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May 31, 2012

NYT Global Upadte: Despite Deaths in Honduran Raid, U.S. to Press Ahead With New Antidrug Policy

Global Update


Central Banker Calls Euro Zone Structure 'Unsustainable'

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, also criticized political leaders on Thursday, saying half-measures have made the debt crisis worse.

China Lets Currency Weaken, Risking New Trade Tensions

A cheaper renminbi makes Chinese exports more competitive in overseas markets, but it could worsen trade friction with Europe and particularly the United States.

Clinton Says Russian Inaction May Lead to Syrian Civil War

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton pressed Russia and China to back decisive action against the Syrian president before the violence draws neighboring countries into the conflict.

Lens Blog

A Big Dig Close to Nature and Home

Jonathan Blaustein's photo series "Mine" ponders the natural world and humankind's place in it.

Op-Ed Contributor

This Forest Is Our Forest

The people who live in threatened forests should have the ownership rights.

Despite Deaths in Honduran Raid, U.S. to Press Ahead With New Antidrug Policy

With Washington's attention swinging from Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States is expanding its antidrug efforts in Central America, where the violence has skyrocketed.
News Analysis

For the White House, a Wary Wait as Syria Boils

President Obama is loath to engage in new military actions, but with each passing incident, the scale of the crisis in Syria grows.

U.S. Steps Up Pressure on Europe to Resolve Euro Crisis

President Obama has held conference calls with the leaders of France, Germany and Italy to help lay the groundwork for action before a G-20 summit in June.

Ackermann Hands Over Reins of Deutsche Bank

Josef Ackermann bowed out Thursday as the chief executive of Deutsche Bank after more than a decade in which he transformed the institution into a global contender but also became a symbol to many Germans of the excesses of capitalism.

First-Quarter G.D.P. Revised Down to 1.9% Rate

Economic growth in the United States was a bit slower than initially thought in the first quarter, the Commerce Department reported.

Freaks, Geeks and Microsoft

The wildly popular Kinect bred a rich subculture of techies dreaming up new uses for it.

Weakness in Facebook Stock Adds to Pause in I.P.O.'s

After Facebook flopped in its market debut, investors are nervous about new stock offerings. As a result, many companies, like Kayak, are reconsidering plans to go public.

Amazon to Build Distribution Warehouses in New Jersey

The arrangement will enable New Jersey to collect state sales tax from the online retailer.

Murray Fights Through the Pain to Advance

Andy Murray's severe back pain at Roland Garros on Thursday came at a time when Murray, Britain's leading player, is preparing for the most significant stretch in his career.

France Still Has Some Worrying Weaknesses

France has put together 19 games without defeat as the Euro 2012 approaches, but in more recent tournaments, including the World Cup two years ago, the squad was divided and disputatious.

A Risky Trip Outside the Protective Cocoon

England's players will visit Auschwitz before the start of Euro 2012, but who knows how players will respond to what they see?

For Edwards, Mistrial on 5 of 6 Counts

The lone verdict in the federal campaign finance case against Senator John Edwards came on the third count, which involved donations from the heiress Rachel Mellon.

Appeals Court Rules Against Federal Marriage Act

Despite a finding that the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 is unconstitutional, nothing will change for married same-sex couples unless the Supreme Court hears the case.

A Gap in College Graduates Leaves Some Cities Behind

Cities that once depended on manufacturing jobs are finding it hard to compete with already highly educated areas for college graduates, a key ingredient in a transformation.
Op-Ed Contributor

A Peace Plan in Name Only

The West must recognize that the only future for Syria is without the Assad political dynasty.
Op-Ed Contributor

10,000 Days of Hun Sen

With the fall of dictators in the Arab world, the Cambodian strongman has become one of the longest-serving political leaders in the world.

Venezuela's Top Party Prison

With Venezuelan authorities having largely given up controlling what happens inside prisons, inmates are setting up pig farms, bakeries, cock-fighting rings and night clubs.

Stocks and markets in the News | Wall Street at Close: U.S. stock indexes drop 6%-plus in May

By Kate Gibson, MarketWatch 

NEW YORK (MarketWatch)U.S. stocks on Thursday closed one of the worst months in years, with the Dow halting a seven-month win streak after disappointing data tempered expectations for the May jobs report.
“It’s the summer months, unfortunately, so that’s one strike. Everyone is out hunting for black swans and finding them. It’s a strange environment where investors just don’t trust the market at all, so the question is how cheap do stocks have to get before they can entice investors again,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA -0.21%  fell 26.41 points, or 0.2%, at 12,393.45, off 6.2% from the end of April, and its worst month in two years. 

The S&P 500 Index SPX -0.23%  lost 2.99 points, or 0.2%, at 1,310.33, leaving it down 6.3% for May.
Down 7.2% from the month-ago close, the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP -0.35%  shed 10.02 points, or 0.4%, at 2,827.34. The monthly percentage loss was the worst since May 2010, when Greece’s fiscal crisis sent shock waves across world markets, and also the month of the so-called U.S. “flash crash.”
Two years later, “waves of uncertainty continue to emanate from Europe,” said Lawrence Creatura, portfolio manager at Federated Investors. 

On Friday, the government releases its nonfarm payrolls report for May
“Because the private-payrolls print missed today, it will influence investors’ expectations for tomorrow,” Creatura added on payrolls-processor Automatic Data Processing reporting that the pace of private-sector hiring slowed in the second quarter. 

Decliners just outpaced advancers on the New York Stock Exchange, where 1.3 billion shares traded. Composite volume topped 4.5 billion. 

“The good news is a lot of stocks are becoming attractively priced, and a lot of the bad news we’re seeing has already been discounted. And there’s been a surge in insider buying; many insiders have changed their behavior in recent weeks, toggling from selling to buying, and that’s from the people who know the companies the best,” commented Creatura at Federated. 

Stocks briefly turned higher on headlines related to Europe.
“Contingency plans continue,” said Peter Boockvar, equity analyst at Miller Tabak, of the Dow Jones report that said discussions were taking place at the International Monetary Fund, given Spain’s struggle to raise the funds needed to bailout lender Bankia. 

Ahead of Wall Street’s start, stock-index futures scaled back gains after data included first-time jobless claims rising to a five-week high, followed by the ADP report. Read more on jobless claims.
The Commerce Department revised its forecast of U.S. economic growth in the first quarter to a 1.9% annualized pace, slower than the 2.2% rate first estimated. Read more on GDP. 
Also, a regional survey of business conditions in the Chicago area came in below expectations.
“If you go back and look at May through October for the last 60 years and string them together, you don’t go anywhere. The summer months have a long track record of doing pretty much nothing,” added Ablin at Harris Private Bank.
Kate Gibson is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in New York.

NYT Afternoon Business News: Central Banker Says Euro Zone Structure Is 'Unsustainable'

Central Banker Says Euro Zone Structure Is 'Unsustainable'

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, also criticized political leaders on Thursday, saying half-measures have made the debt crisis worse.

China Lets Currency Weaken, Risking New Trade Tensions

A cheaper renminbi makes Chinese exports more competitive in overseas markets, but it could worsen trade friction with Europe and particularly the United States.

A Gracious and Civil Prelude to a Hanging

President Obama put partisanship aside for a few hours to pay tribute to his predecessor at the official unveiling of George W. Bush's official White House portrait.

DealBooK | DealB%K Afternoon Edition: JPMorgan's Chief to Testify Twice in June

Thursday, May 31, 2012
JPMorgan's Chief to Testify Twice in June After days of discussions, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase has agreed to testify before the Senate Banking Committee on June 13, and he is also expected to appear before a House panel later in the month.
    Ackermann Hands Over Reins of Deutsche Bank Josef Ackermann bowed out Thursday as the chief executive of Deutsche Bank after more than a decade in which he transformed the institution into a global contender but also became a symbol to many Germans of the excesses of capitalism.
    Facebook Shares Extend Their Slide Shares of the social network giant below the low end of the first price range set for the initial public offering. The stock is now off nearly 30 percent from its I.P.O. price.
    Former Lehman C.F.O. Joins Broker Ian Lowitt, the last chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, has joined the London financial firm Marex Spectron.
    Peltz Takes Stake in InterContinental Hotels Group The InterContinental Hotels Group, the British owner of the Holiday Inn chain, said on Thursday that Nelson Peltz's Trian Fund Management had acquired a 4.27 percent stake in the company.
    Goldman Prepares for Worst-Case Outcome in Europe Gary D. Cohn says that Goldman is currently examining all euro-denominated contracts to understand what the ability to pay in a different currency would be if the euro disappears.
    Nike to Shed Cole Haan and Umbro Brands Nike said on Thursday that it plans to sell two of its brands, Cole Haan and Umbro, as an effort to slim down its product lines.
    Glaxo Said to Aim to Replace Human Genome's Board The British drug company GlaxoSmithKline is looking to replace the board of Human Genome Sciences, the biotechnology company it is trying to acquire for $2.59 billion, according to people with direct knowledge of the matter.
    Elliott Lays Out Argument for a Sale of BMC Software The hedge fund Elliott Management has filed a 36-page PowerPoint presentation with the S.E.C. aimed at prodding BMC into considering a sale to a larger software company or a private equity firm.
    After Rejecting Higher Offers, Talbots Agrees to $369 Million Buyout After walking away from higher takeover offers from Sycamore Partners, the troubled women's clothing retailer Talbots struck a more modest deal with the private equity firm.
    Morgan Stanley to Raise Stake in Brokerage Venture to 65% Morgan Stanley has announced plans to buy an additional 14 percent of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, its brokerage joint venture with Citigroup.
    CGI of Canada to Buy Logica for $2.6 Billion The Canadian computer services company CGI Group has agreed to buy Logica of Britain for $2.6 billion, as CGI looks to continue its expansion into overseas markets.
    A Call for Dimon to Step Down From the N.Y. Fed Simon Johnson, a professor at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management, argues on the Economix blog that Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase, should give up his place on the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, in the wake of the trading debacle. "How can we rely on the Federal Reserve to oversee and constrain the actions of Mr. Dimon while he continues to sit on the board of the New York Fed - with the job of overseeing and potentially constraining the actions of that organization?"
    Maple Group Extends Bid for Toronto Exchange Owner Amid regulatory delays, the Maple Group, a consortium of Canadian banks and financial firms, has again renewed its $3.8 billion offer for the TMX Group, owner of the Toronto Stock Exchange. The deadline has now been extended until July 31.
    Economic Reports Data released on Friday will include unemployment for May, personal income and spending for April, the Institute of Supply Management manufacturing index for May, and construction spending for April.
    Corporate Earnings No earnings of note for the week.
    In the United States Automakers will report North American sales for May on Friday. Wal-Mart Stores will hold its annual meeting in Fayetteville, Ark. A House Financial Services subcommittee will conduct a hearing about computer threats to capital markets and corporate accounts.

    DealBook Video
    Business Day Live: Euro Bonds
    Business Day Live: Euro Bonds Hunting for new bank customers on college campuses. After Facebook, enthusiasm ebbs in I.P.O. market. Could the euro bond ever be more than an idea?

CBS NEWS | Political Hotsheet Top Stories: Bush, Obama trade jokes at portrait unveiling


Putting politics aside, President Obama hosted a portrait unveiling for former President George W. Bush
Read full story
Bush, Obama trade jokes at portrait unveiling

Romney makes surprise visit to Solyndra Presumptive GOP nominee hopes to use failed solar energy firm as an example of President Obama's weak economic stewardship

Poll: Obama, Romney neck-and-neck in 3 key states In Iowa, Colorado and Nevada, Romney and Obama within points of one another, according to NBC News/Marist poll

Warren: I provided schools with info on ancestry After continued controversy surrounding her heritage, Elizabeth Warren concedes she did tell schools she was Native American

GOP primary: Why the media hype was justified John Dickerson: The outcome of the GOP primary was predictable but showed us what Romney is willing to do in a fight

BIV Business Today News: Every taxpayer could pay $9,000 to protect public-sector pensions: CFIB

Economy and Finance

Every taxpayer could pay $9,000 to protect public-sector pensions: CFIB

Every man, woman and child in Canada could be on the hook for more than $9,000 to pay for the unfunded liabilities of public-sector employee pension plans, according to a new Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) report.

Real Estate and Development


NAIOP and Business in Vancouver honour commercial real-estate community

More than 230 delegates from the business community attended the NAIOP Vancouver and Business in Vancouver Commercial Real Estate Awards of Excellence Gala, held last night at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver.



Rogers relaunches Davie Street store with Apple-style hosts and trainers

Rogers Communications Inc. is taking a page from the Apple playbook with the conversion of a former Rogers video store into a new retail outlet in Vancouver that focuses on educating customers about their gadgets and services.

Vancouver telematics company lands U.S. transport contract

Vancouver’s Webtech Wireless Inc. has signed a three-year contract with a public transit authority in Ames, Iowa, to implement its vehicle telematics system on 80 buses.

Politics and Policy

Surrey backs bylaw to protect renters

The City of Surrey has endorsed a new bylaw to help protect the condition of rental properties in the city and provide a better dispute-resolution process to deal with unsafe accommodation.

Retail and Manufacturing


Vancouver biotech strikes $35m deal with GSK

Vancouver’s Welichem Biotech Inc.  (TSX:WBI) has struck a deal with a subsidiary of Canadian drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline Inc. on a new dermatology drug used to treat psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.

ADVFN World Daily Markets Bulletin

ADVFN III World Daily Markets Bulletin
Daily world financial news

US Market Reports

Disappointing Data Drags Stocks Lower In Early Trading

Stocks have moved notably lower in early trading on Thursday on the heels of a batch of disappointing U.S. economic data. The major averages have slid firmly into negative territory after opening the session near the unchanged line.

The major averages have edged up off their lows for the session in the past few minutes but remain in the red. The Dow is down 45.98 points or 0.4 percent at 12,373.88, the Nasdaq is down 23.21 points or 0.8 percent at 2,814.15 and the S&P 500 is down 8.67 points or 0.7 percent at 1,304.65.

The weakness that has emerged on Wall Street comes following the release of a slew of U.S. economic data, including reports providing further signs of sluggishness in the labor market.

ADP said private sector employment rose by 133,000 jobs in May following a downwardly revised increase of 113,000 jobs in April. Economists had expected an increase of about 154,000 jobs compared to the addition of 119,000 jobs originally reported for the previous month.

A separate report from the Labor Department showed that initial jobless claims rose to 383,000 in the week ended May 26th from the previous week's revised figure of 373,000. Jobless claims had been expected to come in unchanged at the 370,000 originally reported for the previous week.

A Commerce Department report showing slower than previously estimated first quarter GDP growth has also helped to drag stocks lower along with a recent report showing that Chicago-area business activity expanded at a much slower rate in the month of May.

With the price of crude oil extending a recent downward move, oil service stocks are helping to lead the markets lower once again. The Philadelphia Oil Service Index has fallen by 2.2 percent, adding to the 3.9 percent loss it posted on Wednesday.

Housing stocks have also come under considerable selling pressure, dragging the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index down by 1.8 percent. Steel, natural gas, computer hardware, and health insurance stocks are also posting notable losses, moving to the downside along with most of the major sectors.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved mostly lower on Thursday following the overnight sell-off on Wall Street. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index fell by 1.1 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index edged down by 0.3 percent.

Meanwhile, the major European markets have turned mixed over the course of the trading day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index is up by 0.4 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are down by 0.2 percent and 0.1 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries are extending yesterday's rally on the heels of the disappointing economic data. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is falling by 3.5 basis points to a new record low of 1.59 percent.

Canadian Market Report

CADUSD Oil Gold Allbanc

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TSX Up At Open Thursday

Bay Street stocks moved higher at open Thursday amid marginal buying across a variety of sectors, with the S&P/TSX Composite Index adding 31.41 points or 0.27 percent to 11,464.63.

Information technology services provider CGI Group Inc. surged 15 percent after it said its wholly owned unit CGI Holdings Europe Limited would acquire Logica plc.

CE Franklin Ltd. skyrocketed 35 percent after it said it would be acquired by NOV Distribution Services ULC.

Among financial plays, CIBC gathered over 1 percent after posting higher second-quarter net income. TD Bank, Royal Bank and Scotiabank were up around 1 percent each.

In the oil patch, Pacific Rubiales Energy and Imperial Oil moved up around 1 percent each. In the gold space, Agnico-Eagle Mines and Barrick Gold gained around 1 percent each.

The price of crude oil oil was ticking lower after falling heavily to hit a fresh 7-month low in the previous session. Yesterday, oil shed over 3 percent to settle at a seven-month low on increasing concerns over the euro zone debt crisis. Today during trading hours, the EIA will release its U.S. crude oil inventories report for the weekended May 25. Analysts expect crude oil inventories to gain by 100,000 barrels and gasoline stocks to remain unchanged last week. Crude for July edged down $0.54 to $ 87.28 a barrel.

The price of gold little changed Thursday morning on bargain hunting, despite lingering concerns over Spain's banking system, a surge in Italian borrowing costs and Greek elections. Gold for August eased $2.80 to $1,562.90.

In corporate news from Canada, CIBC posted higher second-quarter net income of C$811 million or C$1.90 per share compared with C$767 million or C$1.80 per share last year. Adjusted earnings per share grew to C$2.00 from C$1.83 a year ago. Analysts were expecting the bank to report earnings of C$1.88 per share this quarter .

Industrial machinery dealer CE Franklin Ltd. said it would be acquired by NOV Distribution Services ULC, an unit of oil and gas equipment and services company National Oilwell Varco Inc. (NOV) for consideration of C$12.75 in cash per common share. The stock closed Wednesday's session at C$9.350.

Gaming software maker Amaya Gaming Group Inc. announced that it has extended its buyout offered for CryptoLogic Ltd. (CRY.TO) until 5.00 p.m. London time on 25 June 2012, unless otherwise extended. In December 2011, Amaya Gaming Group has said it offered to buy CryptoLogic for $2.50 per share, estimated to total about $34.5 million.

Information technology services provider CGI Group Inc. said its wholly owned unit CGI Holdings Europe Limited would acquire Logica plc. Logica Shareholders would be entitled to receive 105 pence in cash per Logica Share. The purchase price represents a premium of about 59.8 percent to the latest closing price per Logica Share of 65.70 pence

European Market Report

FTSE 100 Euronext Dax perf CAC 40

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European Markets Higher, Oil Stocks Firm

The European markets are higher on Thursday, following the previous session's sharp sell-off, after Germany's unemployment rate dropped and Eurozone inflation slowed more than expected in May. Sentiment was also influenced by some broker comments. Oil stocks are trading higher.

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi has reportedly said that the eurozone setup is unsustainable and that leaders have to decide what they want the bloc to be in future. The central bank cannot fill the "vacuum" left by governments, Draghi warned.

As Ireland votes in a referendum, opinion polls seem to be showing that the country will back the new German-backed EU fiscal treaty. Results are expected by Friday afternoon.

The Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone bluechip stocks is adding 0.77 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, is gaining 0.62 percent.

The German DAX is advancing 0.43 percent and the French CAC 40 is adding 0.82 percent. The FTSE 100 is adding 0.87 percent and Switzerland's SMI is up 0.07 percent.

In Frankfurt, SAP is up 1.8 percent. UBS raised the business software maker to "Buy" from "Neutral." Commerzbank and Deutsche Bank are moderately higher. Volkswagen is notably higher and Daimler is modestly up. BMW is in negative territory.

HeidelbergCement is up 0.3 percent. The stock was downgraded to "Equalweight" from "Overweight" at Morgan Stanley. Chemicals firm Lanxess is up about 1 percent. Commerzbank raised the stock to "Buy" from "Add." Deutsche Post is losing 1.5 percent.

In Paris, STMicroelectronics is climbing 2.9 percent, followed by Cap Gemini, which is up 2.8 percent. BNP Paribas is gaining 2.4 percent. Societe Generale is rising 1.6 percent and Credit Agricole is advancing moderately. Peugeot is gaining 1.3 percent and Renault is adding 0.9 percent.

In London, BG Group is climbing 1.8 percent and Royal Dutch Shell is advancing 1.3 percent. Tullow Oil is up 2 percent. InterContinental Hotels Group is advancing 4 percent.

Kingfisher is gaining 1.1 percent. The home improvement retailer said its retail profit and sales for the first quarter declined from last year, hurt by poor weather in the UK and Europe as well as adverse foreign currency translation.

Asset manager Man Group and software firm Sage Group are gaining 2.2 percent each.

Canadian IT company CGI Group Inc. has agreed to acquire Logica for 105 pence per share in cash. Logica shares are soaring over 64 percent.

Admiral Group is losing nearly 3 percent, following a regulatory decision to refer private motor insurance market to the Competition Commission.

Thomas Cook is declining 8.6 percent after reporting a wider loss for the first half of the year..

ABB is falling 1.8 percent in Stockholm. The stock was reduced to "Neutral" from "Outperform" at Exane BNP.

Ahold is up 1.6 percent after HSBC raised the stock to "Neutral" from "Overweight."

Morgan Stanley raised Telefonica to "Equalweight" from "Underweight." The stock is up 1.7 percent in Madrid.

In economic news, a report from the Federal Labor Agency showed that the number of unemployed in Germany remained unchanged in May. In April, the number of unemployed increased by a revised 18,000. Economists had forecast unemployment to decline by 7,000 persons this month.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate edged down to 6.7 percent from 6.8 percent in April. Economists expected the rate to hold steady at 6.8 percent for a fifth straight month.

Eurozone inflation slowed more than expected in May, flash estimates from Eurostat showed. Annual inflation fell to 2.4 percent from 2.6 percent in April, slightly below the expected rate of 2.5 percent.

Fears concerning Europe hurt markets across Asia/Pacific too. Additionally, Xinhua said there was no plan to introduce stimulus measures of the scale unleashed during the depths of the global financial crisis in 2008 to revive growth.

Asia Market Reports

Asian Shares Fall On Contagion Fears

Asian shares ended mostly lower in nervous trading on Thursday, as higher borrowing costs in Spain and Italy rekindled worries about spreading contagion in Europe.

Risk aversion deepened after the yields on 10-year Spanish sovereign debt rose to near 7 percent, or six-month highs, while Italian government yields broke the 6 percent danger level in the wake of disappointing auctions overnight. Investors also remained focused on Greece after a new opinion poll showed most Greeks want to see the terms of an international financial bailout revised.

Stocks pared losses across Asia as polls showed over 60 percent of Irish voters support fiscal measures to contain the debt crisis, while German retail sales increased for a second consecutive month in April. The euro recovered against the dollar and commodities such as copper and crude reclaimed some lost ground after data showed Germany's seasonally adjusted jobless rate fell to a record low in May.

Japan's Nikkei fell almost 2 percent early in the session before recouping some of its loss to end down about a percent lower at 8,542.73, its lowest closing mark since Jan. 17. The broader Topix index shed 0.6 percent. Export-linked shares came under heavy selling pressure, as the yen hit fresh multi-month highs against the euro and dollar on concerns about the stability of Europe's financial system.

Advantest tumbled 3.7 percent, Canon fell 3.5 percent, Honda Motor lost 2.4 percent and Toyota Motors edged down 1.1 percent. Nikon rose 1.1 percent on hopes for growth in its camera business, especially its highly profitable digital single-lens reflex cameras.

China's Shanghai Composite index eased half a percent, with infrastructure-related stocks leading the losses on concerns over slowing domestic growth. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index slipped a modest 0.3 percent.

Australian stocks pared early losses to end modestly lower, with month-end window dressing and expectations that China will take more steps to boost economic growth this year helping prevent significant downside. Both the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 and the broader All Ordinaries index lost about 0.4 percent each.

Mining stocks fell notably, with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto falling less than a percent each, while smaller rival Fortescue slumped 4.4 percent. In the financial sector, ANZ, Commonwealth and Westpac fell between 0.3 percent and 0.7 percent, while NAB tumbled 5.6 percent on going ex-dividend.

In economic news, Australian building approvals plummeted a seasonally adjusted 8.7 percent month-over-month in April, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said, coming in at 10,330. That was well shy of forecasts for an increase of 0.3 percent following the downwardly revised gain of 6.0 percent. The annual figures were even worse, with approvals plummeting 24.1 percent.

Seoul shares ended largely unchanged, with the Kospi average slipping marginally on fears that Spain could be forced to seek a bailout. Crude refiners led the losses, as crude fell more than 3 percent to a 6-month low overnight, pressured by a stronger dollar and on concerns the deepening eurozone debt crisis will reduce fuel demand.

S-Oil lost a percent, while SK Innovation tumbled 2.8 percent. Ssangyong rallied 2.9 percent after its parent India's Mahindra & Mahindra posted a forecast-beating 44 percent rise in fourth-quarter profit.

New Zealand shares rose, defying weak overseas and regional cues, as Mainfreight extended the previous session's gains after posting record annual sales and earnings. Shares of the transport company gained a percent, adding to yesterday's 3.2 percent rally, while the benchmark NZX-50 index rose a modest 0.2 percent. Pumpkin Patch, the children's clothing chain, advanced 2.3 percent after announcing two new board appointments.

Among heavyweights, Contact Energy rose 1.5 percent, Skycity Entertainment gained 1.2 percent and Telecom added 1.2 percent, while Nuplex tumbled nearly 4 percent and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare lost 3.3 percent. Rakon, a manufacturer of components for navigation systems and smart phones which derives most of its revenue from abroad, soared 8.5 percent on a weaker kiwi dollar. Oil refiner NZ Refining, led the decliners on the exchange, falling 3.7 percent as it reported lower gross refining margins in March and April.

India's benchmark Sensex was last trading down 1.1 percent after government data showed the nation's annual economic growth slumped to a nine-year low of 5.3 percent in the January-March quarter, reflecting weak business sentiment amid the weakness in the rupee, high fiscal and current account deficits and policy paralysis in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's administration.

Elsewhere across Asia, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was down a whopping 2.2 percent and Singapore's Straits Times edged down 0.4 percent, while Malaysia's KLSE Composite rose 0.4 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average added 0.6 percent.



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Crude Ticks Up After Steep Fall

The price of crude oil was ticking higher after falling heavily to hit a fresh 7-month low in the previous session.

Light Sweet Crude Oil (WTI) futures for July delivery edged up $0.16 to $87.98 a barrel. Yesterday, oil shed over 3 percent to settle at a seven-month low on increasing concerns the euro zone debt crisis could peg oil demand growth and fears the contagion could spread from Greece to Spain and Italy. Both Italy and Spain continued to struggle at bond auctions, failing to meet targets. As well, the dollar continued its winning ways, strengthening against most major currencies.

Wednesday after the market hours, the API said U.S. crude oil inventories fell 353,000 barrels, while gasoline stocks gained 2.10 million barrels in the weekended May 25.

The price of gold was extending gains for a second session Thursday morning on bargain hunting, despite lingering concerns over Spain's banking system, a surge in Italian borrowing costs and Greek elections.

Gold for August delivery, the most actively traded contract, edged up $2.50 to $1,568.20 an ounce. Yesterday, gold ended higher on bargain hunting notwithstanding the strong U.S. dollar

Holdings of SPDR Gold Trust, the world's largest gold-backed exchange-traded fund, were unchanged at 1,270.26 tons.

This morning, the U.S. dollar was hovering around its two-year high versus the euro and around its two-month high against sterling. The buck was steady near a 16-month high against the Swiss franc, while lingering near a 2-week low versus the yen.

In economic news, euro zone inflation slowed more than expected in May, flash estimates from Eurostat showed. Annual inflation fell to 2.4 percent from 2.6 percent in April. The rate was slightly below the expected rate of 2.5 percent. Nonetheless, inflation continues to stay above the European Central Bank's 'below, but close to 2 percent' target.

Data released by the Federal Statistics Office showed that Germany's retail sales increased at a slower pace in April, but the rate of growth exceeded economists' forecast. Separately, the agency said unemployment rate in Germany declined marginally in April. The adjusted unemployment rate fell to 5.4 percent in April from 5.5 percent in March. In April last year, the rate was 6.1 percent.

Traders will look to the private sector employment report from the ADP, due out at 8.15.a.m ET. ET. The consensus expectations are for an addition of 154,000 jobs by the sector in May following an addition of 119,000 jobs in April.

A little later, the Labor Department is due to release its customary U.S. jobless claims report for the week ended May 26th. Economists expect claims to remain unchanged at 370,000 in the recent reporting week.

Additionally, the Commerce Department is due to release its preliminary estimate of first quarter U.S. GDP at 8:30 am ET. Economists expect GDP growth to be downwardly revised to 1.9 percent for the quarter.

Today during trading hours, the EIA will release its U.S. crude oil inventories report for the weekended May 25. Analysts expect crude oil inventories to gain by 100,000 barrels and gasoline stocks to remain unchanged last week.