Thursday, 24 March 2011

Japanese stocks fall, Portugal on brink of bailout

Japan's problems are far from over. From AFP/CNA on Wednesday:

Japanese shares fell sharply after Tokyo authorities said levels of radioactive iodine exceeded safe limits for infants for two consecutive days amid a deepening food radiation scare...

The Nikkei 225 index lost 158.85 points to 9,449.47. The Topix index slipped 7.03 points, or 0.81 percent, to 861.10...

The impact of the quake and tsunami on production facilities exposed to power blackouts and a fractured supply chain weighed on automakers scrambling to restart factories.

Nissan Motor fell 2.90 percent at 703 yen and Toyota, which will not carry out auto assembly until at least Saturday, was down 1.19 percent at 3,305 yen.

The recovery in the Japanese economy now looks seriously threatened, notwithstanding February's export numbers reported by Bloomberg today:

Japan’s export growth accelerated in February, before the nation’s strongest earthquake killed thousands, shut factories and caused power shortages, in a disaster that may disrupt trade for months.

Overseas shipments rose 9 percent in February from a year earlier, from January’s 1.4 percent gain, the Finance Ministry said in Tokyo today. The median estimate of 16 economists surveyed by Bloomberg News was for a 9.1 percent gain.

But even before concerns over Japan fade, concerns over European sovereign debt are returning, this time focused on Portugal. From Bloomberg:

Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates tendered his resignation after plans to cut the budget were rejected by parliament, pushing the country closer to an international bailout.

President Anibal Cavaco Silva said late yesterday he will meet the main parties on March 25 and the government will retain its powers until he accepts Socrates’s resignation. The vote came hours before European Union leaders meet in Brussels to sign off on measures aimed at drawing a line under the region’s sovereign debt crisis.

Earlier on Wednesday, the euro area had reported a small increase in industrial orders in January. Again from Bloomberg:

European industrial orders increased for a fourth month in January, led by demand for intermediate goods such as car engines and steel, adding to signs the economy is gathering strength.

Orders in the euro area rose 0.1 percent from December, when they increased 2.7 percent, the European Union’s statistics office in Luxembourg said today. Economists had forecast a gain of 1 percent, the median of 15 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey showed. Orders jumped 21 percent from a year earlier.

But for the US housing sector, there was more grim news on Wednesday. Bloomberg reports:

Purchases of new U.S. homes unexpectedly declined in February to the slowest pace on record and prices dropped to the lowest level since December 2003, adding to evidence the industry is floundering.

Sales decreased 16.9 percent to a 250,000 annual pace, figures from the Commerce Department showed today in Washington. Economists surveyed by Bloomberg News projected a gain to a 290,000 rate, according to the median estimate. The median price fell 8.9 percent from the same month in 2010.

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