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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Stock futures point toward higher opening

NEW YORK (AP) -- Stock futures retreated from their highs Tuesday after a report showed economic growth in the third quarter was not as strong as previously forecast.

However, investors appear to be shaking off the worse-than-expected data as the economy is still showing signs of growth. Stocks are set to open higher.

Overseas markets strengthened. A report that the British economy did not contract as much as previously thought in the third quarter sparked a rally in Europe.

The U.S. government said the nation's economy grew at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in the third quarter, smaller than the previous estimate of 2.8 percent. The Commerce Department cut the reading because consumers didn't spend as much, commercial construction weakened and companies reduced inventories.

But the economy returned to growth during the quarter after a record four straight quarters of decline, and many analysts believe the economy is on track for a better finish in the current quarter.

Traders are awaiting a report that is expected to show sales of existing homes rose to their highest level in nearly three years. Economists predict home sales rose 2.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 6.25 million in November, from 6.1 million in October.

A sharp decline in sales and home prices coupled with rising defaults helped push the nation into recession. Any signs of improvement in the market would further boost confidence in the speed of the recovery.

The National Association of Realtors' report is scheduled to be released at 10 a.m. EST.

Ahead of the opening bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 29, or 0.3 percent, to 10,371. Standard & Poor's 500 index futures rose 3.50, or 0.3 percent, to 1,111.70, while Nasdaq 100 index futures rose 8.00, or 0.4 percent, to 1,833.50.

Trading is expected to be light throughout the holiday-shortened week, which can exaggerate price swings. The market is closed Friday for Christmas.

Stocks are set to extend gains into Tuesday after moving sharply higher a day earlier. Corporate dealmaking and a push toward healthcare overhaul on Capitol Hill fueled big gains. Major indexes rose about 1 percent.

Among the deals, French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA said Monday it plans to buy U.S. health care products company Chattem Inc. for $1.9 billion, and mining equipment maker Bucyrus International Inc. said it will acquire Terex Corp.'s mining equipment division for $1.3 billion.

Corporate acquisitions are often seen as a sign of an improving economy as companies that had held onto cash during a downturn look for new places to invest their money.

International deals continued Tuesday, as Boston-based State Street Corp. agreed to buy the securities services business of Italian banking group Intesa Sanpaolo for $1.87 billion.

Meanwhile, bond prices continued to fall as optimism for recovery grows. Investors typically sell long-term bonds during a rebound because of fears inflation will increase during that time. Inflation is bad for bonds because it eats into their fixed returns.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.71 percent from 3.68 percent late Monday. The yield on the 10-year note reached its highest level since August earlier in the day.

The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, rose to 0.08 percent from 0.05 percent. Short-term rates remain low because they are closely tied to interest rates set by the Federal Reserve. The Fed has said it has no plans to alter rates in the coming months. The growing gap between short- and long-term bonds provides further evidence investors are becoming more confident.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices declined to their lowest level since early November.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 1.9 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 0.9 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.2 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 0.6 percent.

Recovery not as strong as previously thought

, On Tuesday December 22, 2009, 8:47 am

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The economy grew at a 2.2 percent pace in the third quarter, as the recovery got off to a weaker start than previously thought. However, all signs suggest the economy will end the year on stronger footing.

The Commerce Department's new reading on gross domestic product for the July-to-September quarter was slower than the 2.8 percent growth rate estimated just a month ago. Economists were predicting that figure wouldn't be revised in the government's final estimate on third-quarter GDP.

The main factors behind the downgrade: consumers didn't spend as much, commercial construction was weaker, business investment in equipment and software was a bit softer and companies cut back more on inventories, according to Tuesday's report.

Despite the lower reading, the economy managed to finally return to growth during the quarter, after a record four straight quarters of decline. That signaled the deepest and longest recession since the 1930s had ended, and the economy had entered into a new fragile phase of recovery.

Many analysts believe the economy is on track for a better finish in the current quarter.

The economy is probably growing at nearly 4 percent in the October-to-December quarter, analysts say. If they're right, that would mark the strongest showing since 5.4 percent growth in the first quarter of 2006 -- well before the recession began. The government will release its first estimate of fourth-quarter economic activity on Jan. 29.

Yet even such growth wouldn't be enough to quickly drive down the unemployment rate, now at 10 percent. High unemployment and tight credit for both consumers and businesses are expected to continue to weigh on the economic recovery. Many economists predict the economy's growth will slow to a pace of around 2 or 3 percent in the first three months of 2010.

Growth in the final quarter is expected to be driven by companies restocking depleted inventories. Stocks of goods were slashed at a record pace during the recession. So even the smallest pickup in customer demand will force factories to step up production and boost overall economic activity in the final quarter.

Stronger sales of exports to foreign customers, as well as spending by U.S. consumers and businesses, also will help underpin fourth-quarter growth.

Monday, December 21, 2009

'Gold at $ 2,000 becoming acceptable to investors'

'December 18, 2009 05:50:00 IST

In 1705, John Law submitted a proposal to the Scottish Parliament that a new bank be set up that issued interest bearing notes to replace gold and silver coins as currency. He believed that public confidence alone was the basis of public credit and would allow bank notes to replace gold.

As he told a friend "I have discovered the secret of the philosopher' stone; it is to make gold out of paper."

The Scots rejected the proposal as did the Duke of Savoy, who said about Law's scheme "I am not rich enough to ruin myself."

Unfortunately France adopted Law's scheme. In 1718 his Banque Royal effectively became the French Central bank and he became Controller General of Finances. Paper replaced gold by decree and the massive growth in money supply that followed led to the doubling of consumer prices by 1720. There was a massive bubble in the stock of his Mississippi Company and by June 1720 the grand experiment was over with paper money supply now four times larger than the gold and silver coins previously used.

Paper money works as long as there is faith in the creditworthiness of the country issuing the currency and debt. The massive growth of money supply and debt in many countries prior to and following the financial crisis led to Dubai's default and the recent downgrades of Greek and Spanish sovereign debt.

Morgan Stanley has just issued a report which highlights the danger of a sovereign debt crisis in the UK.

Many countries in the developed world are running massive deficits to try to sustain economy recovery, but run the risk of sovereign default, currency devaluation, and serious inflation. These risks have spurred investor demand for gold as a hedge.

There is even talk of the potential for hyperinflation (one definition of which is consumer prices increases of more than 50% per annum). Peter Bernholz (Professor of Economics at the University of Basel) studied the world's 12 most important periods of hyperinflation and discovered that the tipping point occurs when deficits amounted to 40% of the expenditures.

For the United States last year's deficit of $1.4 trillion amounted to 40% of the $3.6 trillion in expenses. And deficit for first two months of the current fiscal year (Oct/Nov) is running higher than the same period last year...

New players of the Park Avenue ilk have entered the market, who would never have looked twice at gold if not for US dollar weakness and the potential for serious inflation ahead.

Hedge fund manager John Paulson made $ 20 billion betting against the housing market. He has now invested over $ 4.3 billion in gold mining companies and is raising a new gold fund in January. Other high profile investors in gold now include David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital, Paul Tudor of hedge fund giant Tudor Investment Corp. and Kyle Bass's Hyman Capital.

Some of these investors have actually overcome an aversion to gold. As Paul Tudor put it: "I have never been a gold bug. It is just an asset that, like everything else in life, has its time and place. And now is that time."

Paulson recently told investors that the rally in gold is just beginning. He will invest $ 250 million of his own capital in his new gold fund, which will mostly buy shares of mining companies.

"I can't remember in 20 years so many respected investors focused on a single strategy," said Bradley Alford of Alpha Capital Management, which invests in hedge funds. "Some of these people are icons of the industry with at least 15-year track records."

In fact, HSBC in New York has told its retail customers to remove all their gold from its vaults as it is now catering to institutional investors (who are buying gold in size) because it can charge institutions higher rates.

And the Central Banks are now net buyers of gold. After China and Russia disclosed that they have been steadily buying gold, India bought 200 tonnes from the IMF and Sri Lanka and Mauritius also bought gold. For good measure, Russia also says it is buying Canadian dollars to diversify away from the US dollar.

In fact, China, Russia, the Middle East and the Asia countries hold just 2.2% of their foreign exchange reserves in gold, compared to 38% for the Western countries, according to Stephen Jen of Blue Gold Capital (he was an expert on sovereign wealth funds at Morgan Stanley). To get to even half of Western levels, they would have to buy $ 700 billion worth of gold.

And yet more evidence of exploding investment demand for gold comes from the US Mint: it has periodically suspended the sale of 1 ounce Gold Eagles and the 1 ounce Silver Eagle as production cannot keep up with demand.

The impact of mainstream money on gold will be profound, because the size of the gold and silver industry is so small. The total value of all the gold ever mined is estimated at just $ 5 trillion. Total 2008 gold production was valued at $ 73 billion. The market capitalisation of all the world's gold producers is just equal to Wal-Mart and is less than Microsoft. The oil and gas industry is 12 times larger.

The silver industry is much smaller, with total 2008 production currently valued at about $ 10 billion.

Or as Doug Casey put it in September: "There's no doubt in my mind that we'll have a mania in gold. And because the gold and especially silver markets are so tiny, the rush into them will be like trying to push the contents of Hoover Dam through a garden hose. Our positions will go absolutely ballistic."

And just a demand is ratcheting up, global gold supply has been falling, despite a four-fold increase in gold prices since 2001:

As is happening currently, the US was running large trade deficits in the late 1960s, which meant its trading partners were being given significant amounts of US dollars.

When they tried to get the US to convert the dollars to gold (under Bretton Woods, currencies were convertible into gold upon demand), the US de-linked the US dollar from gold in 1971.

Between 1971 and 1980, gold increased over 24 times in price (from $35 to $ 850).

So, the potential for a significant increase in the price of gold does have historical precedent.

With gold having hit $ 1,200, the calls for gold to rise to $ 2,000 are becoming more acceptable to investors. Whether it goes higher than that will depend on how things are when (not if) it reaches that milestone.



Oil hovers above $73 ahead of OPEC meeting

, On Monday December 21, 2009, 9:06 am EST

Oil prices hovered above $73 a barrel Monday ahead of an OPEC meeting where investors expect the cartel to keep production levels unchanged.

By mid-afternoon in Europe, benchmark crude for January delivery was up 14 cents to $73.50 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The January contract, which expires later on Monday, rose 71 cents to settle at $73.36 on Friday.

Traders also have begun to watch the February contract, which was up 43 cents to $74.85 on Monday.

Leaders of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries reiterated Monday that the group doesn't plan to change output levels at its meeting Tuesday in Luanda, Angola,

OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem El-Badri of Libya said there is consensus within the oil-producing bloc to maintain its production targets into 2010, indicating the group plans to hold output steady.

"There is a consensus that there is no change," el-Badri told reporters when asked about OPEC's output plans at the upcoming meeting in Luanda. Even for next year, he said, changes to output are "not on our radar at this time."

El-Badri said prices are "very comfortable" for now, reflecting a sentiment sounded by several of the group's oil ministers in recent weeks.

Crude prices have staged an incredible turnaround in the past year, more than doubling from a low near $35 a barrel to trade to a zone many producing countries say they're happy with.

"The market would be surprised if there was any change to output," said Clarence Chu, a trader with Hudson Capital Energy in Singapore. "At near $75, the price is high enough to fund governments and investment, but not so high it damages the global economic recovery."

Iraq took back a remote oil well from Iranian forces over the weekend, a confrontation that briefly sent oil prices higher Friday on investor concerns about a wider conflict, although analysts quickly excluded a lasting impact on the market.

"There are continued issues on the exact positioning of the Iranian-Iraqi border but there will not be a new Iraq-Iran war," said Olivier Jakob of Petromatrix in Switzerland. "While it does create some nice headlines in a holiday market, the market reaction on Friday shows the risk of buying oil on such hyped headlines."

A slight recovery of the euro against the dollar also helped oil prices, as crude valued in dollars becomes cheaper for investors holding other currencies when the greenback weakens.

On Monday, the euro was up to $1.4345 from $1.4329 in New York on Friday.

"In a holiday environment of low liquidity for commodity markets, we will this week mainly focus on the dollar," Jakob said.

In other Nymex trading in January contracts, heating oil advanced 2.23 cents to $1.9790 while gasoline rose 0.84 cent to $1.9032. Natural gas gained 2.4 cents to $5.806 per 1,000 cubic feet.

"The weather has been cold and the U.S. East Coast has seen some of the highest snowfalls since 2003, but ... there are enough stocks of distillates and refining spare capacity to answer any surge of demand without necessarily creating any imbalances," Jakob said.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery rose 58 cents to $74.33 on the ICE Futures exchange.

Associated Press writers Alex Kennedy in Singapore and Adam Schreck in Luanda, Angola, contributed to this report.

Good News! America Isn't Following the Same Path as Japan, Asia Expert Says

Posted Dec 21, 2009 09:00am EST by Heesun Wee in Investing, Recession,Banking

As the U.S. economy has retreated from the edge of a financial cliff, America's recovery repeatedly has been compared to Japan's. Both countries suffered a collapse in asset prices, followed by a government scramble for some kind of stimulus response.

Many market watchers say America is going down the same path as Japan, a frightening prospect considering Japan's economy is well into its second "lost decade".

However, "I actually don't think it's a terribly fair comparison," says our guest Emily Parker, senior fellow at the Asia Society.

Case in point, initial policy reaction in Japan. While there are plenty of critics of America's recovery and stimulus packages, Parker said Japan's response (including recapitalization of failing institutions and monetary policy) only emerged after years of "severe" inaction. The zombie "no bank will fail" concept originated in Japan, she notes.

Also crippling Japan's recovery was a false sense of recovery, as reported by some media groups at the time, says Parker, who has written extensively about Japan and China for The WSJ and other publications. Despite reports of recovery, Japanese citizens remained pessimistic about their future, she says.

Click "more" to learn about Japan's generation-old business model and what needs to change if the world's second-largest economy is finally going to get back on track.


  • What kind of recovery is in store?

    Investors and policymakers are in general agreement that the world economy has entered a recovery phase. The question now is what kind of recovery can we expect? In our view, this will be an uneven recovery, with the US and Europe, in particular, trudging slowly along the recovery path given their impaired financial systems and continued deleveraging, especially by households which are rebuilding their tattered finances.

  • Asia: From rebound to recovery

    Asia is leading the charge in the global recovery as both demestic demand and exports are gathering momentum. Financial markets have rebounded and private capital has begun to flow back as investors are regaining an appetite for risk. But there are still doubts about whether Asia has built up sufficient momentum for a self-sustaning recovery if the G-3 economies recover at a snail-like pace.

  • Central banks to signal end to policy largesse?

    As there are clearer signs of global economic recovery, financial conditions have stabilised amid improved credit markets. Major central banks are starting to prepare their exit strategies or are even gradually unwinding the unconventional liquidity measures they introduced early this year to stave off a second global depression. Although the Fed, Bank of Japan, European Central Bank and Bank of England have all signalled that quantitative easing will be gradually unwound by next year, it may be some time before interest rates are increased. Mounting concerns over new asset bubbles in Asia have prompted some central banks to tighten regulations and rein in the excessive run-up in asset prices. Some central banks have implemented capital controls to thwart the speculative inflows. In our opinion, most central banks will start to signal a shift and rein in the excessive run-up in asset prices. Some central banks have implemented capital controls to thwart the speculative inflows. In our opinion, most central banks will start to signal a shift to monetary tightening no earlier than 2H 2010.

  • Asian currencies at turning points

    Bolstered by strengtening economic growth prospects and a growth differential which is in Asia's favour, regional currencies will climb back on an appreciation path for the greater part of 2010. That said, regional central banks' fear of the impact of stronger currencies on export competitiveness is likely to limit the magnitude of the appreciation.

  • Major risks to the outlook

    Include (i) a weaker-than-expected recovery in the developed countries;
    (ii) new asset bubbles;
    (iii) mistiming of economic stimulus withdrawal or premature monetary tightening, and
    (iv) a slower-than-expected pick-up in private sector demand.

European markets push higher ahead of US open

European stock markets up modestly ahead of expected Wall Street advance

, On Monday December 21, 2009, 7:30 am EST

LONDON (AP) -- European stock markets and Wall Street futures rose Monday amid hopes that the recent bout of selling may have run its course. However, bigger gains are not anticipated over the coming days as trading volumes fall because more and more traders are shutting up shop for the Christmas break.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 58.22 points, or 1.1 percent, at 5,255.03 while Germany's DAX rose 38.59 points, or 0.7 percent, to 5,869.80. The CAC-40 in France was 26.02 points, or 0.7 percent, higher at 3,820.46.

Wall Street was also poised to open higher at the open later -- Dow futures were up 31 points, or 0.3 percent, at 10,302 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 futures rose 4.3 point2, or 0.4 percent, to 1,102.

Activity in all markets is being affected heavily by the upcoming year-end -- many investors have already packed up for the year for the Christmas and New Year break. With others set to follow suit in the coming days, trading could well be fairly volatile, especially if they decide to book profits accumulated over the nine-month bull run.

"With volumes steadily dropping ahead of the holiday, most are happy to sit the next couple of weeks out and look at the markets with a fresh pair of eyes in 2010," said Philip Gillett, a sales trader at IG Index.

"For the short-term at least, it seems unlikely that stock markets will make much progress," he added.

Earlier, Asia experienced a mixed session, with Japan's Nikkei index boosted by figures showing that the country's exports fell by their smallest amount in 14 months during November. The news raised hopes that a turnaround in Japan's export sector, the engine of the country's economy, is sustainable.

However, sentiment in the region was dampened by sluggish sessions in Hong Kong and Shanghai as investors were spooked by signs China's government may step up restrictions on the booming real estate sector and the country's banks may have to raise billions in new capital.

The Nikkei advanced 41.42 points, or 0.4 percent, to 10,183.47. Markets in Taiwan and Thailand also rose.

Hong Kong's benchmark dropped 227.78 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,948.10. China's Shanghai index was down most of the day before closing 0.3 percent higher at 3,122.97. And South Korea's Kospi fell 0.2 percent while Australia's main market lost 0.3 percent.

In the currency markets, the euro recovered modestly from three and a half month dollar lows of $1.4281, trading 0.3 percent higher on the day at $1.4344.

The dollar has bounced back from 15-month euro lows in the last three weeks amid mounting expectations that the U.S. Federal Reserve will start withdrawing its extraordinary liquidity measures and raising interest rates sooner than expected. Meanwhile, the euro has been dogged by concerns over the economic situation in a number of European countries.

Jane Foley, research director at, said these concerns are likely to keep the euro under pressure for a while yet.

"The downgrading of Greece's sovereign debt and expectations of more bad news from Spain and Portugal and potentially from Ireland, Iceland and the Baltics is likely to continue weighing on the euro going forward," said Foley.

Meanwhile, the dollar was 0.1 percent higher at 90.44 yen -- as recently as late November, the dollar had sunk to a 14-year low of 84.81 yen.

Oil prices were slightly higher, with benchmark crude for January delivery up 20 cents to $73.56. The January contract, which expires later on Monday, rose 71 cents on Friday.

AP Business Writer Jeremiah Marquez in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

Merger news from Sanofi, Bucyrus drives stocks up

Corporate dealmaking sends stock market higher at beginning of holiday-shortened week


Related Quotes

Chart for Bucyrus International, Inc.
Chart for Chattem, Inc.
Chart for Oracle Corporation
, On Monday December 21, 2009, 10:28 am

NEW YORK (AP) -- Another wave of corporate dealmaking sent stocks sharply higher in early trading Monday.

French drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA is buying health care products company Chattem Inc. for $1.9 billion, and mining equipment maker Bucyrus International Inc. is buying Terex Corp.'s mining equipment division for $1.3 billion. Meanwhile, Dutch auto maker Spyker Cars submitted a new offer to buy Saab from General Motors Co.

Stocks added to modest gains from Friday that followed upbeat earnings reports from business software company Oracle Corp. and BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd.

Trading is likely to be volatile this week as traders take vacation ahead of the Christmas holiday on Friday. Trading has been thinning out since November, as many investors step away from the market to lock in the big gains they've amassed during a nine-month rally in stocks. The Standard & Poor's 500 index is up 23.5 percent for the year.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 116.54, or 1.1 percent, at 10,445.43. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13.17, or 1.2 percent, at 1,115.64, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 24.67, or 1.1 percent, at 2,236.36.

A weak dollar was also helping to boost stocks. The ICE Futures U.S. dollar index, which tracks the dollar against other major currencies, fell 0.1 percent. A weaker dollar has been a big driver of the stock market's rally this year. Investors have taken advantage of record-low interest rates to borrow cheaply and invest in assets like stocks and commodities.

Oil rose 70 cents to $74.06 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold fell.

Bond prices fell sharply Monday as stocks rose. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite to price, rose to 3.63 percent from 3.54 percent late Friday.

More than three stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was low at 180.2 million shares compared with 681.1 million shares at the same time on Friday.

Volume was exceptionally high Friday as several types of options contracts expired and S&P made changes to the S&P 500. That index is the basis for many indexed mutual funds, so those funds were forced to alter their holdings to match the reconstituted index.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 6.58, or 1.1 percent, to 617.15.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average rose 0.4 percent. Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.2 percent, Germany's DAX index gained 0.7 percent, and France's CAC-40 rose 1.1 percent.