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Jul 19, 2012

The Economist | Highlights of news coverage from July 14th - 20th 2012

The EconomistBusiness this week

» The IMF released a pessimistic update on the world economy. It expects global GDP to increase by 3.5% this year, the slowest pace since 2009. The estimate for growth in Britain was slashed to just 0.2% (behind France on 0.3%) and growth rates were clipped for some big emerging markets, hitherto seen as a bulwark against a global slowdown. The IMF warned that things could get worse if America did not divert course from the looming "fiscal cliff" of tax rises and spending cuts designed to kick in at the end of 2012. It also called for a "robust and complete monetary union" in the euro zone. See article»

Impeding growth
» India's government told Barack Obama to mind his own business, after the American president urged it to do more to lift curbs on foreign investment. The country's commerce minister later conceded that India could lower some barriers, such as letting foreign airlines take a stake of up to 49% in domestic carriers. Foreign investment in India fell by 38% in April and May compared with the same two months in 2011, to $3.2 billion.
» A Senate committee lambasted HSBC for ignoring warnings that money suspected of belonging to Mexican drug cartels was being laundered through its bank in the United States. Concluding a year-long inquiry, the committee's report also slammed HSBC for "disregarding" suspicions about a Saudi bank's link to al-Qaeda in its dealings with it. HSBC has not been charged with any wrongdoing. See article»
» The LIBOR scandal continued to reverberate. Sir Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, faced tough questions from a committee in Parliament about what and when he knew about the manipulation of the benchmark inter-bank lending rate by bankers at Barclays. See article»

Harpooning the London Whale
Click Here! » To no one's surprise, JPMorgan Chase said that its losses related to credit-derivatives trades at its London office had ballooned to around $5.8 billion. It restated its first-quarter earnings. In May the bank had put the loss at $2 billion.
» America's banks trotted out their earnings for the second quarter. Bank of America swung to a profit of $2.5 billion from the $8.8 billion loss it reported a year ago, thanks to cost-cutting and more weeding-out of bad loans. BofA's share price has risen by 40% since the start of the year, although underlying earnings remain weak. Citigroup's profit fell by 12%, to $2.9 billion. And Goldman Sachs saw both revenue and profit drop by around 10%; some have criticised the bank for continuing to pay big bonuses despite its sluggish performance.
» Credit Suisse announced a plan to raise an extra $15.6 billion in capital following a very public row with Switzerland's central bank about whether it was adequately capitalised. The slanging match had unnerved investors. See article»
» America's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was set up under the Dodd-Frank reforms, imposed its first enforcement action when it ordered Capital One, a credit-card issuer, to refund $140m to 2m customers because of deceptive marketing practices. It will also pay a fine.
» Human Genome Sciences, a biotechnology firm based in Maryland, succumbed to a sweetened takeover offer of $3.6 billion from GlaxoSmithKline, a British drugs company. GSK markets HGS's Benlysta, the first new approved drug for lupus autoimmune diseases in 57 years.
» The board of Yahoo! appointed Marissa Mayer as chief executive, surprising those who assumed that Ross Levinsohn would keep the position he had held on an interim basis since the abrupt resignation of Scott Thompson in May. Ms Mayer used to work at Google, where she oversaw its search, Gmail and mapping businesses. Yahoo!'s quarterly earnings underlined the task Ms Mayer faces in turning the struggling company around: net profit was down by 4% compared with the same period a year earlier, to $227m. See article»

Point and click
» The European Union's competition commissioner opened an investigation into whether Microsoft is complying with its commitment to offer a choice of internet browsers other than its own Internet Explorer on new PCs. Microsoft reached an antitrust agreement with the EU in 2009 to present consumers with a range of browsers, which is said to have boosted the use of rival browsers in Europe, such as Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox. But the newer versions of Microsoft's Windows operating system may not explicitly offer the choice. See article»
» Meanwhile, Microsoft previewed its forthcoming Office applications. The latest suite of Office tools has been designed with people on the move, using tablets and cloud computing, in mind.

The Economist | Politics this week: Highlights of news coverage from July 14th - 20th 2012

The EconomistPolitics this week

» A bomb attack on Syria's national security headquarters in Damascus killed—among others—Daoud Rajiha, the defence minister, Hassan Turkmani, a former defence minister, and Assef Shawkat, a key security man and brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council pondered a new resolution, with Russia resistant to any proposal that would further undermine Mr Assad's regime.
See article»

» Israel's Kadima party pulled out of Binyamin Netanyahu's coalition government, after failing to agree on legislation that would draft most ultra-Orthodox men of military age into the army. See article»
» A bomber on a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian coastal resort of Burgas killed at least seven people. Mr Netanyahu blamed Iran for that and other recent attacks on Israeli tourists around the world and promised to hit back. See article»
» The National Forces Alliance, a broadly secular party led by a former prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, won 39 of the 80 seats reserved for parties in Libya's first election in four decades. An Islamist party close to the Muslim Brotherhood took 17. The remaining 120 seats in the 200-member assembly were reserved for individuals without formal party affiliations.
» The African Union elected Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa's home-affairs minister, to run its commission, making her the first woman to hold the post. She is a former wife of South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma. See article»
» A Tanzanian ferry carrying 290 passengers sank near the island of Zanzibar. Scores of people are dead or missing.

The government takes its slice
Click Here! » The new Socialist government in France reintroduced income tax and social contributions on workers' overtime to a budget going through the National Assembly. It is the latest in a series of partial reversals of labour-market reforms brought in by Nicolas Sarkozy that had been aimed at increasing incentives to work.
» The Greek government worked overtime to come up with savings of €11.5 billion ($14.1 billion) ahead of a visit by inspectors from the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF, who will judge if Greece is keeping to the terms of its bail-out. Senior Greek officials have been locked in meetings searching for savings that will have the least impact on austerity-weary Greeks. See article»
» Germany's Constitutional Court delayed until September its ruling on whether the €500 billion European Stability Mechanism could be signed by the German president. The ESM was supposed to be up and running this month but has been held up by rows over ratification in several European countries.
» The European Union sharply criticised Romania's government for undermining the rule of law. In a scathing report on the political instability in Romania caused by the impeachment in parliament of President Traian Basescu by Victor Ponta's government, the EU's executive said it was particularly worried by the manipulation of the judiciary.
» Silvio Berlusconi raised the prospect of running for office again at elections next year. His move added a new element of uncertainty to Italy's volatile politics, one of the factors cited by Moody's when it downgraded the country's sovereign debt by two notches. See article»

Questions, questions
» Mitt Romney came under sustained assault from the Obama campaign for refusing to release more than two years of tax returns and also about the timing of his departure from Bain Capital (described as a "retroactive retirement" by one of Mr Romney's advisers). Mr Romney gave separate interviews to five television networks in an attempt to counter the attack. The polls remain neck and neck. See article»
» The latest attempt to pass the Law of the Sea treaty was scuttled by Republicans in the Senate. The treaty is based on a UN-brokered agreement in 1982 that attempts to shore-up international maritime law. Most countries have ratified it, though the application of the treaty remains vague. Republicans argue that it encroaches on American sovereignty.

The last defence
» An indigenous group in Colombia temporarily expelled 100 soldiers by force from an army base, which was being attacked by the FARC guerrillas. Its representatives said the locals were tired of the fighting and preferred to guard the area themselves.
» The European Union sent a delegation to Paraguay to investigate the rapid impeachment last month of its former president, Fernando Lugo. Mercosur, a South American trade block, has suspended Paraguay, but José Miguel Insulza, the secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, has said he opposes a suspension.

Tripping the light fantastic
» North Korea promoted Kim Jong Un to the position of marshal of the armed forces, prompting army celebrations in the streets of Pyongyang. Shortly before, a senior general, Ri Yong Ho, had been relieved of all his posts because of illness. The move caught North Korea watchers by surprise and came just days after a surreal concert took place in Pyongyang featuring Mickey Mouse and music from Frank Sinatra and "Rocky". See article»
» The Taliban said it was responsible for a bomb that destroyed 22 NATO fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan. The trucks, which were heading south from Uzbekistan, were attacked in the same province in which a prominent Afghan politician had been killed in a suicide-attack while attending his daughter's wedding a few days earlier.
» South-East Asian nations failed to reach an agreement at a meeting in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, on how to deal with China's claim to islands in the South China Sea. The ten-member ASEAN group ended its meeting without issuing a joint statement for the first time in its 45-year history. One diplomat accused China of buying the loyalty of Cambodia to prevent a joint communiqué critical of Chinese policy. See article»
» Tens of thousands of people protested against nuclear power in Tokyo, in Japan's biggest demonstrations since the 1960s. Anger has increased partly as a result of the government's decision to restart two reactors closed after last year's Fukushima disaster, in order to avoid power shortages. See article»

GATA | THE GATA DISPATCH: Jim Sinclair: A call for an international real investors spring

Nick Barisheff: Allocated bullion storage -- Do you really own the bullion?

9:15p ET Thursday, July 19, 2012

Bullion dealer Nick Barisheff today earns his tinfoil hat with commentary acknowledging that precious metals exchange-traded funds likely contain assets that have been borrowed and that could fall into dispute during episodes of extreme market stress -- just when precious metals investors will want secure access to their metal. Barisheff's commentary is headlined "Allocated Bullion Storage: Do You Really Own the Bullion?" and it's posted at 24hGold here:

CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc.

Stocks and markets in the News | After Hours Trading: Google, Microsoft shares higher after hours

By Carla Mozee, MarketWatch 

LOS ANGELES (MarketWatch)Shares of Microsoft Corp. and Google Inc. rose late Wednesday, with quarterly adjusted earnings from the software marker and the search firm each coming in above expectations, while Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. shares dropped more than 5% following disappointing sales figures. 

Google GOOG +2.12%  shares gained 2.4% to $607.04 as the company’s adjusted earnings were $10.12 a share, above the $10.04 consensus estimate produced by a Thomson Reuters poll of analysts. Net revenue - excluding the contribution of Motorola Mobility - was $8.36 billion. Wall Street expected core revenue of $8.41 billion. 

Net income at Google was $2.79 billion, or $8.42 a share, compared with $2.51 billion, or $7.68 a share, in the year-ago period. Read full story about Google. 

Stock in Microsoft MSFT +0.71%  traded 2.5% higher at $31.42. Fiscal fourth-quarter earnings at Microsoft excluding charges related to a writedown in its online services business and deferred revenue for Windows operating system were 73 cents a share. Revenue was $18.6 billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had expected earnings of 62 cents a share on revenue of $18.15 billion. 

On a net basis, Microsoft swung to a loss of $492 million, or 6 cents a share. It made $5.9 billion, or 69 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Read more about Microsoft’s loss. 
Shares of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. CMG -11.22%  fell 6.7% to $377 after the restaurant chain operator said second-quarter revenue was $690.9 million, which was below Wall Street’s forecast of $704.8 million. Sales a year ago were $571.6 million. Same-restaurant sales grew 8% compared with the 10% growth target set by analysts. 

Rising corn prices and your grocery bill Corn prices are nearing the record highs of last summer as the U.S. Midwest suffers its worst drought since 1956. Shoppers should expect higher grocery bills. 

Chipotle’s profit jumped 61% to $81.7 million, or $2.56 a share, up from $50.7 million, or $1.59 a share, a year ago. Earnings were well above the consensus estimate of $2.30 a share, according to a FactSet analyst survey. 

During the day session, U.S. extended gains into a third session, helped by the latest round of financial results, including from International Business Machines and eBay Inc. See more in Market Snapshot. 
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA +0.27%  rose 35 points, or 0.3%, to 12,943.66 and the S&P 500 Index SPX +0.27%  gained 0.3% at 1,376.51. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP +0.79%  outperformed, rising 0.8% to 2,965.90. 

Carla Mozee is a reporter for MarketWatch, based in Los Angeles.

DealBook | DealB%K Afternoon Edition: Obama Fund-Raiser Leaving UBS

Thursday, July 19, 2012
Obama Fund-Raiser Leaving UBS
Obama Fund-Raiser Leaving UBS Robert Wolf, a top executive at UBS and a major fund-raiser for President Obama, has left the Swiss bank to form his own advisory shop, according to an internal memorandum reviewed by DealBook.
    Duke Energy Tried to Stop Merger, Former Progress Chief Says At a hearing before North Carolina's utilities commission, William Johnson, the former chief executive of Progress Energy, indicated that the relationship between the two companies soured after Duke tried to back out of the deal, dooming his tenure chief of the newly merged utility.
    K.K.R. Opens Its Doors to Individual Investors K.K.R. is starting two mutual funds aimed at individual investors, departing from the buyout industry's practice of allowing only institutions and the wealthy to commit capital to deals.
    Credit Suisse Lures Away Morgan Stanley Banker David Hammond, a longtime Morgan Stanley banker, will lead Credit Suisse's metal and mining advisory unit.
    No Jail Time for Cooperating Witness in Galleon Case Anil Kumar, a former top partner at McKinsey & Company, was a crucial witness for the government in its cases against the hedge fund manager Raj Rajaratnam and the former Goldman Sachs board member Rajat Gupta.
    After Health Care Ruling, Centene Is Cast as Takeover Target The Supreme Court's decision upholding President Obama's health care overhaul could spur deal-making in the Medicaid sector, and at least one analyst says the Centene Corporation is a potential takeover target.
    Unit of PPG to Merge With Georgia Gulf in $2 Billion Deal The specialty chemicals company PPG Industries will spin off a commodities unit and merge it with Georgia Gulf in a deal valued at about $2 billion.
    Blackstone Profit Fell 74% in Second Quarter The Blackstone Group on Thursday reported a 74 percent decline in second-quarter earnings, underscoring some of the challenges the private equity industry faces.
    Morgan Stanley Shares Slump as Earnings Miss Estimates Morgan Stanley said on Thursday that it had swung to a profit in the second quarter, but it missed expectations. Revenue fell as the firm contended with the doldrums that have descended on the banking industry.
    Group Led by BC Partners to Buy U.S. Cable Operator for $6.6 Billion The private equity firm BC Partners and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board have agreed to buy the American cable operator Suddenlink Communications for $6.6 billion.
    Penguin Acquires Self-Publishing Company Penguin has pushed into the booming self-publishing market by acquiring Author Solutions, a company based in Bloomington, Ind., for $116 million, Julie Bosman reports for The New York Times.
    The Daily Show Explains the Libor What is the Libor? Jon Stewart said the name evokes "the mythical half wild boar-half lion that was rumored to have killed Achilles' brother Jimmy the Greek."
    Corporate Earnings Companies scheduled to report results on Friday include General Electric and Xerox.

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Stocks and markets in The News | Wall Street at Close: U.S. Stocks extend rise as IBM, tecch lead

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- U.S. stocks extended gains into a third session Thursday, led by tech stocks, as investors bought on relief earnings were largely beating expectations and helped by the latest round of results from blue-chip International Business Machines and S&P 500-component eBay Inc. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 34.66 points, or 0.3%, to 12,943.66. The S&P 500 gained 3.73 points, or 0.3%, to 1,376.51. The Nasdaq Composite rose 23.30 points, or 0.8%, to 2,965.90.
U.S. stocks extend rise as IBM, tech lead

BIV Today's Business News: B.C. beats U.S. in international softwood court ruling



B.C. beats U.S. in international softwood court ruling

The London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA) has handed B.C. a "total victory" in a softwood lumber dispute with the U.S., Pat Bell, Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation, said yesterday.



White Rock optometrist patents “bionic” lens

A White Rock optometrist has developed a “bionic lens” that he claims can be implanted in cataract patients and also adapted for cameras to create images that more closely replicate human vision.

Hospitality and Tourism

White Spot moves to B.C.-only wine list

Vancouver-based White Spot has stopped carrying foreign wines in a bid to bolster its brand image as a restaurant chain that celebrates local ingredients.

Economy and Finance


Canadian consumer confidence at lowest point in two years

According to the latest consumer confidence survey conducted by TNS, the Canadian Consumer Confidence Index fell 1.8 points in July, from 96.5 to 94.6, which is its lowest point since July 2010.

Canadian companies shop abroad for acquisitions

PwC’s quarterly review of merger and acquisition activity reveals that Canadian corporate purchases in foreign markets rose 191% to $21.8 billion in the second quarter of 2012 compared with the same quarter in 2011.



BCSC panel finds three B.C. men illegally traded and distributed securities

A British Columbia Securities Commission (BCSC) panel has found that three B.C. men and a parking technology company illegally distributed securities when they raised approximately $3.5 million from investors who did not qualify for exemptions from securities laws.

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Stocks and markets in the News | European Markets at Close: Upbeat earnings inspire gains for Europe stocks, marketWtch

Upbeat earnings inspire gains for Europe stocks Well-received earnings reports from companies such Akzo Nobel NV and Nokia Corp. push European stocks higher on Thursday, while investor focus returns to Spain as borrowing costs rose and demand fell at an auction of government debt.

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ADVFN World Daily Markets Bulletin Thursday, 19 July 2012

ADVFN III World Daily Markets Bulletin
Daily world financial news

Thursday, 19 July 2012

US Market Reports
Wall Street Benefiting From Continued Tech Rally

Stocks have moved to the upside in early trading on Thursday, adding to the gains posted in the two previous sessions. The major averages have climbed into positive territory, moving back toward the highs seen earlier this month.

The major averages have pulled back off their highs for the young session in the past few minutes but remain positive. The Dow is up 31.90 points or 0.3 percent at 12,940.60, the Nasdaq is up 21.41 points or 0.7 percent at 2,964.01 and the S&P 500 is up 3.93 points or 0.3 percent at 1,376.71.

The markets are once again benefiting from strength among technology stocks, which posted substantial gains during trading on Wednesday.

Shares of IBM Corp. (IBM) are moving notably higher after the tech giant reported better than expected second quarter earnings growth. While the company's revenues fell short of estimates, IBM also raised its full-year earnings guidance.

Within the tech sector, electronic storage stocks are posting particularly strong gains in early trading. Reflecting the strength in the storage sector, the NYSE Arca Disk Drive Index has surged up by 2.8 percent, climbing further off Monday's nine-month closing low.

Semiconductor stocks are also seeing considerable strength, driving the Philadelphia Semiconductor Index up by 2.3 percent. The index is adding to the 3.6 percent gain it posted on Wednesday.

Outside of the tech sector, notable strength is visible among railroad, oil service and gold stocks. Union Pacific (UNP) is leading the railroad sector higher after reporting better than expected second quarter earnings.

Nonetheless, disappointing employment data may be limiting the upside for the markets, as the Labor Department released a report showing a bigger than expected rebound by jobless claims in the week ended July 14th.

The Labor Department said jobless claims jumped to 386,000 from the previous week's revised figure of 352,000. Economists had expected jobless claims to climb to 365,000 from the 350,000 originally reported for the previous week.

With the increase, jobless claims bounced off the four-year low set in the previous week, which was partly due to seasonal distortions.

In overseas trading, stock markets across the Asia-Pacific region moved higher on Thursday, benefiting from the overnight strength on Wall Street. Japan's Nikkei 225 Index advanced by 0.8 percent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index surged up by 1.7 percent.

The major European markets have also moved to the upside on the day. While the U.K.'s FTSE 100 Index has edged up by 0.1 percent, the French CAC 40 Index and the German DAX Index are up by 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent, respectively.

In the bond market, treasuries have moved moderately lower amid the continued strength among stocks. Subsequently, the yield on the benchmark ten-year note, which moves opposite of its price, is up by 3.2 basis points at 1.511 percent.

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TSX Jumps At Open Thursday

Toronto stocks opened higher Thursday amid buying in commodities, with the S&P/TSX Composite Index surging 87.44 points or 0.76 percent to 11,666.60

The Diversified Materials Index rose about 2 percent, with First Quantum Minerals adding nearly 3 percent. Inmet Mining and Teck Resources gathered around 2 percent each.

In the oil patch, Trican Well Services moved up 3 percent. Canadian Natural Resources and Crescent Point Energy were up around 2 percent each.

Among gold stocks, Detour Gold rose 3 percent. Agnico-Eagle Mines and Allied Nevada Gold added over 1 percent each. Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. moved up 2 percent after posting improved second-quarter net earnings.

Meanwhile, real estate company Madison Pacific Properties Inc. shed close to 5 percent.

The price of crude oil was steady above the $90-mark for the first time in seven weeks Thursday morning. Crude for August moved up $1.27 to $91.14 a barrel.

The price of gold was moving higher Thursday morning as the U.S. dollar was trading lower versus a basket of currencies amid weekly jobless claims data. Gold for August gained $16.60 to $1,587.40 an ounce.

In corporate news from Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. posted second-quarter net earnings of C$146 million or C$0.70 per share versus C$148 million or C$0.68 per share a year ago. Analysts were expecting the company to report earnings of C$0.70 per share. The company further declared a dividend of 26.5 cents per common share.

Grocery dealer Colabor Group Inc. reported improved second quarter net earnings of C$2.90 million or C$0.13 per basic share compared to C$1.68 million or C$0.07 per basic share last year. Analysts were expecting the company to report earnings of C$0.11 per share.

Fiberglass tank systems maker ZCL Composites Inc. Wednesday announced appointment of Kapul Gill as its Chief Operating Officer, effective September 10.

In economic news, Statistics Canada said wholesale sales rose 0.9 percent in May to $49.8 billion, largely due to higher sales in the computer and communications equipment and supplies industry, the motor vehicle industry and the food industry. In volume terms, wholesale sales were up 0.4 percent in May.
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European Stocks Higher At Mid-day Despite Weak Spanish Auction

European stocks held on to their early gains on Thursday despite a weak Spanish bond auction, which showed that the nation sold EUR 2.981 billion bonds compared with the EUR2- EUR3 billion target against a backdrop of rising yields.

With stronger housing data from the United States and China and better-than-expected earnings from IBM and eBay underpinning sentiment, the Euro Stoxx 50 index of eurozone bluechip stocks is currently up 0.72 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 50 index, which includes some major U.K. companies, is gaining 0.54 percent.

Around Europe, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 is up 0.27 percent, while France's CAC 40, the German DAX and Switzerland's SMI are gaining about half a percent each.

In stock-specific action, ADVA Optical Networking is climbing 5 percent in Frankfurt after the provider of intelligent telecommunications infrastructure solutions reported a significant increase in profit for the second quarter on the back of foreign currency exchange gains. Lender Deutsche Bank is declining marginally on a report that the lender is mulling cutting 1000 jobs in its investment banking division.

British lenders Barclays and HSBC Holdings are up 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. A report from the Bank of England released today showed that lending to British businesses contracted in May as loans to small and medium-sized enterprises declined.

BP Plc is up 0.4 percent after the energy giant announced that it is moving on to the next stage in the process, required under the shareholder agreement, for the potential sale of its shareholding in TNK-BP.

Alstom SA is gaining 2 percent in Paris after the company said it expects orders to be sustained and sales to grow by more than 5 percent in the full year.

In economic releases, the eurozone current account surplus increased in May following a sharp decline in April, a report from the European Central Bank showed. The seasonally adjusted current account surplus rose to EUR 10.9 billion in May from EUR 5.5 billion in April and EUR 12.6 billion in March.

U.K. retail sales increased at a slower than expected pace in June, while Italy's industrial orders recovered as expected by economists in May, separate reports released today showed.

Elsewhere, Asian markets rose broadly, as gains in U.S. housing starts and strong earnings reports from U.S. tech majors eased worries about a sharp slowdown in corporate profit growth. The Dow futures point to a higher start on Wall Street as investors await data on jobless claims, existing home sales and the Philadelphia Federal Reserve's manufacturing index.

Asia Market Reports
Asian Stocks Rise On US Earnings, Stimulus Outlook

Asian stocks rose broadly on Thursday, as gains in U.S. housing starts and strong earnings reports from U.S. tech majors eased worries about a sharp slowdown in corporate profit growth. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke reiterated his stance to use all tools to boost the economy if the situation gets worse and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao vowed to make efforts to create more jobs as part of a development strategy to boost sagging economic growth, helping keep underlying sentiment positive.

The dollar remained under pressure as Bernanke offered a grim picture of the U.S. economy and kept hopes for more more stimulus measure alive. He played down the risks of a double-dip recession as the economy continued to expand at a moderate pace in June and early July. The Fed's Beige Book business survey released overnight showed employment levels improving at a tepid pace, while manufacturing activity continued to expand slowly in most districts.

Tokyo stocks ended higher, bolstered by gains in high-tech shares following a rally among their U.S. peers overnight on the back of Intel's upbeat comments on the corporate IT market. Better-than-expected earnings from EBM and eBay also reassured investors.

Advantest soared 6.5 percent, Dainippon Screen Manufacturing jumped 6.6 percent and Tokyo Electron rallied 3.6 percent. The benchmark Nikkei average rose 0.8 percent, while the broader Topix index ended 0.9 percent higher.

China-linked Komatsu rose 3.3 percent, helped by reports that China's biggest four banks doubled their pace of lending in the first half of July from a month earlier. Japan Tobacco gained 2.4 percent on a brokerage upgrade.

Tokyo Electric Power climbed 4.8 percent after the government allowed the utility to raise its electricity rate by as much as 8.47 percent. Yaskawa Electric advanced 8.4 percent after the company raised its half-year operating profit estimate by 50 percent.

Suzuki Motor tumbled 3.8 percent, weighed down by news of labor unrest at its affiliate Maruti Suzuki's Manesar factory. All Nippon Airways slid 2.1 percent after the airline set the price for its $2.3 billion upcoming new share issuance at a discount.

China's Shanghai Composite index rose 0.7 percent to end at a one-week high, lifted by cement and construction companies, after media reports suggested that banks ramped up lending in July. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index rallied 1.6 percent to close near a two-week high.

Australian shares rallied, mirroring gains in the U.S. and Europe overnight on upbeat earnings. The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index jumped more than 2 percent to 4206.70, a level not seen since May 15, while the broader All Ordinaries index climbed 1.9 percent. The Australian dollar hit a 11-week high against the dollar, buoyed by firmer commodity prices and improved investor sentiment after news emerged that Germany's Bundesbank is mulling buying Australian-dollar denominated assets such as government bonds possibly within weeks.

Resource stocks advanced, with Rio Tinto up a percent and BHP Billiton climbing 3 percent after treasurer Wayne Swan conceded falling iron ore prices could have a bearing on the money raised through the mineral resources rent tax. Smaller rival Fortescue jumped 4.8 percent and gold miner Newcrest added 2.6 percent.

Energy stocks also rose sharply, as international crude prices continued to show upward bias. Woodside Petroleum soared 7.5 percent, Oil Search climbed 4.6 percent and Santos jumped 5.8 percent. Westpac led the gainers in the banking sector, rising 1.6 percent, while ANZ, Commonwealth and NAB ended up about 1.2 percent each. Fairfax shares ended unchanged after it appointed Jack Cowin, a friend of the company's biggest shareholder Gina Rinehart, to its board as an independent director.

In economic news, confidence among Australian businesses declined further in the June quarter, as a cumulative 125 basis-point interest rate reduction by the Reserve Bank of Australia in the past few months failed to offset growing concerns about Europe, the latest National Australia Bank quarterly business survey showed. The business confidence index slipped to -2 in the June quarter from -1 in the March quarter.

South Korea;'s Kospi average rallied 1.6 percent in thin trading on optimism the U.S. economy is gaining some traction. Tech shares and automakers led the rally, while financials remained subdued after the nation's antitrust watchdog launched a probe into the country's top four commercial banks on suspicions that lenders colluded to rig rates on certificate of deposits. Woori Finance Holdings and Hana Financial tumbled 4.1 percent and 2.6 percent, respectively. Among the top gainers, Samsung Electronics rallied 3.6 percent and Hyundai Motor rose 3 percent.

New Zealand shares rose modestly on optimism over the ongoing earnings season. The benchmark NZX-50 rose 0.34 percent, with retailers Warehouse Group and Kathmandu Holdings pacing the gainers. Shares of Warehourse, the biggest retailer on the exchange, rose 1.6 percent to its highest level since May 22, while shares of Kathmandu Holdings gained 2.1 percent.

Heartland jumped 5.5 percent after Pyne Gould Corp sold down the bulk of its stakes in the would-be bank last week. Rubber goods and milking equipment manufacturer Skellerup rose 2.1 percent and heavyweight Telecom ended up 0.4 percent, while tech stocks Xero and Diligent Board Member Services extended declines for a second consecutive session following Tuesday's sharp gains. Shares of Fletcher Building, the nation''s largest construction company, slid 0.2 percent.

Elsewhere, India's benchmark Sensex was last trading up half a percent, Indonesia's Jakarta Composite index was gaining 0.4 percent, Singapore's Straits Times index rose 0.3 percent and the Taiwan Weighted average added 1.4 percent, but Malaysia's KLSE Composite edged down marginally.

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Crude Steady Above $90

The price of crude oil was steady above the $90-mark for the first time in seven weeks Thursday morning.

Light Sweet Crude Oil (WTI) futures for August delivery, gained $1.06 to $90.93 a barrel. Yesterday, oil extended gains for a sixth session after an Energy Information Administration report showed oil stockpiles in the U.S. declined for a third consecutive week indicating a pick-up in demand for oil.

Wednesday during trading hours, the EIA said U.S. crude oil inventories moved down by 800,000 barrels and gasoline stocks shed 1.80 million barrels in the weekended July 13. Analysts expected crude oil inventories to shed 1.40 million barrels, while gasoline stocks are seen adding 700,000 barrels last week.

This morning, the U.S. dollar was leveling off from its 2-year high versus the euro and , while ticking lower against sterling. The buck slipped back near a monthly-low versus the yen and moving lower against the Swiss franc.

In economic news, the euro zone current account surplus increased in May following a sharp decline in April, a report from the European Central Bank showed. The seasonally adjusted current account surplus rose to EUR 10.9 billion in May from EUR 5.5 billion in April.

Meanwhile, data from the Office for National Statistics revealed U.K. retail sales increased at a slower than expected pace in June. Including automotive fuel, retail sales grew only 0.1 percent month-on-month, slower than the 1.5 percent rise in May and 0.6 percent growth forecast by economists.

Traders will look to the weekly jobless claims data from the U.S. Labor Department due out at 8.30 a.m ET. Economists expect claims to edge up to 365,000 from 350,000 in the previous week.

Later during the session, the National Association of Realtors is scheduled to release its report on existing home sales for June. Economists estimate existing home sales of 4.65 million for the month after sales fell by 1.5 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.55 million in the previous month.