Archive for September, 2010

EU finance ministers meet to settle bank taxes row

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | Finance News

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union finance ministers met on Friday in a fresh attempt to agree a common approach to taxing banks for the cost of crises although documents prepared by aides for the meeting showed agreement was unlikely.

Three years after the start of a banking and economic crisis, Europe is still grappling with the reform of its financial sector, and it remains unclear how its banks and financial markets will be governed.

The European Union recently waved through the creation of three new watchdogs to monitor banks, insurers and trading, a more far-reaching change than any being considered in Washington.

But the bloc's 27 countries remain bogged down over how to impose levies on banks. Although many politicians want to tax banks more, they disagree chiefly over what should be done with the money.

"Rendering these different national systems of levies fully compatible ... may prove to be a difficult task," officials write, adding that any new national levies should remain flexible so as to broadly fit within a European framework.

Germany and Britain have been among the first in Europe to introduce a modest levy on banks. Berlin would also like a tax on financial transactions, such as the trading of company shares.

France is in favor of both although it would only support a transaction tax if the international community were to follow -- a move seen as unlikely.

The three disagree, however, over what should be done with the money from a straight levy on bank profits. Germany is using revenue from its levy for an emergency fund while France and Britain want it for the public purse.

There are also divisions over whether banks should pay levies in their home country as well as foreign cities in which they operate. Repeated attempts to address this cacophony of differing approaches in Europe have so far led nowhere.

Sweden, which has its own bank levy but whose attempt to tax financial deals backfired when trading moved abroad, has warned against repeating its mistakes.

(Editing by James Dalgleish)

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New Yorkers buying bigger homes, prices stable

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | Finance News

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Manhattan apartment prices were up year-over-year in the third quarter as more residents bought larger apartments, according to reports released on Thursday by New York City's biggest brokerages.

The median price was $914,000, up 7.5 percent from a year earlier, according to a report from Prudential Douglas Elliman.

The Corcoran report said the median price was up 9 percent to $900,000 since last year.

"Prices are jumping because of a shift in the mix," said Jonathan Miller, who writes the Elliman report.

Studio apartments' share of the market fell by 8 percent while two-bedroom apartments' share rose by the same amount, he said.

The median price of a two-bedroom is about three times higher than a studio's median price.

"Buyers are purchasing larger apartments with more bedrooms," wrote Corcoran CEO Pam Liebman in her company's report. "With mortgage rates at their lowest levels in over thirty years, buyers are able to afford more expensive apartments for less money."

Stripping out the move into bigger apartments, prices were basically flat, Miller said.

"Market-wide price metrics have stabilized" and even in some cases improved, Liebman said.

Prices of new housing as opposed to resale on the West side rose compared with both last year and last quarter, while the median price of existing condominiums on the East side rose 28 percent, according to the Corcoran report.

Fewer sellers cut their prices, according to real estate website StreetEasy.com's report.

This quarter, 27.7 percent of Manhattan's listings sustained price cuts, but that is 14 percent less than last quarter and 29.4 percent less than a year ago.

Also, condo resales spent 17.5 percent less time on the market than last year, while co-ops spent 19 percent less time, StreetEasy.com said.

But high unemployment and tight credit remain constraints on the market, Miller said, although those who have credit of sufficient quality to obtain a mortgage are enjoying low rates.

"There is stabilization but it doesn't mean that we're done," he said. "There's some bumpy roads ahead. We'll probably see a bit more price weakness before we see a real recovery. This is not a recovery, it's a rebound, and there is a difference."

Manhattan's Midtown East section, within walking distance of its main office district, saw the most home closings, with 300 closings at a median price of $687,500, according to StreetEasy.com.

(Reporting by Helen Chernikoff, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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Asian stocks rise as China data boosts hopes

Thursday, September 30th, 2010 | Finance News

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SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Asian stocks rose on Friday as stronger-than expected economic data from China and the United States boosted confidence in the global economic recovery.

U.S. Treasury prices slipped as investors turned to stocks and the dollar held steady after dropping to an eight-month low against a basket of currencies the previous day.

Chinese manufacturing gathered momentum last month, handily beating market forecasts and providing further evidence that the economy is pulling smoothly out of a second-quarter slowdown.

The MSCI index of Asia Pacific stocks outside Japan (.MIAPJ0000PUS) was up 0.36 percent compared with a rise of 0.24 before the release of China's Purchasing Managers Index. The index gained more than 17 percent in the last quarter.

"This looks like the real deal. It's not just inventory correction. We think that end demand is picking up in China and the economy has stabilized after the summer lull," said Frederick Neuman, co-head Asian economics, HSBC in Hong Kong.

Japan's Nikkei average rose 0.5 percent on Friday, helped by short-covering after sharp falls the previous day and after U.S. economic data provided a degree of optimism.

New U.S. claims for jobless benefits fell last week, a sign of an improving labor market, while Midwest business activity grew more than expected in September. Also, U.S. second-quarter growth was revised a touch higher on firmer consumer spending.

"Japanese stocks are recouping some ground as investors appear to be correcting extreme pessimism triggered yesterday by the yen's advance and worries about European finance problems," said Koichi Nosaka, a market analyst at Securities Japan, Inc.

India is scheduled to release its manufacturing survey data later on Friday.

The dollar held steady at 83.55 yen, backing away from the previous day's low at 83.16 yen and moving further off last month's 15-year low below 83 which had prompted Japanese authorities to intervene for the first time in six years.

The euro paused below a five-month high on the dollar on Friday while the Australian dollar jumped on optimism that the strong data from China augured well for the country's resource exports.

(Additional reporting by Charlotte Cooper and Aiko Hayashi in TOKYO)

(Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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