Archive for March, 2010

World stocks up as US job data lift recovery hopes (AP)

Monday, March 8th, 2010 | Finance News

HONG KONG – World stock markets gained Monday as a better-than-expected report about the U.S. job market lifted confidence in the economic recovery.

Major Asian bourses added as much as 2 percent in the region's second day higher. The euro got a boost after France voiced support for debt-laden Greece, while oil prices pushed past $82 a barrel.

As in the U.S., investors in Asia welcomed Friday's news the U.S. economy shed fewer jobs than expected last month. Employers slashed 36,000 jobs last month, better than the 50,000 cuts predicted.

While still up from the 26,000 lost in January, the figures provided evidence the labor market, one of the most-watched gauges of economic health, was on the mend. The unemployment rate was unchanged at 9.7 percent.

"Employment is now very close to stabilizing, although eight months after the recession ended that is hardly a cause for celebration," researchers at Capital Economics said in note.

Investors were also encouraged after French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised European support for Greece through a debt crisis that has jeopardized all 16 nations in the common currency.

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100, Germany's DAX and France's CAC-40 were up by about 0.2 percent each. Wall Street futures pointed to a slightly higher open in the U.S. Monday.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average rose 216.96 points, or 2.1 percent, to 10,585.92 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng jumped 408.90 points, or 2 percent, to 21,196.87.

South Korea's Kospi added 1.6 percent. Elsewhere, Australia's market was up 0.9 percent, Shanghai shares gained 0.7 percent and Indian stocks were 0.6 percent higher.

In oil, benchmark crude for April delivery rose 53 cents to $82.03 a barrel. The contract rose $1.29 to settle at $81.50 on Friday.

The dollar was lower at 90.24 yen from 90.44 yen. The euro rose to $1.3676 from $1.3629.

Friday on Wall Street, the Dow rose 122.06, or 1.2 percent, to 10,566.20, its highest close since Jan. 20. It was the Dow's best point and percentage gain since Feb. 16.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose for a sixth straight day, rising 15.73, or 1.4 percent, to 1,138.70. The Nasdaq composite index added 34.04, or 1.5 percent, to 2,326.35.


Mo’Nique, Waltz win supporting-acting Oscars (AP)

Sunday, March 7th, 2010 | Finance News

LOS ANGELES – Villainous roles snatched the supporting-acting prizes Sunday at the Academy Awards: "Precious" co-star Mo'Nique as a contemptible mother and "Inglourious Basterds" co-star Christoph Waltz as a sociable Nazi fiend.

Both performers capped remarkable years, Mo'Nique startling fans with dramatic depths previously unsuspected in the actress known for lowbrow comedy and the Austrian-born Waltz leaping to fame with his first big Hollywood role.

"I would like to thank the academy for showing that it can be about the performance and not the politics," said Mo'Nique, who plays the heartless, abusive welfare mother of an illiterate teen (Gabourey Sidibe, a best-actress nominee in her screen debut) in the Harlem drama "Precious: Based on the Novel `Push' by Sapphire."

Mo'Nique added her gratitude to the first black actress to win an Oscar, Hattie McDaniel, the 1939 supporting-actress winner for "Gone With the Wind."

"I want to thank Miss Hattie McDaniel for enduring all that she had to so that I would not have to," she said, adding thanks to Oprah Winfrey and Tyler Perry, who signed on as executive producers to spread the word on "Precious" after it premiered at last year's Sundance Film Festival.

"Precious" also won the adapted-screenplay Oscar for Geoffrey Fletcher.

"This is for everybody who works on a dream every day. Precious boys and girls everywhere," Fletcher said.

Waltz's award was presented by last season's supporting-actress winner, Penelope Cruz, who gave Waltz a kiss as he took the stage.

"Oscar and Penelope. That's an uber-bingo," Waltz said.

Though a veteran stage and TV actor in Europe, Waltz had been a virtual unknown in Hollywood before Quentin Tarantino cast him as the prattling, ruthless Jew-hunter Hans Landa in his World War II saga.

"Quentin with his unorthodox methods of navigation, this fearless explorer, took this ship across and brought it in with flying colors, and that's why I'm here," Waltz said. "This is your welcoming embrace, and there's no way I can ever thank you enough."

The Iraq War drama "The Hurt Locker" won its first category of the night, original screenplay for Mark Boal, who spun a story about the perils and pressures of a U.S. bomb unit in Iraq. Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner won the adapted-screenplay award for George Clooney's recession-era tale "Up in the Air," which Reitman also directed.

The science-fiction blockbuster "Avatar" also won its first category, for art direction.

With nine nominations each, "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" are tied for the Oscar lead. The competition between the front-runners does not heat up until later in the night, the two films nominated in categories that mostly come in the second half of the Oscar show.

The evening's last two categories, best director and picture, mark the two films' main rivalry, which is spiced up by a personal connection between "Hurt Locker" director Kathryn Bigelow and "Avatar" director James Cameron. They were married from 1989-91.

Cameron took the directing prize at the Golden Globes, but Bigelow earned the top honor from the Directors Guild of America, whose recipient almost always wins the same award at the Oscars.

If it happens, Bigelow would be the first woman in the 82-year history of the Oscars to win best director.

Screenwriter Boal thanked Bigelow, calling her an "extraordinary and visionary filmmaker," and dedicated his Oscar win to the troops still in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with those who did not make it home. Boal also affectionately recalled his father, who died a month ago.

"Up" earned the third-straight Oscar award for Disney's Pixar Animation, which now has won five of the nine awards since the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences added a category for animated features.

The film features Ed Asner providing the voice of a crabby widower who flies off on a grand adventure by lashing thousands of helium balloons to his house.

"Never did I dream that making a flip-book out of my third-grade math book would lead to this," said "Up" director Pete Docter.

Pixar has a likely contender in the wings for next Oscar season with this summer's "Toy Story 3," reuniting voice stars Tom Hanks and Tim Allen.

The country-music tale "Crazy Heart" won for original song with its theme tune "The Weary Kind."

The song category typically comes late in the show, after live performances of the nominees that have been spaced throughout the ceremony. Oscar producers tossed out those live performances this time in favor of montages featuring the songs and footage from the films they accompany.

"The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar" lead an expanded field of 10 best-picture nominees.

Either movie would represent a first at the Oscars. Cameron's "Avatar" would be the only science-fiction film ever to take home the best-picture prize. While war films have done well at the Oscars, Bigelow's "The Hurt Locker" would be the first winner centered on the war on terror, a subject that has stirred little interest among movie audiences shell-shocked by news coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The other eight films competing for best picture: the football drama "The Blind Side," the sci-fi thriller "District 9," the British teen tale "An Education," the World War II saga "Inglourious Basterds," the Harlem story "Precious: Based on the Novel 'Push' by Sapphire," the Jewish domestic chronicle "A Serious Man," the animated adventure "Up," and the recession-era yarn "Up in the Air."

Oscar hosts Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin opened the show with playful ribbing of nominees, including Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Woody Harrelson, Mo'Nique, Cameron and Bigelow. They also made note of Oscar organizers' decision to double the best-picture category from five films to 10.

"When that was announced, all of us in Hollywood thought the same thing. What's five times two?" Martin said.

Leaders of the Academy widened the best-picture category from the usual five films to expand the range of contenders for a ceremony whose predictability had turned it into a humdrum affair for TV audiences.

Oscar ratings fell to an all-time low two years ago and rebounded just a bit last year, when the show's overseers freshened things up with lively production numbers and new ways of presenting some awards.

The overhaul continued this season with a show that farmed out time-consuming lifetime-achievement honors to a separate event last fall and hired Martin and Baldwin as the first dual Oscar hosts in 23 years.

Audience darling Bullock is the best-actress favorite for "The Blind Side," which brought her the first Oscar nomination of her career. Jeff Bridges, nominated four times previously without a win, looks like a lock for best actor for the country-music tale "Crazy Heart."

Both Bullock and Bridges already had won other awards this weekend. At Friday's Spirit Awards honoring independent film, Bridges earned the best-actor prize for "Crazy Heart."

On Oscar eve Saturday night, Bullock won the worst-actress prize at the Razzies for her romantic comedy flop "All About Steve." A good sport about her worst-actress nomination throughout awards season, Bullock was a rare winner who showed up to accept her Razzie, tugging a little red wagon full of DVDs of "All About Steve" for the Razzies audience.


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Sarkozy to ‘speculators’: Lay off Greece (AP)

Sunday, March 7th, 2010 | Finance News

PARIS – Speculators beware: The euro zone's biggest powers will back Greece through the debt crisis that has jeopardized all 16 nations in the common currency, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said Sunday.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, in Paris as part of a four-city tour seeking firmer EU and U.S. support for new austerity measures to rein in its massive budget gap, received from Sarkozy the most outspoken support for his plans yet.

The French leader, coveting the chance to play the statesman with regional French elections to begin next Sunday, issued a warning to traders who would bet against the euro zone's willingness to defend a member state. And in a show of high-stakes poker with speculators, he purposely didn't detail what measures the bloc might take.

Papandreou's government has committed to a severe austerity plan to reduce Greece's massive 12.7 percent budget deficit, and has warned that going to the International Monetary Fund is an option if a European solution is not found.

"The Greek government ... took the measures asked of it. Euro zone states must now be ready to take theirs," Sarkozy told a news conference alongside Papandreou at the French presidential palace.

"Of course, the future of Greece is in question, but it's also that of Europe being played out," Sarkozy said. "Europeans have created a common currency — all the countries that share this currency must show solidarity."

Sarkozy, who along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel is seeking to calm markets and bring down Greece's high borrowing costs, didn't spell out any specific ideas.

"Concrete, precise methods exist — ones we don't need to communicate about tonight, certainly not," he said. "But they will allow us — when the time comes — to show that Greece isn't just supported politically but supported in all the aspects of its eventual requests."

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde is working with her European counterparts, the European Central Bank and the EU's executive Commission "on a certain number of precise measures," Sarkozy said.

"If Greece needs them (the measures), we'll be there," he said. "Speculators ... must know that 'solidarity' means something."

France, Germany and Greece will take a common initiative to fight speculation, and the euro zone's two biggest economic powers "have decided to do what's necessary so that Greece is not isolated," Sarkozy said.

Papandreou insisted he's not looking for money, but the ability to raise money in the debt market on the same interest-rate terms as those in other European countries. Because Greece's national debt is considered more risky in the market, Athens must pay high interest rates to lenders — and that in turn hampers its ability to pay down its debt.

"What we ask is for an intervention so we can borrow," he said, without specifying.

Papandreou also suggested the euro-zone should consider creating a "European Monetary Fund" that could support a member in times of crisis, though he acknowledged that such a move would require changing EU treaties.

After the news conference with Sarkozy, Papandreou told reporters that Germany, France, Greece and the informal eurogroup would in coming days detail how they plan to deal with credit default swaps on sovereign debt — the forms of insurance against a borrower defaulting on its obligations.

The need for Greece to seek help from the IMF has now receded, Papandreou said, but added that the option was still open. He said talks are under way in the EU toward finding a mechanism that would allow Greece to reduce its borrowing costs, though he did not specify.

Papandreou's stop in Paris was the third of a four-stop swing aimed to drum up support for measures announced last week that cut civil servants' pay, froze pensions and hiked fuel, alcohol, sales and other taxes.

He left Paris Sunday for Washington, where he was scheduled to meet Monday with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama on Tuesday. On Friday, he visited Luxembourg and Berlin.

Papandreou's Socialist party came to power in October and shocked Europe by quickly revising the government's budget deficit to 12.7 percent of gross domestic product for 2009 from below 4 percent earlier that year.

"The situation we inherited was worse than our worst nightmare," Papandreou said in a statement to a Greek newspaper.

Sarkozy is seen as far more sympathetic to Greece's problems than Merkel. The French leader spoke for about 45 minutes Sunday with Merkel before meeting with Papandreou.

The austerity plan, approved by Greece's Parliament on Friday, has sparked strikes and violent demonstrations. Protesters clashed with riot police in central Athens and a new general strike has been called for Thursday, on top of another planned for March 16.