INTERNATIONAL

 

Feb 14 - 20, 2005

 

1.INTERNATIONAL

2. PAKISTAN

3. GULF

 

US TRADE GAP HITS RECORD IN 2004

The gap between US exports and imports hit an all-time high of $671.7bn (484bn) in 2004, latest figures show.
The Commerce Department said the trade deficit for all of last year was 24.4% above the previous record 2003's imbalance of $496.5bn.
The deficit with China, up 30.5% at $162bn, was the largest ever recorded with a single country.
However, on a monthly basis the US trade gap narrowed by 4.9% in December to 56.4bn.

 

 

The US consumer's appetite for all things from oil to imported cars, and even wine and cheese, reached record levels last year and the figures are likely to spark fresh criticism of President Bush's economic policies.

Democrats claim the administration has not done enough to clamp down on unfair foreign trade practices.

For example, they believe China's currency policy - which US manufacturers claim has undervalued the yuan by as much as 40% - has given China's rapidly expanding economy an unfair advantage against US competitors.

Meanwhile, the Bush administration argues that the US deficit reflects the fact the America is growing at faster rate than the rest of the world, spurring on more demand for imported goods.

For all of 2004, US exports rose 12.3% to $1.15 trillion, but imports rose even faster by 16.3% to a new record of $1.76 trillion.

Foreign oil exports surged by 35.7% to a record $180.7bn, reflecting the rally in global oil prices and increasing domestic demand. Imports were not affected by the dollar's weakness last year.

BLAIR TO UNVEIL ELECTION PLEDGES

Tony Blair is to embark on a day-long tour of England unveiling six poll pledges as he travels to Labour's spring conference in Gateshead.

The pledges are expected to concentrate on the economy, health, education, childcare, crime and immigration.

With an election expected on May 5, Gateshead is being seen as a launching pad for Labour's bid for a third term.

The Tories and Lib Dems questioned whether six pledges could restore public trust in the government.

Lib Dem chairman Matthew Taylor said: "From tuition fees to the war in Iraq, Labour has failed to be honest and straightforward with the public." Mr Blair's tour was a "stunt which might have been believable in 1997 but it just won't wash with the British public now".

Tory co-chairman Liam Fox said Mr Blair was just interested in votes and not in issues that mattered to voters.

"After eight years of talk and just months before an election, Tony Blair now wants people to believe he is going to keep his word," he said before adding that people realised the UK was "heading in the wrong direction".

The campaign is designed to be more positive after rows over negative campaigning, reported BBC political correspondent Carole Walker.

Earlier this week election co-ordinator Alan Milburn described the six pledges expected to be outlined by Blair as the "cornerstone" of Labour's campaign.

G7 BACKS AFRICA DEBT RELIEF PLAN

G7 finance ministers have backed plans to write off up to 100% of the debts of some of the world's poorest countries.

UK chancellor Gordon Brown said the London meeting of the world's seven richest nations would be remembered as "the 100% debt relief summit".

Some 37 countries could benefit after a case-by-case review by bodies including the World Bank and the IMF, he said.

But the US says it cannot support Mr Brown's International Finance Facility to boost aid to developing countries.

BBC correspondents said the meeting had produced some movement towards the UK's ambitions, but much work was needed.

Mr Brown said it was a major breakthrough for the international organisations to offer up to 100% multilateral debt relief "the vast bulk" of money owed by the poorest countries.

JAPAN BANK SHARES UP ON LINK TALK

Shares of Sumitomo Mitsui Financial (SMFG), and Daiwa Securities jumped amid speculation that two of Japan's biggest financial companies will merge.

Financial newspaper Nihon Keizai Shimbun claimed that the firms will join up next year and already have held discussions with Japanese regulators.

The firms denied that they are about to link up, but said they are examining ways of working more closely together.

SMFG shares climbed by 3% to 719,000, and Daiwa added 5.7% to 743 yen.

Heavyweight Combining SMFG, Japan's third-biggest lender, and Daiwa, the country's second-largest brokerage firm, would create a company with assets of more than $1,000bn (537bn).

BUSH AIMS TO BOOST US TSUNAMI AID

US President George W Bush has said he is seeking a $600m (323m) boost in aid to nations hit by the Asian tsunami.

The new money, which needs to be approved by Congress, comes on top of the original $350m (188m) pledged after the 26 December tsunami. The aid package includes $339m (182m) for reconstruction projects and $168m (90m) to provide food and shelter. More than 200,000 people were killed in the tsunami, according to the United Nations, most of them in Indonesia.

BRUSSELS RAPS MOBILE CALL CHARGES

The European Commission has written to the mobile phone operators Vodafone and T-Mobile to challenge "the high rates" they charge for international roaming.

In letters sent to the two companies, the Commission alleged the firms were abusing their dominant market position in the German mobile phone market.

It is the second time Vodafone has come under the Commission's scrutiny.

The UK operator is already appealing against allegations that its UK roaming rates are "unfair and excessive".

BOE OPTS TO LEAVE RATES ON HOLD

The Bank of England has left interest rates on hold at 4.75% for a sixth month in a row.

The Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) decided to take no action amid mixed signals from the economy.

But some economists predict a further rise in the cost of borrowing will come later this year.

Interest rates rose five times between November 2003 and August 2004 as soaring house prices and buoyant consumer data sparked inflation fears.

NIGERIA TO BOOST COCOA PRODUCTION

The government of Nigeria is hoping to triple cocoa production over the next three years with the launch of an ambitious development programme.

Agriculture Minister Adamu Bello said the scheme aimed to boost production from an expected 180,000 tonnes this year to 600,000 tonnes by 2008.

The government will pump 154m naira ($1.1m; 591,000) into subsidies for farming chemicals and seedlings.

RICH GRAB HALF COLOMBIA POOR FUND

Half of the money put aside by the Colombian government to help the country's poor is benefiting people who do not need it, a study has found.

A total of 24.2 trillion pesos ($10.2bn; 5.5bn) is earmarked for subsidies for the poor, the government department for planning said.

But it also found 12.1 trillion pesos was going to the richest part of the population, rather than to those in need.

IRISH MARKETS REACH ALL-TIME HIGH

Irish shares have risen to a record high, with investors persuaded to buy into the market by low inflation and strong growth forecasts.

The ISEQ index of leading shares closed up 23 points to 6661.89 last Thursday, fuelled by strong growth in banking and financial stocks.

A fall in the rate of inflation to 2.3% in January gave a fresh boost to shares which have advanced 4% this month. The economy is set for strong growth in 2005 while interest rates remain low.

 

 

FTSE BREAKS THROUGH 5,000 BARRIER

London's FTSE 100 share index last week has broken through the 5,000-point barrier for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years.

The index of leading shares hit 5,001.5 points the first time it has been above 5,000 since 6 June 2002 before falling back to close marginally down.

Takeover activity has lifted sentiment, along with strong results from the likes of Shell and lower oil prices.

UNILEVER SHAKE UP AS PROFIT SLIPS

Anglo-Dutch consumer goods company Unilever is to merge its two management boards after reporting "unsatisfactory" earnings for 2004. Unilever, which owns brands including Dove soap, said annual pre-tax profit fell 36% to 2.9bn euros (1.99bn).

US BANK IN $515M SEC SETTLEMENT

Five Bank of America subsidiaries have agreed to pay a total of $515m (277m) to settle an investigation into fraudulent trading share practices.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission announced the settlements, the latest in an industry-wide clean-up of US mutual funds.

WMC PROFITS UP

Australian mining firm WMC Resources has seen a fivefold rise in profits while continuing to be the target of a hostile takeover bid. WMC said it made net profits of 1.33bn Australian dollars ($1bn; 550m) in 2004, up from A$246bn the year before.

ERICSSON SEES EARNINGS IMPROVE

Telecoms equipment supplier Ericsson has posted a rise in fourth quarter profits thanks to clients like Deutsche Telekom upgrade their networks.

Operating profit in the three months to 31 December was 9.5bn kronor (722m; $1.3bn) against 6.3bn kronor last year.

BARCLAYS PROFITS HIT RECORD LEVEL

Barclays, the UK's third-biggest bank, has seen annual pre-tax profits climb to record levels boosted by a sharp rise in business at its investment arm. Profits for the year to 31 December rose 20% to 4.6bn ($8.6bn).

PRODUCT INNOVATION BOOSTS RECKITT

Reckitt Benckiser, the world's biggest maker of household cleaning goods, says product innovation helped it boost annual pre-tax profits by 12%.

Profits for the year to 31 December were 758m ($1.1bn), on sales of 3.87bn - a 10% increase on 2003.

JOBS GROWTH STILL SLOW IN THE US

The US created fewer jobs than expected in January, but a fall in jobseekers pushed the unemployment rate to its lowest level in three years.

According to Labor Department figures, US firms added only 146,000 jobs in January. The gain in non-farm payrolls was below market expectations of 190,000 new jobs.

VENEZUELA REVIEWS FOREIGN DEALS

Venezuela is to review all foreign investment in its mining industries in an effort to strengthen its indigenous industrial output.

President Hugo Chavez has ordered all existing contracts with foreign firms to be examined to see if they provide maximum benefits to the country.

The review will cover production of gold, aluminium and iron ore although it excludes the country's oil sector. Chavez has sought to extend the state's role in all sectors of the economy.

FRANCE TO PRIVATISE ENERGY FIRMS

The French government has announced plans to partially privatise three major energy firms and a road operator.

Shares of Gaz de France (GDF), nuclear group Areva and Electricite de France (EDF) will be floated between the summer and end of this year.

Finance Minister Herve Gaymard has also announced that road operator SANEF will be partially privatised by April 2005.

The government expects to raise 20bn euros ($25.5bn; 13.7bn), but the plan also provoked protests among workers.