The dollar also gained ground against sterling,
reaching $1.8832 to the pound before slipping slightly.
The release of the minutes just three weeks after the
14 December meeting was much faster than usual, indicating the Fed wants
to keep markets more apprised of its thinking.
This, too, is being taken in some quarters as a sign
of aggressive moves on interest rates to come.
The key Fed funds rate has risen 1.25 percentage
points during 2004 from the 46-year low of 1% reached not long after the
9/11 attacks in 2001.
That long trough "might be contributing to signs
of potentially excessive risk-taking in financial markets", said
the Federal Open Markets Committee (FOMC), which sets interest rates.
The odds now favour a further boost to rates at the
next meeting in early February, economists said.
UK SHARES END YEAR ON HIGH NOTE
The FTSE 100 has ended the year with a 7.5% gain
despite battling against high oil prices and rising interest rates.
The leading index closed at 4,814, a gain of 337
points since last year, but 5.8 points down on the day, city analysts
Most analysts do not expect a dramatic change in the
Experts tip the FTSE to make "slow and
steady" gains in 2005, breaking through the 5,000 mark, possibly
reaching as high as the 5,500 mark.
Rocketing oil prices and rate hikes on both sides on
the Atlantic saw the FTSE 100 index plunge as low as 4,287 in July —
its lowest for nine months.
Five rate rises from the Bank of England since
November 2003 took the steam out of the market for much of the year.
But strong fourth-quarter profits lifted spirits in
the latter part of the year, taking the FTSE to 30-month highs.
The outcome of the US presidential election also
boosted investor confidence as did evidence of robust economic growth in
And crude oil's retreat from record highs also helped
drag the market out of the doldrums.
Nevertheless, the outlook for 2005 could be
"pretty dull", according to economists.
The absence of a US presidential election and the
lack of a global sporting event — which terrorists could target -
should keep the market subdued, economists believe.
Even the prospect of a general election in the UK is
not expected to make much of an impact on the stock market.
Germany's DAX index closed the year with a 7.34% gain
while France's CAC 40 ended 7.39% higher.
US MANUFACTURING KEEPS EXPANDING
US industrial production increased in December,
according to the latest survey from the Institute for Supply Management
Its index of national manufacturing activity rose to
58.6 last month from 57.8 in November. A reading above 50 indicates a
level of growth.
The result for December was slightly better than
analysts' expectations and the 19th consecutive expansion.
The ISM said the growth was driven by a
"significant" rise in the new orders.
"This completes a strong year for manufacturing
based on the ISM data," said chairman of the ISM's survey
"While there is continuing upward pressure on
prices, the rate of increase is slowing and definitely trending in the
SINGAPORE GROWTH AT 8.1% IN 2004
Singapore's economy grew by 8.1% in 2004, its best
performance since 2000, figures from the trade ministry show.
The advance, the second-fastest in Asia after China,
was led by growth of 13.1% in the key manufacturing sector.
However, a slower-than-expected fourth quarter points
to more modest growth for the trade-driven economy in 2005 as global
technology demand falls back.
Slowdowns in the US and China could hit electronics
exports, while the tsunami disaster may effect the service sector.
Economic growth is set to halve in Singapore this
year to between 3% and 5%.
In the fourth quarter, the city state's gross
domestic product (GDP) rose at an annual rate of 2.4%.
That was up from the third quarter, when it fell
3.0%, but was well below analyst forecasts.
DOLLAR HOVERS AROUND RECORD LOWS
The US dollar hovered close to record lows against
the euro last week as concern grows about the size of the US budget
Analysts predict that the dollar will remain weak in
2005 as investors worry about the state of the US economy.
The Bush administration's apparent unwillingness to
intervene to support the dollar has caused further concern.
However, trading has been volatile over the past week
because of technical and automated trading and light demand.
This has amplified reactions to news, analysts said,
adding that they expect markets to become less jumpy in January.
The dollar was trading at $1.3652 versus the euro
after hitting a fresh record low of $1.3667. One dollar bought 102.55
UN SEEKS IMMEDIATE TSUNAMI CASH
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has urged
international donors to convert pledges of aid for the tsunami victims
into $1bn cash for immediate use.
At the Indonesia aid conference, Mr Annan said there
was "a race against time" to prevent another sharp rise in the
death toll, now over 140,000.
Global pledges exceed $3bn but promises have not
always come good in the past.
The EU is the latest international body to offer
increased aid, pledging 100m euros ($132m) to the immediate effort.
Secretary of State Colin Powell said the group —
which includes India, Australia and Japan — had served its purpose and
would now work with the UN.
Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in
Jakarta he would also seek the European Parliament's approval for an
additional 350m euros ($464m) for long-term reconstruction.
Meanwhile, the US said it was disbanding what it
called the core group of nations formed to tackle the crisis.
MONSANTO FINED $1.5M FOR BRIBERY
The US agrochemical giant Monsanto has agreed to pay
a $1.5m (£799,000) fine for bribing an Indonesian official.
Monsanto admitted one of its employees paid the
senior official two years ago in a bid to avoid environmental impact
studies being conducted on its cotton.
INDIAN OIL FIRM EYES YUKOS ASSETS
India's biggest oil exploration firm, Oil &
Natural Gas Corp. (ONGC), says it is in talks to buy the former assets
of troubled Russian crude producer Yukos.
"We are in touch with the concerned Russian
entities about the Yukos assets and other opportunities in Russia,"
said ONGC chairman Subir Raha.
Local press had reported that ONGC was looking to buy
15% of Yukos' former key oil production unit for $2bn (£1bn).
GERMAN BIDDER IN TALKS WITH LSE
Deutsche Boerse bosses have held "constructive,
professional and friendly" talks with the London Stock Exchange
(LSE), its chief has said.
Werner Seifert met LSE chief executive Clara Furse
amid rumours the German group may raise its bid to £1.5bn ($2.9bn) from
its initial £1.3bn offer.
DAMAGE TO INDIA 'MORE THAN $1BN'
The financial cost to the Indian mainland from
December's devastating tsunami is more than $1bn, the government says.
Costs to the remote Andaman and Nicobar Islands are
still being assessed.
The southern state of Tamil Nadu on the mainland has
suffered the worst damage, incurring losses at some $580m, officials
The government has defended its relief efforts. It
says its response to the disaster was "extremely prompt".
WORLDCOM BOSSES AGREE $54M PAYOUT
Ten former directors at WorldCom have agreed to pay
$54m (£28.85m), including $18m from their own pockets, to settle a
class action lawsuit, reports say.
James Wareham, a lawyer representing one of the
directors, told Reuters the 10 had agreed to pay those who lost billions
when the firm collapsed. The remaining $36m will be paid by the
SOUTH AFRICAN CAR DEMAND SURGES
Car manufacturers with plants in South Africa,
including BMW, General Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen, have seen a surge
in demand during 2004.
New vehicle sales jumped 22% to 449,603 from a year
earlier, the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South
Africa (NAAMSA) said.
Strong economic growth and low interest rates have
driven demand, and analysts expect the trend to continue.
IMF IN TSUNAMI ASSISTANCE PLEDGE
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has offered up
to $1bn (£530m) in financial assistance to nations affected by the
A statement from IMF director general Rodrigo Rato
came ahead of a donor meeting in Jakarta. The United Nations said
earlier that aid pledges have topped $3bn.
BROWN SETS OUT ANTI-POVERTY AIMS
Gordon Brown will seek to harness worldwide horror
over the fate of Asia's tsunami victims to drive forward the agenda for
ending global poverty.
In a long-planned speech Mr Brown will restate his
goals for doubling aid and eliminating the poorest nations' debt.
At the same time Tony Blair will now conduct his
monthly news conference.
Mr Blair denied the timing of his event, at which he
will also talk about Africa, was "bizarre". Mr Brown said it
showed they had a shared agenda.
But the chancellor's former spin doctor Charlie
Whelan said news of the press conference was "astonishing".
TSUNAMI TO COST SRI LANKA $1.3BN
Sri Lanka faces a $1.3bn (£691m) bill in 2005 for
reconstruction after the tsunami which killed more than 30,000 of its
people, its central bank says.
This estimate is preliminary, bank governor Sunil
Mendis told reporters, and could rise in 2006.
The island state is asking for about $320m from the
International Monetary Fund to help pay for relief, he said.
The bank has 5bn rupees ($50m; £27m) set aside to
lend at a lower interest rate to those who lost property.
GATES OPENS BIGGEST GADGET FAIR
Bill Gates has opened the Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
in Las Vegas, saying that gadgets are working together more to help
people manage multimedia content around the home and on the move.
Mr Gates made no announcement about the next
generation Xbox games console, which many gadget lovers had been hoping
About 120,000 people are expected to attend the trade
show which stretches over more than 1.5 million square feet and runs
from 6 to 9 January.
COMMODORE FINDS NEW LEASE OF LIFE
The once-famous Commodore computer brand could be
resurrected after being bought by a US-based digital music distributor.
New owner Yeahronimo Media Ventures has not ruled out
the possibility of a new breed of Commodore computers.
It also plans to develop a "worldwide
entertainment concept" with the brand, although details are not yet
PROFITS JUMP AT CHINA'S TOP BANK
Industrial and Commercial Bank (ICBC), China's
biggest lender, has seen an 18% jump in profits during 2004.
The increase in earnings has allowed the firm to
write off bad loans and pave the way for a state bailout and eventual
China is trying to clean up its banking system, which
is weighed down by billions of dollars of unpaid loans.
It has already pumped $45bn (£24bn) into two of its
largest banks, and has identified ICBC as a recipient of aid.
ICBC's profits were 74.7bn yuan ($9bn; £4.8bn) in
2004, the bank said in a statement.
The percentage of non-performing loans dropped to
19.1%, down about 2 percentage points. ICBC was founded in 1984 and had
total assets of 5.3 trillion yuan at the end of 2003.