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    05 April 2009

    [BUSINESS]Trade Gap Probably Held at Six-Year Low: U.S. Economy Preview

    The U.S. trade gap in February probably held at a six-year low as the worst global slump since World War II caused exports and imports to collapse, economists said ahead of a government report this week.

    A deficit of $36 billion, the same as in January, is the median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg News before the Commerce Department’s April 9 report. Other figures the same day may show the cost of imported goods increased in March for the first time in eight months as fuel prices rebounded.

    Flagging sales overseas will keep depressing U .S. economic growth as manufacturers, already in a yearlong freefall, cut payrolls, output and inventories. The gloomy outlook prompted world leaders, meeting in London last week, to pledge more than $1 trillion to stem the slump in world trade .

    “The combination of a global recession and the global credit crunch are causing worldwide trade to dry up,” said Jay Bryson, a global economist at Wachovia Corp. in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The worst part for the trade deficit will be here in the first half of the year.”

    While consumer spending has shown signs of stabilizing this year after plunging in the last six months of 2008, the improvements may not be enough to lead to a pickup in import purchases, economists said.

    Any gain would probably be caused by the rebound in fuel costs. The price of crude oil on the New York Mercantile Exchange averaged $48.11 a barrel in March, up from $39.26 the month before.

    Prices Up

    Rising oil probably contributed to a projected 0.9 percent gain in the cost of imported goods, the first increase since July, according to the survey median ahead of a Labor Department report on April 9.

    Forecasts are calling for a decline in global trade , sapping overseas demand for American-made goods. The World Bank last month projected trade will fall 6.1 percent worldwide. Earlier in March the World Trade Organization predicted a 9 percent drop.

    Another report from Commerce this week is likely to show inventories at U .S. wholesalers fell in February for a sixth straight month, indicating companies may trim orders going into the second quarter.

    Weak sales are contributing to job cuts as firms rein in labor costs to weather the recession, now in its second year. Employers cut 663,000 workers from payrolls in March, and the jobless rate surged to 8.5 percent, the highest level in more than a quarter century, the Labor Department reported last week.

    FedEx Corp., the second-largest U .S. package-shipping company, said last week it is eliminating 1,000 jobs as part of a plan to save $1 billion as sales drop.

    The “global economic reality” made the job cuts “unavoidable,” Maury Lane, a FedEx spokesman, said in an April 3 telephone interview.

    [BUSINESS]HSBC Shareholders Take Up 97% of Stock in Rights Sale

    HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank, said investors ordered 97 percent of the shares in its 12.5 billion-pound ($18.5 billion) rights offer.

    HSBC sold the shares to existing investors for 254 pence each, 41 percent less than the close on April 3 in London. The sale was the U.K.’s biggest ever rights offer.

    “As a result of the rights issue, HSBC is well-positioned for the uncertain economic environment and for growth opportunities,” HSBC said in an e-mailed statement today.

    HSBC will use the money to increase capital and finance acquisitions that fit with the company’s strategy of expansion in emerging markets. The bank is closing consumer finance operations in the U.S., the biggest source of the bad loans that forced HSBC to take $53 billion of provisions over three years.

    The stock sale lifts London-based HSBC’s tier 1 capital ratio to 9.8 percent from 8.3 percent, HSBC said. The bank targets a range of 7.5 percent to 10 percent.

    Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. were lead underwriters for the share sale. BNP Paribas SA, Credit Suisse Group AG, Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, Citigroup Inc., Societe Generale SA, Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Nomura and ING Groep NV, also underwrote the offering, according to a note sent to clients and obtained by Bloomberg.

    Billionaire Li Ka-shing and a group of Hong Kong investors are underwriting at least $1.1 billion of the offering, which closed at 11 a.m. on April 3 in London.

    HSBC said it met with more than 350 institutional investors to promote the sale.

    MGM Mirage Said to Hire Morgan Stanley to Evaluate Casino Bids

    MGM Mirage has hired investment bank Morgan Stanley to evaluate bids for regional casinos in Michigan and Mississippi, a person close to the gaming company said.

    Potential buyers have expressed interest in combinations of the assets, said the person, who declined to be named yesterday because the discussions are private. Las Vegas-based MGM Mirage owns the MGM Grand Detroit, the Beau Rivage in Biloxi and the Gold Strike in Tunica.

    Property sales would help lower debt and could aid MGM Mirage in finding a broader solution to issues that weigh on the company and its CityCenter joint venture on the Las Vegas Strip. Partner Dubai World has sued and asked to be relieved of its funding obligations, a move that threatens to throw the unfinished project into bankruptcy. MGM Mirage also risks default on its $7 billion senior credit facility.

    Morgan Stanley spokesman Mark Lake didn’t return voice and e-mail messages left outside of business hours yesterday.

    MGM Mirage , controlled by 91-year-old Kirk Kerkorian, is working to come up with a long-term plan to fund CityCenter by April 13. The project’s banks waived defaults for two weeks on the senior secured credit facility after MGM Mirage made a $200 million construction payment on March 27 that covered Dubai World’s half.

    Los Angeles-based buyout firm Colony Capital LLC has held discussions with MGM Mirage and Dubai World that include a possible investment in CityCenter, a person familiar with the discussihons said on April 1.

    Australian billionaire James Packer’s Melbourne-based gambling company, Crown Ltd., is discussing an investment alongside Colony, the Wall Street Journal reported on April 3. Last month, Crown called off a planned $1.75 billion takeover of Cannery Casino Resorts LLC, owner of three Nevada casinos and the Meadows racetrack near Pittsburgh.

    CityCenter Funds

    MGM Mirage and Dubai World are obligated to fund about $800 million more in construction costs before they can access a $1.8 billion loan to complete the project. MGM can provide its share, said company spokesman Alan Feldman.

    “We have the money to complete CityCenter,” Feldman said today in an interview. He declined to comment on speculation regarding Packer’s role.

    Geoff Kleeman, a spokesman for Melbourne-based Crown, didn’t return voicemail messages left by Bloomberg News after business hours. A Dubai World spokesman declined to comment.

    MGM Mirage , the largest owner of casinos in Las Vegas with properties including the Bellagio, Luxor and MGM Grand, has seen cash flows decline as recession led the Strip to its biggest drop in gambling revenue on record last year.

    The company won a two-month reprieve from banks on March 18 to come up with a debt restructuring plan after auditors questioned the company’s ability to stay in business.

    Restructuring Plans

    The covenant waivers on the company’s $7 billion bank-loan facility were contingent on MGM Mirage and Dubai World continuing to fund construction on CityCenter.

    MGM Mirage is likely to pursue a combination of asset sales, bond buybacks, fresh secured loans and discounted debt exchanges, as well as raising new capital, Chief Executive Officer James Murren said in March. He completed the $775 million sale of the Treasure Island hotel on the Strip to investor Phil Ruffin in March.

    The Beau Rivage and MGM Grand Detroit may fetch between $1 billion and $2 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, citing analysts’ estimates.

    [BUSINESS]Dubai Companies Raise $2.84 Billion to Refinance Debt

    The Dubai Electricity & Water Authority, the state-owned utility, and the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority raised $2.84 billion in syndicated loans to repay their debt, making April a busy month for Gulf Arab debt issues.

    Dewa received a $2.2 billion loan from 18 international and local banks to refinance maturing debt, it said in an e-mailed statement today. The details of the facility will be announced on April 8. Dubai Civil Aviation raised $635 million in an Islamic Ijara loan to repay $1 billion of its debt, the Dubai government said in a separate statement.

    Abu Dhabi, the oil-rich emirate with the world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund, raised $3 billion on April 1 in its first sale of bonds in two years. Qatar, the world’s largest exporter of liquefied natural-gas, sold $3 billion of bonds on April 2 to fund companies hurt by the global credit crisis. These came after Borse Dubai Ltd. borrowed $2.5 billion in February to refinance a facility it used to buy stakes in Swedish exchange operator OMX AB and the London Stock Exchange.

    Dubai and its state-owned companies borrowed $80 billion to finance its transformation into a regional financial and tourist hub and the collapse of global credit markets last year sparked fears the emirate would default on loan obligations. Dubai government companies need to repay $10 billion of bonds and syndicated loans in the remainder of the year, $7 billion in 2010 and $25 billion in 2011, S&P analyst Farouk Soussa said last month. This doesn’t include money owed by banks.

    [WORLD]Obama promotes nuclear-free world

    Barack Obama has outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons in a major speech in Europe.

    The US president called for a global summit on nuclear security and the forging of new partnerships to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

    He said he hoped to negotiate a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

    North Korea's "provocative" rocket launch earlier in the day underscored the need for action, he said.

    [WORLD]Zimbabwe 'to re-engage with West'

    Zimbabwe's new coalition government has adopted a 100-day renewal plan aimed at mending ties with the West after years of isolation under Robert Mugabe.

    Ministers on a three-day retreat hammered out the plan which is meant to yield a new constitution by next year.

    Restrictions on foreign media are due to be lifted and human rights restored.

    Correspondents at the talks say there is some scepticism that such ambitious targets can be met in such a short space of time.

    [WORLD]Gunmen seize Darfur aid workers

    Gunmen have kidnapped two foreign aid workers in Darfur and are demanding a ransom for their release, Sudanese state media report.

    Aide Medicale Internationale confirmed that two of its workers, a Canadian and a French national, were abducted in southern Darfur on Saturday night.

    French officials say they are in contact with both the aid agency and the local authorities.

    Canada has said it is seeking information on the incident.

    [WORLD]Migrant bodies found in Pakistan

    Pakistani police have found 44 bodies inside a shipping container in what appears to have been a failed attempt at human trafficking.

    Some 150 people are said to have been inside the container, most of them Afghans. The victims suffocated.

    A number of survivors are being treated in hospital in the city of Quetta, in Baluchistan province.

    The container reportedly belongs to a firm supplying Nato in Afghanistan and the driver's whereabouts are unknown.

    Pakistan mosque blast 'kills 20'

    At least 20 people have been killed after a suicide bomber detonated a device at the entrance to a Shia mosque in north-east Pakistan, police say.

    Dozens of others were injured in the blast south of the capital, Islamabad.

    A religious congregation attended by upwards of 1,000 people was taking place at the mosque in the Chakwal area of Punjab province.

    A day earlier eight paramilitary soldiers were killed in a suicide attack on an Islamabad security base.

    Jackson fails to Overturn U.S. Auction

    A US judge has rejected a request from pop star Michael Jackson to stop an auction of the singer's possessions from taking place later this month.

    In March Mr Jackson filed legal action in Los Angeles claiming that Julien's Auction House had "effectively stolen" his property.

    "We have to proceed because we have no choice, said auctioneer Darren Julien, who claimed a contract was agreed.

    A further court motion to stop the sale will be heard on 15 April.

    North Korea Launches Rocket, Prompting Condemnation

    North Korea launched a rocket in defiance of a United Nations resolution, prompting condemnation from the U.S., Japan and South Korea. The UN Security Council will meet later today.

    President Barack Obama said the firing of the Taepodong 2 missile was “provocative” and “clear violation” of a Security Council resolution. The rocket failed to put its payload, which North Korea stated was a communications satellite, into orbit, the White House said.

    The launch represents an early test for Obama’s young presidency and may complicate efforts to get North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to return to six-nation talks aimed at eliminating his nation’s nuclear weapons program. The U.S., Japan and South Korea have accused the reclusive country of developing long- range missile technology to carry a nuclear device.

    “They are first of all trying to get the attention of the Obama administration, which has not said much about its North Korea policy,” said Bruce Cumings, author of “ North Korea : Another Country,” and a history professor at the University of Chicago. “They hope to show the prowess of their medium-range missiles to various buyers around the world.”

    While North Korea said it successfully launched the Kwangmyongsong-2 satellite, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said it did not.

    Gasparovic Re-Elected Slovak President in Runoff

    Slovak President Ivan Gasparovic won a second five-year term in a run-off election with the support of Prime Minister Robert Fico.

    Gasparovic, 68, defeated Iveta Radicova, a 52-year-old sociologist and a lawmaker for the largest opposition party, in a second round of elections yesterday, according to results released today by the Central Election Commission in Bratislava, Slovakia . Gasparovic took 55.5 percent of votes, while his challenger had 44.5 percent.

    The election was a test of Fico’s popularity after he led the country into the euro region in January and seeks to sustain policies to spend more on the welfare system as the economy slows. His Smer party has backed Gasparovic and billboards around the country show the two politicians under a “Together for Slovakia ” banner.

    Gasparovic isn’t a member of Smer, though he thought a “loss would be a failure of Smer and the coalition,” according to a recording by SITA news agency on Sme newspaper’s Web site.

    Radicova was minister of social affairs in the Cabinet of Fico’s predecessor Mikulas Dzurinda.

    Gasparovic was a parliamentary speaker under former Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar between 1994 and 1998, when the country was criticized for democratic shortcomings. He won his first presidential term five years ago, beating Meciar.

    The job of the Slovak president is largely ceremonial though its powers include appointing constitutional judges and vetoing legislation approved by parliament. A presidential veto can be overruled by a majority of all 150 lawmakers.

    Button Wins Again as Malaysian GP Cut Short by Rain

    British driver Jenson Button secured back-to-back victories for the first time in his career by winning the Malaysian Grand Prix after the race was cut short because of torrential rain.

    Button was leading Toyota’s Timo Glock on the 33rd of 56 laps when stewards at the Sepang International Circuit stopped the race just after 6 p.m. local time. BMW Sauber’s Nick Heidfeld was awarded second place, with Glock dropping to third.

    Button handed Brawn GP a second straight win since Ross Brawn took over the former Honda team pre-season and as some of the sport’s marquee teams continued to struggle. Button will collect just five points this time as drivers get half points when less than 75 percent of a race is completed.

    Officials called the Grand Prix off amid fading light about an hour after the action was halted. The race had been pushed back to a late start at the request of Formula One chief Bernie Ecclestone to attract bigger television audiences in Europe.

    “What a crazy race,” Button said at a televised news conference.

    Button, who had won just once before this season, surrendered the lead on the first turn as he dropped to fourth place in dry conditions before pulling ahead again as drivers went into the pits for multiple stops as the rain arrived.

    Standings

    Button, on 15 points, leads teammate Rubens Barrichello by 5, with Toyota’s Jarno Trulli 1 1/2 points further behind. Glock is fourth, another 1/2 point back. Record champion Ferrari failed to gain a point for the second straight race, while world champion Lewis Hamilton finished in seventh place.

    Hamilton was reported in the Sunday Times to be considering his future at McLaren after being stripped of third place at last week’s Australian Grand Prix for lying to stewards under team instructions.

    The race demonstrated how many teams are grappling to adapt to new technical rules, with Button lapping at least two seconds faster than all but those placed in the top seven. The next race takes place April 19 in China.

    The sport’s ruling body is hearing an appeal in Paris this month over Brawn GP’s use of diffusers at the first two races, with other teams including Ferrari claiming they are illegal.

    GM’s Chief Says Company, Stakeholders Need to Do More

    NEW YORK. General Motors Corp. Chief Executive Officer Fritz Henderson said the company and its stakeholders still need to do more as the automaker strives to meet a deadline for restructuring, in or out of bankruptcy.

    “The company still needs to pull together our people, our suppliers, our dealers, management executives, everyone, bondholders, retirees,” Henderson said in a recorded interview for CNN’s “State of the Union” program.

    “We need to go further and I think at this point it would be inappropriate for me to try to guess what that might be,” Henderson, 50, said, according to a transcript of the program released by CNN. “If the conclusion is you’ve got to go deeper and you’ve got to go faster, you can’t really afford to take anything off the table.”

    Henderson said he still favors restructuring the company outside of bankruptcy. In a separate interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” program, he said bankruptcy isn’t inevitable.

    ”It would only be prudent” to be prepared for all contingencies, he added, so “we can move fast.”

    New Plan

    GM, the largest U.S. carmaker, is trying to craft a new strategy for financial viability that cuts debt and boosts cash flow, probably by eliminating more jobs and closing additional plants. The U.S. government ordered the company to come up with a plan by June 1 to justify taxpayer aid that is keeping GM alive.

    David Axelrod, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said GM workers shouldn’t have to make “disproportionate” concessions. Speaking on “Fox News Sunday,” Axelrod said the United Auto Workers union has taken “huge concessions” already and that creditors and company executives must do the same.

    “What we shouldn’t do is ask that sacrifices of the workers be disproportionate,” he said.

    Henderson was chosen by the Obama administration to run GM after officials asked CEO Rick Wagoner to step down March 27. The administration also wants a majority of the 11-member board changed. The automaker’s acting chairman, Kent Kresa, said March 31 he wants to present six new candidates by August.

    GM Debt

    GM must shrink $27.5 billion in debt that bondholders have been reluctant to exchange for equity, and $20.4 billion in obligations to a union-run health-care fund. Henderson also has said GM needs to cut more deeply than its planned 22 percent reduction in so-called structural costs in North America to $26.3 billion from 2007’s level.

    Current GM plans, before any overhaul, call for eliminating 47,000 jobs globally, idling 5 assembly plants in the U.S. and shedding thousands of dealers.

    GM has received $13.4 billion in U.S. loans and asked for as much as $16.6 billion more when it submitted the Feb. 17 viability plan the government rejected.

    Chrysler LLC borrowed $4 billion and the administration is considering as much as $6 billion in additional aid for the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker, if it forms an alliance with Italy’s Fiat SpA. In 1980, then-Chrysler Corp. borrowed $1.2 billion in government-backed loans it repaid in 1983.

    Ford Motor Co., the second-largest U.S. automaker, is not seeking government support.

    A softening U.S. economy that is shedding jobs amid low consumer confidence adds to GM’s difficulties. U.S. auto sales tumbled 37 percent in March, and GM’s slid 45 percent.

    New autos sold in March at an annual rate of 9.86 million units, according to sales tracker Autodata Corp. of Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey. The rate averaged 16.8 million this decade through 2007.

    Star Madonna flies out of Malawi

    US pop star Madonna has left Malawi on a private jet after failing to adopt a second child from the country.

    Last week a Malawian court rejected the adoption over residency rules but the singer's lawyer has said that she will appeal against the ruling.

    The 50-year-old singer applied to adopt Chifundo James, whose name translates into English as Mercy, on Monday.

    Chifundo is in the same orphanage that previously housed David Banda, Madonna's first adopted child.

    NBC affiliate in Boston nixes new Jay Leno show.

    Whdh_2009_tv

    BOSTON -Boston's NBC affiliate says it will air a local newscast instead of Jay Leno's new 10 p.m. talk show.

    The move by WHDH has prompted a threat from NBC to strip the TV station of its network affiliation.

    Leno is leaving "The Tonight Show" in June, and his new prime-time program on NBC is scheduled to begin in September.

    Ed Ansin, who owns WHDH's parent company, told The Boston Globe he did not believe Leno's new show would be successful. He said the station would do better financially with a news show that competes with Fox-affiliated WFXT-TV's highly rated 10 p.m. newscast.

    NBC TV Network president John Eck said in a statement that WHDH's move is a "flagrant violation" of its contract with the network.

    © 2009 Asnycnow15 News.

    US father 'shoots his children'

    A father is suspected of having shot dead his five children at a trailer park in Washington state, then himself, after hearing his wife was leaving him.

    Police were called to the mobile home on Saturday after a visiting relative found nobody answered the door and saw a child's body through a window.

    Reports say the mother walked out during a row with her husband hours before the shooting.

    The youngest of the three girls and two boys was aged seven, and the eldest 16.

    Obama promotes nuclear-free world

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    Barack Obama has outlined his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons in a major speech in Europe.

    The US president called for a global summit on nuclear security and the forging of new partnerships to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

    He said he hoped to negotiate a new treaty to end the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.

    North Korea's "provocative" rocket launch earlier in the day underscored the need for action, he said.

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