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Thread: US Market News

  1. #11
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    Instant view: Fourth quarter GDP below expectations
    Fri Jan 28, 2011
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.S. economy gathered speed in the fourth quarter, though a touch below expectations, with the biggest gain in consumer spending in more than four years and strong exports offering the clearest signals yet that a sustainable recovery is under way.

    KEY POINTS: * The economy grew at a solid 3.2 percent annual rate in the final three months of 2010. * The rise was a touch below economists' expectations for a 3.5 percent rate.

    COMMENTS:

    GUY LEBAS, CHIEF FIXED INCOME STRATEGIST, JANNEY MONTGOMERY

    SCOTT, PHILADELPHIA:

    "The headline number is a weaker-than-expected, but the mix is great. The core of the U.S. economic activity is moving along. Consumer spending really drove the results. The strong export to import ratio also helped. Total GDP should be in the 2.5 percent to 3.0 percent range in 2011.

    "Initially we saw a bit of sell-off in bonds due to a knee-jerk reaction to the strong consumption reading. We have come back a bit on the tame inflation readings and employment cost index, which is the long-term indication of inflation trend. It implied very little cost pressure in the long term."

    KURT KARL, CHIEF U.S. ECONOMIST, SWISS RE, NEW YORK:

    "A lot of it is a bounce back from net exports. The consumption is very strong, which is strongest so far we've seen the downturn. We ran down inventories. Business investments have hit their bottom. We have seen constructions completed, which is not a drag on growth. On the government side, there was also a bit of the drag.

    "You should get out of bonds and get into equities. That's what you should do because it's a strong number even though it's not 3.5 percent consensus number.

    "Businesses should get more comfortable with hirings with sustained growth rather worries over a double-dip recession which dominated much of last year."

    JIM VOGEL, INTEREST RATE STRATEGIST, FTN FINANCIAL, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE:

    "As far as the market goes, traders have to digest the larger-than-expected personal consumption number. That's the most important question so far, and to determine the source of funding for that jump. It's a big question mark for the bond market and therefore a negative in that it raises more questions and there's a little more risk premium."

    FRED DICKSON, CHIEF MARKET STRATEGIST, THE DAVIDSON COS., LAKE OSWEGO, OREGON:

    "The 3.2 percent annual rate is exactly in line with the economic growth rate seen over the last 40 years. The conclusion is the economy appears to be self-sustaining. We would expect more estimates in the coming days. Investors should basically look at the economic growth rate at the end of the last quarter as a good jumping off point for further growth this quarter."

    DAN GENTER, CHIEF INVESTMENT OFFICER, RNC GENTER CAPITAL MANAGEMENT, LOS ANGELES:

    "We're clearly moving forward. We've built a base. We're coming out of the block, but like a 300-pound lineman, not like a sprinter. But the 300-pound lineman is jacked up on energy drinks from the Fed and they're going to keep feeding him."

    RICHARD DEKASER, ECONOMIST, THE PARTHENON GROUP, BOSTON:

    "The economy steadily gained momentum in the second half of 2010, and is starting 2011 in reasonably good shape. When you have this level of sales without an increase in inventory, there is room for further room for increase in production.

    "Virtually all measure of core inflation trended downward, reflecting the slack in the economy.

    "We are finally seeing a meaningful impact from a weaker dollar affecting foreign trade performance. It also reflects a slower inventory building."

    DAVID SLOAN, ECONOMIST WITH IFR ECONOMICS, A UNIT OF THOMSON REUTERS:

    "While the advance estimate of Q4 GDP with a 3.2 percent annualized increase fell short of market expectations..., the disappointment was solely due to a sharp slowing in inventory growth. Final sales (GDP excluding inventories) surged by 7.1 percent, well above a consensus estimate of 5.3 percent, the strongest gain since Q2 1984, when President Reagan was proclaiming morning in America. While this breakdown could give some ammunition to the Fed hawks, doves may feel that a 3.4 percent rise in final sales to domestic purchasers may be more reflective of underlying demand, with a sharp fall in Q4 imports unlikely to be repeated."

    MARKET REACTION: STOCKS: U.S. stock index futures turn positive BONDS: U.S. Treasury bond prices extend losses FOREX: The dollar trims losses versus yen
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110128/...5zdGFudHZpZXdm

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    AP: Disney CEO Iger's pay up 30 pct in 2010
    Sat Jan 29, 2011

    LOS ANGELES – Walt Disney Co. has awarded CEO Bob Iger a 2010 pay package valued at $28 million, up 30 percent from a year ago, according to an Associated Press analysis of data disclosed in a regulatory filing on Friday. The company said it is rewarding the 59-year-old Iger for excellent management in a tough economic environment.

    The increase came as Disney's share price rose 24 percent to end the company's fiscal year on Oct. 2 at $32.98. Disney noted that the total shareholder return for the S&P 500 over the same period was just 14 percent by comparison.

    During the year, Iger hired new managers for Disney's money-losing movie studio, quickly bringing it back to profitability. The studio completed the sale of the Miramax niche film label as Disney renewed its focus on its family fare from its own studio as well as Pixar and new acquisition Marvel. The Burbank, Calif.-based company also bought social game maker Playdom and mobile game developer Tapulous with an aim to reverse losses at its interactive unit, which recently went through a round of layoffs.

    Fiscal 2010 net income rose 20 percent to $3.96 billion from $3.31 billion the year before, as revenue grew 5 percent to $38.06 billion.

    Iger's base salary fell less than 2 percent to $2 million but his performance-related bonus surged 45 percent to nearly $13.5 million from $9.3 million a year ago. He was also granted stock options and awards valued at $11.8 million on the days they were granted, up from stock grants valued at $9.5 million the previous year.

    His other compensation rose nearly 8 percent to $798,433, including personal use of company aircraft and security costs.

    The Associated Press formula is designed to isolate the value that the company's board placed on the executive's total compensation package during the last fiscal year. Its calculation of total pay includes executives' salary, bonus, incentives, perks, above-market returns on deferred compensation and the estimated value of stock options and awards at the time they are granted during the year.

    The calculations don't include changes in the present value of pension benefits, and they sometimes differ from the totals that companies list in the summary compensation table of proxy statements filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110129/...lzbmV5Y2VvaQ--

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    Obama: Innovation key to economic recovery

    By JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press Jim Kuhnhenn, Associated Press – Sat Jan 29, 2011

    WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is promoting business innovation as a building block to more jobs, part of a retooled economic message that aims to highlight advances in the private sector over expensive government programs.

    With a Wisconsin energy company as a backdrop, Obama used his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday to prod the business community to help speed up an economic recovery that is still beset by high unemployment.

    "That's how America will win the future - by out-innovating, out-educating and out-building our competitors," he said.

    Obama taped the message Wednesday at Orion Energy Systems, a Manitowoc, Wis., company specializing in solar power and energy-efficient technologies.

    The innovation pitch is part of a broader White House effort to move away from the high-dollar spending the administration relied on to pull the economy out of recession to a leaner, business-friendly strategy focused on making the U.S. more competitive in the global marketplace.

    Last week, Obama made a case for freer trade as a prescription for U.S. job growth and said the nation must emphasize efforts to open markets abroad. Next week, the president will continue his role as a booster of American innovation. He plans to discuss innovation with technology business leaders on Tuesday and has scheduled a visit Wednesday to Pennsylvania State University, which is involved in an Energy Department program on energy-efficient buildings.

    Orion and the Penn State program offer Obama the types of examples in green technologies that he argues are not only key for competitiveness but also for greater energy independence. Obama is proposing a tax credit for companies that undertake research and has set a goal that 80 percent of the nation's electricity will come from clean energy sources by 2035.

    "This is going to help spark innovation at businesses across America," he said. "This is going to spur new products and technologies. This is going to lead to good, new jobs."

    Obama is working to build support for greater government spending in education, infrastructure and research — initiatives that face skeptical congressional Republicans but that could win over the business community.

    Obama also called for a freeze in spending in his State of the Union address Tuesday and proposed reorganizing parts of the bureaucracy to make government more efficient.

    "We have to reform our government and cut wasteful spending, so that we eliminate what we don't need to pay for the investments we need to grow, like education and medical research," he said in his address Saturday.

    In the GOP's weekly address, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin said that to fix an ailing economy, the U.S. must address the "ever expanding" size and cost of governing the country.

    "I hope the president and his allies in Congress accept a simple truth: Big government is blocking job creation, not helping it. The sooner Washington ends its dependence on more spending, the sooner our economy will see real growth," he said.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110129/...1haW5ub3ZhdA--

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    Bankers play contrite, offer olive branch at Forum

    By Lisa Jucca Lisa Jucca – Sat Jan 29, 2011

    DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – Top bankers adopted a softer tone after high-level meetings at the World Economic Forum on Saturday, thanking governments for shoring up the financial system in the hope of avoiding tighter regulation.

    But, in a reminder of the problems banks still face after absorbing billions of dollars of taxpayers' money in bailouts, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said financiers needed to show real thanks by changing their behavior.

    After kicking off the debate at the Forum's annual meeting with an attack on regulation, bankers took a different tack on Saturday at a meeting with finance ministers, emphasizing their wish to help create jobs and boost growth.

    "I think it was a very constructive meeting and a meeting where we recognized that a lot has changed," Barclays' Chief Executive Bob Diamond, who acted as the co-chair of the bankers this week, told a Davos panel discussion on Saturday.

    "But an awful lot has changed in the last three years and we should say 'thank you' to the central banks, to the finance ministers, to the regulators because banks are operating in a safer and sounder financial system."

    Lagarde, who was on the same panel, was quick to respond.

    "The best way for the banking sector to say 'thank you' would be to actually have good financing of the economy, sensible compensation systems in place and reinforcement of their capital," she said to laughter and applause.

    The mood in the chic Alpine village soured at the start of the forum, when Goldman Sach chief operating officer Gary Cohn accused rulemakers of pushing risk toward the unregulated financial sector by putting an excessive burden on banks.

    Tension rose when JP Morgan's boss Jamie Dimon, one of the few U.S. bank bosses to survive the crisis, publicly clashed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy for putting more regulation on the agenda of the G20, which Sarkozy now chairs.

    Sarkozy lashed out, telling Dimon that banks had done things which "defied common sense" and were wrong to resist more regulation. "If people present me as obsessed with regulation, it's because there is a need for regulation," he said.

    But bankers opted for a more conciliatory tone when they met finance ministers, central bankers including European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Trichet and regulators at a close-door gathering on Saturday morning that formally concluded deliberations on financial regulation.

    GOOD MEETING OF MINDS

    Deutsche Bank CEO Josef Ackermann said the mood at the meeting had been good and Prudential Chief Executive Tidjane Thiam, the other informal spokesman of the bankers' group, called the session "a good meeting of minds."

    "I think it was more upbeat than I expected," said Howard Davies, a former chairman of the UK Financial Services Authority who also attended the meeting.

    "There was no kind of sense of 'let's have an argument about over-regulation, too much capital, banks are being beaten up or whatever'. It was more 'how do we ensure coordination ?'"

    Congressman Barney Frank, also present at the meeting, said that contrary to 2006, there was now a recognition among bankers that policymakers need to regulate the sector, and probably venture into the "shadow banking" system at some point.

    Yet, although accepting that regulation is here to stay, bankers asked for a quick and consistent implementation of the many requirements that are being imposed on them, especially for banks that are operating across many countries.

    "There is a need to rapidly end this phase of regulatory uncertainty and to know that ... there is a level playing field and that the rules are equally implemented," said Federico Ghizzoni, chief executive of Italy's biggest bank UniCredit.

    (Additional reporting by Paul Carrel and Michael Stott, editing by Michael Stott and Mark Heinrich)

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110129/...ial_regulation

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    An uncertain future after jobless benefits expire

    By CRISTINA SILVA, Associated Press Cristina Silva, Associated Press – Sat Jan 29, 2011

    LAS VEGAS – The portraits of his dead father are among the few mementoes Bud Meyers is certain he will take with him when he is forced from his home of five years next month because he cannot pay the rent.

    His prized collection of mystery novels, the bedroom set he was once proud to purchase new and anything else that can't fit into the trunk of a car must be left behind.

    More than two years after Meyers lost his job as a Las Vegas Strip bartender and nearly eight months after he exhausted his unemployment benefits, it has come to this: a careful inventory of a life's possessions and the hopeless embrace of a future as a middle-aged homeless man.

    "I can't believe this is happening to my life," Meyers, 55, said on a recent afternoon, as he surveyed the one-bedroom apartment he must soon abandon. "It's a social holocaust."

    Meyers, who is single and childless, is among a growing number of men and women who no longer qualify for unemployment benefits because they have been out of work for so long.

    "Exhaustees" or "99ers" — as they are sometimes called — are searching for work and help across the United States. But their situation seems particularly bleak in Nevada, where unemployment, bankruptcies and foreclosure rates are the highest in the nation and job creation is at a crawl. The "99er" moniker refers to those who've gone beyond the maximum weeks of benefits available. But many people don't qualify for the full 99-week period.

    Nearly 40,000 Nevadans have exhausted their benefits and hundreds more are expected to join those ranks this year, with the state's average length of unemployment climbing to more than eight months in December, according to state data.

    The response from Washington has been muted. A law passed last month that restored the federal emergency unemployment program through the end of 2011 did not account for exhaustees.

    Meanwhile, efforts to extend benefits for 20 more weeks in states with unemployment rates of 10 percent or higher have mostly met silence.

    "People that are unemployed, particularly in hard-hit states like Nevada, they are not spoiled," said Rep. Shelley Berkley, a Las Vegas Democrat who introduced a measure to extend benefits. "They are not lazy. They are not hobos. It is just the economy is so bad that there aren't enough jobs out there."

    The Silver State's unemployment rate grew to 14.5 percent in December. In the Las Vegas area, where most Nevadans live, it soared to 14.9 percent. In Reno, the rate climbed to 13.8 percent from 13.3 the month before. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 9.4 percent in December, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

    Transportation, warehousing and utility industries continued to shed jobs in Nevada. Gambling revenue, the lifeblood of Las Vegas, fell by 4.7 percent in November.

    At best, Nevada's economy shows uneven signs of growth, said Stephen Brown, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

    "People have stopped looking for work," he said. "They don't think they will find" a job.

    Caught with no income and a recurring flood of unpaid bills, the chronically unemployed are overwhelming charitable groups.

    At the Foundation for an Independent Tomorrow, a Las Vegas work placement center, the number of people asking for help has doubled to 1,000 this year since 2007. Staff members can only do so much for those who have been unemployed for years, said Development Coordinator Rachel Santos.

    "These are some of the hardest to employ," she said. "We can't create jobs. We can't do anything magical."

    The Goodwill of Southern Nevada said more than 5,600 people asked for career guidance in 2010, up 30 percent from the year before. Roughly 25 percent of those people no longer qualified for unemployment benefits, said CEO Steve Chartrand.

    "One of the things we offer is hope," he said. "Many people come in really feeling down and out and our staff will take the time to listen to them."

    But for some 99ers, the time for hope has passed.

    Meyers initially welcomed his termination in October 2008 as a vacation from the daily grind of catering to tip-hungry cocktail waitresses and standing behind a crowded bar. He raided his $30,000 rainy-day fund and cut back on luxuries such as new clothes and hair cuts.

    But as more people lost their jobs and the stock market teetered, Meyers became panicked. The casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, where he had worked his way up from a lowly bar-back to a comfortable $1,100 weekly wage, seemed reluctant to hire a pudgy, gray-haired bartender over the flocks of young women competing for the same jobs.

    The one time he was called to an interview, his inexperience with mixing mojitos, a trendy mint-fused drink unheard of in the unassuming Vegas era that drew him to Sin City, cost him the opportunity, he said.

    He all but emptied his checking account this month to make rent. With the remaining $56, he bought groceries — a pie, some bread, milk, coffee — and penned a notice to his friends on Facebook:

    "I'm tired of being made to feel like dirt because I lost my job," he wrote. "Only three more weeks, and I won't be tired any longer."

    It was not so much a suicide note, he said days later, but a cry for help.

    His friends have unsuccessfully urged him to seek counseling.

    "I feel like he is desolate and he is at the end of his rope," said Jacqueline Decker, who also has exhausted her unemployment benefits. "We each have our own hell."

    Robert Leahy, director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York, said it is not uncommon for 99ers to grapple with depression.

    "You certainly get stuck in a negative thought over and over again," said Leahy, who studies depression. "The longer you are unemployed, the more evidence you think you have that you will never get a job."

    Meyers' pessimism was somewhat softened this week by a display of altruism. A stranger who heard of his Facebook posting invited him to stay in her guest room if he is evicted. She, too, is unemployed.

    He doesn't see it as a solution that can last.

    He calculates that it will take three days of not having access to shower before he is shunned on the street. He wonders what he will eat. He also stopped making car payments, so his vehicle could be repossessed soon. He then pictures police officers rousting him from the sidewalk.

    "It's bad enough being 55 and clean and unemployed," Meyers said. "Can you imagine being dirty and unemployed? There's no going back from that."
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110129/...a_unemployment

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    Alpha Natural Agrees to Buy Massey Energy for $7.1 Billion in Cash, Stock
    By Mario Parker and Zachary R. Mider - Jan 30, 2011

    Alpha Natural Resources Inc., the third-biggest U.S. coal producer, agreed to buy Massey Energy Co. for about $7.1 billion in cash and stock, gaining the largest coal company in the U.S. Central Appalachian region.

    Massey shareholders will receive 1.025 Alpha Natural shares plus $10 cash for each share held, the companies said in a statement yesterday. The bid values Massey at $69.33 a share, 21 percent more than Massey’s price at the close of trading Jan. 28. Massey has $1.63 billion in debt, according to Bloomberg data.

    The combination will give the new company more than 110 mines and coal reserves of about 5 billion tons, and creates the world’s third-largest metallurgical coal producer behind BHP Billiton-Mitsubishi Alliance, known as BMA, and Teck Resources Ltd. It will be the second-largest U.S. coal company by sales, with almost 14,000 employees.

    “We’ve always thought the combination between our two companies was strategic, transformational and compelling,” Alpha Natural Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield said in a telephone interview yesterday. “We went into the process with an eye toward winning, and, at the end of the day we did emerge victorious and we’re absolutely delighted that we did.”

    Alpha Natural will own 54 percent of the company, and Richmond, Virginia-based Massey will own the remaining 46 percent, according to the statement. Both companies’ boards have approved the transaction, they said.

    Alpha and Arch

    Alpha Natural won Massey over a competing proposal from St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc., according to two people with knowledge of the talks.

    Alpha Natural, the largest U.S. metallurgical coal producer, has operations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. The Abingdon, Virginia-based company bought Foundation Coal Holdings Inc. for $2 billion in July 2009 to gain access to the low-cost thermal coal reserves in Wyoming, and controls about 2.3 billion tons of reserves.

    Massey has about 2.8 billion tons of reserves, 1.3 billion of which is of the metallurgical or coking coal used to produce steel. Prices for steelmaking coal may surge 78 percent to a record $400 a metric ton for the three-month contract starting April 1, amid flooding in Queensland, Australia, which has disrupted supply, Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a Jan. 25 report.

    Mine Disaster

    The company owns the Upper Big Branch mine near Montcoal, West Virginia, where 29 people died in an April 5 explosion, the worst U.S. coal mining disaster in 40 years. Massey has posted consecutive losses since the accident, citing associated costs and increased regulatory scrutiny.

    Crutchfield said he will remain CEO of the combined company, while Alpha Natural’s Michael Quillen keeps his job as chairman and Kurt Kost continues in his role as president of Alpha.

    Massey Chief Executive Baxter Phillips will remain with Alpha as an adviser, Crutchfield said.

    “Baxter will be staying on with us in an advisory-type capacity,” Crutchfield said. “He will play a very key role in the integration process as well as other key business matters.”

    Alpha executives have coveted Massey since at least 2007, when the companies discussed a stock merger, according to the two people familiar with the talks. The previous year, Massey had announced it was exploring alternatives after activist hedge fund Third Point LLC, run by Daniel Loeb, won two board seats and pressed for a sale.

    Blankenship’s Opposition

    Massey’s chief executive officer at the time, Don Blankenship, opposed the Alpha combination, the people said, and ultimately succeeded in keeping the company independent. Loeb and his colleague quit, chiding the board for failing “to follow through with an attractive business combination with a competitor,” according to a regulatory filing.

    Alpha Natural went on to agree to a sale to iron ore producer Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. in 2008 that fell through and then it bought Foundation Coal.

    The company approached Massey again last year, a few months after the Upper Big Branch explosion, and followed up with an unsolicited, written takeover proposal, the people said. Massey’s board entered into talks with Alpha and other potential acquirers.

    “We’ve had discussions off and on for several years, but they reached a point of earnestness, call it, the last few months,” Crutchfield said yesterday.

    Coal Premiums

    The average premium for coal-industry deals announced in 2010 was 26 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Walter Energy Inc., a southern Appalachia producer of steelmaking coal, agreed to buy Canada’s Western Coal Corp. last month for C$3.3 billion ($3.3 billion) to add reserves and boost production.

    Massey has about 7,000 employees and has been operating for more than 94 years and started with the Massey family selling coal door-to-door via horse-drawn wagon. St. Joe Minerals acquired a majority interest in 1974. Six years later, St. Joe and Royal Dutch Shell Plc formed Massey Coal Partnership, according to the company’s website.

    Fluor Corp. bought St. Joe Minerals, reorganizing Massey into a subsidiary. Massey completed a reverse spinoff from Fluor in 2000.

    Former CEO

    Phillips, who has been with the company for 30 years, became Massey’s chief executive officer on Dec. 31 after Blankenship retired. Blankenship, who emerged as the face of the company in public disagreements with U.S. regulators following the Montcoal accident, had been with Massey for 28 years.

    Blankenship, who began his career with the company as an office manager in 1982, had expressed reservations about the company’s potential sale. When he became president in 1990 Massey had about 700 million tons of coal, he has said. Under his management it mined 763 million tons of coal and he boosted its reserves to the 2.8 billion it currently holds.

    Massey rose $2.84, or 5.2 percent, to $57.23 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading Jan. 28. The shares had fallen 35 percent since the fatal blast before surging on an Oct. 18 Wall Street Journal report that it was weighing a sale.

    Alpha said that it received commitments for $3.3 billion in financing from Morgan Stanley and Citigroup Inc. and that it will use some of it to refinance both companies debt.

    Morgan Stanley is the lead financial adviser for Alpha, in addition to Citi and Cleary Gottlieb Steen &amp; Hamilton LLP is providing legal counsel.

    Massey is advised by Perella Weinberg Partners LP and UBS Securities LLC. Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP and Troutman Sanders LLP are Massey’s legal counsel.

    (The companies will hold a conference call with analysts and investors tomorrow at 8 a.m. in New York. To listen, go to either company’s Web site at http:// www.masseyenergyco.com or www.alphanr.com or via telephone at +1-877-407-8037 or +1-201- 689-8037.)

    To contact the reporters on this story: Mario Parker in Chicago at mparker22@bloomberg.net; Zachary R. Mider in New York at zmider1@bloomberg.net.

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net; Katherine Snyder at ksnyder@bloomberg.net

    http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-0...ash-stock.html

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    Gates: Helping world's poor is a good investment
    By DONNA GORDON BLANKINSHIP, Associated Press – Mon Jan 31, 2011

    SEATTLE – Bill Gates says he feels a responsibility to speak up for the world's poorest because they're likely to be hit hard as economic woes force governments to reduce contributions to foreign aid.

    In his third annual letter, issued Monday, the co-chairman of the world's largest charitable foundation expressed concern about budget cuts to the programs that transfer dollars from rich nations to poor ones, providing medical assistance, food aid, vaccines and other help.

    The Microsoft co-founder and chairman says in the 24-page letter that not only is helping the poor with their medical needs and giving them the tools to be self-sufficient the right thing to do, it's also a good investment.

    "Securing the conditions that will lead to a healthy, prosperous future for everyone is a goal I believe we all share," wrote the co-chair of the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

    In the letter, Gates outlines the ways helping people saves money over the long term: From cutting the cost to treat the sick by preventing their illnesses to increasing a child's earning potential and future contribution to society through education. He said British Prime Minister David Cameron gives him hope that not all countries have forgotten about the needs of the poor, noting that the United Kingdom has kept its promise to grow foreign aid spending despite the need to cut other programs.

    "It is inspiring to see a leader stand up for what he believes is right, even when it isn't easy." Gates wrote.

    A large chunk of his letter this year focuses on one disease — polio — an illness many people thought had been eradicated. The disease did disappear from most developed nations decades ago, but it still exists in more than a dozen countries. Late last week, the foundation announced a new financial commitment of $102 million toward the goal of worldwide eradication.

    The foundation, which has an endowment of $36.4 billion, made grants totaling $3 billion in 2009. By far the biggest portion went to global health, where grants totaling more than $1.8 billion were made in 2009. Since 1994, the foundation has made grants totaling $23.9 billion. The totals for 2010 have not yet been posted on the foundation's website.

    Gates said it will take aggressive campaigns to give polio vaccines to all children under 5 in poor countries, at a cost of nearly $1 billion a year to give the world a chance at eliminating polio. He admitted to being overly optimistic about polio eradication in 2003, saying the world was only a few years away from ending polio. The disease started to spread again during that time.

    "The experience of 2003 serves as a reminder to be humble as we move forward. But humility does not mean fatalism," he wrote.

    The rest of his letter, which reads more like a cross between an annual report and an extended blog entry, shares short stories on the current direction of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    Gates says vaccines are the most cost-effective health tool ever invented. He reminds his readers that 1.4 million children will die this year from diseases for which there are already vaccines — like measles, pneumonia and tetanus.

    Melinda Gates has made maternal and child health issues her special focus. Gates writes that progress has been made in this area as well, but more than 8 million children under 5 still die every year.

    He said he is getting frustrated with the slow progress in the fight against AIDS.

    "I am willing to be viewed as a troublemaker by people who are happy with the status quo," he wrote.
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110131/...F0ZXNoZWxwaW5n

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    India approves long-delayed $12 billion POSCO steel mill
    By Nigam Prusty and Paul de Bendern Nigam Prusty And Paul De Bendern – Mon Jan 31, 2011

    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India's environment ministry approved on Monday South Korean POSCO's plans for a $12 billion steel mill, a boost for the foreign investment climate in Asia's third-largest economy after several setbacks for big ticket industrial projects.

    The long-delayed clearance for India's biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) follows a year in which Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has blocked several projects, raising criticism he was jeopardizing India's growth story.

    India, one of the world's fastest growing major economies, needs foreign capital to boost infrastructure and allow its economy to grow at near double digits. But projects have met with protests from largely poor farmers in this densely populated country.

    "It's very good news that this issue has now been settled," said Taina Erajuuri, Helsinki-based portfolio manager at FIM India, which owns about $150 million worth of ****** shares.

    "India, unlike China, is a very difficult country for foreign companies to get approvals, specially environmental approvals. Many foreign companies want to come to India but the country is very bureaucratic, to put it mildly."

    The mill in eastern Orissa state has been delayed by criticism it would ruin lives of thousands of poverty-stricken people, who say the plant will disrupt their betel leaf plantations and forest-based livelihoods.

    "Undoubtedly projects such as that of POSCO have considerable economic, technological and strategic significance for the country," the environment ministry said. "At the same time, laws on environment and forests must be implemented seriously."

    The ministry attached a series of additional conditions for POSCO, but analysts said they were not major obstacles. A government panel had earlier said there were no ecological concerns over the plant.

    POSCO is among several corporations, including Vedanta Resources, which have come under scrutiny from Ramesh, putting his ministry in conflict with others in the government who are pushing for rapid industrialization.

    A series of corruption scandals has shaken the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and a recent minor cabinet reshuffle saw several ministers' portfolios change, but Ramesh stayed on as environment minister, indicating his influence.

    The ruling Congress party head, Sonia Gandhi, is keen to win over farmers hit by big projects at well as ensuring industrial jobs are created -- a fine line that may have helped create regulatory uncertainty before state elections this year and a general election in 2014.

    REGULATORY UNCERTAINTY

    While investors tend to shrug off corruption scandals as a risk of emerging markets, regulatory uncertainty threatens to taint India's attractiveness as a destination for foreign firms eager for a slice of its booming $1.3 trillion economy. And the approval granted to POSCO is unlikely to change sentiment.

    "I don't think there will be a rush of investments or environmental clearances after this (approval), it should still continue to be a slow process," said Andrew Holland, chief executive for equities at Ambit Capital in Mumbai.

    FDI in India fell 27 percent to about $14 billion in the current fiscal year through November, dragged down in part by delays in big investments. The central bank has also raised concern about the regulatory environment.

    China, whose economy is almost four times bigger than India's but which Delhi regards as its regional rival, drew a record $105.7 billion in FDI in 2010.

    In October, Ramesh threw out plans by London-listed Vedanta to expand its alumina refinery over worries it would destroy a hill considered scared by tribal peoples.

    But this month, he said he was willing to conditionally reconsider Vedanta's expansion plan, and the ministry also said it could consider approving Hindustan Construction Co's ambitious Lavasa project, a $31 billion town proposed to be built in a forested area near the city of Pune.

    A back-and-forth on whether to ban iron ore exports in the Karnataka state has also worried investors. ArcelorMittal, the world's top steel maker, has also faced years of delays in building several plants in India.

    Approval for the POSCO mill would see the Orissa government immediately starting to acquire land for the world's third-largest steelmaker's project.

    "The decision will help us proceed with the stalled project, as it will allow us to resume land acquisition among other things," said a POSCO spokesman in Seoul.

    POSCO still faces a series of hurdles that could delay the project, such as a court case filed by a local firm against the Orissa government, contesting its decision to grant a mining concession to the South Koreans.

    India, which has not yet been able to exploit its potential as a natural resources-rich country, is keen to boost its trade and political ties with South Korea while Seoul looks to tap into the $150 billion ****** nuclear power market.

    Direct investors -- companies building factories or power plants or buying local firms -- often have less flexibility and more to lose than fund investors and are especially sensitive to regulatory uncertainty.

    Leading global companies such as Wal-Mart Stores, Vodafone and POSCO have been frustrated for years in their efforts to negotiate regulations in a promising but perilous market, and FDI has suffered.

    (Additional reporting by Krittivas Mukherjee in NEW DELHI, Sumeet Chatterjee and Prashant Mehra in MUMBAI and Miyoung Kim in SEOUL; writing by Paul de Bendern; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Miral Fahmy)
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110131/...RpYWFwcHJvdmU-

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    White House to launch job-creating start-up effort
    – Mon Jan 31, 2011

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House will announce an effort on Monday to encourage job-creating start-up businesses in hopes of reducing the country's stubbornly high unemployment rate.

    Senior officials are to launch a national campaign called "Startup America," which will encourage private sector investment in startups and small firms, accelerate research and address barriers to success for entrepreneurs and small businesses.

    Officials are to announce that President Barack Obama will propose making permanent the elimination of capital gains taxes on key investments in small businesses, a White House official said.
    [ For complete coverage of politics and policy, go to Yahoo! Politics ]

    That provision was passed in September as part of a temporary measure. Obama's fiscal 2012 budget proposal to be released in two weeks will propose making the provision permanent.

    Officials will also announce that the Small Business Administration will direct $2 billion over the next 5 years to match private sector investment funding for startups. The money is already in the budget.
    (Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Todd Eastham)

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110131/...RlaG91c2V0bw--

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    Eurozone inflation spikes up to 27-month high
    By PAN PYLAS, AP Business Writer Pan Pylas, Ap Business Writer – Mon Jan 31, 2011


    LONDON – Consumer price increases in the 17 countries that use the euro have accelerated further above the European Central Bank's target, just days ahead of its monthly policy meeting, official figures showed Monday.

    Eurostat, the EU's statistics office, said that consumer prices were 2.4 percent higher in January than the year before — a 27-month high. January's increase was up from December's 2.2 percent gain and ahead of expectations for a 2.3 percent rate.

    No further details were provided but higher energy and commodity costs are expected to have been behind the rise. A more detailed picture of inflation during the month will be published later in February.

    The increase is likely to stoke jitters at the European Central Bank, which is tasked to keep inflation "close to, but below 2 percent."

    After the last meeting in January, the ECB's president Jean-Claude Trichet warned that short-term upside risks to inflation had increased, mainly owing to energy prices. Trichet's comment that the inflation numbers merited "very close monitoring" was interpreted in the markets as a warning that interest rates could eventually be lifted earlier than expected.

    Though Trichet is expected to sound a hawkish tone on inflation following Thursday's meeting, a rise in the main interest rate this week from the current record low of 1 percent is considered extremely unlikely, partly because there are few signs yet that price rises are lifting wage demands given a eurozone unemployment rate around 10 percent.

    "As the temporary boost from higher food and energy prices begins to reverse, we expect the headline rate of inflation to fall back to well below the ECB's 2 percent ceiling," said Ben May, European economist at Capital Economics.

    In addition, rate-setters remain concerned about the impact on growth levels this year from the austerity programs being pursued by a number of countries within the eurozone. Higher interest rates would be the last thing countries like Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain will want to contend with as they cut spending and raise taxes in an effort to get a handle on their public finances.

    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110131/...96b25laW5mbA--

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