Banks face ‘decisive’ two years

Mark Carney says that 2013 and 2014 are going to be decisive years for financial sector reform

The incoming governor of the Bank of England has said the next two years will be “decisive” for bank reform.

Mark Carney, current governor of the Bank of Canada, said “shadow banking” and the issue of “too big to fail” would be tackled.

The 2008 crisis would be repeated if unregulated financial activities – blamed for amplifying the meltdown – went unchallenged, he said.

He also warned that central banks alone could not eliminate “tail risks”.

He said that, contrary to some reports, tail risks – essentially worst-case scenarios – in Europe and the United States remained.

Shadow banks are companies that operate like banks but fall outside current oversight.

“The next two years will be decisive on ending ‘too big to fail’ [for banks] and addressing shadow banking and over-the-counter derivatives, that absolutely amplified the last crisis – and will do so again if we don’t complete our agenda,” he told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Continue reading the main story

The calm mood in sunny Davos is open to interpretation. It might be tempting to see it as a reflection of hope that the global economy is back on track and picking up pace.

But equally, it could be taken as a sign of exhaustion, bringing pause to an economic crisis that has been long and tiring.

Nobody here expects a sharp and sudden recovery, especially not in the US or the eurozone.

But these days, politicians and business leaders seem happy as long as they are not in the eye of a storm.

Over-the-counter derivatives – unregulated because they are privately negotiated between two parties – were blamed for exacerbating the financial system.

Mr Carney takes up his new position at the Bank of England in June.

His comments could hint at what is to come when he succeeds Sir Mervyn King at the Bank, which has seen its financial regulatory powers increase since the financial crisis.

Meanwhile, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde, who was also present on the panel with Mr Carney, warned that countries should keep up with reforms, especially in the eurozone, to pursue banking and fiscal union while keeping pace with structural reforms.

BBC News – Business

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Celebrate Valentine’s Day at Medieval Times

BUENA PARK, CA–(Marketwire – Jan 26, 2013) – Capture the romance of medieval times this Valentine’s Day at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament. The Buena Park castle is offering a special Valentine’s Couples Package from February 8 – 17.

The deal includes two admissions to the castle tournament and a four-course feast, double-sided frame with photo, a Valentine scroll, split of champagne*, two commemorative champagne glasses, a sweetheart rose, a cheering wand, two knights cheering flags, and two admissions to the Museum of Torture. The special price is $ 99 ($ 200 value).

This special offer at Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament in Buena Park is valid for all shows from February 8 – 17, 2013. Simply ask for the Valentine’s Couples Package when making your reservation to receive this special offer. May not be combined with any other offer or group rate. Tax, gratuity and applicable fees are additional. Upgrades are additional. Not valid on prior purchases. Call 1-888-WE-JOUST (935-6878) or visit for information and reservations.

* Nonalcoholic drinks are available for guests under 21

Medieval Times Dinner & Tournament’s California Castle is located at 7662 Beach Blvd. in Buena Park, CA. Medieval Times is North America’s No. 1 dinner attraction and Orange County’s Celebration Destination.

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Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.

Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.

The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.

"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."

The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.

The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.

That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.


All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.

Energy shares <.5sp10> lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials <.5sp20>, up 6.3 percent. Telecom <.5sp50>, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.

More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt> recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.

"If you peel back the onion a little bit, you start to look at companies like Precision Castparts , Honeywell , 3M Co and Illinois Tool Works - these are big, broad-based industrial companies in the U.S. and they are all hitting new highs, and doing very well. That is the real story," said Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Gradient Investments, in Shoreview, Minnesota.

The gains have run across asset sizes as well. The S&P small-cap index <.spcy> has jumped 6.7 percent and the S&P mid-cap index <.mid> has shot up 7.5 percent so far this year.

Exchange-traded funds have seen year-to-date inflows of $15.6 billion, with fairly even flows across the small-, mid- and large-cap categories, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group, in New York.

"Investors aren't really differentiating among asset sizes. They just want broad equity exposure," Colas said.

The market has shown resilience to weak news. On Thursday, the S&P 500 held steady despite a 12 percent slide in shares of Apple after the iPhone and iPad maker's results. The tech giant is heavily weighted in both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> and in the past, its drop has suffocated stocks' broader gains.


In the last few days, the ratio of stocks hitting new highs versus those hitting new lows on a daily basis has started to diminish - a potential sign that the rally is narrowing to fewer names - and could be running out of gas.

Investors have also cited sentiment surveys that indicate high levels of bullishness among newsletter writers, a contrarian indicator, and momentum indicators are starting to also suggest the rally has perhaps come too far.

The market's resilience could be tested next week with Friday's release of the January non-farm payrolls report. About 155,000 jobs are seen being added in the month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.8 percent.

"Staying over 1,500 sends up a flag of profit taking," said Jerry Harris, president of asset management at Sterne Agee, in Birmingham, Alabama. "Since recent jobless claims have made us optimistic on payrolls, if that doesn't come through, it will be a real risk to the rally."

A number of marquee names will report earnings next week, including bellwether companies such as Caterpillar Inc , Inc , Ford Motor Co and Pfizer Inc .

On a historic basis, valuations remain relatively low - the S&P 500's current price-to-earnings ratio sits at 15.66, which is just a tad above the historic level of 15.

Worries about the U.S. stock market's recent strength do not mean the market is in a bubble. Investors clearly don't feel that way at the moment.

"We're seeing more interest in equities overall, and a lot of flows from bonds into stocks," said Paul Zemsky, who helps oversee $445 billion as the New York-based head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. "We've been increasing our exposure to risky assets."

For the week, the Dow climbed 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.5 percent.

(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)

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Azarenka beats Li, defends Australian Open title

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka had the bulk of the crowd against her. The fireworks were fizzling out, and when she looked over the net she saw Li Na crashing to the court and almost knocking herself out.

Considering the cascading criticism she'd encountered after her previous win, Azarenka didn't need the focus of the Australian Open final to be on another medical timeout.

So after defending her title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Li in one of the most unusual finals ever at Melbourne Park, Azarenka understandably dropped her racket and cried tears of relief late Saturday night.

She heaved as she sobbed into a towel beside the court, before regaining her composure to collect the trophy.

"It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do," the 23-year-old Belarusian said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me."

There were a lot of those things squeezed into the 2-hour, 40-minute match. Li, who was playing her second Australian Open final in three years, twisted her ankle and tumbled to the court in the second and third sets.

The second time was on the point immediately after a 10-minute delay for the Australia Day fireworks — a familiar fixture in downtown Melbourne on Jan. 26, but not usually coinciding with a final.

Li had been sitting in her chair during the break, while Azarenka jogged and swung her racket around before leaving the court to rub some liniment into her legs to keep warm.

The 30-year-old Chinese player had tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle and had it taped after falling in the fifth game of the second set. Immediately after the fireworks ceased, and with smoke still in the air, she twisted the ankle again, fell and hit the back of her head on the hard court.

The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately by a tournament doctor and assessed for a concussion in another medical timeout before resuming the match.

"I think I was a little bit worried when I was falling," Li said, in her humorous, self-deprecating fashion. "Because two seconds I couldn't really see anything. It was totally black.

"So when the physio come, she was like, 'Focus on my finger.' I was laughing. I was thinking, 'This is tennis court, not like hospital.'"

Li's injury was obvious and attracted even more support for her from the 15,000-strong crowd.

Azarenka had generated some bad PR by taking a medical timeout after wasting five match points on her own serve in her semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens on Thursday. She came back after the break and finished off Stephens in the next game, later telling an on-court interviewer that she "almost did the choke of the year."

She was accused of gamesmanship and manipulating the rules to get time to regain her composure against Stephens, but defended herself by saying she actually was having difficulty breathing because of a rib injury that needed to be fixed.

That explanation didn't convince everybody. So when she walked onto Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, there were some people who booed, and others who heckled her or mimicked the distinctive hooting sound she makes when she hits the ball.

"Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things," she said. "That's what makes it so special for me. I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy."

She didn't hold a grudge.

"I was expecting way worse, to be honest. What can you do? You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she said. "It's a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open. I was there to play that.

"The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, and it was left behind me already."

The match contained plenty of nervy moments and tension, and 16 service breaks — nine for Li. But it also produced plenty of winners and bravery on big points.

Azarenka will retain the No. 1 ranking she's mostly held since her first Grand Slam win in Melbourne last year.

Li moved into the top five and is heartened by a recent trend of Australian runner-ups winning the French Open. She accomplished that in 2011, as did Ana Ivanovic (2008) and Maria Sharapova (2012).

"I wish I can do the same this year, as well," Li said.

Later Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan won their record 13th Grand Slam men's doubles title, defeating the Dutch team of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4.

Sunday's men's final features two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open winner Andy Murray. Djokovic is seeking to become the first man in the Open era to win three titles in a row in Australia.

Azarenka was planning a night of partying to celebrate her second major title, with her friend Redfoo and the Party Rock crew, and was hopeful of scoring some tickets to the men's final.

She said she needed to let her hair down after a draining two weeks and hoped that by being more open and frank in recent times she was clearing up any misconceptions the public had of her.

"When I came first on the tour I kind of was lost a little bit," he said. "I didn't know how to open up my personality. It's very difficult when you're alone. I was independent since I was, you know, 10 years old. It was a little bit scary and I wouldn't show my personality.

"So the (last) couple of years I learned how to open up to people and to share the moments. I wasn't really good before. I hope I got better. It's your judgment."

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Lorne Michaels comedy pilot lands at NBC

LOS ANGELES ( – “Saturday Night Live” boss Lorne Michaels is broadening his relationship with NBC via a new comedy pilot.

The untitled project will star stand-up comic (and “SNL” writer) John Mulaney, and is loosely based on his life.

Mulaney will also write and executive-produce the project, with Michaels, Andrew Singer, Dave Becky and David Miner also executive-producing.

The project will be produced by Universal Television, Broadway Video and 3 Arts Entertainment.

Last month, Michaels – along with “Up in the Air” director Jason Reitman and “Girls” co-executive producer Bruce Eric Kaplan – sold a comedy pilot, “People in New Jersey,” to HBO. That project centers around an adult brother and sister who puzzle over the big and small mysteries of life while living in New Jersey.

TV News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Exxon overtakes Apple in market value again

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Exxon Mobil briefly overtook Apple as the largest U.S. publicly traded company by market value on Friday as shares of the technology giant continued to fall.

Apple shares traded down 2 percent on the day at $ 441.31, down from a high above $ 700 set in September, for a market value of roughly $ 416 billion. Exxon shares, flat on the day at $ 91.33, added to a market value of about $ 416.5 billion.

Apple has closed the day as the largest company by market capitalization since late January last year, when it passed Exxon.

(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Business News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Exclusive | 126 West 87th Street

 Exclusive | 126 West 87th Street

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Earnings lift Wall Street; S&P 500 advances for eighth day

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Friday as strong Procter & Gamble Co's earnings trumped weak housing numbers and helped carry the Standard & Poor's 500 index higher toward its longest winning streak in more than eight years.

Procter & Gamble shares rose 3.9 percent to $73.15 and gave the biggest boost to both the Dow and S&P 500 after the world's top household products maker's quarterly profit soared past expectations. The company also raised its sales and earnings outlook for the fiscal year.

But the stock market's gains were curbed after economic data showed new U.S. single-family home sales fell in December, although expectations for a continued housing sector recovery remain intact. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> edged up 0.15 percent.

Apple Inc dropped 2.1 percent to $441.24. The stock of the iPhone maker has dropped more than 17 percent since the start of the year on growth concerns. Friday's decline knocked the tech giant from its perch as the most valuable U.S. company, making it No. 2 after ExxonMobil Corp .

Helping to lift the Nasdaq index, Starbucks Corp , rose 4.3 percent to $56.94 after the coffee retailer reported stronger-than-expected sales in the United States and Asia.

The benchmark S&P 500 index is up 5.2 percent so far in January. The equity market's strong start this year has been attributed to solid corporate results, an agreement in Washington to extend the government's borrowing power, encouraging signs from the global economy and seasonal inflows into stocks.

Those factors helped the S&P 500 rally for a seventh day on Thursday to reach a five-year peak. But the index has struggled to convincingly climb above 1,500, a level it surpassed briefly on Thursday for the first time since December 2007.

"It looks like we are encountering a little short-term resistance. The market always likes whole numbers and 1,500 seems like as good as any," said Doug Foreman, co-chief investment officer at Kayne Anderson Rudnick Investment Management in Los Angeles.

"The earnings are coming in pretty good overall. Expectations had been pretty low for the quarter given the 'fiscal cliff' concerns, etc., so some of the stocks are acting pretty well even with numbers that are a little bit better than people had feared."

If the S&P 500 rises for an eighth day on Friday, it will be its longest winning streak since late 2004, when it rallied for nine straight days.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 55.58 points, or 0.40 percent, to 13,880.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> climbed 5.81 points, or 0.39 percent, to 1,500.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> rose 14.49 points, or 0.46 percent, to 3,144.88.

Honeywell International Inc posted fourth-quarter earnings just above Wall Street's estimates, reflecting the diversified U.S. manufacturer's campaign to boost profit margins in the face of sluggish sales growth. Honeywell's stock edged up 0.1 percent to $68.33.

The initial portion of earnings season has been encouraging relative to recent expectations. Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings growth is on track for a 2.9 percent rise, up from the forecast of a 1.9 percent gain at the start of the earnings season but well below the 9.9 percent increase in an October 1 forecast.

Thomson Reuters data through Friday showed that of the 147 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings, 68 percent exceeded expectations. Since 1994, 62 percent of companies have topped expectations, while the average over the past four quarters stands at 65 percent.

Halliburton Co shares jumped 5.1 percent to $39.72 after the world's second-largest oilfield services company reported higher-than-expected earnings and sales for the fourth quarter. Strong international drilling activity offset a slowdown in onshore North America work, Halliburton said.

(Editing by Jan Paschal and Kenneth Barry)

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Murray edges Federer, reaches Australian final

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Andy Murray has finally beaten Roger Federer at a Grand Slam.

The U.S. Open champion beat 17-time major winner Federer 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 Friday at the Australian Open, calling it a massive confidence boost as he attempts to win his second consecutive major.

Murray, who missed his chance to serve out the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, will play defending champion and top-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final. Djokovic cruised past David Ferrer in straight sets in just under 90 minutes — 2 1/2 hours less than Murray's semifinal.

Advantage Djokovic.

There was some controversy in that 12th game of the fourth set when Federer appeared to glare and say something to Murray when the Scotsman stopped momentarily behind the baseline during the rally.

Murray ignored it after winning the point, but conceded serve in that game and lost the ensuing tiebreaker before regrouping in the fifth set.

"I mean, it wasn't a big deal," Federer said. "We just looked at each other one time. That's OK, I think. We were just checking each other out for bit. That wasn't a big deal for me — I hope not for him."

While Murray came into the match with a 10-9 career advantage, Murray had never beaten Federer in their three previous meetings at a major — the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and last year at Wimbledon.

"It's always tough against him, when he plays in Slams is when he plays his best tennis," Murray said. "When his back was against the wall at 6-5 and I was serving, he came up with some unbelievable shots. I just had to keep fighting."

On Saturday, defending champion Victoria Azarenka will play Li Na of China for the women's singles title. Azaranka needs to win to retain her No. 1 ranking or it will go to Serena Williams.

Also, American brothers Bob and Mike Bryan will play their fifth consecutive Australian Open doubles final and attempt to win a record 13th Grand Slam doubles championship. They'll play the Dutch pair of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling.

Federer outplayed Murray at stages of the match, but the 25-year-old Scotsman appeared to have the legs and stamina over the 31-year-old Federer in the fifth set, including a service break to clinch the tense match.

"It's big. I never beat Roger in a Slam before. It definitely will help with the confidence," Murray said. "Just knowing you can win against those guys in big matches definitely helps."

Federer said he was playing catch-up all night.

"Definitely it was more of a chase," Federer said. "I think I had my chances a little bit. Obviously, you're going to go through a five-setter with some regrets. But overall, I think Andy was a bit better than I was tonight."

Murray refused to elaborate on the details of the exchange in the fourth set.

"Stuff like that happens daily in tennis matches ... it was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports," Murray said. "It's just one of those things."

Murray said while the outburst didn't "rattle" him, it might have helped Federer get back in the match.

"I think he raised his game, and that's what happens," he said. "Sometimes guys need to get emotion into the match. He definitely raised his level ... in that game I think he hit two balls onto the line and was extremely aggressive after that."

Asked again what Federer had said, Murray reiterated he didn't feel it was "relevant."

"I'm sure Roger won't talk about it and I have no interest in discussing it either, because, like I say, it happens all the time," he said. "People will want to make a big deal of it and it isn't really a big deal.

"It's a very late finish, I'm tired. I don't want to be wasting any energy, because I'll need all of it if I want to win against Novak on Sunday."

With a capacity crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena watching, including the Australian legend Laver himself, Federer opened the match serving and was in trouble early, losing a 28-rally point to set up break point for Murray. But Federer held the game with a stunning cross-court forehand that just looped over the net from the baseline.

Murray, who had not lost a set through five rounds at Melbourne Park this year, had the first service break — on his fourth break point — to lead 2-1. It came in unusually cool summer conditions in Melbourne — breezy and temperatures of only 60 degrees during most of the match.

The crowd was initially evenly split between Federer and Murray supporters — and at times, they were competing to be heard. At one point in the second set, a group of Murray fans wearing white shirts with blue letters spelling his nickname "Muzza" stood to chant Murray's name, while a group of Federer supporters with Swiss flags on their cheeks and shirts chanted Federer's name.

Earlier Friday, top-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci of Italy won the first title of 2013 at Melbourne Park, beating the unseeded Australian pair of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 for the women's doubles championship.

The 16-year-old Barty was attempting to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Martina Hingis won the Australian Open singles title in 1997.

Li lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters in 2011 two months before winning her first and only Grand Slam at the French Open.

"Last time was more exciting, (more) nervous because it was my first time to be in a final," Li said. "But I think this time (I'm) more calmed down, more cool."

Azarenka leads 5-4 in career matches, including winning the last four times they've played.

"I'm really hungry to defend my title," Azarenka said. "I've put myself in the position to give it the best shot."

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Where is aid for Syria going?


  • The U.S. ambassador to Syria says the U.S. has provided $210 million in humanitarian aid

  • The assistance has to be discrete, he said, to protect workers from being targeted

  • Washington has also provided $35 million worth of assistance to Syria's political opposition

  • Ambassador: We can help, but it's up to Syrians to find their way forward

(CNN) -- It has been more than a year since the United States government withdrew its ambassador to Syria and closed its embassy in Damascus.

On Thursday, that ambassador returned to the region along with a U.S. delegation, touring a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey to bring more attention to the growing humanitarian crisis. As the civil war has intensified in Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries.

Ambassador Robert Ford gave an exclusive interview to CNN's Ivan Watson and described what the U.S. is doing to help the refugees and the Syrian opposition.

Ivan Watson: The U.S. has given $210 million in aid (to Syria), but I think that there is a perception problem because no one can actually point at what that help is. So people conclude there is no help.

Robert Ford: The assistance is going in. It's things like tents, it's things like blankets, it's things like medical equipment, but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it because we don't want the people who are delivering it to be targeted by the Syrian regime.

The regime is going after and killing people who are delivering supplies. You see them bombing even bakeries and bread lines. So we're doing that, in part, to be discrete.

The assistance is going in ... but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it.
Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria

The needs are gigantic. So even though a great deal of American materials and other countries' materials are arriving, the needs are still greater. And that's why we're going to Kuwait to talk to the United Nations and to talk to other countries about how we can talk together to provide additional assistance.

Watson: The head of the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government has backed, came out with a statement very critical of the international community, saying we need $3 billion if you want us to have any say on events on the ground inside Syria. Where is that money?

Ford: (Sheikh Ahmed) Moaz al-Khatib is a good leader, and we think highly of him and we have recognized his (coalition) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. And, of course, he wants to get as many resources as possible because of the humanitarian conditions that I was just talking about. Especially the ones inside Syria.

But we also, at the same time, have to build up those (aid) networks I was talking about. In some cases, they start out with just a few people. We don't need just a few people, we need hundreds of people, thousands of people on the inside of Syria organized to bring these things in.

And so step by step, the Syrians, Moaz al-Khatib and his organization, need to build that capacity. We can help build it, we can do training and things like that. But in the end, Syrians have to take a leadership role in this.

Watson: Is Washington giving money to the Syrian National Coalition?

Ford: We absolutely are assisting the (coalition), with everything from training to, in some cases, limited amount of cash assistance so that they can buy everything ranging from computers to telephones to radios.

Frankly, if not for the American assistance in many cases, the activists inside Syria wouldn't be in contact with the outside world. It's American help that keeps them in contact with the outside world.

Watson: But, how much assistance has this coalition gotten from the U.S.?

Ford: So far, we've allocated directly to the coalition in the neighborhood of $35 million worth of different kinds of equipment and assistance. And over the next few weeks, couple of months, we'll probably provide another $15 million worth of material assistance.

Watson: Washington recently blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front, calling it a terrorist organization even though inside Syria, it has attracted a lot of respect for its victories and for comparative lack of corruption compared to many rebel groups. How has blacklisting the Nusra Front helped the Syrian opposition?

Ford: We blacklisted the Nusra Front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization with whom we have direct experience, which is responsible for the killings of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of Americans. We know what al Qaeda in Iraq did and is still doing, and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria -- which is why we highlighted its incredibly pernicious role.

I think one of the things that our classification of Nusra as a terrorist group did is it set off an alarm for the other elements of the Free Syrian Army. There was a meeting of the Free Syrian Army to set up a unified command, (and) Nusra Front was not in that meeting -- which we think is the right thing to do. As Syrians themselves understand that Nusra has a sectarian agenda, as they understand better that Nusra is anti-democratic and will seek to impose its very strict interpretation of Islam on Syria -- which historically is a relatively moderate country in terms of its religious practices -- as Syrians understand that better, I think they will more and more reject the Nusra Front itself.

Watson: But I've seen the opposite. As I go into Syria, I hear more and more support and respect for the Nusra Front, and more and more criticism for the U.S. government each time I go back.

Ford: I think that people, Ivan, are still understanding what Nusra is. I have heard criticism from the Nusra Front from people like Moaz al-Khatib who, in Marrakesh (Morocco) in his speech, said he rejected the kind of ideology which backs up Nusra. ... We have heard that from the senior commander of the Free Syrian Army as well. And so the more people understand inside Syria what Nusra is and represents, I think they will agree that is not the group on which to depend for freedom in Syria.

Watson: Do you think the U.S. government could have done more?

Ford: I think the Syrians, as I said, are the ones who will bring the answer to the problem -- just as in Iraq, Iraqis brought the solution to the Iraq crisis, to the Iraq war. The Americans can help, and we helped in Iraq, but ultimately it wasn't the Americans. Despite our help, it was Iraqis.

In Syria, again, it has to be Syrians who find their way forward. Twenty-three million Syrians need to find their way forward. We can help, and we are helping: $210 million in humanitarian assistance, $50 million to help the political opposition get organized for the day after (Bashar) al-Assad goes. These are important bits of help. But ultimately, it's not the American help. It's the Syrians themselves.

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Booker winner Mantel says play next “logical step”

LONDON (Reuters) – Double Booker prize-winning author Hilary Mantel said the characters in her historical novels about the rise of Thomas Cromwell will take the next “logical step” to a stage adaptation at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) this year.

Mantel said in a video interview on the RSC website this week that she has always longed to give “solid form” to her depictions of Cromwell, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn in her “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies” books.

“From the moment I started writing Wolf Hall the characters were fighting to be off the page,” Mantel said in the video.

The 60-year-old Mantel said she was delighted to have playwright Mike Poulton, whose works have garnered some of the theatre world’s top awards, recreate her novels for the stage.

“He’s the man who knows about the stagecraft,” she said. “I’m the one who knows the characters inside out.”

The first woman and first Briton to win the Booker twice for her novels set in Henry VIII’s court said she has been inspired by the RSC since the age of 15 when she went alone to its Stratford-upon-Avon home and watched four plays in three days.

“It was a shaping experience, so it really is a dream come true for me to have the opportunity to see the RSC present my plays,” she said.

Mantel is working on a third novel in the trilogy.

The RSC also said on Wednesday that David Tennant will star in the title role of “Richard II” in winter 2013, making his return five years after a turn as Hamlet which earned him a best Shakespearean performance trophy at the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards in 2009.

“Both plays will be directed by Royal Court Associate Director Jeremy Herrin, making his RSC directing debut,” RSC Artistic Director Gregory Doran said.

The world premiere of “Wendy & Peter Pan” by Ella Hickson and directed by Jonathan Munby will round out the winter season, the RSC said.

Tickets for the RSC’s winter 2013 season, which begins in October 2013 and runs until March 2014 will go on sale for members on February 11 and for the wider public on March 18, the RSC said.

(Reporting by Paul Casciato; editing by Patricia Reaney)

Celebrity News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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RIM shares rise on report of Lenovo interest

TORONTO (Reuters) – Shares of Research In Motion Ltd rose 4 percent on Thursday after a report quoting China’s Lenovo Group as saying a bid for the BlackBerry maker was among the options for boosting its mobile business.

“We are looking at all opportunities — RIM and many others,” Lenovo Chief Financial Officer Wong Wai Ming told Bloomberg in an interview at the World Economic Forum‘s annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland. “We’ll have no hesitation if the right opportunity comes along that could benefit us.”

Wong said Lenovo has spoken to RIM and its bankers about various combinations or strategic ventures, the Bloomberg report said.

Earlier this week, RIM shares surged to a 13-month high after its chief executive, Thorsten Heins, said RIM might consider strategic alliances with other companies, including a possible sale of its handset business, following next week’s launch of devices powered by RIM‘s new BlackBerry 10 operating system.

Any bid for RIM, which Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper once described as a national “crown jewel,” would face a rigorous review by the government to determine if the deal would bring a “net benefit” to the country.


RIM announced a far-reaching strategic review last May under which it was expected to examine all options, from software licensing deals to an outright sale of the company.

After the comments from Lenovo, a RIM spokesman said the company had nothing new to report on its strategic review at this time.

“We continue to examine all available options to create new opportunities, focusing on areas where we will be more effective partnering rather than going it alone, and ultimately maximizing value for all stakeholders,” said RIM spokesman Nick Manning.

The company, once a pioneer in the smartphone industry, has struggled in recent years as its aging line-up of devices lost market share to Apple Inc’s iPhone and devices based on Google Inc’s Android operating system.

RIM hopes its new touch-screen and keyboard devices, powered by its new BlackBerry 10 operating system, will help it claw back market share.

Shares of RIM, which opened lower on Thursday, were up 4 percent at $ 18.07 in morning trading on the Nasdaq, while its Toronto-listed shares were up 3.8 percent at C$ 18.10.

(Reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Frank McGurty)

Economy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Wall Street edges up in face of Apple decline

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow and S&P 500 advanced on Thursday, with the benchmark S&P index on track for its first seven-day streak of gains in over six years as solid economic data managed to outweigh a steep decline in Apple shares.

Apple Inc dropped 10.4 percent to $460.69 after the technology giant missed Wall Street's revenue forecast for a third straight quarter as iPhone sales were poorer than expected, lending credence to recent concerns its days as the dominant player in consumer electronics may be on the wane.

The drop wiped out roughly $50 billion in Apple's market capitalization to $432 billion, leaving the company vulnerable to losing its status as the most valuable U.S. company to second place ExxonMobil Corp, at $417 billion.

A trio of economic reports helped buoy the market, with data showing a decline in weekly jobless claims and an increase in manufacturing, while a gauge of future economic activity climbed.

"The claims numbers are clearly a big surprise and were very good numbers - they imply we may have a good employment number for the month of January," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer of Hugh Johnson Advisors LLC in Albany, New York.

"You have Apple and technology on the one side and the rest of the market on the other side."

The gains marked the first time the S&P 500 had risen above 1,500 since December 12, 2007 and put the index on pace for its seventh straight advance, its longest streak since October 2006.

The advance for the S&P, and muted declines in the Nasdaq in spite of the decline in Apple, were viewed as a positive sign, as investors take encouragement from an improving global economy and move into stocks more closely tied to economic fortunes, such as industrials.

General Electric rose 0.5 percent to $22.06 and United Parcel Service gained 2.4 percent to $82.30. Of the 10 major S&P sectors, only technology, off 1.5 percent, was lower.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 58.82 points, or 0.43 percent, to 13,838.15. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index added 1.78 points, or 0.12 percent, to 1,496.59. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 14.25 points, or 0.45 percent, to 3,139.42.

The domestic data meshed with those overseas showing growth in Chinese manufacturing accelerated to a two-year high this month and a buoyant Germany took the euro zone economy a step closer to recovery.

Apple's disappointing results drew a round of price-target cuts from brokerages. At least 14 brokerages, including Barclays Capital, Credit Suisse and Deutsche Bank, cut their price target on the stock by $142 on average. Morgan Stanley removed the stock from its 'best ideas' list.

In contrast to Apple, Netflix Inc surprised Wall Street Wednesday with a quarterly profit after the video subscription service added nearly 4 million customers in the U.S. and abroad. Shares surged 37.6 percent to $142.10, its biggest percentage jump ever.

Diversified U.S. manufacturer 3M Co reported a 3.9 percent rise in profit, meeting expectations, on solid growth in sales of its wide array of products, which range from Post-It notes to films used in television screens. The shares slipped 0.2 percent to $99.28.

Corporate earnings have helped drive the recent stock market rally. Thomson Reuters data through early Thursday showed that of the 133 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings, 66.9 percent have exceeded expectations, above the 65 percent average over the past four quarters.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

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Azarenka eludes chokehold, gains Australian final

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Sloane Stephens sat for nine minutes, mostly staring at the court and trying to forget the curious timing of Victoria Azarenka's medical timeout.

She may have been the only one trying to ignore it.

The 19-year-old American had just saved five match points and broken Azarenka. But she knew she had to hold serve to stay in her first Grand Slam semifinal whenever Azarenka — the No. 1 player and defending Australian Open champion — returned to Rod Laver Arena.

The restless murmuring in the crowd gave way to slow claps. Why had Azarenka chosen that very moment for a medical break?

Azarenka eventually hustled onto the court, and Stephens won only three more points.

"I almost did the choke of the year," Azarenka said in a frank admission during an on-court interview. "At 5-3, having so many chances, I couldn't close it out."

The crowd that had cheered wildly for Stephens, only 25 hours after she ousted an injured Serena Williams, gave Azarenka tepid applause as she left the court. She'll face 2011 finalist Li Na in the final Saturday night. Given the support Li enjoyed in her 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, there's no question which player the crowd will favor in the title match.

Azarenka's immediate post-match remarks suggest she panicked after failing to convert five match points, her forehand misfiring. She had little trouble finishing the match after she came back, and the No. 29-seeded Stephens had cooled off.

"I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure," Azarenka said.

The 23-year-old Belarusian said she was later compelled to explain that she misunderstood the question in the on-court interview, and she wanted to dispel the perception that her medical timeout amounted to little more than gamesmanship.

"I understand the point of people maybe not understanding what I said; me not understanding what I've been asked," she said during an official news conference more than two-thirds devoted to questions on her medical timeout. "So I'm just glad that I'm here, you know, to make everything clear.

"You know, I think you cannot really judge by (a) few words. The situation had to be explained."

Medical staff said Azarenka had timeouts for treatment of left knee and rib injuries. The rib needed to be manipulated because it was affecting her breathing. Tournament director Craig Tiley said Azarenka hadn't broken any rules.

Azarenka hadn't helped herself in a second television interview after the match when she said she couldn't breathe.

"I had chest pains," she said. "It was like I was getting a heart attack."

She tried to allay any negative perception with her explanation that the choking was related to shortness of breath from the rib injury, not her faltering game.

"When you cannot breathe you start to panic," she said. "I was really panicking, not because I couldn't convert my match point. That's not the case. I mean, I'm experienced enough to go over those emotions. But when you cannot breathe, when something's really blocking you, the stress — that was the stress I was talking about.

"What I said — that I was stressed out and choked — was not because I couldn't finish my shot. It was just so stressing me out the pain that I had that, maybe it was overreaction, but I just really couldn't breathe."

Azarenka had retired during previous Grand Slam matches, including a fourth-round match against Serena Williams at the 2009 Australian Open. But with a second major title so close, and the fact she needed to reach the final to retain the No. 1 ranking, she desperately didn't want to quit this time.

For her part, Stephens seemed sympathetic. She had to wait through a medical timeout Wednesday when Williams received treatment for a sore back — the 15-time major winner injured herself after leading by a set and a break. Another rival earlier in the tournament took a long break between sets for other reasons.

"I mean, when you take a medical break or timeout, obviously it's for a reason," she said. "I mean, just another something else that happens. If it was one of my friends, I would say, 'Oh, my God, that sounds like a PP, which is a personal problem. Other than that, it's just unfortunate."

Besides, Stephens said, it didn't affect the outcome of the match.

"No, not at all. She played obviously a really good match," she said. "First set she played awesome; got close in the second. It didn't go my way, but I wouldn't say at all what happened affected the match."

Novak Djokovic dispensed with No. 4-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the night match, saying he "played perfectly" to reach his third consecutive Australian Open title. Then he dispensed some medical advice of his own.

The Serb, who won the Australian titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012, wore a white shirt with a red cross on the back, pretending to be a doctor to treat Henri Leconte during a legends doubles match at Rod Laver Arena.

He's relaxed now that he has an extra day to prepare for Sunday's final. Djokovic will next play the winner of Friday's semifinal between No. 2 Roger Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, and No. 3 Andy Murray, the U.S. Open champion.

Djokovic lost only seven points in 11 service games against Ferrer, and hit 30 crisp, clean winners in an almost flawless performance.

"I cannot remember the last time I played so well," Djokovic said. "I've played many great matches, but this one stands out. Hopefully, I can play the same level on Sunday."

He played confidently in the first two sets, and was sublime in the third. Even Ferrer, who has now lost five Grand Slam semifinals and never reached a championship match, was surprised.

After hitting a forehand a fraction wide of the line and losing his challenge in a review, Ferrer double-faulted to give Djokovic match point. The errors were a measure of just how much pressure Djokovic was applying.

Right after his semifinal, Djokovic started playing mind games leading to the final.

"Federer-Murray, when they're playing it's always very close," he said, confirming he'd be closely watching the match. "I wouldn't give the role of the favorite to either of them. I expect to enjoy it. Whoever I play against, I'm going to be ready."

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Neanderthal cloning? Pure fantasy

A display of a reconstruction of a Neanderthal man and boy at the Museum for Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac, France.


  • Arthur Caplan: It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby

  • Caplan: Downsides include a good chance of producing a baby that is seriously deformed

  • He says the future belongs to what we can do to genetically engineer and control microbes

  • Caplan: Microbes can make clean fuel, suck up carbon dioxide, clean fat out of arteries

Editor's note: Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.

(CNN) -- So now we know -- there won't be a Neanderthal moving into your neighborhood.

Despite a lot of frenzied attention to the intentionally provocative suggestion by a renowned Harvard scientist that new genetic technology makes it possible to splice together a complete set of Neanderthal genes, find an adventurous surrogate mother and use cloning to gin up a Neanderthal baby -- it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.

Nor should it. But there are plenty of other things in the works involving genetic engineering that do merit serious ethical discussion at the national and international levels.

Arthur Caplan

Arthur Caplan

Some thought that the Harvard scientist, George Church, was getting ready to put out an ad seeking volunteer surrogate moms to bear a 35,000-year-old, long-extinct Neanderthal baby. Church had to walk his comments back and note that he was just speculating, not incubating.

Still cloning carries so much mystery and Hollywood glamour thanks to movies such as "Jurassic Park," "The Boys From Brazil" and "Never Let Me Go" that a two-day eruption of the pros and cons of making Neanderthals ensued. That was not necessary. It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby.

Why? Because there is no obvious reason to do so. There is no pressing need or remarkable benefit to undertaking such a project. At best it might shed some light on the biology and behavior of a distant ancestor. At worst it would be nothing more than the ultimate reality television show exploitation: An "Octomom"-like surrogate raises a caveman child -- tune in next week to see what her new boyfriend thinks when she tells him that there is a tiny addition in her life and he carries a small club and a tiny piece of flint to sleep with him.

The downsides of trying to clone a Neanderthal include a good chance of killing it, producing a baby that is seriously deformed, producing a baby that lacks immunity to infectious diseases and foods that we have gotten used to, an inability to know what environment to create to permit the child to flourish and a complete lack of understanding of what sort of behavior is "normal" or "appropriate" for such a long-extinct cousin hominid of ours.

When weighed against the risks and the harm that most likely would be done, it would take a mighty big guarantee of benefit to justify this cloning experiment. I am willing to venture that the possible benefit will never, ever reach the point where this list of horrible likely downsides could be overcome.

Even justifying trying to resurrect a woolly mammoth, or a mastodon, or the dodo bird or any other extinct animal gets ethically thorny. How many failures would be acceptable to get one viable mastodon? Where would the animal live? What would we feed it? Who would protect it from poachers, gawkers and treasure hunters? It is not so simple to take a long dead species, make enough of them so they don't die of isolation and lack of social stimulation and then find an environment that is close enough and safe enough compared with that which they once roamed.

In any event the most interesting aspects of genetic engineering do not involve making humans or Neanderthals or mammoths. They involve ginning up microbes to do things that we really need doing such as making clean fuel, sucking up carbon dioxide, cleaning fat out of our arteries, giving us a lot more immunity to nasty bacteria and viruses and helping us make plastics and chemicals more efficiently and cheaply.

In trying to make these kinds of microbes, you can kill all you want without fear of ethical condemnation. And if the new bug does not like the environment in which it has to exist to live well, that will be just too darn bad.

The ethical challenge of this kind of synthetic biology is that it can be used by bad guys for bad purposes. Biological weapons can be ginned up and microbes created that only infect people with certain genes that commonly associate with racial or ethnic groups.

Rather than worry about what will happen to real estate values should a new crop of "Flintstones" move in down the street, our public officials, religious groups and ethicists need to get serious about how much regulation the genetic engineering of microbes needs, how can we detect what terrorists might try to use, what sort of controls do we need to prevent accidents and who is going to pay if a bug turns out to cause more harm than good.

We love to think that the key to tomorrow lies in what humanity can be designed or empowered to do. Thus, the fascination with human cloning. In reality, at least for a long time to come, the future belongs to what we can do to design and control microbes. That is admittedly duller, but it is far better to follow a story that is true than one such as Neanderthal cloning that is pure, speculative fantasy.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arthur Caplan.

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Aretha Franklin Approves of Beyonce’s ‘Beautiful’ Inaugural Lip-Syncing

LOS ANGELES ( – Aretha Franklin r-e-s-p-e-c-t’s Beyoncé’s decision to use a “beautiful” pre-recorded rendition of the national anthem during President Barack Obama‘s inaugural ceremony on Monday.

The Queen of Soul, who sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” during Obama‘s inauguration in 2009, told ABC News that the cold weather warranted Beyoncé lip-syncing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“The weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most singers that is just not good singing weather,” Franklin said after noting the news gave her a good laugh. “When I heard that I just really cracked up. I thought it was really funny, but she did a beautiful job with the pre-record … next time I’ll probably do the same.”

She says “next time,” because she wasn’t afraid to brave below-freezing temperatures in Washington D.C. when she performed live four years ago. “In 2009, I wanted everything to be live and on the real side for the moment as it actually happened. Those were my feelings for my performance, but having come face to face with 28, 22 degrees I am not surprised she pre-recorded,” Franklin continued. “She wanted her performance to be what she wanted to be and she realized it wasn’t going to be the way she wanted it to be or she was going to be running a risk. That’s probably why she pre-recorded exactly how she wanted it to be heard.”

The 70-year-old Franklin isn’t the only music star shrugging off Beyoncégate. Jennifer Lopeztold Jon Stewart on Tuesday’s episode of “The Daily Show” that “all performers do have to” lip-sync at some point in their career.

“You know, sometimes it happens,” she explained. “When you’re in certain stadiums and in certain venues, they do pre-record things.”

Lopez’s former “American Idol” judging panel partner, Steven Tyler, isn’t particularly bothered by Beyoncé lip-syncing either. “It doesn’t matter,” he told TMZ.

“Beyoncé’s so hot, she can do anything,” the Aerosmith frontman added to give some shallow perspective. “Let’s just get real.”

Whether or not Beyoncé would agree with Tyler’s flattering statement, she has yet to comment on the matter herself, aside from posting the performance on her Tumblr — an action that suggests she has no regrets.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Marine Band that previously admitted to using a pre-recorded track to back her performance and suggested Beyoncé did the same for her vocals, has changed its tune.

“Each piece of music scheduled for performance in the Inauguration is pre-recorded for use in case of freezing temperatures, equipment failure, or extenuating circumstances,” a spokesman for the Marines told TheWrap on Tuesday. “Regarding Ms. Knowles-Carter’s vocal performance, no one in the Marine Band is in a position to assess whether it was live or pre-recorded.”

Music News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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To Crack China, Apple Needs More Than Cheap iPhones

When Apple reports its quarterly earnings after the markets close Wednesday, investors will be looking for clues about how Chief Executive Tim Cook plans to cope with the company’s challenges in China. In the world’s largest telecom market, Apple has not only fallen far behind arch rival Samsung Electronics (005930), it also lags behind Lenovo, a PC company that just two years ago was barely even in the smartphone business at all.

Adding to the indignity, Apple (AAPL) is also behind an even less-known brand called Coolpad,  which is owned by Shenzhen-based China Wireless Technologies. As my Bloomberg News colleague Edmond Lococo and I reported Wednesday, Coolpad has become the No. 3 brand in China, behind only Samsung and Lenovo and well ahead of Apple, thanks to its focus on low-cost smartphones.

The below-$ 200 market segment is growing fast in China but it’s one that Apple has long ignored. The cheapest iPhone on Apple’s China website, an 8-gigabyte iPhone 4, costs 3,088 yuan (or $ 495). The latest iPhone 5 starts at 5,288 yuan ($ 850).

A cheaper iPhone might help Apple address that problem and take down upstarts like Coolpad. As Bloomberg has reported, Apple is working on a low-cost iPhone priced between $ 99 and $ 149, with China and other developing markets the target.

But selling more gadgets is just one of Apple’s China challenges. Another is getting Chinese to pay for things on iTunes. China is notorious as a piracy playground, and with counterfeit CDs and DVDs so easy to buy in the markets, and unauthorized music and movies so easy to download from the Internet, relatively few Chinese can be bothered buying from an online service. And even if they wanted to pay, they wouldn’t have the chance; Apple doesn’t sell music or movies in China.

Apple is trying. There is a Chinese iTunes store that offers apps, although most of the popular ones are free. Suppose you’re in China and you want to buy a game app for your iPhone or make an “in-app” purchase while playing a free game. Until last year, you needed a credit card from the U.S. or another Apple-blessed place to buy from iTunes. Now Apple has started a local version of iTunes for people with Chinese credit cards.

Still, it’s not easy to be loyal to iTunes in China. First of all, the servers are not in China, so the service is slow. Also, any would-be shopper must prepay to buy from China’s version of iTunes. If you haven’t put money into the account, you can’t buy anything. That makes impulse shopping very difficult. And unlike Android users, iPhone owners can’t just make purchases and have the charges show up on their mobile-phone bills. China’s cellular operators last year starting offering that service for Android, greatly simplifying the purchasing process. Apple doesn’t have anything comparable yet. Perhaps that’s one of many things on Tim Cook’s agenda when he met this month with Xi Guohua, the chairman of China Mobile. — Top News

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Chain store sales point to a hit from tax hike

By Jason Lange

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A slowdown in sales growth at many big U.S. retailers suggests a clutch of tax hikes enacted this month is already leading consumers to hold back on spending, putting a brake on economic growth.

Sales growth has cooled for three straight weeks when measured from a year earlier in the Johnson Redbook Retail Sales Index, data showed on Wednesday.

Similarly, the ICSC U.S. retail chain store sales index, which is the other major weekly barometer of retail spending, has showed weakening of growth in the last two weeks.

“We can very tentatively say that these numbers look consistent with our view that the increase in taxes at the start of 2013 led to a slowdown in consumer spending,” said Daniel Silver, an economist at JPMorgan in New York.

Washington this month raised taxes on most Americans.

The brunt of the tax hike came from the expiration of a temporary payroll tax cut. That cut — a 2 percentage point reduction in a levy that funds Social Security — was put in place two years ago to help the economy, which was still smarting from the 2007-09 recession.

About 160 million workers pay this tax, and the increase will cost the average worker about $ 700 a year, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.

Congress and President Barack Obama also allowed income tax rates to rise this month for households making more than $ 450,000 a year, a partial repeal of tax cuts put in place under President George W. Bush. The wealthy will also pay a new tax to help fund a health insurance reform passed in 2010.

These will have a smaller impact on the wider economy because they affect fewer people. But taken together, this year’s tax hikes could subtract a full percentage point from growth, JPMorgan estimates.

Some economic data appears to be baring out economists’ predictions.

Compared to the same week one year earlier, the Redbook index rose 1.8 percent in the week ending January 19, down from 1.9 percent in the January 12 week and 2.1 percent in the January 5 week. Sales were up 2.9 percent in the December 29 week from a year earlier.

Weekly data on retail sales can be quite volatile, and analysts said more compelling evidence of a slowdown in spending — or even an outright decline — will likely come from the government’s more comprehensive report on retail sales for the full month of January due on February 13.

“There is some kind of slowdown in spending perhaps going on … but it’s hard to know how significant that is based on a fairly ropy batch of data,” said Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics in London.

The ICSC U.S. retail chain store sales index, which banking giant Goldman Sachs helps to produce, rose 3.2 percent in the week ending January 19 from a year ago, down from 3.3 percent in the week of January 12 and 4 percent in the week before that.

For the whole of 2013, economists estimate the payroll tax hike will reduce household incomes by roughly $ 125 billion.

The payroll tax hike alone could reduce economic growth this year by about 0.7 percentage point, Dales said.

(Reporting by Jason Lange; editing by Andrew Hay)

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Dow, Nasdaq boosted by tech; S&P flat

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow and Nasdaq edged higher on Wednesday, lifted by IBM and Google whose stronger-than-expected profits helped to soothe investors' concerns about the tech sector.

IBM's and Google's earnings, released after Tuesday's close, were the latest reassuring fourth-quarter results that pushed the Dow and S&P 500 to five-year highs as worries about the "fiscal cliff" and euro zone debt crisis faded and earnings became the market's main focus.

International Business Machines Corp forecast better-than-anticipated 2013 results and also posted fourth-quarter earnings and revenue that beat expectations.

Shares in the world's largest technology services company, climbed 5.5 percent to $206.87, its biggest advance since July, making it by far the largest boost to the Dow.

Worries about the profit potential in the tech sector had increased amid questions about waning demand for Apple Inc products and a weak outlook from Intel Corp last week.

Also helping to boost the tech sector was a 6.1 percent jump in Internet search company Google Inc to $746.02. The Internet search company reported its core business outpaced expectations and revenue was higher than expected.

Despite a 1.3 percent gain in the S&P technology sector <.splrct>, gains on the broader S&P 500 index were limited a day after the benchmark index closed at a fresh 5-year high.

The recent gains have been largely fueled by a stronger than expected start to the earning season, pushing the benchmark S&P index near the 1,500 level, last reached on December 12, 2007, and may make additional gains harder to come by after a 4.6 increase for the month.

"This certainly is new air up here, you have to give it some time at this level," said Troy Logan, managing director and senior economist at Warren Financial Service in Exton, Pennsylvania.

"More fundamentally, there is less concern about Europe. You need less noise on the political front and the focus back on corporate American growing earnings."

With tech earnings strong, Thomson Reuters data through Wednesday shows that of the 99 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings so far, 67.7 percent have topped expectations, above the 62 percent average since 1994 and the 65 percent average over the past four quarters.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 43.27 points, or 0.32 percent, to 13,755.48. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> shed 1.32 points, or 0.09 percent, to 1,491.24. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> added 8.82 points, or 0.28 percent, to 3,152.00.

McDonald's slipped 0.3 percent to $92.63 after reporting a rise in fourth-quarter earnings, lifted by an increase in same-store sales. Fellow Dow component United Technology Corp's earnings fell from the prior year, hurt by large restructuring charges. Shares edged up 0.4 percent to $87.86.

On the downside, leather-goods maker Coach Inc plunged 14.8 percent to $51.75 as the S&P's worst performer after reporting sales that missed expectations. The S&P consumer discretionary sector <.splrcd> lost 0.5 percent.

After the market closes, investors will scour Apple's results for signs it can continue to grow at an accelerated pace. The stock has been pressured recently by questions raised about demand for Apple's products. The stock has fallen 5 percent since the start of the year, compared with gains of 4.6 percent in the S&P 500. It rose 0.4 percent to $507.04 on Wednesday.

"Pretty much all eyes are on Apple to see what they are going to do this evening. What happened to Apple is they had some misses in the second and third quarters of 2012 and the explanation was anticipation of the new iPhone 5, so this quarter they really have to deliver on that story," Logan said.

Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings rose 2.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. That estimate is above the 1.9 percent forecast from the start of earnings season, but well below the 9.9 percent fourth-quarter earnings forecast from October 1, the data showed.

Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives aim on Wednesday to pass a bill to extend the U.S. debt limit by nearly four months, to May 19. The White House welcomed the move, saying it would remove uncertainty about the issue.

The debt limit issue has hung over the market for weeks, with many investors worried that if no deal is reached to raise the limit, it could have a negative impact on the economy.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Seau's family sues NFL over brain injuries

The family of Junior Seau has sued the NFL, claiming the former linebacker's suicide was the result of brain disease caused by violent hits he sustained while playing football.

The wrongful death lawsuit, filed Wednesday in California Superior Court in San Diego, blames the NFL for its "acts or omissions" that hid the dangers of repetitive blows to the head. It says Seau developed chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) from those hits, and accuses the NFL of deliberately ignoring and concealing evidence of the risks associated with traumatic brain injuries.

Seau died at age 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot in May. He was diagnosed with CTE, based on posthumous tests, earlier this month.

An Associated Press review in November found that more than 3,800 players have sued the NFL over head injuries in at least 175 cases as the concussion issue has gained attention in recent years. More than 100 of the concussion lawsuits have been brought together before U.S. District Judge Anita B. Brody in Philadelphia.

Helmet manufacturer Riddell Inc., also is being sued by the Seaus, who say Riddell was "negligent in their design, testing, assembly, manufacture, marketing, and engineering of the helmets" used by NFL players. The suit says the helmets were unreasonably dangerous and unsafe.

Seau was one of the best linebackers during his 20 seasons in the NFL. He retired in 2009.

"We were saddened to learn that Junior, a loving father and teammate, suffered from CTE," the family said in a statement released to the AP. "While Junior always expected to have aches and pains from his playing days, none of us ever fathomed that he would suffer a debilitating brain disease that would cause him to leave us too soon.

"We know this lawsuit will not bring back Junior. But it will send a message that the NFL needs to care for its former players, acknowledge its decades of deception on the issue of head injuries and player safety, and make the game safer for future generations."

Plaintiffs are listed as Gina Seau, Junior's ex-wife; Junior's children Tyler, Sydney, Jake and Hunter, and Bette Hoffman, trustee of Seau's estate.

The lawsuit accuses the league of glorifying the violence in pro football, and creating the impression that delivering big hits "is a badge of courage which does not seriously threaten one's health."

It singles out NFL Films and some of its videos for promoting the brutality of the game.

"In 1993's 'NFL Rocks,' Junior Seau offered his opinion on the measure of a punishing hit: 'If I can feel some dizziness, I know that guy is feeling double (that)," the suit says.

The NFL consistently has denied allegations similar to those in the lawsuit.

"The NFL, both directly and in partnership with the NIH, Centers for Disease Control and other leading organizations, is committed to supporting a wide range of independent medical and scientific research that will both address CTE and promote the long-term health and safety of athletes at all levels," the league told the AP after it was revealed Seau had CTE.

The lawsuit claims money was behind the NFL's actions.

"The NFL knew or suspected that any rule changes that sought to recognize that link (to brain disease) and the health risk to NFL players would impose an economic cost that would significantly and adversely change the profit margins enjoyed by the NFL and its teams," the Seaus said in the suit.

The National Institutes of Health, based in Bethesda, Md., studied three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau's, and said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."

"It was important to us to get to the bottom of this, the truth," Gina Seau told the AP then. "And now that it has been conclusively determined from every expert that he had obviously had CTE, we just hope it is taken more seriously. You can't deny it exists, and it is hard to deny there is a link between head trauma and CTE. There's such strong evidence correlating head trauma and collisions and CTE."

In the final years of his life, Seau went through wild behavior swings, according to Gina and to 23-year-old son, Tyler. There also were signs of irrationality, forgetfulness, insomnia and depression.

"He emotionally detached himself and would kind of 'go away' for a little bit," Tyler Seau said. "And then the depression and things like that. It started to progressively get worse."

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