Showing posts with label World. Show all posts
Showing posts with label World. Show all posts

Stocks end higher for sixth straight week, tech leads

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Nasdaq composite stock index closed at a 12-year high and the S&P 500 index at a five-year high, boosted by gains in technology shares and stronger overseas trade figures.

The S&P 500 also posted a sixth straight week of gains for the first time since August.

The technology sector led the day's gains, with the S&P 500 technology index <.splrct> up 1.0 percent. Gains in professional network platform LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc after they reported quarterly results helped the sector.

Shares of LinkedIn jumped 21.3 percent to $150.48 after the social networking site announced strong quarterly profits and gave a bullish forecast for the year.

AOL Inc shares rose 7.4 percent to $33.72 after the online company reported higher quarterly profit, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.

Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected, a positive sign for the global economy. The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in December, suggesting the U.S. economy likely grew in the fourth quarter instead of contracting slightly as originally reported by the U.S. government.

"That may have sent a ray of optimism," said Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

Trading volume on Friday was below average for the week as a blizzard swept into the northeastern United States.

The U.S. stock market has posted strong gains since the start of the year, with the S&P 500 up 6.4 percent since December 31. The advance has slowed in recent days, with fourth-quarter earnings winding down and few incentives to continue the rally on the horizon.

"I think we're in the middle of a trading range and I'd put plus or minus 5.0 percent around it. Fundamental factors are best described as neutral," Dickson said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> ended up 48.92 points, or 0.35 percent, at 13,992.97. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.54 points, or 0.57 percent, at 1,517.93. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 28.74 points, or 0.91 percent, at 3,193.87, its highest closing level since November 2000.

For the week, the Dow was down 0.1 percent, the S&P 500 was up 0.3 percent and the Nasdaq up 0.5 percent.

Shares of Dell closed at $13.63, up 0.7 percent, after briefly trading above a buyout offering price of $13.65 during the session.

Dell's largest independent shareholder, Southeastern Asset Management, said it plans to oppose the buyout of the personal computer maker, setting up a battle for founder Michael Dell.

Signs of economic strength overseas buoyed sentiment on Wall Street. Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand. German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.

Separately, U.S. economic data showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.

Earnings have mostly come in stronger than expected since the start of the reporting period. Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies now are estimated up 5.2 percent versus a year ago, according to Thomson Reuters data. That contrasts with a 1.9 percent growth forecast at the start of the earnings season.

Molina Healthcare Inc surged 10.4 percent to $31.88 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.

The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 3.6 percent at 13.02. The gauge, a key measure of market expectations of short-term volatility, generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.

"I'm watching the 14 level closely" on the CBOE Volatility index, said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research. "The break below it at the beginning of the year signaled the sharp rally in January, and a rally back above it could be a sign to exercise some caution."

Volume was roughly 5.6 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.

Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by almost 5 to 3.

(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Nick Zieminski, Kenneth Barry and Andrew Hay)

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Asian shares inch higher on solid China trade data

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares edged up on Friday after China's trade data for January handily beat forecasts to underscore a recovery trend, but prices were capped by investors seeking to book profits before next week's Chinese new year holidays.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> edged up 0.2 percent, wiping earlier losses when bearish sentiment was carried over from overnight after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi noted risks still facing the euro zone economy. The pan-Asian index rose to a 18-month high on Monday.

China said its exports grew 25.0 percent in January from a year ago, the strongest showing since April 2011 and well ahead of market expectations for a 17 percent rise, while imports also beat forecasts, surging 28.8 percent on the year.

"China's economic conditions are improving and the trade data confirms the continuation of a recovery trend. Not just the trade data but retail, production and investment flows clearly show that the economy bottomed out in the third quarter last year," said Hirokazu Yuihama, a senior strategist at Daiwa Securities in Tokyo.

U.S. stocks edged lower while disappointing results from French drugmaker Sanofi sent European shares down to 2013 closing lows.

Australian shares rose 0.5 percent while South Korean shares <.ks11> climbed 0.6 percent, on track to reverse six losing sessions as investors bought up auto shares after recent declines.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> fell 1.4 percent as investors took profits from the index's surge to a its highest level since October 2008 on Wednesday. <.t/>

"Asian markets are undergoing a pre-holiday adjustment, keeping prices top-heavy, with many opting to book profits. Prices have gained sharply over the past months, so a correction is healthy. But the upward trend in Asian equities markets remains intact," Daiwa's Yuihama said.


The euro was off its two-week lows hit the previous session as investors took Draghi's comments as signalling concerns about the euro and Europe's growth outlook, boosting the dollar <.dxy> to a one-month high against a basket of key currencies.

The euro edged up 0.1 percent to $1.3410, after slumping to a two-week low of $1.33705 on Thursday, but still below a 14-1/2-month high against of $1.3711 hit last week.

The ECB kept interest rates at a record low 0.75 percent at its policy meeting on Thursday. Draghi said the ECB will monitor the economic impact of a strengthening euro, feeding expectations the currency's climb could open the door to an interest rate cut.

While Draghi said the exchange rate was not a policy target but is important for growth and price stability, he also noted the euro's appreciation was a sign of returning confidence in the currency.

Spain sold more debt than planned on Thursday, auctioning over 18 percent of its full-year medium- and long-term funding target. The strong demand indicated easing worries about Madrid's financing ability despite political uncertainty over a corruption scandal.

The yen remained near lows against the dollar and the euro.

Data showed on Friday Japan logged a current account deficit for a second straight month in December, resulting in its smallest annual surplus on record in 2012, with evidence of deteriorating trade balances supporting the yen's weakening trend.

"Japan will remain a nation of current account surpluses but the surplus will not be as high as it used to be," said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute in Tokyo.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 93.53 yen after reaching 94.075 yen, its highest since May 2010 on Wednesday. The euro inched up 0.1 percent to 125.43 yen, having hit its strongest since April 2010 of 127.71 yen on Wednesday.

"Currencies are increasingly becoming part of the policy debate...In the case of the EUR, we believe that the bullish 'overshooting' trend will remain intact as ECB policy continues to promote an asset market friendly environment," Morgan Stanley said in a note.

Morgan Stanley added that the anticipation of the Bank of Japan taking bolder easing steps is set to keep the weak yen trend going, supporting global risk appetite.

U.S. crude futures and Brent were both up 0.2 percent to $96.01 a barrel and $117.48 respectively.

London copper added 0.5 percent to $8,241 a tonne.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Boeing working on 787 battery changes for fire risk: WSJ

(Reuters) - Boeing Co is working on battery design changes that would minimize fire risks on its grounded 787 Dreamliner and could have the passenger jet flying again as soon as March, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

Separately, U.S. aviation regulators said they would allow Boeing to make a one-off 787 flight from Texas to the aircraft maker's facility in Washington State, under strict conditions. Boeing said the plane, scheduled for delivery to China Southern Airlines , would be a "ferry" flight - used to relocate a plane without carrying passengers or conducting tests.

Regulators around the world grounded the technologically advanced 787 in mid-January after a battery fire in Boston and a second incident involving a battery on a flight in Japan.

Boeing is looking at changes within the 787's lithium-ion battery to keep heat or fire from spreading, though technical details have not yet been finalized or approved, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed government and industry officials. One of the paper's sources added that, under a best-case scenario, passenger flights could resume in March.

The Dreamliner's launch customer All Nippon Airways Co Ltd , which has the biggest fleet of the 250-seat planes, said it will cancel 1,887 flights, affecting more than 25,000 passengers, from March 1 to 30. The airline said on Thursday it had no information on Boeing's latest battery plans.

Boeing declined to comment on the newspaper report. GS Yuasa Corp , the Japanese firm that makes batteries for the 787, also declined to comment.


Air safety investigators from the United States and Japan have been investigating the battery incidents for three weeks. On Wednesday, the head of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said it was "probably weeks away" from completing its probe.

The NTSB is conducting the U.S. probe with help from Boeing, GS Yuasa, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and battery experts from other U.S. federal agencies. No one has yet identified what caused the battery failures.

In Tokyo, one official said Japanese regulators had not been notified of any breakthrough in the U.S. battery investigation. "The investigation will continue as scheduled. Resuming flights in March ... seems far too optimistic to me," said the official who didn't want to be named as the investigation is ongoing.

One source familiar with the investigation told Reuters that Boeing engineers sprang into action "almost immediately" after the first battery incident to ensure the company could meet special FAA-approved conditions to allow lithium-ion batteries on the aircraft. "They can't afford to sit around with their planes on the ground," said the source, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

Boeing was pursuing multiple solutions to mitigate and contain a fire if one started in the batteries, part of a determined effort to get the 787s back in the air while a more permanent solution - possibly even a different battery - was explored.

Three or four different approaches would be pursued to ensure the batteries did not breach their containment systems, even if they caught fire, said the source.


Boeing asked the FAA this week for permission to conduct new test flights of the 787, suggesting it is making progress in finding a solution to the problems, but the government agency has not yet announced a decision.

While that request is pending, the FAA said on Wednesday it would allow a one-time 787 "ferry" flight. The plane, with a minimum crew, would have to land immediately if the flight computer displays any battery-related messages. It was not immediately clear when the flight would take place.

Some 50 Dreamliners have been grounded while investigators try to solve the battery mystery.

Japan Airlines Co Ltd said this week it will talk to Boeing about compensation for the 787's grounding, which it expects to cost nearly $8 million from lost earnings through March. ANA has said it would seek compensation from Boeing once the amount of damages was clearer.

JAL said on Thursday it was also unaware of any Boeing plans to test new batteries.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal-Esa in Washington, Bill Rigby in Seattle, Peter Henderson in San Francisco and Mari Saito in Tokyo; Editing by Gary Hill, Bernard Orr, Eric Walsh, Andre Grenon and Ian Geoghegan)

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Dell to go private in landmark $24.4 billion deal

SAN FRANCISCO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Michael Dell struck a deal to take Dell Inc private for $24.4 billion in the biggest leveraged buyout since the financial crisis, partnering with the Silver Lake private equity firm and Microsoft Corp to try to turn around the struggling computer company without Wall Street scrutiny.

The deal, which requires approval from a majority of shareholders excluding Dell himself, would end a 24-year run on public markets for a company that was conceived in a college dorm room and quickly rose to the top of the global personal computer business - only to be rendered an also-ran over the past decade as PC prices crumbled and customers moved to tablets and smartphones.

Dell executives said on Tuesday that the company will stick to a strategy of expanding its software and services offerings for large companies, with the goal of becoming a full-service provider of corporate computing services in the mold of the highly profitable IBM. They played down speculation that Dell might spin off the low-margin PC business on which it made its name.

Dell did not give specifics on what it would do differently as a private entity, angering some shareholders who said they needed more information to determine whether the $13.65-a-share deal price - a 25 percent premium over Dell's stock price before buyout talks leaked in January - was adequate.

"This feels like the ultimate insider trade. Why weren't the plans and projections that Michael Dell has going forward been shared with me and other shareholders?" said Frederick "Shad" Rowe, general partner of Greenbrier Partners and a trustee of the $22 billion Texas Employees Retirement System. Rowe said he dumped about 400,000 shares of Dell on Tuesday, adding, "I was so irritated I didn't want to think about it anymore.

Dell spokesman David Frink said the board had conducted an extensive review of strategic options before agreeing to the buyout to ensure that the best interests of all stockholders were served.

Although Dell shares were trading at more than $18 a year ago, many analysts said they believed the majority of shareholders will accept the buyout because of pessimism over the growth prospects of the PC business.

"A private Dell is likely to more aggressively cut costs, in our view. But we think merely restructuring only postpones the inevitable, creating a value trap," said Discern Inc analyst Cindy Shaw. "Dell needs to do more than reduce its cost structure. It needs to innovate."

Dell was regarded as a model of innovation as recently as the early 2000s, pioneering online ordering of custom-configured PCs and working closely with Asian component suppliers and manufacturers to assure rock-bottom production costs. But it missed the big industry shift to tablet computers, smartphones and high-powered consumer electronics such as music players and gaming consoles.

As of 2012's fourth quarter, Dell's share of the global PC market had slipped to just above 10 percent from 12.5 percent a year earlier as its shipments dived 20 percent, according to research house IDC.

Some of Dell's rivals took pot shots at the deal, in unusually pointed comments that reflect how bitter the struggle is in a commoditized PC industry that has wrestled to reverse a decline in sales globally.

Hewlett-Packard Co, which itself has suffered years of turmoil in the face of challenges in the PC business, said in a statement that Dell's deal would "leave existing customers and innovation at the curb," and vowed to exploit the opportunity.

Lenovo, which consists largely of the former IBM PC unit, referred to the "distracting financial maneuvers and major strategic shifts" of its rival while emphasizing its own stability and strong financial position.

The deal will be financed with cash and equity from Michael Dell, $1 billion cash from private equity firm Silver Lake, a $2 billion loan from Microsoft Corp, and between $11 billion and $12 billion in debt financing from Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Credit Suisse and RBC Capital Markets.

The company said Michael Dell will contribute his 16 percent stake in the company but did not say how much cash he would inject. The company will now conduct a 45-day "go-shop" process in which others might make higher offers.

"Though we were hoping for a higher price, we trust that the Dell board has properly done its job by conducting a process open to any third-party offers and reviewing all strategic options," said Bill Nygren, who manages the $7.3 billion Oakmark Fund and $3.2 billion Oakmark Select Fund, which have a $250 million position in Dell.

"Should we hear evidence to the contrary, we'll raise a ruckus."

Sources with knowledge of the matter said Dell's board, advised by the Boston Consulting Group, had considered everything from a leveraged recapitalization to a breakup of the company before agreeing to the LBO.

Although the deal will load Dell with more debt, some Wall Street analysts said that was relatively low compared to the cash the company generates.

Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi said that if Dell were to use 40 percent of its annual cash flow of about $2.5 billion to $3 billion to pay down debt, a sale of the company in about five years could net Silver Lake, Mike Dell and other investors close to $10 billion, or 5 times free cash flow at the time.

Helped by acquisitions, Dell has been building a business selling servers, IT services and other products for corporate clients that - while still dwarfed by IBM's and HP's - is growing at a near-10 percent clip. Critics say it will not be easy for Dell to beat IBM and HP in this area, no matter what its corporate structure.

Sales of PCs still make up the majority of Dell's revenues. Dell said in a regulatory filing that no new job cuts were expected but it indicated more acquisitions down the road. The company has spent $13 billion since fiscal 2008 to acquire more than 20 companies including several large software and services companies as it seeks to reconfigure itself as a broad-based supplier of technology for big companies.

"We recognize this process will take more time," Chief Financial Officer Brian Gladden told Reuters. "We will have to make investments, and we will have to be patient to implement the strategy. And under a new private company structure, we will have time and flexibility to really pursue and realize the end-to-end solutions strategy."

Gladden said the company's strategy would "generally remain the same" after the deal closed, but "we won't have the scrutiny and limitations associated with operating as a public company."

Shares of Dell closed 1.1 percent higher at $13.42.


Michael Dell returned to the company as CEO in 2007 after a brief hiatus but has been unable to engineer a turnaround thus far. Analysts said Dell could be more nimble as a private company, but it will still have to deal with the same difficult market conditions.

There is little history to suggest whether going private makes such a transition easier. IBM's famously successful transition from hardware vendor to corporate IT partner took place while it was trading on public markets.

Freescale, formerly the semiconductor division of Motorola, was taken private in 2006 for $17.6 billion by a group of private equity firms including Blackstone Group LP, Carlyle Group and TPG Capital LP. Analysts say the resulting debt load hurt its ability to compete in the capital-intensive chip business. Freescale cut just under 5 percent of its work force last year as it continued to restructure.

Microsoft's involvement in the Dell deal piqued much speculation about a renewed strategic partnership, but the software company is providing only debt financing and Dell said there were no specific business terms attached to the transaction. Dell has long been loyal to Microsoft's Windows operating system, which has been at the heart of its PC business since its inception.

Microsoft's loan will take the form of a 10-year subordinated note with roughly 7 percent to 8 percent interest, a source close to the matter told Reuters.

The Dell deal would be the biggest private equity-backed leveraged buyout since Blackstone Group LP's takeout of the Hilton Hotels Group in July 2007 for more than $20 billion and is the 11th-largest on record.

The parties expect the transaction to close before the end of Dell's 2014 second quarter, which ends in July. News of the talks first emerged on January 14, although they reportedly started in the latter part of 2012. Michael Dell had previously acknowledged thinking about going private as far back as 2010.

J.P. Morgan and Evercore Partners were financial advisers, and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP was the legal adviser to the special committee of Dell's board. Goldman Sachs was financial adviser, and Hogan Lovells was legal adviser to Dell.

Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz was legal adviser to Michael Dell. BofA Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Credit Suisse and RBC Capital Markets were financial advisers to Silver Lake, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP was its legal adviser. Lazard Ltd advised Microsoft.

(Additional reporting by Aaron Pressman in Boston; Writing by Ben Berkowitz and Edwin Chan; Editing by Tiffany Wu, Leslie Gevirtz and Cynthia Osterman)

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Asian shares drop on euro zone worry, soft U.S. data

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares slid on Tuesday as investors saw opportunities to cash in from recent strong rallies in the face of weak U.S. data and worries that a potential political shake-up could disrupt the eurozone's efforts to resolve its debt crisis.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> tumbled 0.8 percent, dragged lower by a steep 1.8 percent fall in Hong Kong shares <.hsi>.

The euro took the brunt of renewed focus on the euro zone problems, having risen 2.3 percent so far this year against the U.S. dollar, up about 5.4 percent against sterling and 1.8 percent higher against the Australian dollar.

The euro eased 0.1 percent to $1.3496, retreating further from Friday's 14-1/2-month peak of $1.3711, ahead of the European Central Bank's policy meeting on Thursday.

The euro's fall helped euro/crosses recover, underpinning such currencies as the Australian dollar against the U.S. unit.

Aussie eased 0.1 percent to $1.0423 after the Reserve Bank of Australia kept its cash rate steady at 3.0 percent, as expected, having just cut in December.

Spain's opposition party on Sunday called for Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy to resign over a corruption scandal, an allegation Rajoy denies, pushing Spanish 10-year bond yields to six-week highs.

In Italy, 10-year Italian government bond yields hit their highest since late December, as chances of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi regaining power raised worries about Rome's ability to fix its fiscal problems.

"Markets have been increasingly comfortable with European risks over the past few months and are largely not positioned for this increase in political problems. The outcomes in Spain and Italy are far from certain and may represent stumbling blocks for further expansion in risk appetite," Barclays Capital said in a research note.

The yen took a breather, firming from lows against a broad range of currencies.

The dollar was down slightly at 92.31 yen after scaling its highest since May 2010 of 93.185 on Monday, while the euro eased 0.1 percent to 124.61 yen, off its loftiest since April 2010 of 126.97 hit on Friday.

"Markets are broadly undergoing a correction and the euro is definitely facing profit-taking, given the pace of its climb. Worries about the euro zone debt crisis always remain a downside risk for the euro, and could push it lower to $1.32-$1.33," said Hiroshi Maeba, head of FX trading Japan at UBS in Tokyo. "But the trend is still upward for dollar/yen, cross/yen. The dollar could reach 95 yen by the end of the month."

As long as markets hold out expectations for the Bank of Japan to implement aggressive monetary easing to beat decades of deflation in Japan, the yen will stay pressured. Any correction to the dollar's rise against the yen was also be seen as shallow, with many traders and analysts seeing a firm floor around 87-88 yen.

Relatively positive data from China on Tuesday failed to change the bearish mood, weighed down by a fall in overnight U.S. equities, which have rallied 6 percent so far this year, on discouraging U.S. factory orders and euro zone jitters.

The HSBC services purchasing managers' index rose to a four-month high of 54 in January from December's 51.7, underlining confidence in the world's second-biggest economy, which is expected to grow 8.1 percent this year, off a 13-year low of 7.8 percent hit in 2012.

"The data globally is unquestionably better but the recovery still seems gradual. (China) hit the bottom and they had a bit of a bounce but nothing much else happened. We don't really seem to have preconditions for a much stronger bounce than that (8 percent growth)," said Richard Yetsenga, Head of Global Markets at ANZ Research.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> fell 1.3 percent, after scaling a 33-month high on Monday. <.t/>

U.S. stocks slid on Monday, leaving the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> at its worst day since November after the index rose just 60-odd points away from its all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 on Friday.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Asian shares advance after U.S. jobs, ISM

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares advanced on Monday, drawing momentum from U.S. data showing some promise of a credible recovery, supported by Federal Reserve's easing plans and solid manufacturing data from Europe and China.

The yen took a break from heavy selling against the U.S. dollar and the euro, but fell to its lowest since August 2008 against the Australian and New Zealand dollars early on Monday on confidence of bold monetary support from the Bank of Japan to overcome the country's stubborn deflation.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.6 percent after posting a weekly gain of 0.7 percent.

"Asian shares are likely to take the cues from the rise in U.S. equities and prices of risk assets are generally expected to face upward pressures," said Naohiro Niimura, a partner at research and consulting firm Market Risk Advisory.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose to 14,000 for the first time since October 2007 and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> hit its highest point since December of that year.

U.S. data showed on Friday payrolls rose by 157,000 last month, with upward revisions for November and December, while the Institute for Supply Management said its index of national factory activity rose to its highest since April.

China followed with positive news over the weekend, saying growth in its official purchasing managers' index (PMI) for the non-manufacturing sector ticked up in January for the fourth straight monthly rise, confirming the world's second-largest economy was showing a modest recovery.

Resources-reliant Australian shares <.axjo> steadied after jumping 0.9 percent to a 21-month high on Friday. Positive economic news from China, Australia's largest export destination, usually boosts Australian investor sentiment.

South Korean shares <.ks11> were up 0.3 percent while Hong Kong shares <.hsi> added 0.7 percent.


Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> rose 0.5 percent after climbing to a fresh 33-month high earlier as the yen declined. The index logged its 12th straight week of increases last week, the longest run of weekly gains since 1959. <.t/>

Nikkei has been moving in tandem with the yen's two-month-long losing streak with investors eyeing the change in the BOJ's top personnel in April for clues on the degree of the bank's reflationary policy.

"The Nikkei may be nearing its peak for now as we may get a specific name of the most likely candidate for the next BOJ governor soon. That may provide an opportunity to close long dollar/yen positions, while a firming yen will then likely spur investors to book profits on Japanese stocks," said Tetsuro Ii, the chief executive of Commons Asset Management.

The dollar eased 0.1 percent to 92.72 yen after scaling its highest since May 2010 of 92.97 on Friday, while the euro fell 0.3 percent to 126.32 yen, still near its loftiest since April 2010 of 126.97 touched on Friday.

In early Monday trade, the yen plunged to its lowest since August 2008 against both the Australian dollar, at 96.78 yen, and against the New Zealand dollar at 78.74 yen.

The euro inched down 0.1 percent to $1.3624, off Friday's 14-1/2-month peak of $1.3711 hit after data showed euro zone factories had their best month in January in nearly a year.

On Friday, the dollar index measured against a basket of key currencies fell to a 4-1/2-month low of 78.918 <.dxy>. The index was up 0.2 percent on Monday.

As economic optimism rose and concerns about the euro zone's debt difficulties eased, investors took on more risk.

Research provider TrimTabs Investment Research said on Saturday investors poured a record $77.4 billion in new cash into stock mutual funds and exchange-traded funds in January, surpassing the previous monthly record of $53.7 billion in February 2000.

In the oil market, tension across the Middle East put Brent crude on track to its biggest weekly gain since mid-November, and U.S. crude rose for an eighth straight week, although it eased 0.2 percent to $97.56 a barrel on Monday.

With the rise in equities on recovering appetite for riskier assets, safe-haven appeal waned, pushing up yields of U.S. Treasury bonds. The U.S. 10-year Treasury yield hit a nine-month high of 2.052 percent in Asia on Monday.

A weekly gauge of sentiment in the Japanese government bond market deteriorated sharply, remaining in negative territory for a fifth straight week as rising global appetite for risk sapped demand for bonds, the latest Reuters poll showed on Monday.

(Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Battle-Scarred Skull of Suspected King Richard III Revealed

A battle-scarred skull discovered beneath a parking lot in England could be that of King Richard III, who died in battle in 1485.

The University of Leicester released the skull image — the first photo of the human remains that may belong to the English monarch — ahead of a big announcement on the identity of the bones, scheduled for Monday (Feb. 4) morning.

“The skull was in good condition, although fragile, and was able to give us detailed information about this individual,” Jo Appleby, an archaeologist at the University of Leicester, said in a statement.

Archaeologists had unearthed the skeleton, including its skull, last year in the choir of what was the medieval church Grefriars, which had been buried under a parking lot. Historical records suggested King Richard III was buried there after he died at the Battle of Bosworth Field, during the War of the Roses, an English civil war.

To get as close a look as possible at the skull, and find out whether it once held the English crown, researchers used computed tomography (CT) scanning.

“In order to determine whether this individual is Richard III we have built up a biological profile of its characteristics. We have also carefully examined the skeleton for traces of a violent death,” Appleby said. [See Images of the Skull & Search for Richard III's Grave]

Skeletal signs

Appleby and colleagues had good reasons to think the remains came from the famous king, best known through William Shakespeare’s fictional account of him in “Richard III.” For instance, not only was the skeleton male, it was found in the church choir area where historical records would suggest Richard III was buried. The skull also showed signs of being wounded, as if it were cut clean off his body with an axe or sword, something consistent with a battle death.

Scientists also found a barbed arrowhead in the skeleton’s spine, which showed signs of scoliosis. Such an abnormally curved spine would’ve made its owner’s right shoulder sit higher than the left, matching contemporary portrayals of Richard III. However, unlike some later accounts, the king was not a hunchback.

The CT scans will allow scientists to create a 3-D image of the body, over which they can place flesh; same goes for the skull, which the team plans to reconstruct to show what the man’s face would’ve looked like, though this procedure can be somewhat unreliable. The team also said they would analyze any DNA recovered from the bones. Such results could then be compared to those of a direct descendant of Richard’s sister, who was uncovered by John Ashdown-Hill, author of “The Last Days of Richard III.” From those remains, scientists have mitochondrial DNA, or the DNA inside the cell’s energy-making structures, which gets passed down only by mothers.

Strange tales

Richard III ruled from 1483 to 1485, becoming the last English king to die in battle. Though it was known the king was buried at the Franciscan Friary (known as Greyfriars) in Leicester, the grave and church itself were eventually lost. Even so, interest in the king led to some far-fetched grave tales about the grave’s whereabouts, including one purporting the bones were thrown into the Soar River. “Other fables, equally discredited, claimed that his coffin was used as a horse-trough,” Philippa Langley, a Richard III Society member, said in a statement.

The researchers started digging beneath the Leicester City Council parking lot on Aug. 25. Since then, they have found the church and a 17th-century garden marked by paving stones. Records suggest mayor of Leicester Robert Herrick built a mansion and garden on the medieval church site years after the king’s death, reportedly placing in the garden a stone pillar inscribed with, “Here lies the body of Richard III sometime King of England.” [10 Weirdest Ways We Deal With the Dead]

If the bones turn out to belong to King Richard III, where will they be re-interred? The University of Leicester has jurisdiction over the remains, and had said last year the remains would be buried under Leicester Cathedral.

However, other interested parties have their own opinions: The Richard III Foundation and the Society of Friends of Richard III, based in York, England, argue the remains should be reburied in York, since the king was fond of that city. The Richard III Society has remained officially neutral. Meanwhile, some online petitions have argued the reburial should take place at Westminster Abbey or Windsor Castle.

“If the identity of the remains is confirmed, Leicester Cathedral will continue to work with the Royal Household, and with the Richard III Society, to ensure that his remains are treated with dignity and respect and are reburied with the appropriate rites and ceremonies of the church,” the Very Reverend Vivienne Faull, the Dean of Leicester, said in a statement.

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"Great Rotation"- A Wall Street fairy tale?

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street's current jubilant narrative is that a rush into stocks by small investors has sparked a "great rotation" out of bonds and into equities that will power the bull market to new heights.

That sounds good, but there's a snag: The evidence for this is a few weeks of bullish fund flows that are hardly unusual for January.

Late-stage bull markets are typically marked by an influx of small investors coming late to the party - such as when your waiter starts giving you stock tips. For that to happen you need a good story. The "great rotation," with its monumental tone, is the perfect narrative to make you feel like you're missing out.

Even if something approaching a "great rotation" has begun, it is not necessarily bullish for markets. Those who think they are coming early to the party may actually be arriving late.

Investors pumped $20.7 billion into stocks in the first four weeks of the year, the strongest four-week run since April 2000, according to Lipper. But that pales in comparison with the $410 billion yanked from those funds since the start of 2008.

"I'm not sure you want to take a couple of weeks and extrapolate it into whatever trend you want," said Tobias Levkovich, chief U.S. equity strategist at Citigroup. "We have had instances where equity flows have picked up in the last two, three, four years when markets have picked up. They've generally not been signals of a continuation of that trend."

The S&P 500 rose 5 percent in January, its best month since October 2011 and its best January since 1997, driving speculation that retail investors were flooding back into the stock market.

Heading into another busy week of earnings, the equity market is knocking on the door of all-time highs due to positive sentiment in stocks, and that can't be ignored entirely. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> ended the week about 4 percent from an all-time high touched in October 2007.

Next week will bring results from insurers Allstate and The Hartford , as well as from Walt Disney , Coca-Cola Enterprises and Visa .

But a comparison of flows in January, a seasonal strong month for the stock market, shows that this January, while strong, is not that unusual. In January 2011 investors moved $23.9 billion into stock funds and $28.6 billion in 2006, but neither foreshadowed massive inflows the rest of that year. Furthermore, in 2006 the market gained more than 13 percent while in 2011 it was flat.

Strong inflows in January can happen for a number of reasons. There were a lot of special dividends issued in December that need reinvesting, and some of the funds raised in December tax-selling also find their way back into the market.

During the height of the tech bubble in 2000, when retail investors were really embracing stocks, a staggering $42.7 billion flowed into equities in January of that year, double the amount that flowed in this January. That didn't end well, as stocks peaked in March of that year before dropping over the next two-plus years.


Arguing against a 'great rotation' is not necessarily a bearish argument against stocks. The stock market has done well since the crisis. Despite the huge outflows, the S&P 500 has risen more than 120 percent since March 2009 on a slowly improving economy and corporate earnings.

This earnings season, a majority of S&P 500 companies are beating earnings forecast. That's also the case for revenue, which is a departure from the previous two reporting periods where less than 50 percent of companies beat revenue expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Meanwhile, those on the front lines say mom and pop investors are still wary of equities after the financial crisis.

"A lot of people I talk to are very reluctant to make an emotional commitment to the stock market and regardless of income activity in January, I think that's still the case," said David Joy, chief market strategist at Columbia Management Advisors in Boston, where he helps oversee $571 billion.

Joy, speaking from a conference in Phoenix, says most of the people asking him about the "great rotation" are fund management industry insiders who are interested in the extra business a flood of stock investors would bring.

He also pointed out that flows into bond funds were positive in the month of January, hardly an indication of a rotation.

Citi's Levkovich also argues that bond investors are unlikely to give up a 30-year rally in bonds so quickly. He said stocks only began to see consistent outflows 26 months after the tech bubble burst in March 2000. By that reading it could be another year before a serious rotation begins.

On top of that, substantial flows continue to make their way into bonds, even if it isn't low-yielding government debt. January 2013 was the second best January on record for the issuance of U.S. high-grade debt, with $111.725 billion issued during the month, according to International Finance Review.

Bill Gross, who runs the $285 billion Pimco Total Return Fund, the world's largest bond fund, commented on Twitter on Thursday that "January flows at Pimco show few signs of bond/stock rotation," adding that cash and money markets may be the source of inflows into stocks.

Indeed, the evidence suggests some of the money that went into stock funds in January came from money markets after a period in December when investors, worried about the budget uncertainty in Washington, started parking money in late 2012.

Data from iMoneyNet shows investors placed $123 billion in money market funds in the last two months of the year. In two weeks in January investors withdrew $31.45 billion of that, the most since March 2012. But later in the month money actually started flowing back.

(Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Obama Honors Astronauts Who Gave Their Lives for Space

President Barack Obama paid tribute to the seven astronauts who died in the space shuttle Columbia accident 10 years ago, along with all of those who lost their lives in the pursuit of space, in a statement released today (Feb. 1).

Space exploration and the sacrifice these pioneers made benefits us all,” Obama said in the statement. “Today, we honor their lives and recommit ourselves to living up to their shining example.”

NASA held a ceremony today commemorating the loss of Columbia and its crew, as well as the deaths of seven astronauts when the shuttle Challenger was destroyed shortly after liftoff on Jan. 28, 1986, and the tragic Apollo 1 capsule ground fire on Jan. 27, 1967, which took the lives of three astronauts.

“We will never forget these astronauts nor all those who have lost their lives carrying out our missions of exploration,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “These explorers, and their families, have our deepest respect. We work every day to honor and build on their legacy and create the best space program in the world — to infuse it with the life and vitality that they worked so hard to achieve.” [Columbia Shuttle Disaster Explained (Infographic)]

Obama reiterated his support for NASA’s past achievements, as well as for its future, which includes building a new spacecraft and heavy-lift rocket to take people to the moon, asteroids and Mars.

“As we undertake the next generation of discovery, today we pause to remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice on the journey of exploration,” Obama said. “Right now we are working to fulfill their highest aspirations by pursuing a path in space never seen before, one that will eventually put Americans on Mars.”

The president acknowledged that space remains a difficult, risky business, but one worth pursuing.

“The exploration of space represents one of the most challenging endeavors we undertake as a nation,” Obama said. “Whether it’s landing a 1-ton rover on Mars, building a space telescope 100 times more powerful than the Hubble, or preparing to send humans beyond the Moon, it’s imperative America continues to lead the world in reaching for the stars while giving us a better understanding of our home planet.”

Many in NASA were working for the agency at the time of the Challenger shuttle accident, and even more were there for the Columbia disaster. For those who knew the crews personally, and worked alongside them, the anniversaries are especially poignant.

“Today, I laid wreaths at Arlington National Cemetery for these fallen heroes, and at the Kennedy Space Center, wreaths were laid at the Space Mirror Memorial. Across the country, all flags at NASA Headquarters and the NASA centers will be flown at half-mast in memory of our colleagues lost in the cause of exploration,” Bolden said. “And while those gestures will signify to the nation and the world that we have not forgotten, as we look to the future, we will each remember in our own personal way our colleagues and friends, and what their work meant to us. Together we will carry them with us in our hearts as we propel ourselves to the next big horizon and make their dreams reality.”

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz or @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+

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Hundreds of Slime-Covered Seabirds Wash Ashore, Puzzle Scientists

A mysterious greasy substance has been found on hundreds of seabirds — some dead, others injured — that have been washing up along England‘s south coast.

The birds, mostly guillemots, have been discovered along beaches from Weymouth to Torquay covered in the waxy film; many have very sore legs, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has been rescuing the slime-coated creatures.

Environmental officials with the U.K.’s Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), who are investigating the case, still don’t know where the greasy substance came from, but they believe it is a “refined mineral-based oil mixture.”

“Initial analysis indicates that the contaminant is a refined mineral oil and further analysis results are awaited,” Stan Woznicki, the MCA’s head of counter pollution, said in a statement Friday. [In Photos: Major Oil Disasters at Sea]

“We have not received any specific reports of pollution within the English Channel area, but today we sent one of our counter pollution surveillance aircraft to investigate,” Woznicki added. “It covered the sea areas between Dover and the Isles of Scilly, but no pollution was detected.”

MCA officials said the initial findings indicate that the substance is not palm oil, as had been suggested by at least one scientist. Simon Boxall, of the UK’s National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, had issued a statement saying he suspected palm oil may have been accidentally spilled or illegally dumped from a cargo ship crossing the English Channel. In any case, Boxall said that finding the source of the spill likely will be difficult.

“To put it into perspective: the English Channel covers about 30,000 square miles. A slick from an illegal dump would be at most 1 square mile,” Boxall said. “That’s a bit like trying to find an averagely-sized village in England, but with no clue where it is, and it’s moving around!”

While this mysterious spill is not common, it’s not unique, either. “There was a large palm iil spill along the south coast [of England], which affected the bird life and did eventually hit the coast,” Boxall told LiveScience. “It was assumed to be from illegal tank washing, but never tracked to the criminal ship.”

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Surprise! Oil Companies Vastly Underreport Size of Oil Spills

In November 2012, BP agreed to pay $ 4.5 billion in fines and plead guilty to criminal charges related to the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster. As part of their plea agreement, company executives admitted they had misled Congress and the American public by providing false information about the extent of the oil spill.

BP fudged the numbers in a big way, which left some researchers wondering how accurately “minor” oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico were being reported by the dozens of other companies with leases to drill. 

Oceanographers at Florida State University (FSU) teamed up with SkyTruth, a West Virginia nonprofit that uses satellite images to track environmental pollution, to assess whether “minor” oil spills were being minimized in official documentation. 

FSU graduate student Samira Daneshgar Asl analyzed 67 satellite images and found that manmade slicks were as much as 13 times larger than the estimates reported by oil companies to the National Response Center, the branch of the U.S. Coast Guard that collects information on oil and chemical spills in U.S. waters. 

The results were presented last week at the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill and Ecosystem Science Conference in New Orleans, at a presentation originally reported on by Nature.

“There were one or two cases where we saw less oil than what was reported. But in most other cases, we saw longer slicks, larger areas, and greater volumes than what was reported, usually by a factor of 10 or more,” Ian MacDonald, an oceanographer at Florida State University, told TakePart.

MacDonald and his collaborator John Amos, president of SkyTruth, have a background in using satellite images to detect small oil slicks caused by natural seeps in the ocean floor. They soon realized that you could use the same technology to detect human-caused oil spills. “Satellite imagery became a critically important tool to determine that the oil spill was 20 to 25 times larger than BP was saying it was in the first week of the spill,” Amos said in an interview with TakePart.

Until the BP oil disaster, reports by the federal government showed that there were more natural seeps in the Gulf of Mexico than there were manmade spills. “Pro-drilling politicians and oil industry spokespeople could say, ‘nature pollutes the Gulf more than we do,’ ” Amos told TakePart. “But the main source of information available were pollution reports submitted by the polluters themselves.”

Following the BP oil disaster, Amos and MacDonald turned their attention to the dozens of other companies operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The discrepancies were significant.

The next step, Ian MacDonald told TakePart, is to publish the data in a peer-reviewed journal so that it can be established as part of the scientific record. MacDonald and his team plan to use the published study to advocate for the expanded use of satellite surveillance of the Gulf of Mexico. “It demonstrates that [satellite images] can be used as a component of coastal monitoring and in some ways it’s more accurate and sensitive than relying on user observations,” he said. 

The researchers believe that independent monitoring is an essential component of increasing transparency and accountability in the management of our nation’s natural resources.

“It may not be so easy to dismiss the cumulative environmental impact of offshore oil and gas development when we’ve demonstrated that we don’t really accurately know how much pollution goes along with that development,” Amos said. “Right now the public is totally in the dark, relying on the polluters themselves. That is totally unacceptable.” 

Related Stories on TakePart:

• Are We Prepared to Accept the Risks of a Four-Degree Warming?

• Starvation Diet: Climate Change Takes Bite Out of the Giant Pandas’ Food Supply

• Op-Ed: Expanding on the Moral Logic of Climate Communication

Alison Fairbrother is the director of the nonpartisan Public Trust Project, which investigates and reports on misrepresentations of science by corporations and government. She has written for the Washington Monthly, the Washington Spectator, Grist, and Politics Daily, among others. Alison is based in Washington DC. @adfairbrother |

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Asian shares off highs, Fed's stance underpins markets

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares took a breather from recent rallies on Thursday though sentiment was underpinned by the U.S. Federal Reserve's pledge to retain its stimulus policy and on signs of stabilization in the euro zone.

Positive economic reports from Asia failed to lift markets as investors continued to assess regional earnings results and ahead of key data such as China's official manufacturing PMI and U.S. monthly nonfarm payrolls on Friday.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> fell 0.4 percent after rising 1.3 percent over the past two sessions to nearly an 18-month high. The index was set for a monthly gain of about 2.4 percent.

Australian shares <.axjo> eased 0.4 percent, taking a breather from their 10-day winning streak, the longest in more than nine years, which hoisted local shares to 21-month highs.

"Certainly 2013 has started with an air of optimism. U.S. politicians show some willingness to deal with problems, no fresh issues have emerged in Europe and the Chinese economy is exhibiting firmer growth. Volatility has receded with investors keen to put cash to work in other asset classes," said Craig James, a strategist at CommSec in Sydney.

Southeast Asian stock markets were generally softer but remained near their highs. The Philippines <.psi> hit a record high for the third day running on Wednesday and Thailand's <.seti> market surged to a more than 18-year high on Wednesday.

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday kept in place its monthly $85 billion bond-buying stimulus plan, arguing the support was needed to lower unemployment.

Underscoring the Fed's cautious view, data on Wednesday showed the U.S. economy unexpectedly contracted in the fourth quarter. Still, a lot of that weakness came from a plunge in defense spending, suggesting the underlying fundamentals were not as bad as the headline figures indicated.

In Asia, the data on Thursday provided cause for optimism. Taiwan raised its economic growth forecast for 2013, after the fourth quarter expanded faster than expected and posted its best growth in five quarters on improved demand for the island's electronics exports and stronger consumption.

"Taiwan's economic growth will be better this year as Europe's outlook is becoming positive, it will have a bigger rebound as an export-oriented economy," said Scott Chen, economist at Sinopac Commercial Bank in Taipei.

The Philippines said on Thursday its economy grew 1.5 percent in the December quarter from the previous three months, better than market forecasts.


Japan's benchmark Nikkei stock average <.n225> shed 0.6 percent after soaring 2.3 percent to a 33-month high the day before, taking its cue from the yen firming from fresh lows hit on Wednesday. <.t/>

"It's too early to take profit," a trader at a foreign bank said. "People should look for names which are still undervalued, still haven't moved (in line with the rally in the Nikkei) and could outperform."

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approach of revitalizing Japan's economy through an aggressive mix of fiscal steps and monetary easing is expected to keep the yen on a weakening path.

The dollar eased 0.3 percent to 90.81 yen after reaching 91.41 yen on Wednesday, its highest since June 2010. The euro also fell 0.3 percent to 123.24 yen, after hitting 123.87 on Wednesday, its peak since May 2010.

Japan's December factory output rose at the fastest pace in a year and a half and firms expect further gains, raising hopes that stabilizing global demand and exports will help pull the economy from its slump.


The euro held near a 14-month high of $1.3588 scaled on Wednesday.

Reports from the euro zone on Wednesday underscored views that the debt crisis-hit region may be overcoming the worst, with economic sentiment improving more than expected across all sectors in January and a gauge for the phase of the business cycle also rising this month.

"The rise in the EUR is a sign of the success of the European Central Bank on the credit front, which matters far more than a short term rise in EUR/USD. Money is flowing into Europe and from North back to the South or from ECB funding to money market funding," Sebastien Galy, strategist at Societe Generale, said in a note to clients.

Spot gold hovered near its one-week high of $1,683.39 an ounce reached on Wednesday.

U.S. crude futures steadied around $97.93 a barrel and Brent crude was up 0.2 percent to $115.09.

(Additional reporting by Dominic Lau in Tokyo and Miranda Maxwell in Melbourne; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Shri Navaratnam)

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Green thumb? Wash. state looks for pot consultant

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) — Wanted: A green thumb with extensive knowledge of the black, or at least gray, market.

As Washington state tries to figure out how to regulate its newly legal marijuana, officials are hiring an adviser on all things weed: how it’s best grown, dried, tested, labeled, packaged and cooked into brownies.

Sporting a mix of flannel, ponytails and suits, dozens of those angling for the job turned out Wednesday for a forum in Tacoma, several of them from out of state. The Liquor Control Board, the agency charged with developing rules for the marijuana industry, reserved a convention center hall for a state bidding expert to take questions about the position and the hiring process.

“Since it’s not unlikely with this audience, would a felony conviction preclude you from this contract?” asked Rose Habib, an analytical chemist from a marijuana testing lab in Missoula, Mont.

The answer: It depends. A pot-related conviction is probably fine, but a “heinous felony,” not so much, responded John Farley, a procurement coordinator with the Liquor Control Board.

Washington and Colorado this fall became the first states to pass laws legalizing the recreational use of marijuana and setting up systems of state-licensed growers, processors and retail stores where adults over 21 can walk in and buy up to an ounce of heavily taxed cannabis.

Both states are working to develop rules for the emerging pot industry. Up in the air is everything from how many growers and stores there should be, to how the marijuana should be tested to ensure people don’t get sick.

Sales are due to begin in Washington state in December.

Washington’s Liquor Control Board has a long and “very good” history with licensing and regulation, spokesman Mikhail Carpenter said.

“But there are some technical aspects with marijuana we could use a consultant to help us with,” Carpenter said.

The board has advertised for consulting services in four categories. The first is “product and industry knowledge” and requires “at least three years of consulting experience relating to the knowledge of the cannabis industry, including but not limited to product growth, harvesting, packaging, product infusion and product safety.”

Other categories cover quality testing, including how to test for levels of THC, the compound that gets marijuana users high; statistical analysis of how much marijuana the state’s licensed growers should produce; and the development of regulations, a category that requires a “strong understanding of state, local or federal government processes,” with a law degree preferred.

Farley said the state hopes to award a single contract covering all four categories, but if no bidder or team of bidders has expertise in all fields— regulatory law, statistical analysis and pot growing — multiple contracts could be awarded. Or bidders who are strong in one category could team up with those who are strong in another. Bids are due Feb. 15, with the contract awarded in March.

Habib, the chemist, said she’s part of a team of marijuana and regulatory experts from Montana who are bidding for the contract. They’re fed up with federal raids on medical dispensaries there.

“We want to move here and make it work. We want to be somewhere this is moving forward and being embraced socially,” she said.

Khurshid Khoja, a corporate lawyer from San Francisco, wore a suit and sat beside a balding, ponytailed man in a gray sweatshirt — Ed Rosenthal, a co-founder of High Times magazine and a recognized expert on marijuana cultivation. They’re on a team bidding for the contract.

“I’ve seen the effect of regulation of marijuana all my life,” Khoja said. “I’d like to see a more rational, scientific approach to it.”

Several people asked whether winning the contract, or even subcontracting with the winning bidder, would preclude them from getting state licenses to grow, process or sell cannabis. Farley said yes: It would pose a conflict of interest to have the consultant helping develop the regulations being subject to those rules. But once the contract has expired, they could apply for state marijuana licenses, he said.

After the questions ended, the bidders mingled, exchanging business cards and talking about how they might team up. One Seattle-area marijuana grower, a college student who declined to give his name after noting that a dispensary he worked with had been raided by federal authorities in 2011, approached Rosenthal.

“It would be my dream to smoke a bowl with you after this,” he said.


Johnson can be reached at

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Asian shares gain on global recovery outlook, eyes Fed

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares rose to their highest level in nearly 18 months on Wednesday as strong U.S. data further boosted investor confidence in global economic outlook, ahead of the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy decision due later in the session.

Optimism over economic recovery on strong U.S. housing market and China's economic growth forecast for 2013 raised expectations for stronger demand for fuel and industrial commodities, underpinning oil prices and lifting copper.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> rose 0.6 percent, building on the previous day's 1 percent rally which snapped a four-day losing streak. Gains were led by a 1 percent rise in the energy sector <.miapjen00pus>.

London copper added 0.6 percent to $8,153.25 a tonne while U.S. crude oil held steady around $97.58 a barrel after rising more than 1 percent on Tuesday on expectations of higher demand. Brent also was steady around $114.35.

"Sentiment has changed this year, with signs of stabilization in the euro zone, a U.S. economic recovery and a shift to a new Chinese political regime removing obstacles which had stood in the way of investors taking risks last year," said Xiao Minjie, an independent economist based in Tokyo.

"Domestic demand holds key this year. Beijing's drive to urbanise inner China will boost infrastructure spending while Southeast Asia will also likely see expansion in domestic demand accelerating," he said.

Global stock markets rose on Tuesday as earnings from U.S. companies have generally beaten forecasts so far, with the latest upbeat results from Amazon boosting the company's stock 10 percent, while European equities scaled fresh two-year highs.

Commodity-reliant Australian shares <.axjo> inched up 0.2 percent after hitting a fresh 21-month high as top miners climbed on firmer copper prices.

"Shares are probably the most attractive asset," said Shane Oliver, head of investment strategy at AMP Capital. "Despite the rebound over the last year, Australian shares are offering relatively attractive starting-point dividend yields."

Hong Kong shares <.hsi> jumped 1 percent and Shanghai shares <.ssec> rose 0.3 percent.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> advanced 1.1 percent. <.t/>


The Fed ends a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday, and few market watchers expect any near-term shift in its current, very accommodative stance.

But investors will focus on the statement for any clues to the Fed's thinking on if and when it might pull back from its aggressive easing stimulus. The minutes from the December meeting, released earlier this month, hinted at uneasiness within the Fed around its asset-buying program and sparked a sell-off in Treasuries and lifted yields up out of ranges.

"We see a prospect for sustained asset-price reflation in coming months, the result of G3 stimulus efforts and structural reallocation flows," said Morgan Stanley said in a research note.

"This has three implications: Reflation would lend support to higher-yielding emerging markets assets, safe-haven assets would continue to weaken, and expectations about emerging markets policy would likely shift."

The yen remained under pressure with the Bank of Japan set to pursue strong monetary easing as the Abe administration pushes for radical reflationary policies to end stubborn deflation.

The dollar rose 0.3 percent to 90.98 yen, near Monday's 91.32, its highest level since June 2010. The euro also gained 0.3 percent to 122.78 yen, not far from 122.91 also touched on Monday, its highest point since April.

The prospect of continued weakness in the yen and rising risk appetite lifted the Australian to four-year highs on the yen on Wednesday, while New Zealand dollars hovered near its highest against the yen in four years.

Aussie rose as high as 95.29 yen while Kiwi rose as high 76.26 yen, close to 76.37 set Friday, its strongest since 2008.

The euro traded at $1.3493, after scaling a 14-month high of $1.3498 on Tuesday.

Spot gold was nearly flat at $1,664.11 an ounce, above the key 200-day moving average at $1,662.92.

(Additional reporting by Miranda Maxwell in Melbourne; Editing by Eric Meijer & Kim Coghill)

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Babies Start ‘Mind Reading’ Earlier Than Thought

Even babies as young as a year-and-a-half can guess what other people are thinking, new research suggests.

The results, published today (Jan. 29) in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society: B, come from a study of children spanning the globe, from rural China to the more remote islands of Fiji. Previously, scientists thought this ability to understand other people’s perspectives emerged much later in children.

The findings may shed light on the social abilities that differentiate us from our closest living relatives, chimpanzees, said study author H. Clark Barrett, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles. The study used a form of the false-belief test, one of the few cognitive tasks that young children, but not primates, can do.

Humans are “very good at inferring other people’s mental states: their emotions, their desires and, in this case, their knowledge,” Barrett said. “So it could play an important role in cultural transmission and social learning.” [That's Incredible! 9 Brainy Baby Abilities]

Classic test

In the classic test of children’s understanding called the false-belief task, one person comes into a room and puts an object (such as a pair of scissors) into a hiding place. A second person then comes in and puts the scissors into his pocket, unbeknownst to the first individual. When that first person returns, someone will ask the child, “Where do you think the first person will look for the scissors?”

The task is tricky because the children need to have a theory of mind, or an ability to understand other people’s perspectives, in this case that of the individual who didn’t see the scissors being retrieved by another.

By ages 4 to 7, most children in Western countries can answer that the first person will look in the original hiding place, because the individual doesn’t know the scissors have moved. But children across the globe tend to give that answer at different ages.

However, past work showed that if researchers don’t ask babies the question, but instead follow the infants’ eye movements, the children seem to understand the concept much earlier. Barrett and his colleagues wondered whether cultural differences in dealing with adults could be obscuring the amazing cognitive leap children were taking. 

Universal understanding

To find out, the researchers studied almost all of the available children in three communities in China, Fiji and Ecuador from ages 19 months to about 5 years (about 91 children in total).

The team created a live-action play with a very similar set-up to the classic false-belief test: A man leaves some scissors hidden in a box, while another person comes in and puts them into his pocket.

During the play, as he is pocketing the scissors, the second person pauses, “chin in hand, looking at the ceiling and says, ‘Hmm, I wonder where they’ll look for the scissors,’” Barrett told LiveScience.

The researchers then video recorded the children’s reactions to the play.

The youngsters consistently looked at the box, showing that the little ones expected the first man to search for the scissors where he had left them. Understanding what the first person believes, and also what he doesn’t know, required the children to make sophisticated inferences about other people’s knowledge.

Early development

The findings show that children develop this mind-reading ability of sorts years earlier than previously thought, and that this development looks the same across many different cultures.

The finding suggests that the skill itself is universal and that other cultural differences may have muddied previous experiments.

For instance, in many societies, parents don’t make a habit of asking children rhetorical questions like, “What is the cow doing?” when the adults already know the answer.

Children in those cultures may be confused by those questions and might think, “Why are you asking me, you should know it?” Barrett said.

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Asian shares rise, cautious before Fed, U.S. data

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares rose on Tuesday as recent selling drew bargain hunters, but investors were cautious ahead of more U.S. economic reports and a Federal Reserve policy decision later in the week that may offer clues to the Fed's stimulus plans.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> advanced 0.7 percent to snap a four-day losing streak, led by a 1.1 percent jump in Australian shares <.axjo> to a fresh 21-month high on gains in financials shares.

South Korean shares <.ks11>, which slumped to an 8-week low on Monday, rebounded 0.8 percent.

Japan's Nikkei stock average <.n225> reversed earlier declines and rose 0.6 percent, buoyed by optimism over earnings of major banks. It briefly touched a fresh 32-month high above 11,000 on Monday. <.t/>

The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> eased slightly on Monday after an eight-day winning run but held above 1,500 points, after closing above that level on Friday for the first time in more than five years.

Risk appetite has been improving overall with U.S. earnings generally solid. A rise in a gauge of planned U.S. business spending in December added to a recent run of positive global economic data, along with signs of easing financial stress in the euro zone. Euro zone blue chips touched fresh 18-month peaks on Monday.

More solid U.S. growth indicators would, however, fuel speculation the Fed may consider pulling back on aggressive easing stimulus. The Fed ends a two-day policy meeting on Wednesday. The first estimate of U.S. fourth-quarter gross domestic product also will be released on Wednesday, followed by non-farm payrolls on Friday.

"Ahead of key events, markets are likely to stay in ranges. But with yields on U.S. Treasury and German government bonds inching higher, one might say investors may be shifting funds to riskier assets from safe-havens," said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.

"That's part of the reason why the euro has stayed firm," he said.

Saito said while a rise in U.S. yields underpins the dollar against the yen, they were likely to be capped with end-month selling from exporters and options lined up between 90.50 and 91.50 yen.

The benchmark U.S. 10-year note yield briefly pierced 2 percent on Monday for the first time since last April, and inched up 1 basis point (bps) in Asia from New York close. The 10-year Japanese government bond yield also rose.

Naka Matsuzawa, fixed income strategist at Nomura Securities, said in a research that 5-year Treasuries have sold off about 10 bps over the last two days and breached 0.80 percent that has served as a support since April 2012, a sell-off which "would not have occurred unless expectations of an economic recovery have gained ground to the extent that the monetary policy outlook begins to change."

"The market is aware that risks are toward more hawkish FOMC statements in the future rather than dovish ones," considering a pick-up in the U.S. economic recovery and stock market rally, as well as the underlying global risk-on trend, he said.


Yen selling paused, helping to bolster the benchmark South Korean stock index which is vulnerable to exchange rate swings as exporters lead market capitalization.

The dollar fell 0.1 percent to 90.78 yen after touching 91.32 on Monday, its highest level since June 2010, while the euro recouped earlier losses against the yen to steady around 122.14 yen after hitting 122.91 on Monday, its highest point since April.

The euro steadied against the dollar at $1.3456.

The pound fell to $1.5687 GBP=D4, near its lowest since August, in part because of comments from incoming Bank of England Governor Mark Carney that there was still scope for monetary policy to do more in the developed world.

"The prospect of more activist monetary policy is not exactly an encouraging one for GBP, certainly not as it comes on top of a host of other negative developments - an economy that is triple-dipping, a government that is struggling to cut its deficit, and soul-searching about the UK's role within the EU," wrote analysts at JPMorgan in a note.

But a more positive global growth outlook underpinned commodities.

U.S. crude rose 0.2 percent to $96.67 a barrel and Brent inched up 0.1 percent to $113.54.

London copper gained 0.2 percent to $8,065.50 a tonne.

Gold inched up 0.3 percent to $1,659.66 an ounce but was capped by receding investor appetite for safe-haven assets.

(Editing by Eric Meijer & Kim Coghill)

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For NASA, a Somber Week of Space Disaster Anniversaries

This week marks a somber time for NASA, with the anniversaries of three U.S. spaceflight disasters recalling the memories of those astronauts who made the ultimate sacrifice in the pursuit of space exploration.

On Friday (Feb. 1), NASA will pause to honor the memories of the three astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 fire of 1967, the seven astronauts killed in the Challenger shuttle disaster in 1986, and the seven astronauts who died when the space shuttle Columbia broke apart during re-entry on Feb. 1, 2003. This year’s Day of Remembrance ceremony is especially poignant — it will mark the 10th anniversary of the Columbia disaster that led to the end of the space shuttle program.

“NASA’s Day of Remembrance honors members of the NASA family who lost their lives while furthering the cause of exploration and discovery,” NASA officials wrote in an announcement. “Flags across the agency will be flown at half-staff in their memory.”

NASA will hold a televised ceremony on Friday at the Kennedy Space Center’s Space Mirror, a memorial to astronauts who died during spaceflight. The service, hosted by the Astronaut Memorial Foundation, will begin at 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) and be webcast live via NASA TV. will carry the NASA video stream live.

NASA chief Charles Bolden — a former space shuttle commander — will pay tribute with other NASA officials during an observance at the astronaut memorial at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. [Columbia Shuttle Disaster: Share Your Thoughts]

NASA’s spaceflight tragedies

On Jan. 27, 1967, Apollo 1 astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee were killed when a fire broke out in their crew capsule during a ground test  a month before their planned launch. It was NASA’s first mission-related tragedy and led to a safety investigation into the Apollo spacecraft. Two years later, in July 1969, the agency’s Apollo 11 mission landed the first astronauts on the moon.

On Jan. 28, 1986, 19 years and a day after the Apollo 1 fire, NASA’s space shuttle Challenger broke apart 73 seconds after liftoff due to an O-ring failure in one of the orbiter’s twin solid rocket boosters. The malfunction allowed hot gas to escape the rocket booster, ultimately causing the shuttle’s external fuel tank to explode. [NASA's Fallen Astronauts: A Photo Memorial]

Killed in the explosion were astronauts Francis “Dick” Scobee, Ronald McNair, Mike Smith, Ellison Onizuka, Judy Resnik, Greg Jarvis and Connecticut teacher Christa McAuliffe. McAuliffe was slated to become the first teacher in space during the mission, boosting national attention on the spaceflight. It would take NASA three years to resume flying the shuttle.

Today, the nonprofit StoryCorps released a video to honor the memory of Ronald McNair, the second African-American in space. The video commemorates McNair’s childhood in Lake City, S.C., and his path to space.

NASA’s final space shuttle disaster occurred 17 years after the Challenger accident, when Columbia broke apart during re-entry, killing its STS-107 astronaut crew. The crew was commanded by veteran astronaut Rick Husband and included pilot Willie McCool, mission specialists Kalpana Chawla, Laurel Clark and David Brown, payload commander Michael Anderson and payload specialist Ilan Ramon, Israel’s first astronaut.

Unlike Challenger, which was destroyed during launch, the Columbia shuttle disaster occurred as the orbiter was coming home after a marathon 16-day science mission. Columbia broke apart due to heat shield damage on the leading edge of the orbiter’s left wing. The damage, which occurred during Columbia’s launch when a piece of fuel tank foam struck the wing, allowed hot atmospheric gases into the wing, leading to the orbiter’s destruction.

This image of the STS-107 shuttle Columbia crew in orbit was recovered from wreckage inside an undeveloped film canister. The shirt colors indicate their mission shifts. From left (bottom row): Kalpana Chawla, mission specialist; Rick Husband, commander; Laurel Clark, mission specialist; and Ilan Ramon, payload specialist. From left (top row) are David Brown, mission specialist; William McCool, pilot; and Michael Anderson, payload commander. Ramon represents the Israeli Space Agency.

The Columbia disaster led directly to the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet and its replacement with new capsule-based spacecraft designed for deep-space exploration. The last space shuttle missions flew in 2011, with NASA’s remaining orbiters — Discovery, Atlantis and Endeavour — and the test shuttle Enterprise arriving at their final museum homes in 2012 for public display.

NASA currently relies on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft to fly Americans to and from low-Earth orbit, though the agency plans to rely on new private spacecraft to ferry astronauts  on trips to and from the International Space Station once they become available in 2015 or so.

Space memorials from coast to coast

Several of NASA’s space centers will hold memorials this week to honor the Apollo, Challenger and Columbia astronauts in different ways.

In Houston, Johnson Space Center officials will join the Sabine County Columbia Memorial Committee for three days of events at the Patricia Huffman Smith NASA Museum in Hemphill, Texas. On Wednesday (Jan. 30), NASA’s Digital Learning Network at JSC will host two educational events with Hemphill High School students, at 10:45 a.m. CST and 2 p.m. CST.

On Thursday (Jan. 31), astronaut Tim Kopra and JSC director Ellen Ochoa will speak at the Family Life Center of the First Baptist Church in Hemphill at NASA night. Astronaut Bill McArthur will join Kopra and Ochoa on Friday to share remarks at a memorial service at the church at 7:30 a.m. CST, NASA officials said.

In California, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, just south of San Francisco, will hold a memorial ceremony at its Exploration Center beginning at 10 a.m. PST on Friday.

“The Exploration Center also will unveil an exhibit to pay tribute to NASA astronaut and STS-107 space shuttle Columbia Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla, a friend and colleague to the Ames community during her tenure as an astronaut candidate,” Ames officials said in an announcement.

The Ames tribute will include an exhibit of Columbia mission memorabilia that includes some of Chawla’s personal belongings, items and awards, which will be on display through March 25, center officials said.

You can follow Managing Editor Tariq Malik on Twitter @tariqjmalikFollow for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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