Opposition slams Venezuela devaluation, shoppers fret

CARACAS (Reuters) – Opposition leaders derided another currency devaluation by President Hugo Chavez‘s government as evidence of economic incompetence, while some anxious Venezuelans hit shops on Saturday in fear of price increases.

Though unseen in public since cancer surgery two months ago in Cuba, government ministers said Chavez personally ordered the fifth devaluation of the bolivar in a decade of socialist economics in the OPEC nation – this time by 32 percent.

“The Maduro-Cabello duo are finishing off our Venezuela, we must not allow it!” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, accusing Vice President Nicolas Maduro and Congress head Diosdado Cabello of squandering revenue from high oil prices.

“They spent the money on (election) campaigning, corruption and gifts abroad. What a lying government!” Capriles said on Twitter.

The measure was announced before a four-day weekend for Venezuela’s Carnival holiday to minimize political or market repercussions. It had been widely forecast by economists as a way of redressing distortions including a black market rate for dollars at four times the old official level of 4.3 bolivars.

Raising the rate to 6.3 bolivars will boost state finances by providing more local currency for each dollar of oil export revenue. But it also hikes prices for imports crucial to the oil-dependent economy, potentially fueling inflation – though the state will seek to brake that using price controls.


Maduro, who is Chavez’s preferred successor should his cancer force a new presidential election, said the move was needed to optimize revenues, including to fund flagship social programs that are wildly popular among Venezuela’s poor.

He said the devaluation was also a response to attacks on the bolivar by capitalist “speculators,” adding that more economic measures would be announced in the days ahead, in line with Chavez’s instructions to ministers who visited Havana.

“Our commander-president has decided them with full consciousness and clarity … to guarantee economic growth and diversification this year,” Maduro said. “We will push ahead with the perfect plan for the people’s victory.”

Critics, however, flooded Twitter with mocking references to a “red package,” or socialist version, of an old-style International Monetary Fund economic package hated by leftists.

“The devaluation is not due to the crisis of global capitalism. It’s due to the government’s irresponsibility and worrying incoherence,” said Ramon Aveledo, head of the opposition Democratic Unity coalition.

On Wall Street, analysts praised the move as necessary – albeit overdue – given the impact on state finances of heavy spending during Chavez’s re-election campaign last year, and the soaring black market rate for the dollar.

Some calculated it would generate extra revenue equivalent to more than 3 percent of GDP.

“It is a positive development,” said Goldman Sachs’ Alberto Ramos. “Clearly, the economic and financial cost of waiting outweighed the political cost of the unpopular move to devalue.”

The illegal rate jumped again, according to websites, immediately after the announcement. Publishing that rate is illegal in Venezuela. Some analysts predicted the government would be obliged to devalue again soon.


On the streets of Caracas, ideological sparring and complicated economic calculations gave way to anxiety at the prospect of yet more price rises in an economy that for decades has suffered one of the world’s highest inflation rates.

Already packing stores due to shortages of some goods, some shoppers began buying even more before prices rose.

“I’m sure everything will go up on Wednesday, so we have to take advantage now,” said Alicia Leon, 67, packing a trolley with vegetables, fruit and other food at a supermarket in Caracas’s bustling Chacao neighborhood.

Downtown in the emblematic Bolivar Square named for Venezuela’s independence hero, and the president’s idol, Simon Bolivar, 55-year-old Chavez supporter Omaira Fermin said she trusted the government to help the people.

“Salaries will rise thanks to President Chavez,” she said. “There’s a global financial crisis. Of course, Venezuela can’t be immune to that. The problem is capitalism.”

Officials have been at pains to stress that Chavez is still driving policy from his hospital in Cuba, despite Venezuelans having heard nothing from him since his December 11 operation.

They say he is improving after his fourth surgery for a cancer first diagnosed in his pelvic area in mid-2011. But there is no word on any homecoming date yet. Many Venezuelans suspect he will not be able to return to active rule.

Devaluations generally make a nation’s exporters more competitive by lowering the cost of production.

But critics say the move is unlikely to contribute to a significant expansion of domestic industry because of the government’s battle with the private sector, extensive price controls and sometimes uncompensated expropriations.

The central bank president, finance minister, energy minister and other senior officials met on Saturday to inaugurate Venezuela’s new currency authority that will supervise the changes from Wednesday.

“We have hard work ahead,” Finance Minister Jorge Giordani said at the event, shown live on TV.

Venezuela’s heavily-traded bonds are likely to rise on the devaluation, given the healthier picture for state coffers.

(Additional reporting by Girish Gupta, Mario Naranjo and Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Vicki Allen)

Economy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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As Blizzard Nemo Blankets Northeast, Snow Plow Makers Clean up

As winter storm Nemo prepared to sock the Northeast with several feet of snow, a Milwaukee business that makes snow plows and salt spreaders was getting ready to clean up. Douglas Dynamics is a snow plow pure play. It owns the Western, Fisher and Blizzard brands. Since May 2010, Douglas has been a public company, trading on the NYSE under the descriptive ticker symbol “PLOW.”

Dire blizzard warnings from forecasters this week caught the attention of investors who bid up shares of possible beneficiaries of the wicked weather–likely suspects that included generator maker Generac Holdings, Home Depot, Lowe’s. PLOW shares didn’t miss the rally, up 8% at one point Friday from Wednesday’s low.

So is it silly to buy a snow plow stock just because a big storm is coming? Maybe not. A whopper storm can help sell a bunch of plows that cost an average of $ 3,500, at the dealerships, with the priciest fetching $ 8,000.

“When a large storm is imminent, a couple of things happen,” says says Robert L. McCormick, Douglas’ chief financial officer. “First, snow plowers will make sure their equipment is in good working condition, which translates into potential parts purchases from their dealer in anticipation of the snow event.

“Once the plowing begins, equipment will wear and sometimes break, resulting in emergency repairs at their dealer during the snow storm. Both of these situations result in nice parts sales from our dealers to the end users.”

00d5e  sdseries 1 As Blizzard Nemo Blankets Northeast, Snow Plow Makers Clean upThe current quarter, which ends March 31, is traditionally Douglas’ weakest with dealers working off inventory ahead of the season’s end in March. Revenue in the January-March period last year was just $ 8.5 million out of $ 172 million over the past 12 months. The one analyst with a forecast for the current quarter expects revenue of $ 12 million.

“It’s only the beginning of Feb, so there is still a long way to go before this season ends,” says McCormick. “Our business is profitable, even in the worst of snowfall conditions. The 2012 snow season was the worst in the past 50 years yet we will deliver approximately $ 30 million of EBITDA.”

00d5e  20130208 232944 As Blizzard Nemo Blankets Northeast, Snow Plow Makers Clean upNot all snowfall is the same in the plow business. It all depends on where it falls and for how long. “For example, is it better to have one snow day with 24 inches of snow, or four snow days with six inches of snow? Same total snowfall but different levels of equipment usage. Additionally, if 24 inches of snow falls in Boston or New York City, it’s much better than if it falls in South Dakota.”

One thing that Douglas has delivered for the past two years is a solid divided, even when the snow was not coming down heavily. The $ 0.83 annual payout gives PLOW a plucky yield of 6%. The dividend is backed up by $ 1.39 in operating cash flow over the past year.

John Dobosz is editor of Forbes Dividend Investor. Douglas Dynamics is one of the Top 25 recommended stocks in the February 8 issue. Click here to join and see the entire list of new money buys with yields that average 5%.

Business & Finance News – Yahoo! Finance

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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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Northeast storm disrupts travel for sports teams

Several professional and college sports teams were forced to rearrange their travel plans as a massive storm swept through the Northeast, dumping a few feet of snow in some areas.

The NBA's New York Knicks were stuck in Minnesota after playing the Timberwolves on Friday night, hoping to try to fly home sometime Saturday. The San Antonio Spurs were also staying overnight in Detroit after seeing their 11-game winning streak fall to the Pistons, awaiting word on when they might be able to fly to New York for their game Sunday night at Brooklyn.

"We can't get there tonight — we know that," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "So we're going to stay here tonight and try to get there (Saturday). Hopefully, we will be able to get there, but at this point, we don't know."

Airlines canceled more than 5,300 flights through Saturday, and New York City's three major airports and Boston's Logan Airport closed.

The Brooklyn Nets planned to take a train home instead of flying from Washington D.C. after losing to the Wizards on Friday night.

Knicks coach Mike Woodson said before a 100-94 victory that his team initially planned to fly home after the game, but the flight had already been postponed. New York is scheduled to play the Los Angeles Clippers at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

The NHL's Boston Bruins pushed back the start of Saturday's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning by six hours because of the blizzard. The game originally slated for 1 p.m. was rescheduled for 7 p.m., but Boston was expected to be one of the cities hit hardest by the storm.

The storm had dumped more than 2 feet of snow on New England by early Saturday and knocked out power to 650,000 customers. The National Weather Service said up to 3 feet of snow is expected in Boston, threatening the city's 2003 record of 27.6 inches.

The Bruins and Lightning each already had road games scheduled for Sunday night.

The New Jersey Devils were still scheduled to host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 1 p.m., while the New York Islanders were slated to play at home against the Buffalo Sabres at 7 p.m.

Two Ivy League men's college basketball games that were scheduled for Saturday night were moved back to Sunday because of treacherous travel conditions.

Dartmouth will play at Cornell at noon on Sunday in Ithaca, N.Y., and Harvard will visit Columbia at 2 p.m. Sunday in New York. Dartmouth played at Columbia on Friday night, and Harvard played at Cornell. Two other Ivy League games were still scheduled to be played Saturday night, with Yale visiting Princeton and Brown playing at Pennsylvania.

Aqueduct also called off Saturday's card because of the storm. The track and Belmont Park were expected to remain open for wagering on out-of-town races, with racing scheduled to resume Sunday.

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How Obama can end Congo conflict

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo

Conflict in Congo


  • President Obama can help end the Congo conflict for good, says Vava Tampa

  • Obama has asked Rwanda to end all support to armed groups in the Congo

  • FDLR militia gang is a threat to stability and must leave Congo

  • Obama must push for change in Congolese government, argues Tampa

Editor's note: Vava Tampa is the founder of Save the Congo, a London-based campaign to tackle "the impunity, insecurity, institutional failure and the international trade of minerals funding the wars in Democratic Republic of the Congo." Follow Vava Tampa on twitter: @VavaTampa

(CNN) -- Now that President Obama has taken a public stand on the warlords and militia gangs tyrannizing DR Congo, there is a sense that the next chapter in the human tragedy that has been raging there over the past decade and half is about to be written -- or so we can hope.

In the DRC -- Africa's largest sub-Saharan country -- invasions, proxy wars and humanitarian crises have senselessly shut down millions of lives, displaced millions more from their homes and left countless women and young girls brutally raped with the world barely raising an eyebrow.

The latest murderous attempt by the M23 militia gang to besiege Goma, the strategic regional capital of Congo's eastern province of North Kivu, seems to have backfired.

Vava Tampa

Vava Tampa

The United Nations says Rwanda has helped to create and militarily supported M23. Although Rwandan President Paul Kagame denies backing M23, the accusation has taken off some of the international gloss he had long enjoyed in the West, and precipitated cuts and suspension of aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime by the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany, Britain and the European Union.

The United States, which gives no money directly to the Rwandan government, suspended its military aid. In a baffling expression of a refinement of the U.S. position, President Obama made a rare telephone call to Kagame to emphasize "the importance of permanently ending all support to armed groups in the DRC." That set a firm red line on the situation in that region, the first one by President Obama since becoming president in 2008.

Watch video: Kagame on Congo

This was certainly right and good. Kagame is no fool; the diplomatic but emphatic content of that telephone call, monitored by White House's National Security staff and published thereafter for public consumption, speaks volumes. He clearly understood the implicit threat. But it was not good enough.

Left unsaid is that withholding aid money that goes directly to the Kagame regime has not changed many realities on the ground -- a painful reminder of the limits of what previous half-hearted, ambivalent international attempts to halt the crisis in that country had achieved.

However, the situation is not hopeless. President Obama can help to halt the wars engulfing the Congo. It is both economically and politically affordable.

Here is my suggestion -- a three-point road map, if you like, for President Obama, should he choose to put the weight of the United States squarely on the side of the Congolese and engage much more robustly to help end the world's bloodiest war and human tragedy.

Read more: Why the world is ignoring Congo war

1. Changes in Kinshasa

If we are to be blunt with ourselves, Congo's major problem today -- the chief reason that country remains on its knees -- is its president Joseph Kabila. Paul Kagame is just a symptom, at least in theory.

The crisis of leadership in the capital Kinshasa, the disastrous blend of lack of political legitimacy and moral authority, mixed with poor governance and vision deficiency, then compounded with dilapidated state institutions, has become the common denominator to the ills and wrongs that continues to overwhelm the Congo.

In other words, peace will never be secured in Congo, if the moribund status quo is still strutting around Kinshasa.

Obama's minimum objective in regard to ending the wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo should be to push for changes in Kinshasa. He must make this one of the "10 Commandments" of the Obama Doctrine.

Circumstances demand it to re-energize Congo's chance of success and to enable the renaissance of a "New Africa." And given the effects of Congo's mounting death toll and the speed at which HIV/AIDS is spreading because of the use of rape as a weapon of war, the sooner the better.

2. Keep Kagame in the naughty corner

The wars and human tragedy engulfing the Congo have many fathers and many layers. Rwanda, and to some extent Uganda -- run by Africa's two dearest autocratic but staunchly pro-American regimes -- are, as they have been many times in the past, despite their denials, continuing to provide support to warlords and militia gangs terrorizing the Congolese people.

This is not an apocryphal claim, it's an open secret in Kinshasa, Kampala and Kigali as much as it is in Washington or White Hall, and as real as Charles Taylor's role in Sierra Leone or Iran's support to Hezbollah.

If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords ... is critical.
Vava Tampa, Save the Congo

Indeed, reporters across Congo and across the region would testify to this. Kigali has been, one can safely argue, the sole shareholder in the M23 militia gang -- and its elder sisters CNDP and RCD-Goma.

It cannot wash its hands in Pontius Pilate fashion of either the ICC-wanted M23 warlord Bosco Ntaganda, also known as The Terminator, or Laurent Nkunda, who is wanted by the Congolese government for war crimes and is under house arrest in Kigali.

Read more: Prosecutor seeks new Congo war crimes warrants

If President Obama is remotely serious about saving lives in Congo, then fracturing Rwanda's ability to directly or indirectly harbor warlords, support militia gangs, militarize or ethnicize the wars in Congo for control of Congo's easily appropriable but highly valuable natural resources is critical, however politically disgruntling it may be to some in the State Department.

It would reduce the scale, scope and intensity of the killing, raping and uprooting of the Congolese, it would crush Kinshasa's ability to use external support to warlords and militia gangs as an alibi for a lack of progress and, above all, decrease the growing unease of the Congolese towards Rwanda over the crimes of FDLR and the role played by their government in Congo.


The continued existence in Congo of FDLR, a Rwandan militia gang made up largely of Hutus -- whose leadership took part in the 1994 genocide of Tutsi -- remains one of the most persistent and serious threats to stability in Congo and the region.

Addressing this crisis is of significant importance from both a political and humanitarian viewpoint.

Though there are no definitive statistics on the exact numbers of FDLR fighters, the good news is that experts tell us that the vast majority of its rank and file are in their 20s and early 30s, which means they were too young to have taken part in the genocide in 1994.

The United States, together with the U.N., the EU and African Union, should appoint a special envoy for the African Great Lakes region to midwife a conducive political arrangement in Kigali that could see them returning home -- and see their leaders and fundraisers in Europe arrested.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Vava Tampa.

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Springsteen says “freaky” to be honored at pre-Grammys tribute

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Bruce Springsteen was honored as MusiCares Person of the Year on Friday at a star-studded pre-Grammys event where some of the biggest names in music like Sting, Alabama Shakes and Neil Young paid homage to “The Boss.”

The annual event, now in its 23rd year, celebrates a star’s musical achievements and philanthropic work, and is hosted by Grammy organizers to kick off the weekend of the awards show.

The 55th annual Grammy Awards will air this Sunday on CBS.

Past Musicares honorees include Bono, Tony Bennett, Aretha Franklin and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney.

“It’s kind of a freaky experience,” said Springsteen, 63, as he accepted the award, saying it was “like the Italian wedding” he never had with his wife Patti Scialfa, or a “huge Bar Mitzvah.”

Scialfa later accompanied Springsteen on vocals and guitar, along with other members of his band, as he performed a set of his hits, including “We Take Care of Our Own,” “Born to Run” and “Glory Days.”

Earlier in the night, he helped boost the value of an auctioned signed guitar. “With this guitar comes one free guitar lesson with me,” he said to the audience to trigger more bids. Then he threw in a ride in the sidecar of his Harley motorcycle, and his mom’s lasagna. The guitar sold for $ 250,000.

All of the proceeds from the show and silent auction go to Musicares, which provides support to struggling musicians in financial, medical and personal need.

Other artists including Ben Harper, Emmylou Harris, Jackson Browne, John Legend and Patti Smith performed songs to honor Springsteen.

Springsteen recently performed at the 12/12/12 Hurricane Sandy charity concert in Madison Square Garden to raise funds for the thousands affected by the superstorm.

The singer-songwriter from New Jersey has sold more than 120 million albums worldwide and is vying for three Grammys on Sunday, including best rock album for “Wrecking Ball.” His single “We Take Care of Our Own” is nominated for both Best Rock Song and Best Rock performance.

President Barack Obama used “We Take Care of Our Own” as one of his top campaign songs in last year’s election, in which he defeated Mitt Romney.

(Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

Music News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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The Economy Likely Grew After All, Thanks to Oil

There were big headlines—here and elsewhere—after the government reported on Jan. 30 that the U.S. economy shrank in the fourth quarter.

Never mind. A little more than a week later, surprisingly good trade figures today are leading economists to predict that the government will revise its gross domestic product estimate for the last three months of 2012 into positive territory.

The Department of Commerce said the trade deficit shrank 21 percent to about $ 39 billion, the smallest trade gap since January 2010. Oil was the biggest factor. The U.S. imported the fewest barrels of crude in almost 16 years, while fuel exports actually rose.

Commerce’s Bureau of Economic Analysis releases its first estimate on quarterly GDP growth just a month after the quarter ends, so it’s forced to make assumptions and extrapolations to fill in for missing data. The accuracy of its estimate improves as more complete information arrives.

Economists quickly incorporated the new figures into their GDP estimates. Macroeconomic Advisers (briefly) estimated that the economy grew at a 0.7 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter.

“The U.S. trade balance improved dramatically at the end of last year,” UniCredit (UCG) economist Harm Bandholz wrote to clients.

Wait, though. That wasn’t the end of things. Shortly after putting out better-than-expected trade data, the government released worse-than-expected data on wholesale inventories. Macroeconomic Advisers’ Ben Herzon said incorporating inventories would probably reduce its growth estimate to roughly 0.4 percent to 0.5 percent. Barclays (BCS) estimated 0.3 percent. JPMorgan Chase (JPM) economist Daniel Silver wrote to clients: “Our tracking estimate of 4Q GDP growth is now at 0.2%.”

The net of the flurry of revisions is that the economy probably didn’t really shrink in the fourth quarter after all. On the other hand, it didn’t grow much, either.

Businessweek.com — Top News

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Denver’s Housing Market Continued to Recover in January Offering an Unprecedented Opportunity for Sellers

DENVER, CO–(Marketwire – Feb 8, 2013) –  Year-over-year inventory levels continue to be low, home prices are up and average days on market (DOM) for Denver-area homes is down, making for a prime sellers’ market according to the latest reports from Metrolist®, which powers REcolorado.com, a free resource for Colorado home buyers, sellers, and owners.

Since July of last year, the number of available homes on the market has continued to shrink. At the close of January, there were only 7,094 homes for sale, which is 8 percent fewer than December figures. While January numbers typically reflect a seasonal slow down, average sale prices remained up 11 percent from this time last year.

Indicative of the competitive housing market, sellers can expect an extremely quick sales cycle, as the average DOM is at 78 days, 25 percent below January 2012.

“The time is now for sellers who have been waiting to put their home on the market,” said Kirby Slunaker, CEO and President of Metrolist. “Prices are back up to pre-recession levels and homes that have been priced appropriately are receiving multiple bids and closing at much faster rates.”

 ”We’re seeing a general sense of optimism within all facets of the housing industry and these numbers support what we’ve been hearing from local real estate professionals,” says Slunaker.

Historically low inventory levels have also led to a long-awaited uptick in residential construction. According to REcolorado.com’s recently launched new home construction search feature, 850 of the 8,600 listed properties were new homes.

REcolorado.com offers Colorado buyers, sellers and owners a free and easy resource to not only search for homes but also search for real estate agents, new construction and open houses.

“Given the competitiveness of the marketplace, it’s going to be critical that buyers and sellers leverage the many resources that are available to them on REColorado.com as they coordinate their efforts with an experienced realtor,” continued Slunaker.

About REcolorado.com
Before entering the market, buyers and sellers can get free access to up-to-the-minute housing information throughout the state of Colorado at REcolorado.com. The website offers advanced search features and filters for price and location, as well as home values and scheduled open houses. This comprehensive local resource enables both buyers and sellers to enter the housing market well informed.

About Metrolist
Metrolist is the largest MLS in the state of Colorado, supporting the largest network of Realtors® with the most comprehensive database of real property listings throughout the Front Range. Realtor-owned since 1984, Metrolist provides leading technology solutions to real estate agents and brokers to better serve buyers and sellers. More information about Metrolist is available at www.metrolist.com.

Marketwire News Archive – Yahoo! Finance

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Market rises on data but caution settles on Wall Street

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged higher on Friday, with the benchmark S&P index hitting a five-year high after a batch of positive economic reports, but gains were capped as investors grew cautious about a further advance.

Data showing stronger international trade from China and Germany and a report showing a smaller U.S. trade deficit in December were seen as encouraging signs of global demand.

Among stocks on the rise, the technology sector was boosted by gains in LinkedIn Corp and AOL Inc following their quarterly results.

The S&P 500 <.spx>, up 6.3 percent for the year, is on track for six straight weeks of gains. But the index has found it tougher to climb in recent days as investors await strong trading incentives to drive it further upward.

"We are going to have this churn and this consolidation, which actually isn't a bad thing," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

The market is building a base by consolidating and showing less volatility, he said.

"If it builds a base, from there it is easier to make the argument that you move ahead," Polcari said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 34.83 points, or 0.25 percent, at 13,978.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 6.06 points, or 0.40 percent, at 1,515.45. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 25.90 points, or 0.82 percent, at 3,191.04.

The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, was down 4.2 percent at 12.94. The gauge generally moves inversely to the S&P 500.

Still, there were concerns whether the market would stride higher.

"I'm watching the 14 level closely. 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," said Bryan Sapp, senior trading analyst at Schaeffer's Investment Research.

Healthcare stocks also performed well. The Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index <.hmo> was up 2.3 percent. Molina Healthcare Inc surged 9.7 percent to $31.67 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.

McDonald's Corp said January sales at established hamburger restaurants around the world fell 1.9 percent, a steeper decline than analysts had expected. Still, shares edged up 0.7 percent to $95.31.

Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand, while 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.

Another positive sign was U.S. economic data which 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.

Shares of LinkedIn jumped 18.8 percent to $147.40 after announcing quarterly profits and giving a bullish forecast for the year.

AOL Inc shares also jumped 7 percent to $33.60 after the online company said its quarterly profit had jumped, boosted by a 13 percent rise in advertising sales.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday morning, of 339 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69.9 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies grew 5.2 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Super Bowl blackout traced to preventive equipment

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — An electrical device that had been installed expressly to prevent a power outage caused the Super Bowl blackout, the stadium's power company said Friday as it took the blame for the outage that brought the game to a halt for more than a half-hour.

Officials of Entergy New Orleans, a subsidiary of New Orleans-based Entergy Corp., said the device, called a relay, had been installed in switching gear to protect the Superdome from a cable failure between the company's incoming power line and lines that run into the stadium.

The switching gear is housed in a building known as "the vault" near the stadium that receives a line directly from a nearby Entergy power substation. Once the line reaches the vault, it splits into two cables that go into the Superdome.

Company officials said the device performed with no problems during January's Sugar Bowl and other earlier events, but has been removed and will be replaced. All systems at the Superdome are now working and the dome will host a major Mardi Gras event Saturday night, said Doug Thornton, an executive with SMG, the company that manages the stadium for the state.

The power failure at Sunday's big game cut lights to about half of the stadium for 34 minutes, halting play between the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers.

The FBI had ruled out cyberterrorism as a cause.

Entergy's announcement came shortly before officials appeared before a committee of the City Council, which is the regulatory body for the company, to answer questions about the outage.

Entergy New Orleans CEO Charles Rice and Dennis Dawsey, an Entergy vice president for distribution, told the Council that SMG agrees the cause of the outage was a relay failure. Asked if the two corporations still plan to hire a third-party investigator, Rice said that possibility remains open.

Committee member Jackie Clarkson pressed for such an independent probe. "We've told the public we're going to have an outside investigation," she said.

"We'll work closely with SMG and if there is a need for a third-party investigation, we will do that," Rice said.

It remains unclear whether the problem with the relay was a design flaw or a manufacturing problem. Rice said Entergy is working with the manufacturer.

"I'm pleased that we were able to find the root cause," Thornton said.

Shabab Mehraeen, an assistant professor of electrical engineering at Louisiana State University, said the relay device is a common electrical fixture in businesses and massive facilities such as the Superdome.

"They are designed to keep a problem they sense from becoming something bigger, like a fire or catastrophic event," said Mehraeen, who holds a doctorate from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo.

The devices vary in size, and while Mehraeen noted he was not familiar with the specifics of the relay at the Superdome, he added, "I wouldn't be surprised if it was bigger than a truck."

Mehraeen said the reasons the devices fail are the subject of much academic research into the interaction of relays with the complex electrical systems they regulate.

"It's not unusual for them to have problems," he said. "They can be unpredictable despite national testing standards recommended by manufacturers."

Entergy and SMG had both upgraded lines and equipment in the months leading up to the Super Bowl. Rice said the new switching gear, with the faulty relay, was installed as part of a $4.2 million upgrade by Entergy, including the installation of a new power line dedicated solely to the stadium.

In a separate project, SMG replaced lines coming into the stadium after managers expressed concerns the Superdome might be vulnerable to a power failure like the one that struck Candlestick Park during a 49ers Monday Night Football game in 2011. That outage was blamed at least partly on a transformer explosion.

Thornton stressed Friday that the dome was drawing only about two-thirds of its power capacity Super Bowl night, and said typical NFL games in late August or September can draw a little more.

City officials had worried that the Super Bowl outage might harm New Orleans' chances of getting another NFL championship game.

But NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell downplayed that possibility after the outage, saying the NFL planned to keep New Orleans in its Super Bowl plans. Mayor Mitch Landrieu said the city intends to bid for the Super Bowl in 2018.

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Why I dread Chinese New Year

Kids see Chinese New Year through rose-tinted glasses.


  • Zoe Li: As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare

  • It's a time when relatives have the right to be judgmental

  • Superstitious Chinese New Year foods often aren't that tasty

(CNN) -- For me, Chinese New Year used to be fun.

When I was a kid, I was excited during Chinese New Year when I got lai see and I could stay up late. I even had access to candy, a once-a-year treat while living under the roof of my Tiger Mom.

Riding strong on the sugar highs, I always thought to myself, this is what it must feel like to be an adult. I was flush, free and giddy.

Then at some point in my twenties, Chinese New Year became a chore. Not any garden variety chore, but a cold-sweat-inducing family obligation that I try hard to avoid.

As an adult, Chinese New Year is an annual nightmare, for the following reasons:

1. I find it sucks when you are single

Single twenty-something? Smile while you can until the interrogation begins.

Relatives feel that they have a right to judge you because you do share bits of DNA, so, really, it's almost like they're judging themselves.

Typically, the extended family gathers for Chinese New Year and spends an inordinate amount of time together, during which people get bored and focus their restlessness on judging the younger generation, particularly those who are single.

Singledom means a lack of responsibilities and responsibility-free people need to be reined in by the wisdom of elders, or they will be reckless with their directionless lives.

Here are some unavoidable conversations at Chinese New Year. By "conversations" I really mean monologues by one Wise Elder or another, fired away at a particular Single Younger in a trance-like manner:

"Why don't you have a boyfriend? If you have a boyfriend, why don't you get married?"

"Why are you not dieting at least a little bit? Second Cousin Yong Yong will have to start bringing clothes from America for you."

"What happened to your hair? Blue is not such a good color for us Chinese people."

"Are you saving up for an apartment? Why not? The most important thing in life is to have a roof over your head. You don't want to be homeless, do you? What if the economy collapses again? At least you will have an apartment."

"Why don't you get a better paid job? You are wasting your talent. You will regret your life."

2. I am employed

I loved the great Chinese tradition of gifting lai see. Getting HK$20 for no reason other than tradition really rocked my seven-year-old world.

I have an income now, so twenty bucks here and there doesn't make a huge difference, but I still retain that childhood anticipation for the red packets. It's just a bit disappointing when I open up an envelope and it isn't concealing a massive check.

And it's the guilt from feeling disappointed that makes me really hate Chinese New Year for making me hate myself.

It's just like being unable to conceal your letdown expression when unwrapping that pair of socks at Secret Santa parties.

Gifting is a heartwarming tradition. It's the thought that counts. I am not supposed to care. I am a bad person.

There's even worse.

Chinese New Year gambling is just out of hand.

Now that I have a job, I'm expected to bet real money at The Mahjong Table, a no man's land filled with hidden agendas, treacherous scheming and Janus-faced traitors.

If you beat your elder relatives at mahjong one too many times, beware their wrath. It really hurts when you get hit by a mahjong tile.

If you lose on purpose to your elders and are unable to skillfully conceal your purposefulness, you risk looking patronizing.

It will put them in a bad mood and lead to a vengeful "what are you doing with your life" interrogation later. See point number one.

If you're simply crap at the game, you lose a load of money and will probably be judged for being not very intelligent. See point number one again.

3. I like good food

Chinese New Year cake is good only when it's homemade.

When foreigners make jokes about Chinese eating weird foods, I cringe.

When Chinese New Year comes around, I'm the one making the damn jokes.

At this time of year, we do get some incredible festive dishes.

And then there are those odd ones that make you feel like the taste, texture and nutritional content of food have all become irrelevant -- we only eat for superstitions.

Lots of Chinese New Year foods are auspicious in meaning, but atrocious in taste. I propose that we at least get rid of these three that are now out of touch with our lives:

Chinese New Year cake

Called "leen go" in Cantonese ("niangao" in mainland China), the name sounds auspicious and means "to progress more and reach higher every year."

The cake is made from glutionous rice, sugar and flavored with red bean paste or jujubes. Cut into thin slices, dip into beaten eggs and pan fry until it's gooey on the inside and crisp on the outside.

The problem is, no one makes these at home anymore and the store-bought version is bland and stodgy, like eating slices of caulking.

Since glutinous rice is considered difficult to digest for the elderly, us Single Youngers who have nothing to lose are forced to finish the plateful.

Sugared lotus seeds

Back in the day -- before globalization brought us jelly beans and Sugus, before the invention of Coca-Cola, before Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans to the Old World -- eating sugar-coated lotus seeds during Chinese New Year seemed like a good idea.

Today, we have so many more delicious ways to feed our sweet tooth, so why do people still buy sugared lotus seeds?

They look like mothballs, taste one dimensional and feel like a marble of sand broken upon the tongue.

The name "leen tsi" sounds like "to birth sons each year." No one in the family likes to eat them and most of them already have kids, which means us Single Youngers have to swallow.

Gok tsai

These are deep-fried sweet dumplings. The skin is a thick, lifeless pastry made from lard, the filling is a mind-numbingly sweet blend of sugar and nuts.

Its shape and color makes it, somewhat, resemble a gold ingot. Eating these symbolize prosperity for the new year.

If I had to run a marathon, I might appreciate the fat bomb. But the only thing that I run are scripts on my browser.

That point, like the others in this post, is lost on the Wise Elders, wise as they are.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Zoe Li. A former CNN employee, Zoe is a Hong Kong resident and edits the Hong Kong section of BLOUIN ARTINFO.

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HMV boss Moore axed as one of 60 redundancies: source

LONDON (Reuters) – Administrators at HMV, the British music and video retailer which hit the rocks last month, have made the group’s chief executive Trevor Moore redundant, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Deloitte, which was appointed as administrator by HMV after the firm struggled against competition from online retailers, supermarkets and streaming sites, had on Friday announced 60 redundancies across HMV’s head office network.

It would not comment on whether Moore was one of those leaving the firm. He joined HMV in 2012 from camera specialist Jessops, which also went into administration this year.

The redundancies follow a move on Thursday to close 66 loss-making HMV stores over the next two months, putting almost 1,000 jobs at risk. The group currently operates from 220 stores in the UK and employs around 4,000 people.

Deloitte is seeking a buyer for all or parts of the business, with analysts expecting it to survive in a much smaller form with an online offering.

In January restructuring specialist Hilco bought HMV’s debt, giving the firm a big say in the fate of the 92-year-old group.

(Reporting by Neil Maidment; Editing by Kate Holton)

Music News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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How Samsung Is Winning the Ad War With Apple

68de3  3Gduepif0T1UGY8H4yMDoxOm1qO387Kn How Samsung Is Winning the Ad War With ApplePlay

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) — Bloomberg Businessweek’s Sam Grobart has bad news for Apple: Samsung is winning the messaging wars with ads that are more clever, more current and connect more directly with consumers.

Businessweek.com — Top News

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US mortgage rates stay this week near record lows

The average U.S. rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage was unchanged this week near historic lows.

Here’s a look at rates for fixed and adjustable mortgages over the past 52 weeks:

Current avg.Last week52-week high52-week low
30-year fixed3.533.534.083.31
15-year fixed2.772.813.302.63
5-year adjustable2.632.702.962.63
1-year adjustable2.532.592.842.52
All values in percentage points
Source: Freddie Mac Primary Mortgage Market Survey

Yahoo! Finance – Personal Finance | Loans

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Wall Street dips on renewed euro zone concerns

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Shares fell on Thursday after the euro currency dropped against the safe-haven dollar and yen, raising worries about Europe's outlook and curbing investors' appetite for risky assets such as stocks.

The euro sank after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the exchange rate was important to growth and price stability, which investors took as a sign the bank is concerned about the euro's advance in recent days.

U.S. stocks have been in an uninterrupted uptrend for most of the year, with the S&P 500 gaining more than 5 percent for 2013.

"The market is a bit shaky on the back of some of the Draghi comments" amid worry the strength of the euro might hamper economic recovery, said Andre Bakhos, director of market analytics at LEK Securities in New York.

"Whether this ignites renewed concerns about the euro debt struggles and Europe in general is yet to be seen, but the market is looking for any reason to take a profit. It is just consolidating near multi-year highs, taking a respite before we advance higher."

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was down 92.05 points, or 0.66 percent, at 13,894.47. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was down 7.93 points, or 0.52 percent, at 1,504.19. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 14.95 points, or 0.47 percent, at 3,153.52.

Housing and retail stocks were the day's biggest decliners. The housing sector index <.hgx> was off 1 percent and the S&P housing index <.spxrt> was off 0.5 percent.

Top U.S. retailers reported strong January sales after offering compelling merchandise that drew in shoppers facing a hit to their take-home pay from higher payroll taxes.

Macy's Inc rose 1.3 percent to $40.01 after reporting January same store sales rose 11.7 percent.

But Ann Inc dropped 6.6 percent to $30.63 after forecasting fourth-quarter sales below analysts' expectations.

Fund manager David Einhorn's Greenlight Capital on Thursday said it has sued Apple Inc and said the company needs to do more to unlock value for shareholders. Apple shares gained 1.2 percent at $460.16.

Akamai Technologies Inc lost 15.6 percent to $35.06 as the worst performer on the S&P 500 after the Internet content delivery company forecast current-quarter revenue below analysts' expectations.

Initial jobless claims dipped last week, with the four-week moving average falling to its lowest level since March 2008, signaling the economy continues to recover slowly.

A separate report said fourth-quarter productivity registered its biggest drop in nearly two years, while unit labor costs jumped 4.5 percent, more than economists expected.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of 317 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies rose 5 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)

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NFL reinstates Williams, Titans add him to staff

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The NFL has reinstated Gregg Williams after suspending him for his role in the New Orleans' bounty scandal, and the Titans have added him to their coaching staff.

The NFL ended Williams' indefinite suspension Thursday and approved the Titans' contract hiring Williams. Tennessee also announced in the same release that Williams had been hired as a senior assistant coach for its defense.

The league issued a statement saying that Commissioner Roger Goodell cited several reasons for reinstating Williams including that Williams accepted responsibility for his role in the bounty program, his commitment to never be involved in any pay for performance system and pledging to teach safe play and respect for the rules.

"The commissioner emphasized that Williams must fully conform to league rules and will be subject to periodic monitoring to confirm his compliance," the NFL said in its statement.

Williams, suspended indefinitely last March, is the last person involved in the scandal to be reinstated by league. New Orleans coach Sean Payton had his suspension lifted on Jan. 22.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six. Four current or former Saints players were also suspended after an investigation found the club had a performance pool offering cash rewards for key plays, including big hits. The player suspensions eventually were overturned.

Williams coached for the Saints between 2009 and 2011 and was hired as defensive coordinator by the St. Louis Rams in January 2012 before being suspended. Williams had been free to look for a new job in the NFL since the playoffs started, and now he is returning to the team where he got his start in the league back in 1990.

The Titans scheduled a news conference for Thursday afternoon with Williams expected to be on hand along with Titans coach Mike Munchak.

"I have known Gregg for over two decades and have seen him work his way up from a quality control coach to a head coach," Munchak said in a statement. "He will bring a great deal of defensive knowledge and energy to our staff. The decision to bring him here only came after going through a thoughtful and thorough process."

How well this move works remains to be seen, but Munchak faces a must-win situation going into his third season as head coach.

The Titans missed the playoffs in his first season on a tiebreaker in 2011 before slumping to a 6-10 record in 2012. Fans have not been happy that Munchak has kept Jerry Gray as his coordinator after a season when Tennessee set a franchise record by allowing 471 points, gave up at least 30 points in seven different games and ranked 27th in yards allowed.

Munchak previously made only one move on his defensive staff, firing linebackers coach Frank Bush and moving Chet Parlavecchio from assisting with special teams to linebackers coach.

Williams will be working with Gray, the same man he took with him to Buffalo when he was hired as the Bills head coach in 2001 after four seasons as Tennessee's defensive coordinator under then-coach Jeff Fisher. Gray also worked with Williams at the Washington Redskins between 2004-07 before Williams worked with the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2008 and then with the Saints.

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Bring drones out of the shadows?


  • John Brennan's confirmation hearing is a chance to ask about drone program, author says

  • Sarah Holewinski: Brennan is one of a few officials who knows full story on drones

  • She says senators need to ask about damage drone program does to civilians, U.S. reputation

  • Holewinski: CIA should hand over drone program to Defense Department

Editor's note: Sarah Holewinski is executive director of the Center for Civilians in Conflict, which advocates protections for civilians affected by armed conflict. She was a member of the White House AIDS policy team in President Bill Clinton's second term.

(CNN) -- The president's pick for CIA director -- John Brennan -- is one of a handful of U.S. officials who understands America's covert drone campaign inside and out.

Nearly everyone else is in the dark about the whos, wheres and whys of the program, including most members of Congress. But Brennan is also one of the few U.S. officials who's stood in front of a public audience and tried to explain the targeting of terrorists outside recognized battlefields. And while overseeing a massive use of lethal force, Brennan is also known inside the administration as a moderating voice in the fight against terrorism.

Sarah Holewinski

Sarah Holewinski

The fact is, Brennan's personal views are as opaque as the drone campaign itself. He may assume leadership of the CIA and decide a clandestine agency should not conduct what is an obvious military operation (a stance I and many others would fully support); after all, a veteran of the CIA may believe the agency should get back to gritty intelligence gathering.

Or, maybe Brennan believes that when it comes to the fight against al Qaeda, the public and its Congress should trust the executive office to protect the American people by whatever means it sees fit.

One way or the other, this week's Senate confirmation hearings should be an opportunity to bring Brennan's views out of the shadows, along with the basic attributes and justifications of the covert drone campaign. The man, the machine and the policy are inextricably linked.

Bergen: John Brennan, America's drone warrior

U.S. officials have consistently claimed that offering too many details about the covert drone program could threaten national security. Fair enough; some classification for national security is understandable. But the secrecy surrounding covert drone use is unduly excessive and not in keeping with the transparent government President Barack Obama promised.

Since the bulk of Brennan's hearing will be behind closed doors, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence has no reason to shy away from asking tough questions about the drone program. It matters that Congress is there to represent the American people. On their behalf, Congress has a duty to ensure the use of lethal force beyond our borders is being considered and carried out responsibly, with due consideration for the harm it may inflict on civilian populations.

Talk Back: Should U.S. be able to kill American terrorist suspects without trial?

Senators might ask a very basic question to Brennan, one that is seldom clearly answered by the administration: "What impact is the drone campaign against al Qaeda and its associates having?"

John Brennan, President Barack Obama's choice for CIA director, has been deeply involved in the U.S. drone program.

This is a fundamental question of accountability any U.S. official involved in setting or carrying out counterterrorism policy should be able to answer. That answer may describe a dwindling kill list, but it must also put forward facts about what impact drones are having on civilians living under them.

U.S. armed forces in Afghanistan and Iraq learned that the positive or negative impacts of an operation on the local population are an important metric of mission effectiveness. Commanders worked hard to reverse anti-American sentiment caused by a seemingly callous U.S. attitude toward civilian deaths and injuries. In the case of counterterrorism operations, palpable anger toward America would be antithetical to the goal of decreasing the number of terrorists and those who support their cause.

As it stands, it's unclear whether anyone, including Brennan, knows what negative consequences are emerging on the ground because of remote drones.

Rather, claims of low civilian casualties and drone precision capabilities paint a picture of extreme effectiveness in taking out terrorists while sparing civilians. It's true that a drone is precise, meaning it will hit what it is aimed at -- a building, a bunker or a person. But there are valid concerns about whether the target hit is the right one.

Opinion: When are drone killings illegal?

Remote drones likely rely on sources that may be questionable such as video and cell phone intercepts to identify a target. Civilians may be mistakenly targeted as combatants and counted as such because there are no ground troops to conduct a battle damage assessment, interview witnesses or properly identify bodies.

Civilians may also get caught up in so-called "signature strikes" in which operators target individuals based on behavior, not on known identity. This is legally questionable but also has real ramifications for civilians living under drones.

If a civilian in Pakistan doesn't know what behavior makes him a target for U.S. drones, he cannot fully protect himself and his family. If a drone harms his family, even mistakenly, our research shows they won't receive an apology, explanation or any help from the United States. Certainly there will be no love lost for America.

Any deaths and injuries are compounded by psychological trauma, displacement and fear and suspicion among neighbors. One Pakistani told us, "We fear that the drones will strike us again. ... My aged parents are often in a state of fear. We are depressed, anxious and constantly remembering our deceased family members."

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the former commander of international forces in Afghanistan, recently noted, "What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world. ... (T)he resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes ... is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who've never seen one or seen the effects of one."

The drone program needs to come out of the shadows, with explanations about who is a civilian, who is a target, and how drone operators distinguish between the two.

The CIA should get out of the drone operation business, handing it over to the Defense Department, which has a culture of learning lessons, accountability to Congress and a new openness about civilian protection after 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Drone operators should be trained in civilian protection best practices, and any civilian harmed should receive recognition and help for their losses, in accordance with the values American policymakers have espoused about humanity even during times of war.

The Senate may confirm Brennan as head of the CIA. It should also confirm where he stands on government accountability for lethal force and the CIA's role in the remote drone program.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sarah Holewinski.

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RBS fined $612 million for rate rigging

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Royal Bank of Scotland was fined $ 612 million and a subsidiary admitted to a criminal offence as regulators nailed a third bank in a global investigation into rigging of benchmark interest rates.

RBS, 82-percent-owned by the state after a bailout at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, said on Wednesday it was cutting bonuses to help pay for the fine, in a bid to avoid a public backlash.

The bank fears the scandal will embolden critics who want it to further shrink its profitable investment bank and focus on basic lending at home.

“This is a sad day for RBS, but also an important one in continuing to put right the mistakes of the past,” Chairman Philip Hampton said.

More than a dozen banks and brokerage firms, including JP Morgan, Deutsche Bank and Citigroup, are being investigated by regulators over the manipulation of benchmark interest rates such as Libor and Euribor, which are used to price trillions of dollars worth of loans.

Switzerland’s UBS agreed in December to pay fines of $ 1.5 billion, and Britain’s Barclays has paid $ 453 million, for their role in the Libor scandal.

Deutsche Bank said on Wednesday it had suspended five traders in connection with alleged manipulation of Euribor, a source familiar with the matter said.

Investigators said they discovered hundreds of attempts by at least 21 RBS employees in London, Singapore and Tokyo to manipulate Libor. RBS traders aided dealers at other banks, including UBS, to rig the rates and helped UBS staff to bribe brokers for their assistance in the manipulation.

The abuse at RBS occurred from at least 2006 until late 2010 – after some of the traders learned of the probe into Libor.

The U.S. Department of Justice said RBS was guilty of a “stunning abuse of trust,” while Britain’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) said more fines were likely for other banks.

“The size and scale of our continuing investigations remains significant,” said Tracey McDermott, director of enforcement and financial crime at the FSA.

RBS is paying 87.5 million pounds ($ 137 million) to the FSA, $ 150 million to the U.S. Department of Justice and $ 325 million to the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

A unit of the bank in Japan also pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud, a criminal offence in the United States.

However, RBS avoided criminal liability in the United States, meaning it can retain its banking license there and avoid a fire sale of its U.S. business Citizens.


RBS said all but six of the 21 staff implicated had either been fired or had already left the bank. The remainder were being disciplined.

The bank will cut 300 million pounds ($ 470 million) from its bonus pool, including clawing back awards from previous years, to help pay the fine, it said.

John Hourican, head of RBS’s investment bank, is leaving at the end of April after it was discovered the manipulation went on after he took charge. He had no involvement in, or knowledge of, the misconduct, RBS said.

“The conduct of those involved was disgraceful and has brought shame on our company,” the Irish man said in an email to staff on Wednesday.

Hourican, who hit the headlines last year when he made nearly 5 million pounds from selling shares given to him in a 2009 bonus, will receive a year’s salary but forgo share awards.

RBS has shrunk its balance sheet by 700 billion pounds and cut thousands of jobs as it tries to re-invent itself as a “normal lender” after the previous management’s ambitions for global domination went belly up during the financial crisis.

But British Business Secretary Vince Cable said the bank was “in limbo” and should have been fully nationalized when it was rescued in the financial crisis.

The Liberal Democrat said early hopes for a re-privatization of RBS now looked a “distant dream” and resurrected an idea he originally proposed in 2011 that shares in RBS should be distributed to the public by the government so that they share in any eventual recovery in the bank’s stock price.

“This is nothing short of kamikaze greed,” Laura Willoughby, chief executive of consumer group Move Your Money, said of the activity of the RBS traders implicated in rate rigging.

“Libor is the railroad tracks on which our banking system runs, RBS and other banks have shattered trust in the very foundations of our financial system.”

At 1545 GMT RBS shares were up 0.6 percent at 339.6 pence. The stock outperformed a weaker pan-European banking index as traders welcomed the removal of what one called “a major overhang” in the stock price.

($ 1 = 0.6382 British pounds)

(Additional reporting by Laura Noonan, Tim Castle and Myles Neligan in London and Douwe Miedema and Aruna Viswanatha in Washington; Editing by Mark Potter)

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How To Transition Into A Finance Career

Transitioning into a finance career after you’ve spent many years in another industry may seem exciting to some and daunting to others. The world of finance may offer a greater challenge as well as potential improvements in compensation, among other benefits. If you are pondering a midlife career change that involves a transition into finance, then here are a few tips that will help you make the transition.

Take an Assessment of Personality Traits and Professional Skills
A career in finance requires quite a few professional skills, such as a working knowledge of finance and accounting, as well as comfort with a computer and various software programs (Excel is a good example). Those who successfully transition into finance also possess certain non-financial skills, such as the ability to communicate well and good interpersonal skills. To ensure that a career in finance is right for you, a great first step is to assess your skill sets and personality traits.

This step can be accomplished by completing an online career assessment or by contacting your alma mater’s career services office. You may even wish to engage a professional career consultant, who should be able to point you in the right direction when it comes to sizing up your strengths, weaknesses and personality traits. Whichever method you decide to pursue, the goal is to determine how well your knowledge, skills and abilities match the requirements of a finance career.

Perform Research and Conduct Informational Interviews
The next step in your transition into a finance career is to learn as much about your field of interest as possible, ideally by speaking with somebody who has the career that you are interested in pursuing. These conversations, also called “informational interviews,” help you to learn more about the options available to you, given your experience and your area of interest.

You may be wondering, “How do I find somebody with whom I can conduct an informational interview?” Start by asking people within your existing professional and social networks, and expand your circles from there. Rest assured, most people enjoy speaking about their professions and are happy to help if they can. Other options that may lead to informational interviews include becoming a member of a career-specific organization, networking through your alumni association, attending a business networking meeting or cold-calling professionals. Networking is as important as everyone tells you. The more people that you talk to, the more well-informed you will be regarding your options.

Prior to conducting an informational interview, it is important to do as much research as possible so that you can demonstrate your knowledge by asking intelligent questions during the interview. Online resources are aplenty, as are career libraries at universities and public libraries. A little bit of due diligence goes a long way in terms of credibility. A well-conducted informational interview may turn into a job – you never know!

Another important “must do” prior to conducting an informational interview is to craft a professional resume that showcases your knowledge, skills and abilities. Again, there are several online resources that can guide you through this process. Be sure to have your resume ready, just in case the informational interview results in a request for your resume.

Remember: Patience and Perseverance Pay off
Today’s job market presents challenges, so do not get discouraged if your efforts to transition into finance do not immediately bear fruit. Continue to network, conduct informational interviews and apply for relevant positions. Solicit feedback from everyone who speaks to you, as their feedback may help you to adjust your approach as needed.

Finally, You’re Hired!
Getting hired is probably the hardest part of transitioning into the world of finance. Once you are hired, ensure your success by working hard, being proactive and engaging in appropriate networking activities. To that end, be sure to find a mentor once you arrive in your new career, perhaps a senior person who can relate to your experience, either personal or professional. This person can guide you in regards to the the ins and outs of your new career and offer pointers regarding how certain situations should be approached.

The Bottom Line
Though transitioning into a finance career is exciting to some and daunting to others, particularly if such a transition is executed in midlife, rest assured that it is doable. Careful research and effective networking are crucial to a successful transition – just remember to be patient. Finally, once you make the change, be sure to find a mentor who can guide you as you move up on your career ladder.

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