth, a government agency said Wednesday. The value of exports this fiscal year ending June 30 is expected to jump 11% to A$199.17 billion, according to forecasts issued by the Bureau of Resources and Energy Economics, also known as BREE, in its Resources and Energy Quarterly publication.  “In 2012, commodity prices are expected to continue to ease given the current lower than expected growth in the global economy,” the bureau said in a quarterly report.
Brent crude edged towards $125 a barrel on Wednesday, pulling back from sharp losses a day earlier, as lower-than-expected U.S. crude stocks and a weaker dollar offset the prospect that top exporter Saudi Arabia would ramp up supply. Brent crude gained 35 cents to $124.47 a barrel by 0503 GMT, after falling more than a dollar in the previous session on the Saudi comments. U.S. crude was up 53 cents at $106.60. The benchmark plunged more than 2 percent on Tuesday.

Gold prices edged higher on Wednesday after dropping nearly 1 percent in the previous session, as a slightly weaker dollar came to the aid of buyers, while sluggish physical demand and an improving U.S. economic outlook capped gains. Spot gold edged up 0.3 percent to $1,655.14 an ounce by 0241 GMT (10.41 pm EDT). U.S. gold gained half a percent to $1,655.40.
Treasury 10-year notes snapped yesterday’s first gain in two weeks before an industry report that economists said will show U.S. home sales rose. Investors should bet against 10-year Treasury futures contracts, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said in a report. Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis President Narayana Kocherlakota said he sees the central bank beginning to withdraw monetary stimulus in 2012 or 2013 if the economy meets his forecast. “People are starting to realize that there is gradual growth in the economy,” said Kei Katayama, who invests in U.S. bonds at Tokyo-based Daiwa SB Investments Ltd., which oversees the equivalent of $59.2 billion including Asia’s second-largest mutual fund. “I’m concerned that there’s a global bond bubble. Maybe not within a week or a month, but there’s a risk that yields will rise globally.”

Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) will finish work on Windows 8 this summer, setting the stage for personal computers and tablets with the operating system to go on sale around October, according to people with knowledge of the schedule. The initial rollout will include devices running Intel Corp. (INTC) and ARM Holdings Plc (ARM) chips, making good on Microsoft’s promise to support both standards, said the people, who declined to be named because the plans are confidential. In embracing ARM technology, Microsoft is using the same kind of processors as Apple Inc.’s iPad. Still, there will be fewer than five ARM devices in the debut, compared with more than 40 Intel machines.

Kingfisher Airlines Ltd. (KAIR), the Indian carrier struggling with a cash shortage and losses, will end international flights next month and cut local routes as it seeks funds to revive operations. Kingfisher will pare local flights by as much as 37 percent to between 110 and 125 a day with a 20-plane fleet, Chief Executive Officer Sanjay Aggarwal told reporters in New Delhi yesterday after submitting a new plan to India’s aviation regulator. The airline will stop services to eight overseas destinations by April 10 after bookings were hit by a suspension from an international billing facility, he said.

India’s Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier dismissal of a $2.2 billion tax claim on Vodafone Group Plc (VOD) after the government last month petitioned it to reconsider its decision. A panel of judges comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, K.S. Radhakrishnan and Swatanter Kumar yesterday rejected a government plea to review the court’s January decision to dismiss a tax claim on Newbury, England-based Vodafone’s 2007 purchase of Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (13)’s India operations, the court master said citing the chief justice. The dismissal comes after Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee last week in his annual budget speech proposed an amendment in the law that will enable the government to retrospectively tax cross-border transactions. Once the government makes the change in the law, it could petition the nation’s top court again, Dinesh Kanabar, deputy chief executive officer at KPMG’s India operations, said.
A slowdown in China’s growth engine is good news for the country because it gives Beijing space to create a new economic model that is more sustainable and equitable, according to Zhu Min, deputy managing director of the International Monetary Fund. It is about time that China focused on the quality of economic growth rather than on the top-line number, and this should be built on the expansion that the nation has experienced over the past 30 years, Zhu told CNBC in an interview on Wednesday. “7.5 percent growth is a very good target because it sends a signal to local governments that we need to build more institutional capacity, work on income distribution, to ensure that growth becomes more equal,” he said.

Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is expected to strike a note of caution and keep the Treasury’s purse strings firmly closed in Wednesday’s Budget despite the UK government’s borrowing figures coming in lower than expected.  “This is no time for a spring spending spree,” Andrew Goodwin, senior economic advisor to the Ernst & Young ITEM Club, wrote in a research note. “A giveaway would have a limited macroeconomic impact and would risk sending the wrong signals to the ratings agencies and financial markets. Instead we would like to see the Chancellor use his windfall as a buffer against any potential escalation of the euro zone crisis, and invest in small, low cost measures designed to boost the UK’s productive potential.”

The Chinese government has begun making it much easier for foreign investors to put money into China’s stock market and other financial investments, in a slight relaxing of more than a decade of tight capital controls. The move, not publicly announced but disclosed by some private money managers, indicates that Chinese officials are eager to counter a rising flight of capital from the country, a worsening slump in real estate prices, a weak stock market and at least a temporary trade deficit caused by a steep bill for oil imports. Those concerns have evidently started to offset fears of the potentially inflationary effects of big inflows of foreign cash.
Minneapolis Fed President Narayana Kocherlakota said Tuesday that the Federal Reserve is doing about as well as it can in promoting employment, despite the unemployment rate running at 8.3%. Kocherlakota said at the Washington University in St. Louis that there are two types of demand shocks: labor-demand shocks and product-demand shocks. Kocherlakota says monetary policy can offset the impact of the product-demand shocks on employment, but it cannot offset the employment loss due to the fall in labor demand and any associated slow real wage adjustment.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will warn Congress Wednesday that possible “contagion” from the European debt crisis for U.S. banks and money market funds remains “a concern” for the Fed and other financial regulators despite firms’ recent steps to reduce their exposure to countries and institutions there, according to testimony obtained by the FOXBusiness Network. In particular, U.S. money market funds, with 35% of their assets in European holdings as of February, “remain structurally vulnerable” to Europe’s debt problems, Bernanke will tell the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
builders are betting that the housing market is finally on the path back to health. They requested 5% more permits in February to build single-family homes and apartments in the coming months. That increased the annual rate to a seasonally adjusted 717,000 permits, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. While that’s still half the rate considered healthy by most economists, it’s the highest since October 2008. “This report is one of the more encouraging new construction reports we have seen in the last four years,” said Patrick Newport, an economist with
Chinese developers are setting up property funds to diversify their sources of revenue as government real-estate curbs have led to a cash shortage. Fosun International Ltd., a Shanghai-based company with interests in property, retail, mining and pharmaceuticals, is raising money for the second phase of a property fund after getting 3.7 billion yuan ($585 million) for the first, Co- President Fan Wei said at a conference in Beijing yesterday. Sino-Ocean Land Holdings Ltd., a state-owned developer, plans to start a 1 billion yuan fund this year for mergers and acquisitions, Deputy General Manager Li Zhenyu said in an interview. Chinese developers are seeking alternative off-the-balance sheet businesses as credit drained after the government’s two- year efforts to curb speculation in the real-estate market, including higher down payments and mortgage rates, and home purchase restrictions in 40 cities. Relaxing the curbs could cause “chaos” in the market, Premier Wen Jiabao said last week.
Public sector pensions will increase more slowly in future after the Appeal Court threw out an attempt to stop them being increased in line with the consumer price index (CPI) rather than the retail price index (RPI).  The CPI typically runs at a lower rate, thanks to the way in which it is calculated. When introducing the switch the Government argued that this was a fairer measure of inflation – as it did not include certain housing-related costs, such as mortgage interest payments or council tax. But the CPI isn’t it used to determine annual rail fare increases, student loan repayments or the duties levied each year on cigarettes and alcohol. Critics say that anything paid out by the Government is now linked to CPI, while monies collected still retains a link to RPI.

Libya’s oil exports have rebounded much faster than expected and will exceed pre-Arab Spring levels as soon as April, plugging a crucial gap in world crude supply as the Iranian crisis comes to the boil. The Libyan state oil company NOC said it will export almost 1.4m barrels a day (b/d) next month as key oil fields come back on stream. The announcement came after Saudi Arabia said it had boosted output to a near record level of 9.87m b/d in January and stood ready to cover any shortfall as European sanctions against Iran bite deeper.
Official inflation figures yesterday thwarted hopes of a rapid end to the squeeze on incomes and lowered expectations of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) extending its programme of quantitative easing (QE) next month. The latest report from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that consumer price index (CPI) year-on-year inflation fell to 3.4 per cent in February, down from 3.6 per cent in the preceding month. Financial analysts had expected a fall to 3.3 per cent. Retail price index inflation, which includes mortgage interest payments, dropped to 3.7 per cent from 3.9 per cent.
is only at the beginning of a “very tough, very long, hard road” to recovery and its future is still a threat to the US economy, Timothy Geithner, the treasury secretary, warned on Tuesday. In testimony to the House financial services committee on the state of the international financial system, Geithner warned against draconian spending cuts by heavily indebted countries and called on better-off European countries to help their neighbours.

Four out of 10 shops will have to shut in the next five years as consumers turn their backs on traditional stores in favour of online shopping, according to a report which casts more doubt on the future of the beleaguered British high street. With retail experts increasingly painting a picture of a future high street lined with coffee shops and internet kiosks, a report from Deloitte highlights how the boundaries between physical and virtual space are becoming blurred with thousands of shops likely to face closure in coming years.
The Australian economy will continue to grow at a sluggish and below-trend pace, an industry study shows. The Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index of economic activity, which indicates the likely pace of activity three to nine months into the future, posted an annualised growth rate of 2.6 per cent in January, falling below its long-term trend of 3.0 per cent, Westpac said this morning. Westpac senior economist Matthew Hassan said that growth towards the end of 2011, particularly in November, was the weakest seen in more than 10 years.

Online business is playing an increasingly powerful role in national economies and is projected to account for $US4.2 trillion of the Group of 20 nations’ total gross domestic product by the year 2016. The “Internet economy” will grow at a rate of eight per cent annually in developed countries and more than twice that in developing markets, according to a study released on Monday by The Boston Consulting Group (BCG). India and Argentina will see the fastest growth, with rates expected to be 23 per cent and 24 per cent respectively, BCG said in a report.
A global airline body has cut its its 2012 profit projection for the industry. The International Air Transport Association (Iata) said on Tuesday that global carriers are expected to make a collective profit of US$3 billion (S$3.8 billion) this year. This is below the US$3.5 billion that was forecast three months ago. Mr Tony Tyler, Iata’s director-general and chief executive said during a tele-conference that while a major European debt crisis seems to have been averted for now, high oil prices are giving airlines a major headache.
China`s stock market regulator issued a circular recently that it has communicated with the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) and confirmed the previous rules, concerning the securities brokers issuing short term financing bills, are still effective. Analysts said that means the securities brokers could issue short term financing bills in the inter-bank market. It would enhance the financial flexibility of securities brokers and boost business innovation. Some securities broker had already applied to issue the short term financing bills, an industrial source said.

A drop in China’s inflation rate has boosted consumer and entrepreneur confidence, as measures taken to tame consumer prices are continuing to make an impact, the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) said Tuesday. Taking current prices, interest rates and income levels into account, 82.5 percent of urban residents said they prefer depositing more money in banks, with the willingness to “consume more” rising to 17.5 percent. As for investment options, according to the survey, “funds and other wealth management products” were a top priority for more than one-fourth of respondents, followed by “industrial investment” for 16.4 percent.
Corporate debt restructuring cases are weighing down banks and financial institutions.  In 2011-12, corporate debt aggregating a whopping Rs 76,251 crore came up for restructuring before the Corporate Debt Rrestructuring Cell jointly promoted by banks and financial institutions. This is three times more than in the previous year, showing the growing stress on India Inc. As many as 95 banks and financial institutions are part of the CDR mechanism.  A large number of road, telecom, iron and steel, and textile projects have come up for restructuring, according to credit rating agency S&P’s outlook for Indian banks. Economic downturn, high interest rates, use of working capital funds for funding capital expenditure, diversion of funds and adverse currency movements are some of the reasons for the sharp increase in corporate debt restructuring cases, said a senior banker.

Offshoring of jobs to India will begin to decline starting 2014, and will reach the end of its lifecycle in eight years, according to US-based strategic advisory and research firm The Hackett Group released at the Nasscom Global In-House Centers ( GIC) Conclave being held here. According to The Hackett Group, the traditional model of US and European companies moving finance, IT, and other business services jobs offshore will reach the end of its lifecycle over the next 8-10 years, and US and European companies will simply run out of jobs which can be moved offshore to locations like India.

Against the promised $2-billion investment in iron ore, Rio Tinto will spend $600 million in the diamond project in India. The Bundar project in Madhya Pradesh is set to be its first mining operation in the country.  Managing Director Dr Nik Senapati and Bunder Project Director Stefanie Loader share Rio Tinto India’s big plans for the country’s diamond production with ET

Housing prices in India witnessed the steepest rise in the world in the last 10 years since 2001. “House prices in India have increased by 284% in real terms, after allowing for inflation – equivalent to an average annual rise of 14%,” said Lloyds TSB International Global Housing Market Review.  This is an over six-fold increase compared to the 47% rise in China’s housing prices over the same period. After India , Russia recorded the next biggest increase of 209%. In India, prices have risen maximum in South Delhi, Gurgaon and Noida. Prices in some of the markets in NCR rose by 1,100% including inflation.
Growth in South Korea’s labor productivity accelerated in the fourth quarter of 2011 from three months earlier, helped by solid export gains, a government report showed Wednesday. According to the report by the Ministry of Knowledge Economy, the labor productivity index for all industries in the three month period increased 3.3 percent on-year to 112.6, up from 109.0 tallied a year earlier.
The UAE is expected to post better economic growth this year, which can climb to four per cent over 3.3 per cent in 2011, said UAE Minister of Economy Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri.  Last week, IMF projected growth to moderate at 2.5 per cent. It said non-hydrocarbon growth would remain strong in 2012 with the real non-oil gross domestic product projected to further strengthen to post 3.5 per cent increase. In 2011, the overall GDP expanded by 4.9 per cent to surpass expectations on the back of higher oil output and expansion in the non-hydrocarbon sector.


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