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Dec 27, 2010

Oil slips back from 26-month high. BBC BUSINESS: Last Update 00.03 GMT

28 December 2010 Last updated at 00:03 GMT

Oil slips back from 26-month highChicago petrol station

The price of oil slips back from a 26-month high over concern about Chinese demand, while Iraqi oil output hits a 20-year high.

Mikhail Khodorkvosky (centre) arriving in the courtroomUS attacks Russia tycoon verdict

The US and Germany express serious concern about a second guilty verdict against jailed Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

AIG gets $4.3bn commercial loans

Troubled US insurance giant AIG signs $4.3bn of loan agreements as it prepares to be weaned off government support.

Japan data show struggle to recover | MarketWatch Economic Report

Economic Report
Dec. 27, 2010, 7:45 p.m. EST

Japan data show struggle to recover

Economic numbers for November broadly in line with forecasts

By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch 

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch) — Japanese data released Tuesday came in roughly in line with expectations, showing a nation still struggling with deflation.
Among figures from the Statistics Bureau, Japan’s November jobless rate remained unchanged at 5.1%, matching the average forecasts of separate economist surveys by Dow Jones Newswires and the Kyodo news agency. The labor force contracted 0.3% from November 2009.
Meanwhile, prices continued to drop. The core consumer price index, which doesn’t include volatile fresh-food prices, was 0.5% lower in November than in the year-earlier period. Compared to October, the core CPI lost 0.1%.
Both the Dow Jones Newswires and Kyodo surveys had pointed to a 0.6% drop for the core CPI, which would have matched October’s year-on-year fall.
The overall CPI, including all items, managed to rise 0.1% from the year earlier, but was down 0.3% from October.
Meanwhile, Japan’s industrial production ticked up a seasonally adjusted 1.0% during November, swinging from October’s 2.0% drop, according to separate data out Tuesday from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry. The results matched the Dow Jones survey result and was just above Kyodo’s forecast of a 0.9% month-on-month gain.
The rise in industrial production marked the first such rise in six months.
In other data, retail sales were 1.3% higher in November than they were a year ago, while spending by households of two or more people fell 0.4% from a year earlier.
Michael Kitchen is Asia editor for MarketWatch and is based in Los Angeles.

Want to sell your home? Get a move on it : MarketWatch:: Personal Finance Services

Personal Finance Daily
DECEMBER 27, 2010

Monday's Personal Finance stories

By MarketWatch

Don't miss these top stories:

For homeowners eager to sell, two recent reports brought some good news: Sales of existing homes rose 5.6% in November, the third rise in four months, while sales of new homes rose 5.5%.

Yet existing-home sales for November were down 28% from the same month a year earlier (a year ago, the home-buyer tax credit was expected to expire soon, though it was then extended), and new-home sales were 21% lower. Read about existing-home sales in November. Read story on new-home sales.

What does it all mean? A slow — very slow — improvement in the housing market, perhaps. It also means people who want to sell their home must continue to work awfully hard.

One New Year's resolution for prospective sellers to consider: Put your house on the market in early January. Read more on that and four other strategies for home sellers to adopt now in Amy Hoak's column today.

Plus, don't miss our story on the seven best mutual funds to own in 2011, and read The Wall Street Journal's Jeff Opdyke on why it might make sense to let your child have a dog or cat, despite the hassle and expense.

Andrea Coombes , Personal Finance editor


Resolutions for home sellers in 2011

If your New Year's resolution involves selling a home in 2011, you've got some work to do: There's lots of inventory out there and in a buyer's market like this one, getting an offer on a home can be challenging.
Read more: Resolutions for home sellers in 2011.


Thrift is the new black

After a few brutal years, promises of easy wealth ring hollow. That won't stop some people from trying to guarantee an easy path to riches, but I'll let you in on a secret: "Slow and steady wins the race" has never been truer than it is today.
Read more: Thrift is the new black.

The high price of pets, but so worth it

When I was a kid, I had a Yorkshire terrier named Coco and a Siamese cat named Shan. The pair would sleep on my bed at night -- the cat near my head, the dog at my feet. And when my grandmother or grandfather would come into my room to check on me, Shan would hiss and Coco would growl.
Read more: The high price of pets, but so worth it.

Car review: A tale of two Lincolns

A look at two Lincoln brands: the improved MKX crossover and the MKS.
Read more: A tale of two Lincolns.


East Coast blizzard in pictures

White Christmas in the Plains and Midwest turns into a socked-in Monday along the U.S. Eastern seaboard.
See slide show: East Coast blizzard in pictures.

Storm wreaks havoc on travel

Scott McCartney takes a look at airport and airline delays resulting from the blizzard and what stranded travelers can do to navigate the situation.
Watch video: Storm wreaks havoc on travel.

Retail stocks fall as snows raise sales worries

Retail stocks fall as a blizzard on the East Coast raises some worries that it may dent retailers' sales in the still-crucial shopping week after Christmas.
Read more: Retail stocks fall as snows raise sales worries.


The 2011 economic outlook — and what it means for you

Santa Claus arrived just in time this year, his bag filled to the brim with bipartisan goodies from the politicians in Washington. There was a new payroll tax cut for the employed, extended benefits for the unemployed, an estate-tax cut for the rich and an extension of the Bush tax cuts for all.
The 2011 economic outlook — and what it means for you.


Seven best funds for 2011

It's the perfect time to take a hard look at your mutual-fund holdings in a 401(k) or an IRA. If you find funds that don't fit your philosophy anymore or have been underperforming, here are some standouts to consider, writes Jeff Reeves.
Read more: Seven best funds for 2011.

Tales from the mutual-fund crypt of 2010

What do you call 1,400 dead mutual funds at the bottom of the performance charts? A good start.
Read more: Tales from the mutual-fund crypt of 2010.

U.S. 2-year yields rise to highest since June

Treasury prices declined on Monday, pushing 2-year yields to the highest since June, before the government's auction of the short-term securities, the first of three note auctions to take place during the holiday-shortened week.
Read more: U.S. 2-year yields rise to highest since June.


2010 Year in Review: Best iPad apps

A look at the best apps released during the iPad's inaugural year on the market. Video courtesy of Fox News.
Watch video: Best iPad apps.

2010 Year in Review: Best surveillance videos

The best holdups, rescues and accidents caught on camera in 2010. Video courtesy of Fox News.
Watch video: Best surveillance videos.

Financial & Forex Info News | KITCO -New York Market Close

New York Market Close Dec 27/10 05:20 PM EST
Metals Bid Ask Change Low High
Gold 1384.10 1385.10
1377.10 1387.50
Silver 29.28 29.30
29.06 29.36
Platinum 1735.00 1740.00
1713.00 1743.00
Palladium 767.00 773.00
751.00 776.00

Stocks Kick Off Last Week Of The Year On A Mixed Note - U.S. Commentary . RTTNews Evening Market Wrap

Evening Market Wrap Mon Dec 27  2010


Dec 27, 2010 Stocks Kick Off Last Week Of The Year On A Mixed Note - U.S. Commentary Stocks began the week in a lackluster fashion on Monday but ended well off of their early lows, which came in reaction to a rate hike by China over the weekend. The day was once again bogged down by the lack of trading volume as most traders stayed away from their desks with the year winding down and amid a winter storm that continued to blast the northeast. Full Article

Forex Commentary

Dec 27, 2010 Dollar Barely Budges In Quiet Dealing Monday The dollar paused on Monday as wild weather on Wall Street extended holidays kept traders away from their desks. The buck was supported by its safe haven status, as Saturday's surprise interest rate hike from China raised concerns that Beijing will put a freeze on the engine of global growth. Full Article

Political News

Dec 27, 2010 Miller Won't Stop Murkowski's Certification As Winner Of Alaska Senate RaceRepublican Joe Miller announced late Sunday that he would not block the certification of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, as the winner of the U.S. Senate race in Alaska, although he indicated that he would continue with a federal lawsuit challenging the outcome of the election. Full Article
Dec 27, 2010 Poll Shows 10 States Losing House Seats All Lean DemocraticReinforcing the belief that the results of the 2010 Census are likely to be a positive for Republicans, Gallup released the results of a poll Monday showing that each of the 10 states that will lose House seats as a result of the reapportionment process is politically Democratic. Full Article
Dec 27, 2010 Tea Party Group Reveals Republican Targets For 2012A prominent Tea Party group sent a message to members on Monday identifying five current Republican Senators that they intend to target in 2012. Tea Party Nation named Sens. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Bob Corker, R-Tenn., as Republicans that need to be sent into retirement, accusing them of being Republicans In Name Only, or RINOs. Full Article 


Wall Street ends flat as investors shrug off China hike
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street erased earlier losses and ended little changed on Monday as investors shrugged off a surprise weekend interest rate hike from China's central bank. | Full Article

China vows lending control to tame inflation
December 27, 2010 08:57 AM ET
BEIJING (Reuters) - China's central bank took aim at inflation once again on Monday by saying it will control lending and money growth in the world's second-biggest economy to head off price pressures and asset bubbles. | Full Article
H&R Block's refund loans hit regulatory hurdle
December 27, 2010 02:15 PM ET
BANGALORE (Reuters) - H&R Block Inc, the largest U.S. tax preparer, said it will not be able to help customers borrow money against their tax refunds in the coming months, as the bank that was supposed to provide the loans is under a regulatory directive not to. | Full Article
Global stocks dip, oil down after China rate rise
December 27, 2010 01:10 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - China's Christmas Day interest rate rise and a severe blizzard that blanketed the northeastern United States left U.S. share prices weak and the U.S. dollar lower in thinly traded markets on Monday. | Full Article
Blizzard chills end of U.S. holiday shopping season
December 27, 2010 03:48 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A major snowstorm on the U.S. East Coast kept many shoppers home just after Christmas, casting a pall on the final act of the holiday sales season. | Full Article
New York hard hit as winter storm slams northeast
December 27, 2010 02:54 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A blizzard pummeled the northeastern United States on Monday, burying cities in knee-deep snow, leaving thousands camped at airports and snarling traffic with blowing snow and icy roads at the end of the busy Christmas weekend. | Full Article
U.S. embassy in London was a target of UK suspects
December 27, 2010 02:21 PM ET
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. embassy in London was a target of a group of men arrested last week in Britain and charged with conspiracy to cause explosions and preparing acts of terrorism, the U.S. State Department said on Monday. | Full Article
Strike call fails to hit main Ivory Coast city, ports
December 27, 2010 02:11 PM ET
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Most workers in Ivory Coast's main city of Abidjan ignored a call by presidential claimant Alassane Ouattara for a strike on Monday to force Laurent Gbagbo out of power, saying they must work in order to survive. | Full Article
Regeneron pain drug put on clinical hold by FDA
December 27, 2010 02:28 PM ET
BOSTON (Reuters) - Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc said on Monday that U.S. regulators placed the company's experimental pain drug for osteoarthritis on clinical hold after a patient in another company's trial developed a serious bone disorder. | Full Article
Khodorkovsky found guilty in test for Russia
December 27, 2010 01:44 PM ET
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Jailed Russian ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was found guilty of money laundering and theft of billions of dollars on Monday at a trial that has renewed doubts about the Kremlin's commitment to the rule of law. | Full Article
Swine flu kills 56 in Egypt since October
Exercise may help limit pregnancy weight gain
Prostate cancer treatment may be tied to cataracts
Gene codes cracked for strawberries and chocolate

NYT Afternoon Business News: WikiLeaks Founder Signs Book Deal


Disney Tackles a Major Theme Park Problem: Lines

A command center monitors attractions to keep bottlenecks from forming and to provide entertainment for visitors stuck in lines.

Flashy Office Space, Advertising India's Allure

India appears to be at the point where office buildings are meant to help advertise the nation's arrival on the world stage.

Google Deal Divides Travel Industry

Some think Google's proposed purchase of ITA, the provider of flight data, would produce helpful innovation, but others worry about an oppressive domination of travel search.
Media Decoder Blog

WikiLeaks Founder Signs Book Deal

Julian Assange says Random House's Alfred Knopf division will pay $800,000 to publish his autobiography in the United States.

Wal-Mart Moves to Invest in China Online Retailer

The U.S. retail giant and five other companies have agreed to invest in, one of China's fastest-growing e-commerce companies.

MarketWatch: Bulletin: Stocks End Mixed - Stocks At Close

U.S. stocks end mixed as snow caps trading volumes; AIG stands out among financials

Get the latest news on our mobile site:

the Washington Post Afternoon Edition: ) Washington area largely spared from snow travel up and down East Coast affected

Washington Post

1) Washington area largely spared from snow travel up and down East Coast affected

The massive storms that mostly passed Washington by on Sunday are nevertheless snarling travel into and out of the region, as states north and south of the capital start to dig out from the snow.

2) Amazon patents procedure to let recipients avoid undesirable gifts

The online retailer has quietly patented a way for people to return gifts before they receive them, allowing consumers to keep an online list of lousy gift-givers whose choices would be vetted before anything ships.

3) For aides, reporters in Hawaii, a mix of work and play

HONOLULU - If the beachfront home where the Obamas are staying in Hawaii is the "Winter White House," then you might call the Moana Surfrider this island's version of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

4) How did obesity become a partisan fight?

There are few landmines Michelle Obama didn't trip by asking us all to shed a few pounds.

5) Don't spin the Civil War

Don't forget why the Civil War was fought and how integral racial conflict is to our history.

6) Our new national goal: Defeating Alzheimer's in 10 years

Finding a cure would be a win for individual health and the economy.

7) Teena Marie, known as 'Ivory Queen of Soul,' dies

LOS ANGELES -- Teena Marie, the "Ivory Queen of Soul" who developed a lasting legacy with her silky soul pipes and with hits like "Lovergirl," "Square Biz," and "Fire and Desire" with mentor Rick James, died on Sunday. She was 54.

8) The plight of the high school homeless

During the first days Landis Brewer spent homeless, he maintained a facade of suburban comfort at South County High School, where the all-district running back with the easy smile was the image of teenage aplomb.

9) In race to lead the RNC, prospects emerge from unsettled field

Uncertainty reigns in the race for the chairmanship of the Republican National Committee despite the election being less than a month away.

10) On Medicare and Social Security, be unfair to the boomers

No one wants to reduce benefits for baby boomers, but we may have to.

Standard & Poors Latin America Highlights Selected Reports

Selected Reports

Q&A: Did The Cancun Summit Bring Global Action On Climate Change A Step Closer?

A set of agreements that are designed to commit all major global economies to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) for the first time were reached on Dec. 10, 2010, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference in Cancun, Mexico.

Estudio de incumplimientos de pago y de transición de calificaciones en México – 2009

En línea con los resultados observados en otros estudios de incumplimiento en el mundo, el número de incumplimientos en México aumentó durante 2009.

Rating News


Cambios de calificación para 12 compañías Argentinas

BUENOS AIRES (Standard & Poor's) 17 de diciembre de 2010--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services dijo hoy que ha subido la calificación en escala global de ocho empresas argentinas, tras la revisión del ambiente de negocios en el país.

English version

Standard & Poor's afirma calificaciones de la Provincia de Buenos Aires; la tendencia se mantiene estable

Buenos Aires, 22 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services afirmó sus calificaciones de riesgo crediticio en moneda local y extranjera, en escala global de 'B' y en escala nacional de ‘raAA-' de la Provincia de Buenos Aires en la República de Argentina.

English version


Ratings de crédito soberano do Brasil reafirmados; perspectiva permanece estável

Buenos Aires (Standard & Poor’s) 14 de dezembro de 2010 – A Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services reafirmou hoje os ratings de crédito soberano em moeda estrangeira ‘BBB-/A-3’, de longo e curto prazos, atribuídos à República Federativa do Brasil, bem como seus ratings de crédito soberano de longo e curto prazos em moeda local ‘BBB+/A-2’.

English version

Perspectiva dos ratings da AmBev - Companhia de Bebidas das Américas alterada para ‘Positiva’; Ratings reafirmados

Em 13 de dezembro de 2010, a Standard & Poor's Ratings Services alterou a perspectiva dos ratings atribuídos à cervejaria brasileira AmBev - Companhia de Bebidas das Américas (“AmBev”), de estável para positiva.

Ratings do Banco Santander (Brasil) S.A. reafirmados

Em 13 de dezembro de 2010, a Standard & Poor's Ratings Services reafirmou os ratings atribuídos ao Banco Santander (Brasil) S.A. (“Banco Santander”), incluindo seus ratings de crédito de contraparte de longo e curto prazos ‘BBB-/A-3' na escala global e ‘brAAA/brA-1' na Escala Nacional Brasil.

Boletim: Ratings atribuídos à Fibria Celulose S.A. não são afetados pela venda de ativos para a Suzano

São Paulo (Standard & Poor’s), 23 de dezembro de 2010 — A Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services disse hoje que os ratings atribuídos à Fibria Celulose S.A. (Fibria; BB/Positiva/--) não são afetados pela oferta de compra da Suzano Papel e Celulose S.A. (Suzano; BB+/Estável/--) da participação de 50% da Fibria no Consórcio Paulista de Papel e Celulose - Conpacel e de suas operações de distribuição de papel da KSR por R$ 1,5 bilhão.

Boletim: Ratings da Suzano Papel e Celulose S.A. não são afetados por anúncio de compra de ativos

São Paulo (Standard & Poor’s), 23 de dezembro de 2010 — A Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services disse hoje que os ratings atribuídos à Suzano Papel e Celulose S.A. (Suzano; BB+/Estável/--) não são afetados por sua oferta de compra da participação de 50% detida pela Fibria Celulose S.A. (Fibria; BB/Positiva/--) no Consórcio Paulista de Papel e Celulose - Conpacel.


S&P asigna perspectiva positiva a las clasificaciones de Chile

NEW YORK (Standard & Poor's) 16 de diciembre de 2010--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services anunció hoy que revisó su perspectiva de la República de Chile a positiva de estable.

English version

Banco del Estado de Chile y Banco Santander-Chile Clasificaciones Afirmadas; Perspectiva revisada a Positiva

El 17 de diciembre de 2010, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services afirmó sus clasificaciones de Banco del Estado de Chile y Banco Santander-Chile S.A. y revisó la perspectiva a positiva desde estable, en base a una acción similar sobre las clasificaciones soberanas.

Standard & Poor's asigna clasificación de ‘A+' a emisión de notas senior no garantizadas a tasa fija y flotante de Banco Santander-Chile

Buenos Aires, 16 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services asignó hoy su clasificación ‘A+' a las emisiones de notas senior no garantizadas a tasa fija por CHF250 millones de francos suizos (CHF) con vencimiento en 2015 y de notas senior no garantizadas a tasa variable por CHF100 millones con vencimiento en 2013 de Banco Santander-Chile, S.A. (BSCh).

English version

Standard & Poor's revisa perspectiva de ENAP a positiva y afirma clasificaciones de ENAP y Codelco luego de la revisión de la perspectiva de Chile

BUENOS AIRES (Standard & Poor's) 16 de diciembre de 2010--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services anunció hoy que afirmó sus clasificaciones 'BBB-' de la Empresa Nacional del Petroleo (ENAP) y sus clasificaciones 'A' de la Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco).

English version

Standard & Poor's sube clasificaciones de Banco de Chile a 'A+'; Perspectiva Estable

Buenos Aires, 23 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's subió sus clasificaciones de riesgo crediticio de largo plazo de Banco de Chile S.A. a 'A+' de 'A'.

English version

El Caribe

Jamaica Ratings Affirmed; Outlook Remains Stable

On Dec. 22, 2010, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services affirmed its 'B-' long-term and 'C' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Jamaica.

The National Gas Co. of Trinidad & Tobago Ltd. 'A-' Rating Affirmed; Outlook Stable

MEXICO CITY (Standard & Poor's) Dec. 15, 2010--Standard & Poor's Ratings Services said today that it affirmed its 'A-' long-term corporate credit rating on The National Gas Co. of Trinidad & Tobago Ltd. (NGC).

El Salvador

Standard & Poor's confirma calificaciones de Banco Agrícola; la perspectiva es estable

México, D.F., 21 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services confirmó sus calificaciones de crédito de contraparte de largo plazo de ‘BB' y de corto plazo de ‘B' de Banco Agrícola S.A. (Agrícola).

Standard & Poor's confirma calificaciones de 'BB' y 'B' de Banco HSBC Salvadoreño; la perspectiva es estable

México, D.F., 16 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services confirmó sus calificaciones de crédito de contraparte en escala global de largo y corto plazo de de ‘BB' y ‘B', respectivamente, de Banco HSBC Salvadoreño S.A.


Summary: América Móvil S.A.B. de C.V.

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services' rating on América Móvil S.A.B. de C.V. (AMX), a leading provider of wireless and fixed communications services in Latin America, reflects our expectation that the company's past acquisition of Carso Global Telecom S.A.B. de C.V. (CGT) and Telmex Internacional S.A.B. de C.V. (TELINT) will not result in a weakened financial risk profile.

Standard & Poor's confirma calificaciones soberanas de México; la perspectiva se mantiene estable

Nueva York, 17 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services confirmó hoy sus calificaciones soberanas de México en moneda extranjera de largo y corto plazo de ‘BBB' y ‘A-3', respectivamente, y en moneda local de ‘A' y ‘A-1'.

English version

Standard & Poor's coloca en Revisión Especial con implicaciones negativas las calificaciones de Financiera Independencia tras anuncio de adquisición

México, D.F., a 23 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's colocó sus calificaciones de crédito de contraparte y de deuda senior no garantizada de largo plazo en escala global de ‘BB-' y de crédito de contraparte y deuda de largo plazo en escala nacional –CaVal– de ‘mxA-' y de corto plazo de ‘mxA-2', de Financiera Independencia, S.A.B. de C.V. SOFOM, E.N.R. (Financiera Independencia) en su listado de Revisión Especial ( CreditWatch ) con implicaciones negativas.

Standard & Poor's baja calificaciones de MBIA México; la perspectiva es negativa

México, D.F., 23 de diciembre de 2010.- Standard & Poor's Ratings Services bajó su calificación de solidez financiera en escala global a ‘B' de ‘BB+' de MBIA México, S.A. de C.V (MBIA México) y su calificación en escala nacional –-CaVal–- a ‘mxBB+' de ‘mxA'.

Standard & Poor's asigna calificación de 'BBB' a PMI Trading; la perspectiva es estable

Las calificaciones de PMI se basan en nuestra percepción de que las operaciones de la compañía son un negocio integrado a la compañía petrolera mexicana Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX; Moneda extranjera: BBB/Estable/--; Moneda local: A/Estable/--).

Standard & Poor's publica su metodología y supuestos para calificar instrumentos mexicanos respaldados por hipotecas residenciales

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services publica su metodología y supuestos generales para calificar instrumentos mexicanos respaldados por hipotecas residenciales (RMBS, por sus siglas en inglés).

+74% later, Wall St. Journal notices silver only to try to talk it down. GATA : THE GATA DISPATCH

+74% later, Wall St. Journal notices silver only to try to talk it down

Submitted by cpowell on 11:10AM ET Monday, December 27, 2010. Section: Daily Dispatches Big advertiser J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. will be pleased.
* * *
Price of Silver Soaring
Investor-Fueled 74% Gains Dwarf Gold; Race to Open Mines
By Carolyn Cui and Robert Guy Matthews
Sunday, December 26, 2010
BIG CREEK, Idaho -- An unexpected surge in investor demand is sending silver prices soaring—and speculators and mining companies are digging in.
In the past four months, the metal has upended forecasts, rising 51% to a series of 30-year highs, before inflation. Silver closed Thursday at $29.31 a troy ounce, up from $16.822 at the beginning of 2010.
Among the four major precious metals—the others being gold, platinum and palladium -- silver is up 74% this year, on track to be the second-best performing commodity after palladium, which is up 86%. Gold, by contrast, is up 26% and copper just under 28%.

 Prices are rising despite oversupply and a lackluster recovery in industrial demand. Many analysts expected those factors would keep a lid on prices in 2010. What they didn't expect was an overwhelming flow of money into the market from investors eager to ride a commodities rally.
"This is a story almost entirely about investment," says Stephen Briggs, senior metals strategist at BNP Paribas.
The global silver appetite partly reflects world economic improvements. Investors from the U.S. to China turned to "hard" assets such as copper and other commodities in part as a hedge against inflation worries. Silver benefits from a dual role as industrial commodity and precious metal.
Here in the mountain-ringed Silver Valley, historically one of the world's largest silver production regions, workers are busy punching through rocks to open passages in the Crescent Silver Mine, which closed more than a dozen years ago when prices of silver dipped to $5 to $6 an ounce.
Even if prices retreat to $15 an ounce -- a level seen as recently as early this year -- some prospectors say they can break even, which means development will continue. "I think we are starting a new era in mining here," says Greg Stewart, president of United Mining Group, which has an 80% interest in the Crescent Silver Mine.
Exchange-traded funds backed with silver have enabled investors to invest in a market that traditionally was harder to participate in. The largest silver ETF, the $10.2 billion iShares Silver Trust, has seen a $1.1 billion net inflow for the first 11 months of this year. In recent months, concerns about inflation, the European debt crisis and the U.S. Federal Reserve's recent moves to boost the economy have driven investors to hard assets, also benefitting silver prices.
The craze has reached the coin market. In November, silver American Eagle coins sold by the U.S. Mint amounted to 4.26 million ounces, a monthly record in the agency's history.
Silver's reliance on investors to prop up the price could cause it to tumble suddenly. "When investor support for the metal fades, the downside is going to be pretty substantial," says Credit Suisse analyst Tom Kendall. He forecasts an average price of $30.10 per troy ounce next year as "a lot of factors that have led people to buy silver would still be there in 2011." But he cautions, "The number is only going to be achievable as long as fresh money keeps moving in."
Silver's all-time high was set in January 1980 at $48.70 an ounce, or $129.32 when adjusted for inflation.
This year investors are expected to pile a record $4.5 billion into the silver market, accounting for 24% of the world's total demand, says GFMS Ltd., a metals consulting firm in London. That's the highest level, in dollar terms, in decades. Silver's relatively small market size—$19 billion compared with $170 billion for gold—has also played a role in amplifying the impact of investors, according to GFMS.
The strength in silver prices has prompted a flurry of development around the globe and pushed anticipated production in 2010 to 733.2 million ounces, up 3.3% from 2009 levels, and up 14% since 2006.
Silver has some inherent appeal due to its industrial use in electronics, silverware and coins. And reserves are limited. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, there are fewer years of U.S. silver production left in the ground than any other precious metal including gold.
The recent price increase has been fueled by other factors in addition to investor interest. For instance, China recently abolished an exports tax rebate on metals. That has resulted in a 59% decline in silver exports.
China is a major silver producer and was a big exporter until 14 months ago. Strong demand there, coupled with the elimination of the tax break to protect domestic natural resources, have led Chinese producers to slash exports.
Concerns are lingering over excess supply. The market is set to see a surplus of 64.4 million ounces in 2010, says Barclays Capital, which could curb prices. This year's surplus will be 16% smaller than 2009's but much higher than previous years.
Overall, silver production has been rising steadily in the past five years, with most of the growth coming from mines in Mexico, Latin America, and Australia. Gold Corp., a Vancouver-based mining company, expects to more than triple output at its mine in Mexico, Penasquito, which is expected to produce 10 million ounces of silver in 2011, up from about 3 million ounces in 2009, according to GFMS.
Another new mine, Coeur d'Alene Mines Corp.'s Palmarejo silver and gold mine in Mexico, is also ramping up to produce 9 million ounces annually. And BHP Billiton, which owns one of the largest silver mines in the world, Cannington, is looking to increase production and extend the life of the mine, located in Australia.
So-called junior miners like United Mining Group, which has an interest in the Crescent Silver Mine, are much smaller than mining giants like BHP and Rio Tinto. They often lack the capital or expertise to run a mine, which requires costly equipment and infrastructure. Instead, their geologists often scout projects and then sell an interest in them to larger companies.
United Mining Group is issuing shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange to raise up to $8 million to develop the Crescent Silver Mine, which is more than 90 years old. Located in Idaho's Silver Valley—an area peppered with colorfully named mines like Lucky Friday, Sunshine and Bunker Hill—it is expected to begin production in early 2012, with output just over 1 million ounces.
"The whole industry is like feast or famine," says Mr. Stewart of United Mining.

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MarketWatch: Special Financial Services: Tech stocks make small gains on quiet day

By Rex Crum MarketWatch

Most sector leaders edge upward to start last week of the year 

:Bailed-out banks slip toward failure | GATA : THE GATA DISPATCH

Bailed-out banks slip toward failure

Submitted by cpowell on 09:41AM ET Monday, December 27, 2010. Section: Daily Dispatches Number of Shaky Lenders Rises to 98 as Bad Loans Pile Up; Smaller Institutions Hit Hardest
By Michael Rapoport
The Wall Street Journal
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Nearly 100 U.S. banks that got bailout funds from the federal government show signs they are in jeopardy of failing.
The total, based on an analysis of third-quarter financial results by The Wall Street Journal, is up from 86 in the second quarter, reflecting eroding capital levels, a pileup of bad loans and warnings from regulators. The 98 banks in shaky condition got more than $4.2 billion in infusions from the Treasury Department under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
When TARP was created in the heat of the financial crisis, government officials said it would help only healthy banks. The depth of today's problems for some of the institutions, however, suggests that a number of them were in parlous shape from the beginning.

 Seven TARP recipients have already failed, resulting in more than $2.7 billion in lost TARP funds. Most of the troubled TARP recipients are small, plagued by wayward lending programs from which they might not recover. The median size of the 98 banks was $439 million in assets as of Sept. 30. The median TARP infusion for each was $10 million, federal filings show.
"We certainly understand and recognize that some of the smaller institutions are experiencing stress," said David Miller, chief investment officer at the Treasury Department's Office of Financial Stability, which runs TARP. He noted that Congress mandated that banks of all sizes be eligible for TARP, adding that the government's TARP investment as a whole is performing well.
Chris Cole, senior regulatory counsel at the Independent Community Bankers of America, a trade group, said small banks are "turning around slowly." Smaller TARP recipients are in worse shape than larger banks because the larger ones got help in addition to TARP, Mr. Cole said. Bank of America Corp. and Citigroup Inc. tapped the Federal Reserve's emergency-liquidity programs frequently during the crisis.
The troubled banks identified by the Journal all have either a Tier 1 capital ratio under the "well-capitalized" 6% level; both a total risk-based capital ratio of under the "well-capitalized" 10% threshold and nonperforming loans of over 10% of their portfolio; or a regulatory order requiring the bank to monitor or boost its capital.
A Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. spokesman declined to comment on the Journal's analysis, which also calculated that 814 of the nation's 7,760 banks and savings institutions are troubled according to these standards, up from 729 at the end of the second quarter. The FDIC's official list of problem banks, which uses different criteria from the Journal's analysis, includes 860 financial institutions. The banks aren't publicly identified.
In October, the Government Accountability Office said 78 banks on the FDIC's troubled-bank list as of June 30 were TARP recipients, up from 47 at the end of 2009. Dozens of TARP banks were "marginal institutions" that were financially weaker than other recipients and should have gotten more scrutiny before receiving taxpayer-funded infusions, the GAO said.
In a response to the GAO report, the Treasury Department said it would consider the GAO's recommendations to improve its funding process if it ever has a program similar to TARP again.
In comparison, the first eight banks and securities firms receiving TARP got a total of $125 billion. All have repaid the funds
Arthur Wilmarth, a George Washington University law professor and expert on banking regulation, said a lot of smaller TARP recipients are burdened with risky commercial-real-estate loans tied up in troubled strip malls and the like, and that makes it hard for them to raise new capital. "A lot of them are in kind of a frozen position," he said.
One example of a TARP recipient in deep trouble: closely held Legacy Bank of Milwaukee. The bank had $205 million in assets as of Sept. 30 and got $5.5 million in TARP funds in January 2009. But more than half of Legacy's loans were in commercial real estate, and its nonperforming loans have escalated to 23% of its portfolio. It has posted eight straight quarterly losses, for a total loss of $11.6 million.
Last month, the Federal Reserve declared Legacy "significantly undercapitalized," giving the bank until mid-January to either sell itself or raise more capital.
José Mantilla, Legacy's president and chief executive, said the bank lends to an underserved, lower-income customer base. During the recession, those customers "have suffered, and they have fallen behind," Mr. Mantilla said.
Legacy is working to raise capital, and "we still feel optimistic" about the bank's chances, he said.
CommunityOne Bank of Asheboro, N.C., got $51.5 million in TARP funds in February 2009 through parent FNB United Corp. The company has suffered nine straight quarterly losses, sapping its capital. In July, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency said the bank had engaged in "unsafe or unsound banking practices."
R. Larry Campbell, the bank's interim president and chief executive, said CommunityOne is "fully engaged" in efforts to boost its capital.

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