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The European Central Bank is falling behind on a €40bn asset purchase programme launched at the height of eurozone crisis, in a sign it could be dropped as a first step towards unwinding huge emergency support for the region’s financial system.  Purchases of “covered bonds debt backed by pools of assets favoured by some institutional investors have so far totalled less than €9bn. The scheme started last November and was originally intended to run until October at the latest.

WestLB held out little hope of finding buyers for most of its businesses as a deadline approaches for the bank to be wound down, raising the potential cost for German taxpayers of dealing with unwanted assets. The imminent break-up of the German public-sector bank will end a troubled chapter in the country’s banking history after WestLB needed frequent bailouts and sparked arguments with European competition authorities.
Asian stock markets were mixed Thursday as key manufacturing data out of China confirmed a slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy, triggering a selloff in risk-sensitive currencies such as the Australian and Singapore dollars. Japan’s Nikkei Stock Average slipped 0.1%, Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.5%, South Korea’s Kospi Composite dropped 0.3%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index was flat, China’s Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.4%, and India’s Sensex dropped 0.1%. ow Jones Industrial Average futures were down 19 points in screen trade. Copper and oil prices also dropped after data showed the preliminary HSBC China Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index, a gauge of nation-wide manufacturing activity, fell to 48.1 in March compared with a final reading of 49.6 in February. The March reading marks the fifth-straight month the index has been in contractionary territory, signaling extended difficulties for the nation’s manufacturers.

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An initial gauge of Chinese manufacturing activity fell in March, stoking market fears of a sharp slowdown in the world’s second-largest economy.  The HSBC preliminary Purchasing Managers Index fell to 48.1 in March, a four-month low, compared with a final reading of 49.6 in February, HSBC Holdings PLC said Thursday. “Growth momentum could slow down further amid a combination of sluggish export new orders and softening domestic demand. This calls for further easing steps,” HSBC Chief Economist for China Qu Hongbin said in a statement.

The U.K. government said Wednesday that it would lower income taxes on the country’s highest earners and on businesses in its new budget, saying it wanted to find ways to spur growth without swerving from its austerity program. The Conservative-led coalition government has made debt reduction its key priority since taking office in 2010. But as it has battled to reduce the deficit, growth has stalled. That has spurred calls from business lobby groups, think tanks and lawmakersincluding Conservative politiciansto introduce measures to boost the economy. In the closely watched budget announcement, Britain’s Treasury chief, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, set out tax cuts designed to address that call while assuring financial markets that efforts to cut the country’s heavy debt load were on track.

The New Zealand dollar slid Thursday as fourth-quarter economic data revealed a sharp slowdown in the nation’s manufacturing industry, indicating that the country’s recovery remains fragile. Seasonally-adjusted gross domestic product grew 0.3% on the quarter in the three months to Dec. 31, according to Statistics New Zealand. The reading was below the median 0.6% rise expected in a Dow Jones Newswires poll of 14 economists and contained in a Reserve Bank of New Zealand forecast.  The New Zealand dollar, or Kiwi, was trading at US$0.8140 at 0127 GMT after touching a low of 0.8102 following the release of the data.

U.S. money-market funds sharply increased the amount of euro-zone bank debt they held last month, according to Fitch Ratings, a sign they believe the worst of the region’s debt troubles are over. These funds owned 21% more debt from French, German and other euro-zone banks at the end of February compared with a month earlier, the steepest gain since at least 2009. Euro-zone bank debt made up 13.4% of $664 billion in assets held by the surveyed funds, up from about 10% at the end of

Deutsche Bank AG changed the legal structure of its huge U.S. subsidiary to shield it from new regulations that would have required the German bank to pump new capital into the U.S. arm. The bank on Feb. 1 reorganized its U.S. subsidiary, known as Taunus Corp., so that it is no longer classified as a “bank-holding company,” according to disclosures by the bank and on the U.S. Federal Reserve’s website. Deutsche Bank is at least the second large European bank to make such a change, following in the footsteps of the U.K.’s Barclays PLC. The technical change has important consequences

French authorities publicly identified the suspect in a series of shootings of soldiers, schoolchildren and a teacher, characterizing him as an Islamist radical who had been planning to strike again Wednesday. In a day of revelations and turns that gripped France, special forces descended on a Toulouse neighborhood at 3 a.m. Wednesday and surrounded a four-story apartment building, where the standoff continued into Thursday morning. It was occupied, authorities said, by Mohamed Merah, a 24-year-old French citizen of Algerian descent. They identified him as the suspect in the killings of four people at a Jewish school on Monday, as well as in the fatal shootings of three soldiers the previous week.

The boom in natural-gas production has hit a new pressure point: The U.S. is running out of storage space. Gas output has reached record levels in recent months, thanks in large part to the expansion of shale-gas fields. And the warm U.S. winter has reduced the amount of gas needed to heat homes and offices. That has filled storage facilitiesoften underground salt caverns or depleted oil and gas fieldsto 57.8% capacity. With forecasters anticipating a mild summer, reducing the need for air conditioning, and fields continuing to pump out gas, many market experts anticipate storage facilities will fill up by

North Korea and Iran are expected to dominate President Barack Obama’s trip to South Korea this weekend, as concerns mount about Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and Pyongyang’s preparations for a satellite launch the U.S. and its allies said they believe is largely for military purposes. Pyongyang’s launch, scheduled for mid-April, could undercut recent White House efforts to ratchet down tensions with North Korea’s new leader, Kim Jong Eun.  The U.S. said on Wednesday that it is suspending efforts to recover remains of thousands of fallen service members in North Korea, the Associated Press reported. The North’s actions also are clouding Mr. Obama’s disarmament agenda, which is being challenged by Iran’s continued advances in its nuclear program.
Japan swung back to a trade surplus in February, defying expectations for a deficit as shipments to the U.S. jumped. Japan logged a 32.9 billion yen ($395 million) surplus from the month, after January’s ¥1.475 trillion deficit, the Ministry of Finance reported Thursday. A survey of economists reported by Dow Jones Newswires showed expectations for a ¥110 billion deficit. Exports for the month were down 2.7% from a year earlier, beating a forecast 7.3% drop, while imports rose 9.2%. Exports to China tumbled 13.9% from the year-ago period, but this was offset by a 11.9% surge in U.S.-bound exports, although the total value of shipments to the U.S. still lagged that of China

Australia’s Transport Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday introduced legislation to parliament that aims to revitalize domestic shipping industry. The changes contained in five separate pieces of legislation hope to give the industry a stable fiscal and regulatory regime to encourage investment, he told parliament.  A zero tax rate for Australian shipping companies, along with a suite of other fiscal measures, means Australian ships will be able to compete against their international rivals on a level playing field, he said. “This is the most far reaching overhaul of the Australian shipping industry since 1912,” and follows a thorough consultation since 2007 with ship owners, labor unions and shippers, he said.

Notorious Goldman Sachs traitor Greg Smith and Fed chief Ben Bernanke have one thing in common: Nobody will listen to them. A week after Smith’s New York Times resignation set off an ethics bomb in the heart of Wall Street, two main camps of reaction have coalesced: Those who think Smith wasn’t important enough to make his voice heard; and those who think he’s stupid for not recognizing that the financial industry runs on greed.
Brent crude dropped below $124 a barrel on Thursday, after weak Chinese manufacturing data sparked concerns that energy demand growth could slow at the world’s second-largest oil consumer. Brent crude shed 50 cents to $123.70 a barrel by 0319 GMT, after settling 8 cents up at $124.20 a barrel. U.S. crude was down 73 cents at $106.54. The benchmark rose $1.20 to settle at $107.27 on Wednesday.

Gold prices inched up on Thursday, stuck in a narrow range as investors await manufacturing data from China and the euro zone to assess the health of their economies, while a slightly lower dollar lent some support. Spot gold edged up 0.1 percent to $1,651.64 an ounce by 0043 GMT. *U.S. gold was little changed at $1,651.80. In India, the world’s largest gold consumers, jewelers remained closed for the fifth day on Wednesday as a protest against an import duty hike on bullion.

Blown out in Illinois, Rick Santorum now has a far tougher path to the Republican presidential nomination and looks more like he is reduced to playing the role of spoiler against rival Mitt Romney. The former Pennsylvania senator could have upended Romney’s up-and-down campaign with a surprise upset in Illinois. Instead, Santorum will face important questions about how he can possibly overtake Romney’s lead in the race for the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination. “There’s no way that Santorum will amass more delegates than Mitt Romney, barring something really unforeseen,” said Republican pollster Whit Ayres. “His whole strategy now is to keep Romney from amassing a majority of the delegates, throwing the convention open.”

It’s not quite Easy Street, but more money is starting to flow along Main Street. A recent acceleration in U.S. job growth could create a virtuous cycle, lining the pockets of more Americans, leading to more spending, faster growth and further hiring. The pickup isn’t enough on its own to guarantee a robust recovery, but it offers hope that the brighter economic signs in recent weeks will prove lasting. On an annualized basis, the 734,000 jobs created over the past three months probably generated about $360 billion in additional income, when taking into account the modest rise in hourly earnings and longer working hours, economists say.
Emirates, the biggest airline by international traffic, said more carriers will go bust this year as fuel costs and sluggish economies undermine profitability. “We can reel off a whole load of airlines that are teetering on the brink or are really gone,” Tim Clark, the Dubai-based carrier’s president, said in an interview. “Roll this forward to Christmas, another eight or nine months, and we’re going to see this industry in serious trouble.” Airline profits will plunge 62 percent in 2012 to $3 billion, equal to a 0.5 percent margin on sales, as oil prices rise, theInternational Air Transport Association said this week. Emirates’s fuel bill accounts for 45 percent of costs and may jump by an “incredibly challenging” $1.7 billion in the year ending March 31, according to Clark, who says he’s sticking with a no-hedging strategy rather than risking a losing bet.

South Korea is pushing to include the Gaeseong industrial zone in North Korea in its free-trade deals with the U.S. and Europe, a step that would deepen cross- border ties after the North’s leadership transition. “Unification is already taking place in Gaeseong, with daily encounters and shared interests,” said Yoo Dong Ok, the chairman of Daewha Fuel Pump Industries and a spokesman for South Korean companies operating in the manufacturing enclave. Shipments from the factories, mostly textiles and car parts, would quickly surge 15 percent if they win free-trade status, Yoo estimated in a March 20 interview.

China boosted rural credit by cutting reserve ratios for more branches of Agricultural Bank of China Ltd., the nation’s third-biggest lender by market value. A total of 379 outlets in Heilongjiang, Henan, Hebei and Anhui will be covered in a trial that previously applied to 563 branches in eight provinces, the People’s Bank of China said on its website yesterday. Effective March 25, the ratio will fall by 2 percentage points for 565 branches, a move that the central bank said will free up 23 billion yuan ($3.6 billion).
The United States is on the verge of a new industrial revolution as the result of a domestic energy boom, Citigroup’s head of global commodities research said Wednesday. There’s no doubt that we’re seeing an industrial revolution a reindustrialization of the United States taking place because of the shale revolution taking place lowest, because we have the lowest natural gas prices in the world,” Ed Morse said on “The Kudlow Report.” “We will for one or two or three generations.”  Morse, a former deputy secretary of state for international energy policy, said he saw positive forces ahead for the energy sector.
Home builder stocks are at their highest level in two years, with the Standard & Poor’s index of 11 home builder stocks rising 80 percent since October, the most recent low for the industry. Investors looking to ride the wave from the last six months, however, may be too late. Home builder shares typically increase before the spring and summer home-selling season. And while housing reports have shown some improvement in recent months, data this week has been mixed. A report on Wednesday showed that the sales of existing homes declined slightly in February, while median sales prices rose for the first time in more than a year.
Budget 2012: Threat of a double dip has reduced, says OBR forecast. Britain should escape a double-dip recession this year and deficit reduction targets are intact, according to the UK’s official forecaster. But economists warned it would take little to derail the Chancellor’s plans. The Office for Budget Responsibility said the economy would grow in the first quarter, avoiding a technical recession, and revised up its 2012 growth forecast to 0.8pc from a November forecast of 0.7pc. The OBR’s growth projection also left the government’s medium-term deficit reduction and fiscal target plans remain intact, in what was a considered a fiscally neutral Budget.

Budget 2012: 50p top rate cut ‘fudge’ attacked by directors. Cutting the 50p top rate of tax does not go far enough and risks leaving the Exchequer out of pocket in the short term, business lobby groups and accountants warned. Simon Walker, director general of the Institute of Directors, said that even after cutting the “hugely damaging” tax to 45p from April next year, “two-thirds of the OECD will still have a lower top rate”. “This fudge will do little to combat the impression that Britain is a high-tax country, where ambition is not welcome,” he said. Accountants warned that by delaying the reduction by a year, high earners would now seek to push back the receipt of dividends and bonuses to avoid paying the 50p rate.

Budget 2012: Corporation tax cut will boost UK – but not enough. Britain is on track to have the fourth most competitive rate of corporation tax in the G20 by 2014 – but company leaders said the Chancellor had still stopped short of boosting business confidence. The headline rate of corporation tax will be cut from 26pc to 24pc next month, rather than to 25pc as planned, and to 22pc by 2014. George Osborne said he had put the country “within sight” of a 20pc headline rate, which would be the lowest in the G7 and in Europe’s G5, but he disappointed many who had expected more. Frank Haskew, Head of ICAEW Tax Faculty, said the cut was a “bold move” that would help improve Britain’s competitive standing in the world and simplify the system but would “not have an impact for 18 months.”
got a new finance minister on Wednesday, days after the crisis-hit country’s interim prime minister Lucas Papademos said he was convinced Athens was “more than halfway along the path” to economic growth and recovery. Filippos Sachinidis was promoted from deputy minister after Evangelos Venizelos stepped down to take over the helm of the socialist Pasok party ahead of parliamentary elections which could come as early as next month.
Banks have lifted interest rates to protect profits after their own borrowing costs climbed following the global financial crisis, says the Reserve Bank. While not commenting directly on whether recent rate increases were “appropriate”, RBA assistant governor Guy Debelle said local banks were charging local borrowers more to cushion their profit, but noted that the cost of money to Aussie banks had risen relative to the RBA’s rate. The average cost for the major banks’ funding has risen by between 1.45-1.55 percentage points over 2007 levels, he said.
A free trade agreement between Canada and Japan took a step closer to reality after a high-level government study concluded a deal would sharply boost trade and economic activity for both countries. Japan and Canada should pursue a free-trade agreement that would eliminate all tariffs, remove export subsidies and reduce non-tariff barriers, spurring the gross domestic product of each country, said the joint study by the governments of the two countries and submitted to Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada.
The central banks of Australia and China signed a 200 billion yuan (S$39.8 billion) currency swap to support trade and investment. China has signed a slew of such agreements recently, trying to make its tightly controlled currency more internationally accepted.  The Reserve Bank of Australia says on Thursday the agreement comes after China allowed the Australian dollar to be exchanged for yuan in China’s bank-to-bank market.  It says the agreement reflects increasing opportunities for the yuan to be used to pay for exports and imports between the two countries.
Domestic consumption will be the main driver of China’s economic growth this year, said a Ministry of Commerce think tank. It is set to surpass government investment for the first time in a decade, said the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation on Wednesday. “The increasingly burgeoning income for Chinese individuals and their growing willingness to spend are major reasons behind the consumption growth,” said Zhang Ping, deputy director of the Department of Consumption Economics at the academy and head of the team drafting the report.

Leading domestic carmaker Chery and Indian-owned luxury carmaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) announced Wednesday that they have reached an agreement to set up a joint venture in China. The two sides will hold equal shares in the new company, according to a press release posted on Chery’s official website. The press release, also seen on JLR’s official website, said the agreement follows extensive talks between JLR and Chery on establishing an equal partnership company. The scope of the proposed joint venture will include the manufacture of JLR- and JV-branded vehicles, the establishment of a research and development facility, engine manufacturing and the sale of vehicles produced by the joint venture, the release said.
The government has approved a plan to rejuvenate the economy of northeast China by 2015. The northeastern region, once a leading industrial hub, will be built into an internationally competitive base for equipment manufacturing, raw materials and energy supplies, according to a statement from the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s top economic planning body. The region, which includes the provinces of Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, will also be built into an important base for agriculture and animal husbandry, according to the NDRC.
Apple Inc’s new iPhone will have a sharper and bigger 4.6-inch “retina” display and is set to be launched around the second quarter, a South Korean media reported on Thursday. Sales of the iPhone, first introduced in 2007 with the touch screen template now adopted by its rivals, account for around half Apple’s total sales. Apple has decided on the bigger 4.6-inch display for its next iPhone and started placing orders to its suppliers, the Maeil Business Newspaper said, quoting an unnamed industry source.

The Indian government has initiated the process of exporting wheat to Iran. The sanction-struck Asian neighbour has made enquiries to the Indian government for an import requirement of up to 3 million tonne. This is likely to be purchased by Iranian government agencies as well as private importers. Iranian firms such as Kengan Wheat Flour Factory, ALP Company and Magna Business Management have sent wheat import enquiries to the Indian government-run agency Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) through the Indian embassy. “Two Indian firms have shown interest in shipping wheat to Iran. However, no export has taken place so far to the beleaguered country,” said a seniorAPEDA official.

India has come out in support of full implementation of UN Security Council resolutions on the Iranian nuclear issue but said all efforts should be made to ensure that legitimate trade and economic activities do not suffer. “India has consistently supported the right of all nations to peaceful uses of nuclear energy in accordance with relevant international treaties to which they are a party,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN Hardeep Singh Puri told the Security Council Wednesday.
South Korea, China and Japan have concluded negotiations on a three-way accord aimed at promoting corporate direct investment, Seoul’s trade ministry said Thursday. The three nations have been negotiating the trilateral investment treaty since 2007. The pact may be signed by the leaders of the three nations in May when they hold a summit in Beijing, officials said earlier.
South Korea, China and Japan already have bilateral investment pacts with one another.

South Korea’s central bank should raise its policy rate to help cement its commitment toward price stability in Asia’s fourth-largest economy, a state-run think tank said Thursday. The Korea Development Institute said the Bank of Korea should “normalize” its rate policy in a bid to secure market trust, and needs to deliver a signal to the market that price stability is its top priority.
“The authorities are urged to normalize macroeconomic policies and need to guard the economy against growing uncertainties at home and abroad,” the KDI said in a report. Earlier this month, the central bank left the key interest rate unchanged at 3.25 percent for the ninth straight month, as it maintained a wait-and-see stance to assess risks to inflation and growth, such as rising oil prices.  The report also said the country should redouble efforts for fiscal soundness as the nation’s debts surged to 393 trillion won (US$348 billion) in 2010 from 299 trillion won in 2008.
Johannesburg – Drug abuse in South Africa amounts to twice the world’s norm and costs the country billions each year, the DA said in Mpumalanga on Wednesday. Drug abuse was costing South Africa R20bn a year, Democratic Alliance MPL Anthony Benadie said during the DA’s Human Rights Day Anti-drug march in Middelburg. The DA demanded that an anti-drug unit should be set up within the police since the South African Narcotics Bureau (Sanab) had been closed.



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