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Daily Forecast

Discussion in 'Forex Daily News & Outlook' started by Rider, Nov 25, 2009.

  1. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Jobless claims plummet to 14-month low
    Number of initial filers for unemployment insurance sinks to 466,000, the lowest since Sept. 13, 2008.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of first-time filers for unemployment insurance fell to 466,000, the lowest level in 14 months, according to a government report released Wednesday.

    That's the lowest number in the Labor Department figures since the week ended Sept. 13, 2008, and a decrease of 35,000 from the previous week's 501,000.

    A consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected 500,000 new claims in the week ended Nov. 21.

    The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 496,500, down 16,500 from the previous week's average of 513,500.

    The report is usually released on Thursdays, but it was posted a day early this week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

    "It seems to be a statistical pop," said Tim Quinlan, economist at Wells Fargo. "As much as I'd like it to continue, I don't see claims continuing to fall at this pace."

    Still, Quinlan said he expects a gradual decline in initial claims throughout the coming months.

    "If you told the average person that we're five or six months into a recovery, they'd probably want to shoot you because it doesn't feel that way to them," Quinlan said. "But we are seeing more encouraging signs overall, and unemployment claims will be part of that."

    Continuing claims: The government said 5,423,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended Nov. 14, the most recent data available. That's down 190,000 from the preceding week.

    The 4-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 98,500 to 5,712,250.

    But the slide in continuing claims may signal that more filers are falling off those rolls and into extended benefits.

    Continuing claims reflect people filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those who have moved to state or federal extensions, nor people who have exhausted their benefits.

    Administration efforts. Earlier this month, the Labor Department reported that the nation's unemployment rate rose above 10% for the first time since 1983.

    A separate government report said 1 million people could lose their unemployment benefits in January if they don't receive further extended federal aid. President Obama signed a bill to extend government-provided unemployment insurance by up to 20 weeks, but the law applies only to those whose benefits will expire by the end of 2009.

    The Obama administration said earlier this month that it will hold a jobs forum on Dec. 3. Obama will meet with labor representatives, financial experts and other business leaders to discuss the continued problems with unemployment.

    State-by-state data: Only one state reported an initial claims increase of more than 1,000 for the week ended Nov. 14, the most recent data available.

    Claims in Florida rose by 1,313, which a state-supplied comment attributed to layoffs in the construction, trade, service and manufacturing sectors.

    Twenty-two states said that claims fell by more than 1,000. California reported that claims declined by 7,987; Texas had 4,710 fewer claims; Pennsylvania saw a dip of 4,321; Wisconsin had 2,716 fewer claims; and Ohio claims shrank by 2,486.
     
  2. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Gold hits record on talk of Indian buying
    Weaker dollar also helps push the precious metal to fresh highs.
    LONDON (Reuters) -- Gold prices hit record highs above $1,180 an ounce in Europe on Wednesday, boosted by the euro's move through $1.50 against the dollar and by a report that India may consider buying more bullion from the IMF.

    U.S. gold futures for December delivery on the COMEX division of the New York Mercantile Exchange rose $21.20 and settled at a record $1,187.00 an ounce.

    The dollar fell to a 15-month low against the euro due to views that U.S. rates would stay low and as Russia said it would diversify currency reserves, though it pared losses after a mixed batch of U.S. data.

    Meanwhile India's Financial Chronicle newspaper said on Wednesday that India is open to buying more gold from the International Monetary Fund, which has around another 200 tonnes to sell. The IMF said it had no comment to make on the report.

    Standard Chartered analyst Daniel Smith said further Indian buying could be "potentially very bullish" for gold.

    "Most commodities are rallying on the back of the weaker dollar, and that move is potentially quite significant," he said. "Gold has been outperforming on the back of this general rally in commodities, and that tells us that there is more to this than just the dollar story."

    "My feeling is that we are going to keep going higher for the time being," he added.

    The market is sensitive to speculation of further official sector buying after news in early November, that India's central bank had bought 200 tonnes of gold from the IMF, sparked a rally.

    Russia, Sri Lanka and Mauritius have since also announced gold acquisitions, and traders speculate that more central banks, particularly in Asia, could be open to gold acquisitions to diversify their foreign exchange reserves.
    Diversification

    "We have had relatively supportive news from the central banks, particularly in Asia, confirming that there is demand for gold as a means of diversifying their large foreign exchange reserves," RBS Global Banking & Markets analyst Daniel Major said.

    "There is plenty more potential for central banks to buy either IMF gold or other gold in the market to try and boost their reserves," he added.

    Expectations for further reserve diversification, as well as prospects for further dollar weakness and fears over inflation in 2010 have all fueled investment demand for the precious metal, and could lead to further sharp prices gains.

    "Central bank and other investor demand could see gold move to $1,500/oz in the next 3-6 months," Fairfax said in a note.

    Dollar weakness helped lift other commodities, with oil prices ticking up half a percent in early trade and industrial metals prices climbing.

    Elsewhere, holdings of the world's largest gold exchange-traded fund, the SPDR Gold Trust, rose nearly 1 tonne on Tuesday to their highest since late June.

    Indian gold traders meanwhile continued to stock up for weddings in anticipation of a further price rise, but the flow of scrap sales eased.

    Silver was bid at $18.63 an ounce versus $18.49. Holdings of the world's main silver ETF rose 136 tonnes to a record 9,252 tonnes on Tuesday, while ETF Securities' silver exchange-traded product also hit record levels.

    Platinum was at $1,466 an ounce against $1,444.50, while palladium was at $369.70 against $366.35. Holdings of ETF Securities' palladium-backed ETP rose to a record 620,359 ounces on Tuesday, and are up 11% month-on-month.
     
  3. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Dollar slides to a 15-month low
    Upbeat data bolsters economic outlook and pressures the greenback.
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The dollar slid to a fresh 15-month low against a basket of currencies Wednesday as upbeat data on weekly jobless claims, personal consumption, and new home sales bolstered the outlook for the U.S. economy.

    Traders also pushed the dollar to a 10-month low against the yen, encouraged by Federal Reserve minutes released on Tuesday which showed policymakers saw the U.S. currency's recent decline as "orderly." The minutes also affirmed expectations U.S. interest rates will stay essentially at zero until around mid-2010.

    The U.S. reports along with the Fed stance emboldened investors to seek riskier investments elsewhere for higher returns, boosting higher-yielding currencies such as the Australian dollar.

    "The big thing today is dollar weakness against virtually every currency and that's a reflection in part of the FOMC's seeming comfort with the dollar's decline being relatively orderly," said Nick Bennenbroek, chief currency strategist at Wells Fargo in New York.

    The generally positive U.S. data also stoked the market's risk appetite, prompting a dollar sell-off, said Kathy Lien, director of FX research at GFT in New York.

    For most of the year, the dollar, which is typically viewed as a safe haven, has tended to fall on upbeat economic news.

    Lien specifically cited the decline in jobless claims. "Jobs are the most important thing, so they're latching on to the fact that jobless claims were below 500,000, which means we could see a better non-farm payrolls report going forward," she said.

    Also enhancing U.S. economic prospects were an increase in new home sales and consumer confidence.

    The euro hit a 15-month high at $1.5096 according to Reuters data, and was last up 0.6% at $1.5052.

    The ICE Futures dollar index, which measures its performance against a basket of six currencies, fell to 74.399, a 15-month low. It last traded at 74.653, down 0.6%.

    The dollar fell 1.0% to 87.69 yen according to Reuters data, after falling as low as 87.40, its lowest since January.

    However, news the International Monetary Fund will likely tell euro zone finance ministers next week that the euro is undervalued versus the dollar has halted the dollar's slide, traders said.

    In addition, a report saying the government of Dubai will ask creditors of its two flagship firms, Dubai World and property group Nakheel, to a debt standstill, partly dented risk sentiment.

    "The Dubai news was a surprise and helped halt the rally in the euro against the dollar, as traders took some of their risky assets off the table," said Steven Butler, director of FX trading at Scotia Capital in Toronto.
     
  4. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Dollar falls as Dubai debt fears ease
    Greenback suffers on increased risk appetite. Yen also sinks as Bank of Japan continues easing monetary policy.
    LONDON (Reuters) -- The yen fell broadly on Tuesday after the Bank of Japan announced more measures to ease monetary policy to help the ailing economy following an emergency meeting, while holding interest rates at 0.1%.

    Despite its gains against the yen, the dollar fell against other major currencies as risk appetite improved after more clarity about the debt situation in Dubai eased some concerns about the region's stability.

    The yen struggled, but pared losses as the BOJ's move to provide three-month funds at rock-bottom rates surprised some in the market who had been expecting bolder policy steps, such as expanding purchases of government bonds to push yields down.

    Addressing strength in the yen, which shot to a 14-year high against the dollar last week, BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the central bank's commitment to keeping rates low would have an effect on currencies in the long run.

    "The message is that the BOJ isn't completely indifferent to currency rates, and this should at least be marginally yen-negative," said Adam Cole, global head of currency strategy at RBC in London, while acknowledging the yen's initial reaction to the comments had been limited.

    Shirakawa spoke to reporters after the BOJ introduced a new operation to provide 10 trillion yen in three-month funds at a fixed rate of 0.1% in a bid to enhance monetary easing by trying to bring down longer-term rates.

    The dollar traded 0.5% higher on the day at ¥86.80, having hit ¥87.54 earlier in the day.

    The dollar has suffered against the yen, hitting ¥84.82 late last week for the first time since mid-1995, as dollar interbank borrowing costs have fallen below yen ones this year.

    The euro rose 1% to ¥130.90, while higher-yielding currencies including the Australian and New Zealand dollar rallied as much as 2% versus the yen.

    The euro rose 0.4% to $1.5065 as risk demand rose after restructuring plans by Dubai World, which has been the center of concerns about the region's debt position, eased some woes about the area's financial health.

    The dollar index fell 0.5% to 74.550, while European share prices rallied roughly 2%.

    "The market is keeping an eye on Dubai, but it realizes that it's likely this won't lead to a systematic decline in Dubai's financial sector, so traders are willing to take on risk," said Jane Foley, research director at Forex.com in London.
    More dollar/yen weakness?

    The Australian dollar rose nearly 1% on the day to $0.9230, boosted after the Reserve Bank of Australia raised interest rates by 25 basis points to 3.75 as expected on Tuesday in its third consecutive hike.

    Many in the market expect the dollar to stay weak against the yen, which may seriously hamper Japan's ability to recovery from recession.

    Analysts said there was little standing in the way of more yen strength against the dollar so long as U.S. interest rates also remain essentially at zero, and that the prospects of yen-weakening intervention by Japan will remain low given the dollar's overall weakness.

    "(The new BOJ operation) is unlikely to either have a material impact on economic recovery or alter the downward momentum in USD/JPY," analysts at BTM said in a note.

    "In fact it may even exacerbate USD weakness by further encouraging the establishment of liquidity fueled USD-funded risk trades."

    Political pressure on the BOJ to avert recession has grown, but Tuesday's decision is seen as a way to avoid a return to a narrow form of quantitative easing, under which the BOJ slashed rates to zero and flooded markets with cash in 2001-2006.
     
  5. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Home sales contracts soar in October
    National Association of Realtors index spikes 32% as buyers take advantage of first-time homebuyer tax credit.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Americans are inking a lot of deals to buy homes.

    In October the National Association of Realtors recorded an unprecedented ninth consecutive month of increases in the number of signed contracts.

    Although these are not closed sales, and some deals can fall through, signed contracts are a good indicator of where the housing market is headed.

    Between September and October NAR's Pending Home Sales Index rose 3.7% to 114.1 from 110 in October. But the index is 31.8% higher than a year ago, when it was 86.6. That's the biggest year-over-year gain in the history of the index.

    The PHSI is also at its highest level since March 2006, and the rise confounded expert expectations. A panel of industry analysts put together by Briefing.com had forecast a 1% drop in new contracts.

    NAR's chief economist, Lawrence Yun, gives much of the credit for increased sales to the homebuyer's tax credit, which first-time homebuyers could claim to reduce their taxes by up to $8,000.

    "The tax credit is helping unleash a pent-up demand from a large pool of financially qualified renters, much more than borrowing sales from the future," Yun said in a prepared statement.

    The credit had been due to lapse on Dec. 1, so many October buyers may have acted to get in under the wire.

    However, the credit has been extended through the middle of 2010 and expanded to include many move-up buyers. The housing industry hopes that will keep sales perking until the economy picks up and markets return to a more normal condition.

    In a related story, the Census Bureau reported that private residential construction spending surged 3.9% during October.

    Yun cautioned, however, that housing market indicators, such as pending sales, may weaken over the next few months.

    "The expanded tax credit has only been available for the past three weeks, but the time between when buyers start looking at homes until they close on a sale can take anywhere from three to five months," he said.

    "Given the lag time, we could see a temporary decline in closed existing home sales from December until early spring when we get another surge," he added. "But the weak job market remains a major concern and could slow the recovery process."

    The good news is that number of homes on the market has declined, removing some of the bloat that has depressed prices. There is now a seven month supply of homes on the market at the current rate of sale. which is down from 10.2 months a year ago. Yun predicted that housing conditions could return to near normal and home prices firm up by mid-2010.

    "That would mean broad wealth stabilization for the vast number of middle-class families," he said.
     
  6. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Cyber Monday: A lot of clicking and shopping
    Report says sales rose 14% over last year and shoppers on average spent more online than they did on Black Friday.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Did Cyber Monday outshine Black Friday this year?

    Early reports suggest that Americans shopped more enthusiastically online for holiday bargains than they did in stores on Black Friday.

    Cyber Monday sales rose 14% this year compared to 2008 and consumers also bought nearly 30% more items per order versus last year, according to research firm Coremetrics.

    Also, the firm said shoppers bought 10% more items per order online than they did in stores on Black Friday.

    "We are seeing good online buying momentum because people are looking for the very best deals, and are going online for the most convenient way to shop," John Squire, chief strategy officer, Coremetrics, said in a report Tuesday.

    Clothing and jewelry e-tailers were the most popular shopping destinations on Cyber Monday. Although department stores saw a 33% increase in traffic to their Web sites, the average order volume actually fell 10% versus last year, the report said.
    Kindle top seller at Amazon.com

    Cyber Monday, which is the e-tailers version of Black Friday, is the day that e-tailers furiously push big discounts, free gift cards, free shipping and any other gimmick they can think of to entice consumers to spend even more of their holiday shopping dollars online.

    Amazon.com (AMZN, Fortune 500) spokesman Craig Berman said its wireless Kindle e-reader was the "best-selling item across all of Amazon's product categories on Monday."

    "This November has become the biggest month for Kindle sales since we launched the product two years ago," Berman said. But he declined to disclose how many Kindle units have been sold over that period.

    Also, Berman said the e-tailer sold out of its Cyber Monday deal of the day, which was an 8GB iPod Touch for $158.

    Other hot sellers Monday included the hugely popular Zhu Zhu pet hamsters, which are sold on Amazon through third party vendors.

    Although the retail price of each hamster is $9.99, Berman said some of the hamsters, such as Mr. Squiggles, were selling for as much as $63 each.
    4.3 million shoppers a minute

    An average of 4.3 million consumers per minute visited shopping Web sites throughout the day Monday in North America, according to Internet monitoring firm Akamai, which tracks traffic trends to more than 270 e-tailers.

    The firm, which monitors North American visitors to sites such as American Eagle Outfitters, Overstock.com, QVC.com and eBags.com, said traffic peaked at about 9:30 p.m. ET, reaching 5.1 million visitors per minute.

    Pedro Santos, chief strategist for e-commerce with Akamai, said he expects heavy online traffic to continue on subsequent Mondays leading up to the last shipping day before Christmas.

    Here's a sampling of what other sellers were serving up to customers.

    Walmart.com is offering nearly 150 specials on such items as flat panel TVs, gaming systems and toys as well as 97-cent shipping on laptops, digital cameras and MP3 players.

    Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500) said in a statement the deals are being offered through Friday, but only while supplies last.

    For book lovers, Barnesandnoble.com is chopping prices by 50% on all New York Times bestsellers and offering a $10 gift certificate for every $100 purchase.

    Still, don't expect any special deal on Barnes & Noble's "Nook" eBook reader, which industry experts peg as one of the hottest products this holiday season.

    A quick check on the book seller's Web site showed that if you order the Nook Monday, it won't be shipped until Jan. 4. And the "extra" incentive to Nook buyers is free shipping and a free gift certificate.

    About 96.5 million Americans planned to shop online Monday, up from 85 million in 2008, according to the National Retail Federation.

    Despite these expected traffic numbers and heavy discounts, Cyber Monday is still seen as more of a ceremonial start to online holiday shopping.

    The busiest online shopping day tends to be later in December, and is the last day that gifts can be shipped to guarantee delivery by Christmas Day.
     
  7. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Gold hits $1,200 an ounce
    Precious metal continues its rise on dollar weakness after Dubai debt fears ease.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Gold prices crossed $1,200 an ounce on Tuesday, setting record highs, as dollar weakness and easing of Dubai debt fears pushed the precious metal higher.

    By 11:28 a.m., U.S. gold futures for December delivery were up $21.60 to $1,202.70 an ounce.

    "Concerns about geopolitical events have been pushing investors to seek safe-haven assets," said Carlos Sanchez, analyst at CPM Group. "Gold is seen as a hedge against that volatility."

    Gold prices had fallen about 5% Friday on continued concerns about the state-run investment company of Dubai requesting a postponement of $60 billion in debt.

    But on Tuesday, reports said Dubai World was in talks over $26 billion of its debt, easing worries it would default on the total balance. That relief translated into a blow for the dollar, as increased risk appetite pushed the U.S. currency lower.

    A weaker greenback tends to boost gold, as it and other commodities are priced in dollars around the world.

    The dollar also pared gains against the yen after the Bank of Japan said it will inject more liquidity into the financial system while holding rates at 0.1%.

    The dollar's recent weakness has provided enough of a floor under gold prices that investors continue to buy the metal despite its high prices, said Sanchez.

    But prices will likely cool soon and trade in a tight range before moving higher than $1,200, he added, noting that it took about one week for gold to move from $1,100 to $1,160 an ounce.

    "I think a lot of market participants who are more short-term oriented are looking for specific levels, like $1,200," Sanchez said. "Prices could consolidate around current levels for a while, but we'll [end above] that threshold by the end of the year."

    November 2009 was a golden month. Gold prices have risen more than 34% in 2009 so far. The metal was $890 an ounce on Jan. 2, and it fell to $818.90 on Jan. 15.

    The next month saw a rapid rise, and gold prices closed at $1,004.70 per ounce by Feb. 23. But prices sank to $878.90 on April 7 and did not cross the $1,000 level again until Sept. 14.

    Gold prices have marched upward since that time, despite brief dips in September and October. Since the start of November, prices have risen steadily.
     
  8. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Redefining 'emerging markets'
    One strategist says countries like India, Korea, and Brazil deserve a new category and some props for their newfound stability.
    NEW YORK (Fortune) -- The news that Dubai World may default on $60 billion in loans has reawakened investors' suspicion towards emerging markets.

    But experts say certain Latin American and East Asian countries have proven their economic mettle during this global recession and are unlikely to catch Dubai's contagion.

    That's why Barclays strategists say they deserve a new label: Advanced emerging markets.

    FTSE Group, which creates stock indices, has already given that title to six countries with high national income levels or developed market infrastructures: Brazil, Hungary, Mexico, Poland, South Africa, and Taiwan.

    Barclays strategist Eduardo Levy-Yeyati would add countries such as India, Korea, Singapore, and Chile to the list, and leave out the United Arab Emirates, which he says lacks the "financial depth and policy track record." China, he says, is in a different asset class altogether because of its sheer size.

    Financial advisors usually tell investors to keep a minority of their stock portfolio in international equities and a fraction of that amount in emerging markets. About 15% of the MSCI All Country World Index -- which tracks stocks from 45 countries -- comes from emerging markets.

    Levy-Yeyati expects that to expand over the next few years. "The weights in the benchmark don't fully represent the economic upside of emerging markets," he says.

    Some investors are apprehensive of emerging markets, according to Levy-Yeyati, because they fear a reprisal of the catastrophic episodes that occurred in the 80's and 90's, like Brazil's bout with epidemic inflation.

    "Skeptics used to say the next crisis would show that [emerging markets] were no different from how they were before," he says. "But this time, they showed: 'We're different.'"

    While the Brazilian and Indian stock markets fell further than the S&P 500 in 2008 -- and rebounded higher -- those countries' economies were hardly shattered by the global recession. In fact, the IMF estimates that all will post GDP growth topping 3% next year, while the U.S. is expected to achieve growth of just 1.5% (the IMF's projections are conservative by most analysts' estimates).

    In a recent note to investors, Levy-Yeyati and his team marveled at advanced emerging markets' ability to reduce risk while maintaining growth. The analyst attributes the phenomenon to structural changes, many of which he says were implemented after the economic crises of the 90's.

    Local governments, he says, have become more stable, using liquidity gained in boom times to build war chests, or reserves. "Fiscal consolidation and monetary credibility are here to stay."

    Because of those fundamental changes, advanced emerging markets were able to cut interest rates and implement government stimulus over the last year without causing currency runs or credit sell-offs. While there was once a contagion effect -- if one market crashed, the others recoiled -- emerging market credit barely reacted when Ecuador defaulted last year. Following the Dubai incident, emerging market stocks and bonds faltered slightly, but are already bouncing back.

    "Ultimately, these structural changes gave many E.M. countries the ability to enact countercyclical policies in bad times for the first time since the creation of the E.M. label," Levy-Yeyati wrote.

    So what's keeping advanced emerging markets from becoming fully developed? "There are three aspects in which they're lagging," he says. "Currency convertibility -- many already have that -- income distribution, and institutional progress. For example, there's more uncertainty about the length and cost of investments and bureaucratic processes in these countries."

    Levy-Yeyati says the second factor, income distribution, could take the longest to achieve. But now that these markets have achieved "macroeconomic stability," he says, they're closer to that goal.

    The recent stabilization of emerging markets doesn't mean that they have decoupled from the G8 economies -- economic indicators still show a strong correlation between developing countries and the rest of the world. But that correlation, says Levy-Yeyati, has skewed heavily towards China, which is why many advanced emerging markets have rebounded.

    "Empirically, it's very simple," he says. "China is increasingly the most important global factor."

    Because China has become the main trading partner of Latin American and East Asian countries -- where most advanced emerging markets are based -- the country now drives their business cycles, he says. Eastern Europe and Mexico are still exceptions, yoked respectively to Europe and the United States.

    Given many analysts' optimistic forecasts for China, it isn't surprising, then, that Levy-Yeyati expects advanced emerging markets to surpass expectations. "Indeed, because of the backward-looking nature of financial markets, the structural improvements ... have been only partially reflected in asset prices," he wrote. "The performance of a new group of Advanced Emerging Markets will likely look better in five years than what past data suggests."

    As a result, he says, if investors take an overweight position in emerging markets now, they'll be ahead of the curve.
     
  9. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    The domestic drilling backlash
    From New York to Texas, energy companies have come under fire as natural gas drilling gets close to big cities.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- "Drill baby drill" is so 2008.

    More than a year after Republicans rallied around the now-famous call, a growing number of Americans are saying not-in-my-backyard when it comes to more oil and natural gas drilling.

    At a recent drilling hearing in New York City the crowd was certainly riled up, but not in a way that might please Sarah Palin.

    "We don't want more hearings, we want a total statewide ban," exclaimed one protestor, jumping on stage at the hearing's start before being escorted away by uniformed officers. The standing-room-only crowd, many carrying protest signs, erupted in applause.

    Most Americans still support increased oil and gas drilling. But opposition is growing, especially when that drilling nears more populated urban areas. Currently there are natural gas booms happening around New York City, Dallas-Fort Worth, Western Colorado, the Midwest, and elsewhere. Opponents fear this new drilling will ruin the drinking water for millions of people, among other concerns.

    And energy companies, accustomed to dealing with rural populations familiar with drilling and eager for jobs and lease royalties, are increasingly finding themselves at odds with a more educated and wealthy populace wary of energy development.

    This is especially true outside New York City.

    Just north of America's largest metropolis lies one of the country's most promising new sources of energy: The Marcellus Shale.

    Running much of the length of the Appalachian Mountain rage, the Marcellus is thought to hold up to 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas - more than twice the nation's current total reserves.

    In the age of global warming, natural gas as an energy source is gaining favor. Burned to generate electricity, it emits about half as much pollution as coal.

    It can also be used to power cars, and some, including the oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, are pushing this idea as a way of weaning the country off foreign oil.
    Growing fear about contaminated water

    New horizontal drilling technologies have made the gas in the Marcellus shale and other shales across the country more accessible. But extracting it requires breaking the shale rock with a mixture of chemicals, water and sand, blasted down the well hole. While the process, known as hydraulic fracturing, has been around for decades, it's never been done on this scale, and so close to major population centers.

    The shale lies thousands of feet below the water line, and both energy company officials and state regulators across the country say the chemicals used in the fracturing process have never resulted in ground water contamination.

    But across the country a few high profile mishaps have occurred, resulting in contaminated drinking wells, flammable tap water, and even houses exploding. Radiation, often naturally occurring in rocks, has also been found in drinking water.

    Regulators from various states said the contamination is not due to chemical fracturing but to drilling or surface spills. And while acknowledging they are unfortunate, state officials note these incidents make up only a fraction of the hundreds of thousands of wells drilled nationwide.

    The federal Environmental Protection Agency has just begun looking into the issue. EPA had been largely sidelined from regulating this practice thanks to a 2005 law exempting the drilling from the Clean Water Act and declaring the chemicals trade secrets not subject to disclosure.

    "EPA is reviewing available information to determine whether hydraulic fracturing fluids have contaminated drinking water," the agency said in a statement to CNNMoney.com.

    That's of little consolation to many New Yorkers.

    "I consider it a grave threat to our resources," said Joe Lavine, an architect from Brooklyn with a weekend house near the drilling. "Nobody knows if [the chemicals] are migrating."

    So Levine helped organize a group called Damascus Citizens for Sustainability. Named after a nearby town, its members are calling for stricter drilling regulations.

    Unlike many grassroots opposition groups that are often initially unfamiliar with the nuts-and-bolts of an issue, this one has plenty of technical expertise. It includes a former head of New York City's water system and a Columbia-trained geophysicist.
    8 weird ways to save the Earth

    "We've had a great handle on this from the beginning," said Levine.

    They've networked among other grass roots groups in New York State, traveling to Ithaca, Binghamton, and other towns dealing with increased drilling.

    Levine said there are now some 50 groups in New York State alone that receive emails and get their members out to sign petitions or turn up at public hearings.

    This activism likely played a part in a recent decision by Chesapeake Energy (CHK, Fortune 500), one of the country's largest natural gas companies, to not drill on any of the land it has leased in the New York City watershed.

    In a press release, the company said "the concern for drilling in the watershed has become a needless distraction from the larger issues of how we can safely and effectively develop" other gas fields in New York. Chesapeake noted the watershed leases are just a tiny part of their overall holdings in the state, and that they were the only company holding leases in the watershed.

    It seems clear that calls from activists seeking a complete state-wide ban are making energy companies nervous.
    Beyond New York

    The activism in New York is firing-up concerned citizens in other parts of the country.

    In Fort Worth, Texas, hardly an area known for anti-drilling sentiment, Don Young said the number of people on his email list has gone from 200 to 400 in the last few months.

    Young, a stained-glass artist who lives right across from a natural gas well situated next to a public park, started the blog FWCanDo five years ago. It acts as a sort of clearing house for information on natural gas drilling.

    He said many people are now singing up from the New York area, but he's also getting inquiries from Michigan, Arkansas, Ohio and elsewhere.

    In Fort Worth where the Barnett Shale is located, natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing has been going on literally right under the city for roughly a decade. Opposition here is getting a bit hotter, he said.

    "The crowds are greater, and the hard questions are a little more frequent," said Young, "At first it was all about the money, but now it's about health, safety and the environment too."
    Global warming's grand bargain

    In Western Colorado, public awareness of drilling and the potential dangers has increased as wealthy people from nearby resort towns have become interested in the cause, said Theo Colborn, president of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange, a group studying the effects of drilling chemicals on humans.

    Colborn recounted the story of a nearby town where the local officials were considering allowing more drilling. Soon after, residents had their cars leafleted with pamphlets describing the associated dangers. Turns out, a local resident had hired a public relations agency to come in and run the campaign.

    "A lot of wealthy people have been affected, and they can afford the lawyers or PR firms to come in and do stuff like this," she said.

    Nationwide, few expect rising public concern to put a stop to new natural gas development.

    "On balance, future regulation will likely attempt to accommodate industry in order to preserve the energy security and climate change policy benefits of expanded domestic gas production," Robert Johnston, director of Energy & Natural Resources at the political consultancy Eurasia Group, wrote in a recent research note.

    But the days of this industry operating in relative obscurity and with little federal oversight are likely numbered.
     
  10. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Credit card rates: Nowhere to go but up
    New law will rein in many practices long decried by consumer activists. What it won't do is keep interest rates, now at a low point, from rising.
    WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- For millions of credit card customers, here's the good news: As of Feb. 22, a new law will bar banks from a host of practices that consumer advocates have long blasted as unfair.

    No more rate hikes based on, say, the late payment of a cell phone bill. No more increases on existing balances. And consumers will know how long it takes to pay off their balance when they make minimum payments.

    But here's what the new law won't do: It won't prevent interest rates from going up for the vast majority of customers.

    Even after Feb. 22, holders of so-called variable-rate cards can expect to see increases. Variable rates are based on the prime rate and meant to follow the rise and fall of that index.

    The problem for consumers is that the prime rate is at 3.25%, an historic low. It will almost certainly go up, experts say. And so will credit card rates, which currently average 14.9%, according to the Federal Reserve.

    "It does leave a lot of room for growth and prices will go up," said Joshua Frank, a senior analyst for the Center for Responsible Lending.

    While most credit card holders already have variable-rate cards, banks have been busy these past few months making sure nearly all customers have those kinds of cards. In addition, some banks are setting a floor on certain accounts to prevent rates from sinking below a minimum level, according to a Pew Charitable Trusts study.

    "The credit card reforms outlawed some seriously abusive practices, but the cards will still be loaded with other tricks and traps," said Harvard University professor Elizabeth Warren, an advocate for consumer financial protections.

    Indeed, the expectation that interest rates will tick higher exemplifies the difficulty lawmakers faced when crafting the new rules: They wanted to protect consumers without killing credit availability at a time when bank loans are already choked.

    Congressional aides and banking lobbyists say it's fair to allow rate hikes that aren't under the control of the bank but influenced by market pressures.

    "These rates are tied to an objective index that is not controlled by the credit card company," said Scott Talbott, chief lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, a bank lobbying group. "Any future rate changes are driven by changes in that objective index and not the industry."
    The new world of credit cards

    The law's provisions tying variable-rate cards to the prime rate has prompted banks, including the two largest U.S. credit card issuers - Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500) - to make sure most of their customers have credit cards with variable rates.

    Industrywide, variable-credit cards accounted for 94% of all new credit cards offered between July and September, up from 67% of the same period in 2007, according to Mintel, a market research firm.

    The banks acknowledge that the moves are in response to the new law, which will make it harder to raise interest rates on customers who fall behind.

    "Pending regulations will limit our ability to price for risk and also limit our ability to make rate adjustments based on market fluctuations," said Gail Hurdis, spokeswoman for JPMorgan Chase. "As a result, it is necessary for us to move accounts ... to a variable rate now in order to mitigate against future losses and to properly reflect future changes in Chase's funding costs."

    Bank of America has also moved some customers into variable rate cards, said Anne Pace, a Bank of America spokeswoman. She noted that these customers haven't seen rate hikes, since the prime rate hasn't changed in recent months.
    Keeping rates high?

    Along with switching customers into variable-rate credit cards, some banks are setting floors to prevent rates from sinking below a certain level.

    A recent Pew Charitable Trusts study found that more than a third of the largest card issuers had instituted minimum interest rates. In December 2008, only 10% of banks had such a floor.

    The industry considers these minimum interest rates a way of accounting for the inherent risk in credit card lending.

    But consumer groups say minimum interest rates undermine the law's intention to tie rates to the prime rate.

    "They add these footnotes that your rate will never be less than 13.25%, that's where I see the problem as unfair," said Nick Bourke, co-author of the Pew Charitable Trusts credit card study. "Truly variable rates should go up and down with the market."

    Pew is among several consumer groups and at least one key lawmaker that have taken their case to the Federal Reserve. The Fed is in charge of interpreting the new credit card laws and issuing rules that determine how the laws should be implemented.

    The consumer advocates argue that banks should lose the law's provision allowing them to tie variable-card rates to prime.

    "In my view, as one of the authors of the [new credit card laws], this type of interest rate does not and should not qualify under the exemption for variable interest rates," wrote Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., in a letter to the Fed.

    The Fed has received the comments but hasn't given any indication of which way its leaning, advocates say.
     
  11. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    House committee passes new bank rules
    Financial Services panel passes regulatory reform plan in a 31-27 vote. The Senate? Not so fast.
    WASHINGTON (CNNMoney.com) -- A key House committee, culminating months of debate over how to reform bank rules, voted Wednesday in favor of legislation that aims to prevent firms from growing too big and threatening the financial system.

    The House Financial Services Committee passed the bill by a vote by a margin of 31-27 along strict party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against. The bill, which proponents consider key to preventing the kinds of problems that caused last year's crisis, will now move to the full House of Representatives for debate and a vote.

    Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., chairman of the committee, said Wednesday that he believes the full House will consider and vote on the package next week.

    The bill would impose stronger supervision of Wall Street and impose tougher capital requirements for banks, while proposing a new way to take over big firms such as American International Group (AIG, Fortune 500). It also includes legislation to regulate derivatives and create a consumer financial protection agency.
    Understand the rescues - CNNMoney's Bailout Tracker

    But on the Senate side of Capitol Hill, the bill is moving much more slowly and final passage is likely months away.

    Most observers, including those in the financial industry, agree that government officials didn't have the right tools to properly manage the failures of insurer AIG and investment bank Lehman Brothers.

    The House bill creates a new kind of unwinding process for big firms, and forces them adhere to stronger supervision mostly by the Federal Reserve working with an oversight council.

    The bill would also tax big banks to create a $10 billion fund to pay for government takeovers.

    One of the most controversial parts of the House bill is a provision to allow the Government Accountability Office to audit Fed activities. Some fear the proposal would interfere with the central bank's ability to carry out independent monetary policy.

    Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post, decried the proposal and one in the Senate bill that aims to strip the Fed of its regulatory powers over banks.

    "These measures are very much out of step with the global consensus on the appropriate role of central banks, and they would seriously impair the prospects for economic and financial stability in the United States," Bernanke wrote.

    House Republicans have generally opposed the "too big to fail" package, because they say it gives government too much power. They would prefer that Congress establish a special bankruptcy process to allow big firms to be liquidated through the court system.
    Senate moving slower

    The Senate, led by Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, D-Conn, lags the House in trying to reform financial regulation.

    Dodd's bill, only recently unveiled, includes several far-reaching proposals, such as the creation of a super-regulator for all banks -- a move the Fed opposes.

    Dodd had also said he wants the Senate Banking committee to start working on his bill next week. But myriad objections to the legislation, coming from both Republicans and fellow Democrats on his committee, has pushed the bill into closed-door negotiations that could last a few weeks.

    "Barney Frank will get a bill out of committee and through the House, and it will look pretty similar to what he's been proposing," said Brookings Institution economist Douglas Elliott, a former J.P. Morgan investment banker. "The bigger wild card is the Senate. It's not clear whether Sen. Dodd has sufficient level of his support for his ideas."

    Additionally, the creation of a consumer financial protection agency, already passed by the House committee, could be a deal-breaker for Senate Republicans. The proposed agency would be charged with ensuring that personal financial products, such as mortgages and credit cards, are fair to consumers.

    While the new consumer agency is a White House priority, ranking Republicans in the Senate really don't like it and could filibuster to prevent it from coming to the floor if their demands aren't met, Elliott said.
     
  12. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Dollar steady ahead of jobs data
    November employment report from ADP is expected to show 155,000 jobs lost in November.
    LONDON (Reuters) -- The yen weakened broadly on Wednesday as traders took Japan's new monetary policy measures unveiled the previous day as a cue to sell, while mixed signals from stocks and commodities kept the dollar in check.

    Receding fears over Dubai's debt problems and the prospect of U.S. interest rates staying low for some time weighed on the dollar, but talk of Asian central banks buying and the greenback's gains against the yen offered broad support.

    The dollar has been widely considered the funding currency of choice in recent months as investors have sold the low-yielding unit for other currencies and assets. But the Bank of Japan's new measures have put that spotlight back on the yen.

    Its new liquidity measures to combat deflation and keep short-term rates down prompted position squaring and profit taking from investors betting on a stronger yen.

    The euro was well supported ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting on Thursday. The bank is expected to announce details on how and when it will remove liquidity from the system, and could upgrade its growth forecasts.

    "We had very strong yen appreciation (recently), and now there's some retracement. Risk appetite is a little bit stronger than it was last week when we had the Dubai news, so investors are taking profits," said Marcus Hettinger, FX strategist at Credit Suisse in Zurich.

    "The BOJ didn't really do anything (major), but the risk is higher now of intervention," he said, adding the dollar could rise to ¥90 if stocks make further gains.

    The dollar stood at ¥87.30, up 0.7%. Traders said a break above ¥87.50 would trigger pre-placed buy orders and herald a stronger push higher.

    The euro was up almost 1% at ¥131.90 and up 0.1% against the dollar at $1.5105, after gaining 1% and 0.5% respectively the previous day.

    The single currency was near a recent 16-month high of $1.5145 set on trading platform EBS, with strong trendline support seen at $1.4900 and then at $1.4860.

    The dollar index, a measure of its strength against a basket of six currencies, was flat on the day at 74.39, not far above last week's 16-month low of 74.17. Asian stocks closed higher but U.S. futures were mixed. There was also some divergence in the commodities sphere, with gold hitting new highs at $1,216.75 an ounce but oil down 0.7%.
    Japan disappoints?

    The BOJ said after an emergency meeting on Tuesday it would provide 10 trillion yen ($115 billion) in three-month funds at a fixed rate of 0.1%, relieving government pressure to act against deflation and avert another recession..

    The dollar hit a 14-year low of ¥84.82 last week as concerns over debt problems in Dubai saw investors unwind risk trades funded by the yen, pushing the Japanese currency up.

    Tuesday's decision was seen as a way to avoid a return to a narrow form of quantitative easing, under which the BOJ slashed rates to zero and flooded markets with cash in 2001-06.

    Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama was quoted as saying on Tuesday the yen's rise could not be left "as is," Nikkei said, but a spokesman later said Hatoyama was not talking about currency intervention.

    "The measures yesterday are a disappointment. It's more of a monetary policy tool, but if in the process it weakens the yen it will be a good thing" for some in Japan, said Neil Jones, head of FX hedge fund sales at Mizuho in London.

    "The big selling flows in dollar/yen and cross/yen last week are drying up somewhat," Jones said, noting good Japanese importer demand for dollars and other currencies and Japanese retail investors buying higher-yielding foreign assets.

    Markets will be watching U.S. data later, ahead of monthly jobs numbers due on Friday. A November employment report by Automatic Data Processing (ADP, Fortune 500) at 8:15 a.m. ET is expected to show 155,000 jobs lost in the month after 203,000 lost in October.
     
  13. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Dollar slips after European bank meeting
    Euro rises after central bank hints it will begin winding down liquidity-boosting operations.
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The euro rose against the dollar Thursday after the European Central Bank hinted it would slowly start withdrawing emergency liquidity while the yen fell amid fears Japan may move to weaken its currency.

    Though the ECB at a meeting left interest rates at record lows, its president, Jean-Claude Trichet, said the next 12-month refinancing operation for banks would be the last. The bank also lifted its economic growth forecast for 2010.

    The euro neared a 16-month high around $1.5140 and rose against the yen but it gave up some gains when Trichet said plans to wind down some emergency programs were not a signal that interest rates may be about to change.

    "He hinted that they'll do something about an exit policy, so the first knee-jerk reaction was euro positive, but he's not ready to endorse a full exit quite yet, so it's really neither overly supportive of, nor detrimental to, the euro," said Boris Schlossberg, head of research at GFT Forex in New York.

    Ultra-loose monetary policy tends to undermine a currency's value because it increases money supply and risks inflation.

    The euro rose 0.3% to $1.5085 and 1.1% to ¥132.94.

    The euro got a modest boost when Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) said it would repay bailout funds to the U.S. government. That increased risk appetite and suggested banking sector improvement.

    The yen was under pressure for the second straight day after the Bank of Japan said this week it would provide new three-month funding to banks to combat deflation and after top officials warned that the currency had grown too strong.

    The dollar was up 0.8% at ¥88.15, off a 14-year low of of ¥84.82 plumbed last week.

    BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa said the central bank does not target foreign exchange for monetary policy but "if the bank's easy stance becomes widely known in markets, it will have certain effects on the currency market in the long run."

    Sterling fell 0.3% to $1.6575 while the dollar fell 0.3% to 0.9989 Swiss francs.
    Trichet, Bernanke speak

    Analysts said Trichet had to walk a fine line as any hint of a rate rise would prompt traders to bid up the euro, especially as the U.S. Federal Reserve has said it would keep its own rates low for an extended time.

    "He's saying the outlook for economic growth is still uncertain, which means he's not overly confident, and it seems that is capping the euro gains," said Hidetoshi Yanagihara, senior FX trader at Mizuho Corporate Bank in New York.

    In Washington, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made his case for a second term in testimony before Congress, telling lawmakers the Fed's forceful actions have prevented a devastating crisis from turning into something even worse.

    Bernanke also pledged to maintain price stability and said fiscal deficits eventually have to come down. Some analysts have worried that rising U.S. debt and deficits will undermine the dollar further and eventually provoke higher inflation.

    In separate remarks, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reiterated the importance of a strong dollar and said the United States must persuade the world it will be more fiscally responsible.
     
  14. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Bernanke under fire at confirmation hearing
    Central bank chairman gets support from some key senators, but even praise is qualified, while others offer harsh attacks.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke got a rough going over from both his supporters and detractors at his Senate confirmation hearing Thursday.

    Even some of those who praised his actions during the financial troubles of the last two years, such as Senate Banking Committee Chairman Chris Dodd, balanced that support with arguments that the central bank should be stripped of some of its bank regulation powers due to its past failures of oversight.

    While many Democrats on the banking panel joined Dodd in saying they would vote for another four-year term for Bernanke, some of the Republicans questioned whether they could support the chairman who was first appointed by President George W. Bush.

    One, long-time Bernanke critic Jim Bunning, R-Ky., said he was ready to do everything he could to block or delay the confirmation, joining a similar threat made late Wednesday by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Socialist senator from Vermont who is among the 60 members of the Democratic caucus.

    The threat of a filibuster by Sanders and Bunning, two senators with diametrically opposed views on most issues, shows the breadth of anger faced by Bernanke sparked by the Wall Street bailouts of the 15 months. A filibuster would meant that Bernanke would need to get at least 60 votes, rather than the simple majority of 51, in order to be confirmed.

    And the questions by Dodd and others about the Fed's continued role as a bank regulator raised questions about how Bernanke will be able to do his job if he is confirmed for another term, which is still widely expected.

    Dodd said Bernanke and the Fed deserved credit for the steps taken in the financial crisis of a year earlier to stop the economic crisis from becoming significantly worse than it did.

    ".I believe you are the right leader for this moment in the nation's economic history and I believe your reappointment sends the right signal to markets," Dodd said during his opening statement.

    But the committee's ranking Republican, Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, was far more critical of Bernanke in his opening statement, telling Bernanke "I fear now our trust and confidence (in the Federal Reserve) was misplaced."

    "Not everything that went wrong depends on the system because that system also depends on the people who run it," he told Bernanke. "It's those individuals who need to be accountable for their actions or their failure to act."

    Still, despite the implication that he couldn't support confirmation, Shelby did not say how he intended to vote.
    Fight over Fed's future powers

    Dodd has proposed legislation that would strip much of the bank supervisory duties from the Fed, giving them instead to a newly created authority. He said it might be better if the Fed simply focuses on using monetary policy to support economic growth and fight inflation while maintaining a stable financial system.

    Dodd also said the financial crisis is at least partly due to poor supervision of the banking sector by the Fed.

    "I admire what you've done over the last two years," he said. "But we shouldn't have had to go through what we did for the last two years had there been cops on the street, doing their jobs, telling us what was going on and allowing us to avoid the problems in the first place."

    "Why should I give an institution that failed in that responsibility the kind of exclusive authority we're talking about here?," Dodd asked.

    Bernanke responded that the Fed could not have taken the steps that Dodd had praised to stabilize the financial system if it were stripped of its role as banking regulator.

    "There's no way we could have been as involved and effective in this crisis if we did not have that knowledge and expertise," he said.

    Bernanke also opposed a proposal that recently passed the House Financial Services Committee to give the General Accountability Office power to audit the Fed's monetary decisions, saying that it would be seen by investors as giving Congress the power to pressure the Fed to reverse or delay unpopular rate hikes.

    He said if there are increased worries about Congressional interference in the Fed action, it would not be able to stop real rates from rising because investors would demand higher yields on bonds.

    Questioned by Sen. Robert Bennett, R-Utah, about the risk of a return of soaring inflation of the late 1970's, and whether the Fed would have to raise rates to the record highs of that era to once again to conquer such runaway prices, Bernanke said he was confident there is not a risk of a return of such inflation.

    But he added that the ability of the Fed to beat inflation at that time was a "case study" of why Congress should not audit monetary decisions of the Fed.
    Mistakes were made

    Bernanke admitted that the Fed made mistakes in supervising the banking system ahead of the financial crisis, and promised to do better. But he said that supervision is already improving, and that it would be a bad idea to strip the Fed of its powers.

    "If you fight a battle and lose the battle, does that mean you never use the army again? You have to improve and fix the situation. You don't have to necessarily eliminate the institution," he said in response to one of Shelby's question. "We didn't do a perfect job by any means, but I don't think we stand out as having done a worst job than other regulators."

    Bunning, the only member of the Senate to vote against Bernanke when he was first nominated to head the central bank four years ago, was again his harshest critic.

    Bunning said Bernanke and previous chairman Alan Greenspan were responsible for helping to inflate the housing bubble whose bursting caused the housing crisis, and that the Fed continues to create more problems by pumping too much cheap money into the system.

    At one point Bunning even slipped and referred to Bernanke as "Greenspan," prompting chuckles from both the chairman and his critic.

    "You put the printing presses into overdrive to fund the government spending and hand out cheap money to your masters on Wall Street, which they used to rake in record profits while ordinary Americans and small businesses can't get loans for their everyday needs," Bunning said. "Where I come from we punish failure, we don't reward it."

    He attacked Bernanke for the bailout of American International Group (AIG, Fortune 500) and a recent report from an inspector general that the Fed should not have paid 100% of the money owed by AIG to leading financial firms.

    "The AIG bailout alone is reason enough to send you back to Princeton," Bunning said.

    Dodd joined Bunning in his criticism of the Fed's handling of those payments in the AIG bailout. Bernanke answered that he did not have the leverage to force those banks to accept lower payments during those negotiations.
     
  15. Rider

    Rider New Member

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    Oil edges higher
    Crude prices recover from previous day's selloff, but gains are contained on growing stockpiles.
    LONDON (Reuters) -- Oil prices rose on Thursday as fund activity helped the market to recover from a sell-off the previous session, but oversupply curbed gains.

    U.S. crude for January delivery rose 69 cents to $77.29 a barrel, after settling down $1.77 at $76.60 on Wednesday.

    Wednesday's falls, which stemmed a two-day rise, followed U.S. government data showing crude stocks rose 2.1 million barrels last week, topping the forecast for a 400,000 barrel rise in a Reuters poll.

    The mass of available crude had a particularly marked impact on contracts for delivery in the near term and fund flows were moving from the front-month January contract into February crude, analysts said.

    A European Central Bank announcement that it would maintain its main interest rates at 1%, widely expected and generally priced in, held no sway over oil prices, but set the stage for an eventual phase-out of its financial crisis support.

    The focus will now be on what ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet says at a news conference.

    "The end result over the next six months is you have low interest rates with unleveraged cash in bank accounts seeking somewhere to go in search of yield, and this favors risk appetite and supports equities," said senior BNP Paribas commodities analyst Harry Tchilinguirian.

    This can also support oil, but its weak fundamentals have modified the potentially bullish impact.

    "Oil will keep doing what it has been doing in relation to equities since March. It's not that oil prices are disconnected from fundamentals, it's that front month prices are reacting to equity markets," Tchilinguirian said.

    European shares rose for a third consecutive session on Thursday. The FTSEurofirst 300 was up 0.4% at 1,020.20 points and 58% from the life-time low in March after slumping 45% in 2008 because of the global economic downturn.
    OPEC output

    Oil hit a high of $82 a barrel in October, but failed to hold above that level as the combination of excess supply, sluggish demand and nervousness about a fragile world economy have knocked the market lower.

    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries meets to reconsider its output policy on Dec. 22 in Angola.

    Ahead of that, ministers of the core Arab members of OPEC meet at the weekend in Cairo, where they are expected to discuss supply and demand but without taking formal decisions on the group's production.

    Kuwait's oil minister in comments to reporters on Thursday said he was concerned about the high levels of inventory, although he did not expect the group to change output targets at its December meeting.

    Adding to OPEC's challenges, the biggest non-OPEC oil exporter Russia set a fourth consecutive monthly output record in November.

    It is currently the world's largest producer, although Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest exporter and has shut in spare capacity.
     
  16. Rider

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    Jobless claims slide to near 15-month low
    Number of initial filers for unemployment insurance falls to 457,000, lowest level since September 2008.
    NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The number of first-time filers for unemployment insurance fell last week to a nearly 15-month low, according to a government report released Wednesday.

    There were 457,000 initial jobless claims filed in the week ended Nov. 28, down 5,000 from a revised 462,000 the previous week, the Labor Department said.

    That's the lowest level since the week ended Sept. 6, 2008. The week being reported included the Thanksgiving holiday.

    A consensus estimate of economists surveyed by Briefing.com expected 480,000 new claims for the week.

    The 4-week moving average of initial claims was 481,250, down 14,250 from the previous week.

    Continuing claims: The government also said 5,465,000 people filed continuing claims in the week ended Nov. 21, the most recent data available. That's up 28,000 from the preceding week.

    The 4-week moving average for ongoing claims fell by 75,750 to 5,541,500.

    But the slide in continuing claims may signal that more filers are falling off those rolls and into extended benefits.

    Continuing claims reflect people filing each week after their initial claim until the end of their standard benefits, which usually last 26 weeks. The figures do not include those who have moved to state or federal extensions, nor people who have exhausted their benefits.

    Obama's jobs forum. The Obama administration is holding a jobs summit Thursday. The president will meet with labor representatives, financial experts, small-business owners and other business leaders to discuss how to revive the labor market.

    The 130 forum participants are meeting on the eve of the government's November unemployment report.

    The nation is expected to have lost another 125,000 jobs, with unemployment remaining at a 26-year high of 10.2%, according to a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com.

    Last month, the Labor Department reported that the nation's unemployment rate rose above 10% for the first time since 1983.

    A separate report released by outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Wednesday showed the pace of job losses slowing to the lowest level in two years, but the number of cuts announced in 2009 have already exceeded last year's total.

    State-by-state data: Only one state reported initial claims fell by more than 1,000 for the week ended Nov. 21, the most recent data available.

    Claims in Michigan decreased by 1,242, which the state attributed to fewer layoffs in the auto industry.

    Nineteen states said that claims increased by more than 1,000. California reported that claims rose by 14,796; Illinois had 6,168 more claims; North Carolina's increased by 5,557; Pennsylvania saw a jump of 5,285; and Texas claims rose by 3,500.
     
  17. Rider

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    Gasoline prices. The national average price for a gallon of regular unleaded gas fell to $2.594, down four tenths of a cent from the previous day's price of $2.598, according to motorist group AAA. This is the eighth consecutive day prices have declined.
     
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