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Feb 28 2011

Monday Business Edition

Monday Business Edition is an Open Thread

Now with 50 Stories.

From Yahoo News Business

1 India increases social spending in pro-poor budget

by Penny MacRae, AFP

6 mins ago

NEW DELHI (AFP) – India’s left-leaning Congress government on Monday unveiled a budget focused on helping the poor and rural masses with pledges to hike social spending by 17 percent and fight food inflation.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, lifting the lid on government plans for the financial year from April 1, scaled up spending for farmers, fertiliser subsidies, food programmes, education and rural employment.

“The country has carried for long enough the burden of hunger and malnutrition,” Mukherjee told parliament, saying the money earmarked for social spending would amount to 36 percent of the total budget.

AFP

2 Libya arms embargo halts boom for defence contractors

by Dario Thuburn, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 9:15 pm ET

ROME (AFP) – The arms embargo on Libya agreed by the UN Security Council this weekend puts an official block on a flourishing trade for Russian and European defence contractors worth billions of euros (dollars).

Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi’s international spending spree in recent years included fighter jets and military helicopters, but also assault rifles, pistols and explosives that charities warn could be used against protesters.

A Russian military source quoted by Interfax news agency on Sunday said Moscow had an order book for contracts from Libya worth 2.0 billion dollars (1.5 billion euros) and had been negotiating deals worth 1.8 billion more.

3 Japan factory output up, oil rise spells risk

by Miwa Suzuki, AFP

Mon Feb 28, 1:03 am ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s industrial output rose for a third straight month in January on stronger overseas demand, but the pace was slower than expected and high energy costs amid the Mideast crisis spell fresh risks.

Factory production rose 2.4 percent month on month, according to the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry, supported by carmakers and semiconductor-manufacturing devices.

Although it represents the third gain in a row the figure was down from December’s surprise 3.3 percent jump and also off the 3.8 percent predicted in a survey by the Nikkei business daily.

4 Luxury dazzles, China beckons at the Geneva motor show

by Agnes Pedrero, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 6:29 pm ET

GENEVA (AFP) – Major car makers were set to dazzle visitors to the Geneva motor show over the coming week with a touch of luxury, but China and emerging markets will be firmly in mind at the European showcase.

The show in the wealthy Swiss city, which opens to an expected 700,000 paying visitors on March 3 to 13, is traditionally neutral ground for the industry, attracting 260 exhibitors from 31 countries.

When top executives preview the event from Tuesday, car makers are again set to whip up an appetite for the big, powerful and glitzy, even if the engine under the bonnet seeks greener or thriftier credentials.

5 World’s biggest IT fair shoots for the clouds

by Richard Carter, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 6:36 pm ET

HANOVER, Germany (AFP) – The world’s top high-tech fair opens Tuesday with the IT industry in bullish mood, preparing to wow visitors with head-spinning futuristic gadgets and the latest in ‘cloud computing’ technology.

More than 4,200 tech firms from 70 countries are expected to attend this year’s CeBIT — the self-styled “Davos of high-tech” — with many of the big names that stayed away during the global financial crisis returning to Germany.

Google, IBM, SAP, Microsoft, HP and Dell are among the top companies setting up their stalls in Hanover, northern Germany, for the five-day event that is likely to attract around 350,000 punters and self-confessed technology geeks.

6 China targets 7% growth, to rein in inflation: Wen

by Dan Martin, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 12:36 am ET

BEIJING (AFP) – Premier Wen Jiabao on Sunday said China had set a lower than usual economic growth target and pledged to contain soaring prices as concern over runaway growth mounts.

Wen made the comments in a chat with Internet users as authorities braced for possible rallies in major cities after an online appeal aimed at pressing for government openness.

Wen also said the world’s second-largest economy would aim for seven percent annual growth over the next five years — a rare lowering of its usual target of eight percent expansion, until now seen as key to staving off social unrest.

7 Mideast unrest highlights Asia’s oil dependence

by Daniel Rook, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 12:33 am ET

BANGKOK (AFP) – The tremors from political upheaval in the Middle East are rippling through energy-thirsty Asia, which has long struggled to kick its addiction to oil from the volatile region.

Every day millions of barrels of oil pass through the Indian Ocean from the Middle East to Asia, the world’s busiest route for supertankers, providing energy to fuel the region’s rapid economic growth.

It’s an intercontinental voyage that highlights the ever-increasing interdependence of the world economies and explains why the fallout from unrest in the Middle East is having an impact thousands of miles (kilometres) away.

8 Spain’s tourism sector gets boost from Arab revolts

by Daniel Silva, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 1:20 am ET

MADRID (AFP) – Spain is getting a boost to its hugely important tourist industry as northern European sunseekers shun popular resorts in Egypt and Tunisia because of anti-government uprisings there.

The country has struggled in recent years to compete with beach destinations in Egypt’s Red Sea and Tunisia’s Mediterranean coast which are cheaper and of a similar flying distance from its key markets like Germany and Britain.

But since the unrest sweeping the Arab world began in Tunisia in early January, tourists have been changing their travel plans, and Spain, especially the Canary Islands off the coast of Morocco, has been one of the main beneficiaries.

9 Europe races to meet ‘Mad March’ debt deadline

by Roddy Thomson, AFP

Sat Feb 26, 10:44 pm ET

BRUSSELS (AFP) – European leaders get back to the pressing business of trying to fix the eurozone debt crisis with a hectic series of summits counting down to a March 25 deadline.

Governments know they have their work cut out to satisfy expectant markets, with the heat still on over fears for Portugal and Greece, a country that wants its existing bailout renegotiated.

Final decisions are due to be reached on the size, shape and scope of a permanent financial rescue system being set up for January 1, 2013.

10 White House pushes Congress to avert shutdown

by Olivier Knox, AFP

Sat Feb 26, 2:36 am ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The White House warned a looming US government shutdown “would be bad for the economy” as it urged feuding lawmakers to reach a spending compromise by a March 4 deadline.

“All of us agree that a government shutdown would be bad for the economy,” said spokesman Jay Carney, who told reporters “we believe that a compromise can be reached” in hard-fought congressional negotiations.

His comments came as Republican leaders of the House of Representatives unveiled a two-week stopgap spending measure that would cut $4 billion dollars by reducing or scrapping programs and urged Senate Democrats to support it.

11 Nintendo launches 3-D console in Japan

by David Watkins, AFP

Fri Feb 25, 11:57 pm ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s Nintendo launched the world’s first video game console with a 3-D screen that works without special glasses, a device the entertainment giant hopes will reverse its sliding fortunes.

But as the DS3 makes its debut in Japan on Saturday, it will be looking for a place in an increasingly crowded gaming market.

More than 1,500 fans queued outside Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara, the hub of Tokyo’s comic-book subculture, to be the first to own the machine, with many having spent the night on the streets ahead of the morning launch.

12 Oil-rich Arab states open their coffers

by Jacques Charmelot, AFP

Sun Feb 27, 10:46 pm ET

DUBAI (AFP) – Oil-rich monarchies in the Gulf may have chosen to pre-empt protests by opening their coffers to their citizens, but other Arab states in turmoil — or in the wake of it — lack the “cash for calm” option.

The fact that Arab rulers in the Gulf have responded with money and benefits to the wave of popular unrest sweeping across the region betrays their deep concern, analysts say.

While a swift injection of cash may take the edge off potential crises in the rich states, only huge amounts of international aid can ensure development of those poorer Arab nations where the current unrest began, they believe.

13 US growth slows as state reins in spending

by Andrew Beatty, AFP

Fri Feb 25, 3:26 pm ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US economic growth was slower than thought in the final months of 2010, as federal and local governments slashed spending to forestall looming budget crises, the Commerce Department reported Friday.

Growth edged down to 2.8 percent in the last quarter of the year, a slower pace than first thought, putting yet another question mark over the vitality of the recovery.

With the United States locked in a fierce political debate over government costs, local authorities cut spending by nearly 2.5 percent, helping trim the growth rate.

Reuters

14 HSBC cuts targets as capital rules bite, costs jump

By Steve Slater and Sudip Kar-Gupta, Reuters

53 mins ago

LONDON (Reuters) – HSBC (HSBA.L) cut its profitability targets due to the cost of tougher banking regulations and plans to cut costs and overhaul other areas after its annual profits fell short of expectations.

Europe’s biggest bank said 2010 pretax profit more than doubled from 2009 to $19 billion, but that fell short of the average forecast of $20 billion, according to analysts polled by Reuters Estimates.

New chief executive Stuart Gulliver cut the bank’s long-term return on equity (RoE) target to 12-15 percent from a previous 15-19 percent target as the cost of hoarding more capital to make banks safer takes its toll. It also reflected a view that economic recovery will be “somewhat unstable and uneven.”

15 Glencore IPO aims for the stars as Qatar eyes stake

By Kylie MacLellan and Regan E Doherty, Reuters

1 hr 1 min ago

LONDON/DOHA (Reuters) – Glencore (GLEN.UL) is priming analysts with in-depth briefings on its business ahead of a possible mega-float which could involve Qatar taking a stake in the world’s largest commodities trader.

If it goes ahead, an initial public offering (IPO) of privately held Glencore could value the company at as much as $60 billion according to Liberum Capital estimates, making it one of Europe’s biggest listings ever.

Qatar, one of the sovereign wealth funds flagged as a possible “cornerstone” shareholder, is considering investing in Glencore, the country’s prime minister said on Monday.

16 Special Report: Ghosn seeks new story for troubled auto alliance

By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent, Reuters

1 hr 47 mins ago

YOKOHAMA, Japan (Reuters) – Even for Carlos Ghosn, the supremely confident CEO of the Renault-Nissan automotive alliance, criticism sometimes hurts.

In those moments, he turns to a pile of boxes filled with news clippings documenting his stewardship of Japanese automaker Nissan (7201.T), a debt-ridden company more than a decade ago that some feared was heading toward bankruptcy.

“From time to time, when I’m a little bit discouraged, I go back, open one box, and read some of the articles from 1999,” the Brazilian-born Ghosn told reporters one June afternoon in 2007, after a grilling from shareholders unhappy with Nissan’s fall in profits.

17 Geneva launches remain in focus, for now

By Gilles Guillaume and Helen Massy-Beresford, Reuters

2 hrs 19 mins ago

GENEVA (Reuters) – Carmakers gathering in Geneva this week are scrambling to boost their presence in booming emerging regions, as they showcase the new models they hope will boost their share of Europe’s flat market at the auto show.

European car sales are expected to remain roughly stable in 2011 now that the scrapping incentive schemes that propped up demand have finished, while sales in markets like Asia, Latin America and Russia will keep growing.

Carmakers are pinning their hopes on cracking these markets, signing partnerships with local players, designing new models with those regions in mind, and increasingly, presenting new cars to the public in these regions.

18 Special Report: In derivatives trade, RIP OTC?

By Huw Jones, Reuters

Mon Feb 28, 3:22 am ET

LONDON (Reuters) – To get a measure of what financial markets think about plans to make trading in derivatives more uniform and transparent, ask no further than the regulators themselves. Thomas Huertas, a senior UK Financial Services Authority official, said recently that unless the plans to centralize trillions of dollars’ worth of contracts were thought through carefully, it could be a bit like “putting a Chernobyl in the back yard.”

With its echo of Warren Buffett’s description of derivatives themselves as “financial weapons of mass destruction,” Huertas’ choice of language reflects how potent the industry has become, not to mention hard to understand and difficult to tame.

Yet that is just what regulators are trying to do, and they’ve got a fight on their hands.

19 Japan January output up, economy on track for recovery

By Rie Ishiguro, Reuters

Sun Feb 27, 9:35 pm ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese factory output rose in January for a third straight month and manufacturers expect further gains in coming months, a sign that the economy is on track for a moderate export-driven recovery.

The data underscored the view by the government and the Bank of Japan that solid exports to Asia will underpin output and help the fragile economy to emerge from a lull soon.

But a spike in commodity costs triggered by unrest in the Middle East clouds the outlook, with some analysts worried about the damage it could inflict on corporate profits.

20 Warren Buffett’s enthusiasm for U.S. could boost markets

By Ben Berkowitz and David Gaffen, Reuters

Sun Feb 27, 1:47 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Warren Buffett is going long on America, and investors are likely to take note when markets open on Monday.

Buffett’s annual letter, released Saturday, is brimming with references to the strength of the American people, economy and spirit.

Investors said they were struck by how confident the letter was, particularly in comparison to his annual missives of recent years.

21 China’s Wen puts social stability at heart of economy

By Chris Buckley and Ken Wills, Reuters

Sun Feb 27, 3:47 am ET

BEIJING (Reuters) – Fighting inflation is a priority for China and the government must ward off threats to social stability stemming from rapid price increases and pressure to raise the value of the yuan, Premier Wen Jiabao said on Sunday.

Wen’s comments ahead of China’s annual parliament session from March 5 showed the sensitivity among ruling Communist Party leaders to public grumbling about rising real estate and food prices.

That wariness has been amplified by jitters about fallout from the unseating of authoritarian rulers in the Middle East.

22 Oil spike may split Fed and ECB

By Emily Kaiser, Reuters

Sun Feb 27, 3:05 pm ET

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Federal Reserve and European Central Bank may go their separate ways if Middle East unrest provokes a sustained, inflationary oil price spike.

Crude prices creeping back into the triple digits have sparked concern about slower economic growth and will no doubt reignite two long-running monetary policy debates:

Should central banks have a single inflation-fighting mandate, as the ECB does, or dual goals of price stability and full employment, like the Fed?

23 Possible pullback on high oil

By Ryan Vlastelica, Reuters

Sun Feb 27, 12:01 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – On Wall Street they wonder: Was that it? Is the pullback over?

Following the S&P 500’s worst week in 15 last week, investors are trying to determine whether the predictions of a correction have been fulfilled or if there’s still downside ahead as oil prices remain at elevated levels.

Shares could find some support Monday after positive commentary from Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N) Chairman Warren Buffett, who said in his annual letter that Berkshire will engage in record capital spending in the coming year.

24 BofA, Wells, Citi see foreclosure probe fines

By Joe Rauch and Clare Baldwin, Reuters

Fri Feb 25, 9:20 pm ET

CHARLOTTE, N.C./NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bank of America, Citigroup and Wells Fargo — three of the biggest banks in the United States — said they could face fines from a regulatory probe into the industry’s foreclosure practices.

The statements, made in regulatory filings on Friday, are the most direct admission yet from major banks that they could have to pay significant amounts of money to settle probes and lawsuits alleging that they improperly foreclosed on homes.

Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), the largest U.S. bank by assets, said the probe could lead to “material fines” and “significant” legal expenses in 2011.

25 Boeing basks in glow of tanker win, but risks loom

By Kyle Peterson, Reuters

Fri Feb 25, 3:21 pm ET

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Boeing Co, its suppliers and investors had good reason to cheer after the company snared a $30 billion Pentagon order this week, but challenges loom as Boeing prepares to fill the historic order on what may be a tight budget.

There is also a chance that the contract for 179 U.S. Air Force refueling planes could be broken if Boeing’s snubbed European rival EADS protests the award.

Boeing shares rose on the victory, but experts predicted a muted stock reaction in the longer term.

26 Japan PM struggles to overcome budget deadlock

By Chisa Fujioka, Reuters

Mon Feb 28, 3:56 am ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s unpopular government was trying on Monday to push through a $1 trillion budget for the year from April but with little chance of getting a divided parliament to pass the bills needed to make it work.

In another blow to beleaguered Prime Minister Naoto Kan, media reported that 16 MPs close to a rival powerbroker in his ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), were considering boycotting the lower house vote on the 2011/12 budget.

Kan still has enough votes in the lower house to pass the budget but a no-show by the 16 lawmakers would be an embarrassment for the prime minister struggling to enact any policies and facing growing calls, including within the DPJ, to resign.

27 With $38 billion cash, Warren Buffett looking for deals

By Ben Berkowitz, Reuters

Sat Feb 26, 3:45 pm ET

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Warren Buffett is looking for acquisitions as an outlet to deploy his $38 billion cash pile, the legendary investor said in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway Inc shareholders on Saturday.

Buffett gave an aggressive earnings forecast for Berkshire’s collection of businesses, said the company would engage in record capital spending and forecast a recovery in the housing market would start within a year.

Foremost, though, was his acknowledgment of the need for Berkshire to expand its non-insurance businesses, a broad collection that most prominently includes the railroad Burlington Northern and the electric utility MidAmerican.

28 Higher oil slippery slope for consumer goods market

By Martinne Geller, Reuters

Fri Feb 25, 3:58 pm ET

BOCA RATON, Florida (Reuters) – The uphill climb for consumer goods makers to improve sales and profits is getting more slippery, as higher oil prices add to costs and also cut into budgets people have for shopping.

The surge in oil prices is the latest blow for businesses that are already being hit by soaring ingredient costs, as consumer spending on everyday items remains weak, executives said.

“We’ve had, even since our earnings release, a pretty significant run-up in commodities, some of which have an immediate impact on the bottom line, things like diesel,” said P&G Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller, at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York Conference here.

AP

29 High pump prices rattle drivers and businesses

By JONATHAN FAHEY and SANDY SHORE, AP Energy Writers

43 mins ago

NEW YORK – High fuel prices are putting the squeeze on drivers’ wallets just as they are starting to feel better about the economy. They’re also forcing tough choices on small-business owners who are loathe to charge more for fear of losing cost-conscious customers.

Gasoline prices rose 4 percent last week to a national average of $3.29 per gallon. That’s the highest level ever for this time of year, when prices are typically low. And with unrest in the Middle East and North Africa lifting the price of oil to the $100-a-barrel range, analysts say pump prices are likely headed higher.

Bryon Gongaware, an owner of The Floral Trunk and Gifts in White Bear Lake, Minn., didn’t raise his $7 flower delivery charge when gas prices spiked in 2008, and he doesn’t plan to do so this time, either.

30 Rising fuel price casts shadow on Geneva auto show

By COLLEEN BARRY, Associated Press

2 hrs 1 min ago

GENEVA – The car industry, it seems, just can’t get a break.

Just when automakers thought it safe to roll out new models in the wake of the devastating economic crisis – 170 premiers are advertised for the Geneva Auto Show opening this week – confidence is shaken by a spike in oil prices due to civil unrest in Libya and other energy-producing nations.

Gas pump prices, which are at a seasonal record in the U.S., will sharpen attention at the auto show on technologies that squeeze more power out of conventional engines, along with much-anticipated news in hybrid and electric vehicles.

Although most carmakers are showing upbeat signs of recovery, the key theme, as during the financial crisis years, will once again be fuel efficiency.

31 Libyan crisis stalks markets, weighing on stocks

By PAN PYLAS, AP Business Writer

2 hrs 34 mins ago

LONDON – Concerns over Libya’s crisis weighed on stocks, particularly in Europe, on Monday while the euro remained well-supported despite expectations that the new Irish government will look to renegotiate the country’s bailout package.

Libya once again was at the forefront of investors’ minds as governments around the world piled pressure on longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi to step aside in the wake of the uprising that has split the country in two and left hundreds of people dead.

The primary market impact of the violence in the OPEC country has been on oil prices, which shot higher over the past couple of weeks as investors fretted over Libya’s supplies and whether the violence in the Arab world will spread, in particular to Saudi Arabia. Already this year, the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt have quit following huge demonstrations.

32 Libya’s eastern port Tobruk opens for oil exports

By TAREK EL-TABLAWY, AP Business Writer

5 mins ago

CAIRO – Libya’s eastern port of Tobruk reopened Monday and one tanker bound for China was being loaded, officials said, while the European Union noted that many of the country’s oil and gas fields had been wrestled from leader Moammar Gadhafi’s hands.

The news came as the chief executive of Saudi Arabia’s state-run oil giant announced his company had stepped in to compensate for an export shortfall stemming from the unrest in the North African nation, and the kingdom’s information minister reaffirmed his country’s policy of ensuring stability in oil markets.

In tandem, the news offered a glimmer of hope that the export disruption from Libya may ease, at least slightly, even if market fears had yet to dissipate. Libya, whose exports mainly head to Europe, is the only member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries so far seriously affected by the protests roiling the Arab world, and unrest there has sent shudders through global oil markets.

33 Comcast, NBC deal opens door for online video

By JOELLE TESSLER, AP Technology Writer

1 hr 5 mins ago

WASHINGTON – New Internet video services from companies such as Netflix and Apple are offering a glimpse of a home entertainment future that doesn’t include a pricey monthly cable bill.

To challenge the cable TV industry’s dominance in the living room, though, online video services need popular movies and TV shows to lure viewers, and access to high-speed Internet networks to reach them.

Yet they have had no rights to either – until now.

34 Congress takes up major change in patent law

By JIM ABRAMS, Associated Press

1 hr 14 mins ago

WASHINGTON – The patent system hasn’t changed much since 1952 when Sony was coming out with its first pocket-size transistor radio, and bar codes and Mr. Potato Head were among the inventions patented. Now, after years of trying, Congress may be about to do something about that.

The Senate is taking up the Patent Reform Act, which would significantly overhaul a 1952 law and, supporters say, bring the patent system in line with 21st century technology of biogenetics and artificial intelligence. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, hails it as “an important step toward maintaining our global competitive edge.”

Congress has been trying for well over a decade to rewrite patent law, only to be thwarted by the many interested parties – multinational corporations and small-scale inventors, pharmaceuticals and Silicon Valley companies – pulling in different directions. Prospects for passing a bill now, however, are promising.

35 Gulf Arab markets slump on region’s unrest

By TAREK EL-TABLAWY, AP Business Writer

1 hr 5 mins ago

CAIRO – Dubai’s benchmark stock index closed sharply lower on Monday while other exchanges in the oil-rich Gulf also tumbled, reflecting investor panic over the unrest that has ravaged the Arab region for weeks and shows no signs of abating.

The Dubai Financial Market closed 3.83 percent lower, hitting 1,410 points, and dragging the year-to-date losses to over 13 percent. The benchmark had dropped almost 0.9 percent on Sunday with the violence in Libya, as Moammar Gadhafi, the country’s leader, struggled to remain in power.

“Outside of Libya, it is the fate of other regional oil producers that will continue to preoccupy global markets. In particular, any change to the perceived threat to production in Saudi Arabia, which for now remains secure, will remain of crucial importance,” said international brokerage giant Nomura in a research note. “For now, the barometer of political risk for Gulf oil producers will likely remain centered in Bahrain.”

36 Italy’s Berlusconi back on trial for tax fraud

Associated Press

1 hr 24 mins ago

MILAN – Premier Silvio Berlusconi went back on trial Monday for alleged tax fraud, the first of several court cases to resume after Italy’s Constitutional Court watered down an immunity bill sparing the premier from trial.

Prosecutors say Berlusconi’s Mediaset media empire purchased TV rights for U.S. movies through two offshore companies and falsely declared the costs to reduce its tax bill.

Berlusconi, who wasn’t in court Monday, has denied the allegations. The case was immediately adjourned until April 11, when Berlusconi may appear, lawyers said.

37 India to cut deficit, improve food security

By ERIKA KINETZ and ASHOK SHARMA, Associated Press

Mon Feb 28, 6:52 am ET

NEW DELHI – India pledged to reduce its deficit while ramping up social spending Monday as the government unveiled an annual budget aimed at balancing populism with fiscal discipline.

High food inflation and a spate of embarrassing corruption scandals have put pressure on India’s ruling Congress Party in recent months, spooking foreign investors and sparking street protests in advance of crucial state elections.

In his budget speech before parliament, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee revealed no major policy shifts, but said the much-watched fiscal deficit would fall from an estimated 5.1 percent of gross domestic product in the year ending March 31 to 4.6 percent next fiscal year.

38 US farmers hire movie stars to sell nuts in Asia

By GOSIA WOZNIACKA, Associated Press

Mon Feb 28, 4:36 am ET

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Chinese movie star Gao Yuan Yuan ambled in front of blooming almond trees, smelled the flowers, learned about pollination and even got stung by a bee – all while two Chinese television crews filmed her for a documentary and television series focused on California’s almond country.

The almond industry has hired Gao as its ambassador in China, and its effort is just one of many California nut growers are making to capture new markets in developing countries. U.S. farm exports reached an all-time high of $115.8 billion last year, and experts say developing nations such as China and India have huge potential for future growth.

China surpassed Canada to emerge as the top market for U.S. agricultural exports last year with $17.5 billion in sales, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

39 Police allow protesters to remain at Wis. Capitol

By DAVID A. LIEB and DINESH RAMDE, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 10:00 pm ET

MADISON, Wis. – The occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol by protesters fighting efforts to strip public workers of union bargaining rights carried on Sunday after police decided not to forcibly remove demonstrators and end a nearly two-week-long sit-in.

Roughly three hours after a deadline to vacate the building had passed and as police officers continued to look on quietly, protest coordinator Erika Wolf took to a microphone and announced: “There’s really awesomely good news – that we’re going to be able to stay here tonight.”

A cheer went up from the several hundred protesters who had ignored a request from the state agency that oversees the Capitol to leave by 4 p.m. so that the normally immaculate building could get a thorough cleaning.

40 Saudi intellectuals call for sweeping reforms

By TAREK EL-TABLAWY, AP Business Writer

Sun Feb 27, 2:46 pm ET

CAIRO – More than 100 leading Saudi academics and activists urged King Abdullah to enact sweeping reforms, including setting up a constitutional monarchy, and he ordered Sunday that government sector workers with temporary contracts be given permanent jobs in order to pre-empt the unrest that has engulfed other Arab nations.

The activists’ statement, seen on several Saudi websites Sunday, reflects the undercurrent of tension that has simmered for years in the world’s largest oil producer. While Abdullah is seen as a reformer, the pace of those reforms has been slow as Saudi officials balance the need to push the country forward with the perennial pressure from hard-line clergy in the conservative nation.

“The current situation … is full of reasons for concern,” said the statement, which was signed by 119 academics, activists and businessmen. “We are seeing … a receding of Saudi Arabia’s prominent regional role for which our nation was known and the …. prevalence of corruption and nepotism, the exacerbation of factionalism and a widening in the gap between state and society.”

41 Thousands flee Libya at chaotic Tunisian border

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 5:50 pm ET

RAS ADJIR, Tunisia – Tempers flared and scuffles broke out as the Tunisian army and aid groups struggled Sunday to control the chaos of thousands of migrant workers streaming across the border from Libya.

Lugging mattresses, blankets, overstuffed duffel bags and pulling suitcases on wheels, the expatriate laborers jostled one another for position in long lines, waiting to be processed.

“If you have registered move to the side!” screamed a Tunisian army official, waving his arms and blowing a whistle at a group of exhausted and confused-looking Egyptian day laborers.

42 Union bargaining just a dream for many gov workers

By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS and ERIK SCHELZIG, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 3:23 pm ET

JACKSON, Miss. – Whenever Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour has asked lawmakers to weaken benefits for state employees, his proposals have met little resistance from workers.

Mississippi is among those states – many in the South – where most government employees do not have the right to collective bargaining, the benefit that has caused a political upheaval in Wisconsin and has become a national flashpoint for those who argue that public employee benefits are too generous.

Those states provide a snapshot of what life is like for government employees who do not have the same union clout that workers in Wisconsin and some other states are desperately trying to retain.

43 ND residents along Red River avoid flood buyouts

By DAVE KOLPACK, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 3:36 pm ET

FARGO, N.D. – John Stern has lived in Fargo all his life, buying a dream home on the Red River more than 25 years ago.

The city is offering to pay him for the 1,800-square-foot Frank Lloyd Wright family home if he wants to move off the flood plain. But Stern says he’s not going anywhere.

He fondly recalls the first time he walked through the brick house, with its unique twists and turns, and looked out at the river from an elevated living area.

44 Mass. company making diesel with sun, water, CO2

By JAY LINDSAY, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 9:15 pm ET

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A Massachusetts biotechnology company says it can produce the fuel that runs Jaguars and jet engines using the same ingredients that make grass grow.

Joule Unlimited has invented a genetically-engineered organism that it says simply secretes diesel fuel or ethanol wherever it finds sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

The Cambridge, Mass.-based company says it can manipulate the organism to produce the renewable fuels on demand at unprecedented rates, and can do it in facilities large and small at costs comparable to the cheapest fossil fuels.

45 China lowers its economic growth target a tad

By CHARLES HUTZLER, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 5:19 pm ET

BEIJING – China is slightly lowering its annual economic growth target, to 7 percent from 8 percent, the premier said Sunday, in a move that signals a shift in government priorities to put the breakneck economy on a more sustainable footing.

The tweak to the growth rate, announced by Premier Wen Jiabao in an online chat with Chinese citizens, is largely symbolic. Economic growth has exceeded the 8 percent target each of the past six years that it has been a fixture of government plans. Last year, growth reached 10.3 percent, making China the world’s fastest-expanding major economy.

Along with the growth, however, inflation has picked up, especially for food and housing. Economists and senior Chinese officials have said for months that Beijing must downshift the economy to help tame prices and move toward growth that is driven more by consumer spending than by the hefty investment and bank lending that fueled the latest spurt.

46 New Irish leader Enda Kenny often underestimated

By ROBERT BARR, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 5:21 pm ET

DUBLIN – Opposition leader Enda Kenny has already shattered Ireland’s 80-year-old political monopoly. Now he faces an even more challenging assignment – rebuilding Ireland’s economy, nearly brought to its knees by reckless property speculation and bank lending.

Defying doubters of his ability, Kenny rebuilt his Fine Gael party into a force that handed the ruling Fianna Fail party its worst defeat since 1932 in Friday’s national vote. He faces a decision within days on building a stable government that will respond to Irish voters angry and anxious over the nation’s economic freefall and subsequent bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

In victory, Kenny made big promises of a new style of government.

47 Foreclosures helping change color of some suburbs

By COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 2:49 pm ET

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – Three years ago, Lamar Grace left Detroit for the suburb of Southfield. He got a good deal – a 3,000-square-foot colonial that once was worth $220,000. In foreclosure, he paid $109,000.

The neighbors were not pleased.

“They don’t want to live next door to ghetto folks,” he says.

48 Turmoil rocks Libya’s oil sector, slashing output

By PAUL SCHEMM, Associated Press

Sat Feb 26, 8:05 pm ET

BREGA, Libya – The massive oil terminal at Brega feels strangely deserted for Libya’s second-largest hydrocarbon complex. After more than a week of turmoil in the country, production has been scaled back by almost 90 percent with many employees fleeing and ships not coming to collect its products.

The most activity on the site Saturday appeared to be a squad of boys from the nearby town finishing the job of tearing apart the local headquarters of Moammar Gadhafi’s Revolutionary Committee.

The seaside Brega complex, some 125 miles (200 kilometers) west of the rebel stronghold of Benghazi, collects crude oil and gas from Libya’s fields in the southeast and prepares it for export. It also produces some petrochemicals and refined products for local consumption.

49 Facts overshadowed in debate over union bill

By SCOTT BAUER and PATRICK CONDON, Associated Press

Sat Feb 26, 7:04 pm ET

MADISON, Wis. – The facts have been overshadowed by rhetoric at the Wisconsin Capitol, where protesters and politicians have been engaged in a tense standoff over the governor’s proposal to strip most public employees of their collective-bargaining rights.

Gov. Scott Walker insists the state is broke and must make drastic spending cuts. Unions believe Republican leaders are trying to wipe them out. Two weeks into the debate, The Associated Press assessed the claims in an effort to shed light on what’s at stake.

Walker says his plan is needed to ease a deficit that is projected to hit $137 million by July and $3.6 billion by mid-2013.

50 Iraqi PM gives gov’t 100 days to improve – or else

By REBECCA SANTANA, Associated Press

Sun Feb 27, 12:53 pm ET

BAGHDAD – Iraq’s prime minister on Sunday gave his ministers 100 days to improve their performance or risk being fired – an apparent response to a string of deadly anti-government protests against poor public services.

Also Sunday, Iraq’s parliament speaker called for new provincial and municipal elections as a way of addressing the public’s growing frustration over corruption, high unemployment and electricity shortages.

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s warning to his ministers and Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi’s call for elections came two days after thousands participated in the largest anti-government protests in Iraq since unrest began spreading in the Arab world several weeks ago.

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