Friday, April 29, 2011

Today's Headlines


  • Consumer Spending Climbs With Food, Fuel Costs. Americans increased their spending in March as they paid more for gasoline and groceries, suggesting income gains may need to pick up to prevent a bigger squeeze on household finances. Purchases rose 0.6 percent after a revised 0.9 percent gain the prior month that was higher than previously estimated, the Commerce Department said today in Washington. After adjusting for changes in prices, the spending that accounts for 70 percent of the economy rose 0.2 percent in March.
  • Gold Rises to Record; Silver Heads for Biggest Monthly Advance Since 1983. Gold futures rose to a record for the third straight day on bets that the dollar will extend a slump, enhancing the allure of the metal as an alternative asset. Silver headed for the biggest monthly gain in 28 years. The greenback headed for the fifth consecutive monthly decline against a basket of six major currencies. The Federal Reserve signaled this week that borrowing costs will remain at a record low for an extended period. Gold headed for the biggest monthly gain since November 2009. “The dollar will continue to lose ground for the foreseeable future, so it only makes sense to be invested in precious metals,” said Matthew Zeman, a strategist at Kingsview Financial in Chicago. Gold futures for June delivery rose $12.80, or 0.8 percent, to $1,544 an ounce at 10:41 a.m. on the Comex in New York. Earlier, the price reached a record $1,545.90. The metal has gained more than 7 percent this month. Gold for immediate delivery climbed as much as 0.6 percent to an all-time high of $1,544.90. Assets in the SPDR Gold Trust, the biggest exchange-traded fund backed by gold, have expanded 1.5 percent this month, heading for the biggest gain since August.
  • Caterpillar(CAT) Boosts Forecast as Profit Beats Estimates. Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), the world’s largest maker of construction equipment, posted first-quarter profit that topped analysts’ estimates and raised its full-year earnings forecast as sales surged in developing countries. Net income rose more than fivefold to $1.23 billion, or $1.84 a share, from $233 million, or 36 cents, a year earlier, the Peoria, Illinois-based company said in a statement today. The average estimate of 21 analysts in a Bloomberg survey was $1.31 a share. Sales rose 57 percent to $12.9 billion from $8.24 billion. “We expect that the pace of world economic growth will support continued recovery in the key industries we serve,” Chief Executive Officer Doug Oberhelman said in the statement. “We are positive about the short-term U.S. economic outlook but believe bipartisan actions are needed in Washington to improve the long-run fiscal position of the U.S. government.”
  • Spanish Unemployment Rate Rises to More Than 21% as Inflation Accelerates. Spanish unemployment, the highest in Europe, rose more than expected as inflation accelerated and retail sales plunged, undermining the nation’s recovery from its worst recession in six decades. Joblessness rose to 21.3 percent in the first quarter, the National Statistics Institute said today in Madrid, compared with 20.3 percent in the previous three months and a median forecast of 20.7 percent in a Bloomberg News survey. Consumer prices gained 3.5 percent in April from a year earlier, based on a European Union measure, after increasing 3.3 percent in March. Retail sales fell 8.6 percent in March from a year earlier, the steepest decline in two years, INE said.
  • GM Vehicles Probed by U.S. Agency for Possible Faulty Fuel-Tank Readings. General Motors Co. (GM) trucks are being investigated by U.S. auto-safety regulators because faulty fuel- tank readings may lead drivers to think there’s more gasoline in the vehicles than there really is.
  • Goldman(GS), JPMorgan(JPM) Among 16 Banks Targeted by EU in Swaps Probe. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) and 14 other investment banks face the first-ever European Union antitrust probes into the swaps market, following investigations by U.S. regulators. The EU is examining whether 16 banks, including Citigroup Inc. (C) and Deutsche Bank AG (DBK), colluded by giving market information to Markit Group Ltd., a data provider majority-owned by Wall Street’s largest banks. It will also check if nine of the firms struck unfair deals with Intercontinental Exchange Inc.’s European derivatives clearinghouse, shutting out rivals.
  • Afghan War Progress at Risk From Corruption, Training Lags. Security progress in Afghanistan risks being undermined by the Afghan government’s failure to develop rapidly enough and tackle corruption and by shortfalls in the number of coalition trainers, the Pentagon said.
  • Libyan Fighting for Key Border Crossing Spills Into Tunisia. A battle between Libyan government forces and rebels for a key border crossing spilled into Tunisia, part of violence spreading throughout the country as rebels struggle to sustain an uprising against Muammar Qaddafi.
  • Syrian Protests Escalate Nationwide After Government Warns Demonstrators. Syrians took to the streets across the country today, defying warnings by the Interior Ministry not to hold demonstrations as the popular challenge to President Bashar al-Assad’s rule escalates.
  • Oil is Poised to Climb for Record Eighth Straight Month on Demand Outlook, Falling Dollar, Mideast Tensions. Oil was poised to rise for an unprecedented eighth straight month as better-than-expected consumer spending signaled fuel demand may increase. Futures traded near a 31-month high after purchases climbed in March as Americans spent more on food and fuel, according to a Commerce Department report. Equities advanced and the dollar weakened against other major currencies, boosting the appeal of commodities as an alternative investment. Crude for June delivery rose 50 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $113.36 a barrel at 12:03 p.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures are up 6.2 percent in April and have advanced every month since August, the longest streak of gains since the contract began trading in 1983. Prices have climbed 1 percent this week and have jumped 33 percent in the past year. Brent for June settlement increased 67 cents, or 0.5 percent, to $125.69 a barrel on London’s ICE Futures Europe exchange.
Wall Street Journal:
  • Banks Rush to Improve Foreclosure Practices. The clock is ticking for the biggest U.S. banks to revamp their foreclosure practices. Under orders from U.S. regulators, 14 financial institutions have until mid-June to lay out plans to clean up their mortgage-servicing operations—and another 60 days to make the changes. It will be a daunting, expensive chore despite the work done since the foreclosure mess erupted last fall. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said it would take a $1.1 billion charge related to the consent order and other servicing-cost increases. Citigroup Inc., which services $602 billion of mortgage loans, predicted the changes will boost expenses by as much as $35 million a year.
Business Insider:
New York Times:
  • In Shift, Egypt Warms to Iran and Hamas, Israel's Foes. Egypt is charting a new course in its foreign policy that has already begun shaking up the established order in the Middle East, planning to open the blockaded border with Gaza and normalizing relations with two of Israel and the West’s Islamist foes, Hamas and Iran. Egyptian officials, emboldened by the revolution and with an eye on coming elections, say that they are moving toward policies that more accurately reflect public opinion. In the process they are seeking to reclaim the influence over the region that waned as their country became a predictable ally of Washington and the Israelis in the years since the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. Egypt’s shifts are likely to alter the balance of power in the region, allowing Iran new access to a previously implacable foe and creating distance between itself and Israel, which has been watching the changes with some alarm. “We are troubled by some of the recent actions coming out of Egypt,” said one senior Israeli official, citing a “rapprochement between Iran and Egypt” as well as “an upgrading of the relationship between Egypt and Hamas.” “These developments could have strategic implications on Israel’s security,” the official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the issues were still under discussion in diplomatic channels. “In the past Hamas was able to rearm when Egypt was making efforts to prevent that. How much more can they build their terrorist machine in Gaza if Egypt were to stop?”
LA Times:
Boston Herald:
  • Polls: Romney Leading Obama, Both Burdened On Health Care Front. A WMUR Granite State Poll by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center shows Romney with a 50-43 edge in a hypothetical matchup against President Barack Obama. The phone poll of 504 randomly selected New Hampshire adults was taken from April 15-26 and has a 4.4 percent margin of error. Fifty-two percent disapproved of Obama’s job performance while 44 percent said he’s doing a good job. Pollsters said Obama’s job performance rating was the lowest since his election, with his popularity knocked down by his handling of the economy – 40 percent approved and 57 percent disapproved - and health care policy – 40 percent approved and 56 percent disapproved.
  • Apple's(AAPL) White iPhone 4 Sold Out in China. “The white iPhone 4 goes on sale Thursday. Apple’s new white iPhone 4 has sold out in some Asian markets, analysts and sites reported today,” Gregg Keizer reports for Computerworld. “The long-delayed white iPhone 4, which went on sale in 28 countries earlier Thursday, sold out in Beijing, said Brian White, an analyst with Ticonderoga Securities,” Keizer reports. “‘Our checks today indicate that the ‘white’ iPhone 4 was sold out on launch day in Beijing,’ said White in an email. Keizer reports, “Other sources seconded the sell-out. According to the blog ElegentTech, Hong Kong stocks of the white iPhone 4 sold out in the first hour of availability.” Read more in the full article here.
Money Morning:
  • Asian iPad 2 Launches Greeted With Long Lines. Asian launches of the iPad 2 were met with long lines on Thursday, reports say. The most significant of these may be in Japan, which was first slated to get the tablet on March 25th, but had the introduction delayed because of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the north on March 11th. By the time Apple Japan's flagship Ginza store opened at 9AM on Thursday, the iPad2 lineup was reportedly three blocks long. AFP notes that in Hong Kong, around 400 people waited in the rain outside one store. Mall staff are said to have have handed out raincoats to people who had forgot an umbrella. Some of the buyers may have been gray marketeers, however, as several groups are said to have piled as many as a dozen iPads into shopping trolleys. AFP adds that Apple's online store for Hong Kong was out of stock by midday. Other Asia-Pacific launches are occurring in Macau, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and South Korea. One Singapore reseller is noted to have had only 100 iPads in stock. In South Korea, 100 people lined up at the central Seoul outlet of carrier KT. Elsewhere in the world India, Israel, South Africa, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates are getting the device.
  • China will hold a campaign against "illegal" books, software, television series, moves and online music and games May 1 to Aug. 31 to market the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China on July 1, citing the Ministry of Culture. The government will conduct "strict" reviews of the content and licenses of performance and entertainment venues, and punish Internet cafes that allow minors to use their facilities.
  • Tibetan Human Rights Watch Group Expresses Deep Alarm at Chinese Military Crackdown on Monastery. The Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is deeply concerned at the massive security crackdown in Ngaba County, Sichuan, and other Tibetan areas in present day China. The crackdown has been severe in the past 43 days in Ngaba County and Kirti Monastery has been targetted particularly. Since the self-immolation of 20-year-old monk Phuntsok on 16 March 2011 in protest against Chinese rule in Tibet, scores of Tibetans have protested at the inhumane treatment given to him by the police while extinguishing flame. The extreme response by the Chinese security forces has led to around 37 detentions as well as four deaths (self-immolation by Phuntsok and three beaten to death) in the security crackdown. The Kirti Monastery has been under lockdown for over a month now. Armed security personals with police attack dogs patrol compound of the monastery. Work teams from the local religious bureau and government has been conducting rigorous "patriotic re-education" inside the monastery since 20 March. On 21 April, 300 monks have been transported in ten military trucks to an extralegal black jail. When the local Tibetans, mostly elderlies, sitting vigil at the monastery gate tried to stop the monks from being taken away, the police used extreme violence in controlling the crowd which led to death of two elderly Tibetans (65-year-old woman named Sherkyi and 60-year-old man Dongko). Another Tibetan, Chukpel, 24, died of injuries after being severely beaten by the police on 7 April when he along with two youths staged protest in front of a police station in Dzamthang Township, Ngaba Prefecture. The TCHRD is extremely concerned at fate of the monks led away by the security troops.

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