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