News Archive

Asia shares edge up, wary of China volatility

TOKYO Asian shares inched higher on Friday but were still set to post a loss for the month, while the dollar edged away from highs scaled after U.S. GDP data reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve is likely to raise interest rates this year.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS was up about 0.2 percent at 3:02 GMT, but recorded a loss of 5.9 percent for the month.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index .N225 was little changed, but saw a gain of 1.4 percent for July, the only Asian market ending the month in positive territory – excluding Australia and New Zealand.

Japanese economic data published before the open contained some worrying signals, including a drop in household spending, a fall in Tokyo-area consumer prices and a rise in the June jobless rate.

Investors also awaited more earnings from blue-chip companies and looked for signs of whether China’s volatile stock markets were starting to take a toll on its economy.

In the latest of several attempts to bolster China’s stock market, the securities regulator clamped down on trading accounts that had been found to have abnormal bids for shares or bid cancellations.

China’s CSI300 index .CSI300 fell 0.4 percent, contributing to a 15 percent slump this month. The Shanghai Composite Index .SSEC lost 1.2 percent, extending July losses to 13.4 percent.

“With Greece out of the way and China not being such a big focus as it has been, we’re back to watching the economic data,” said Christopher Moltke-Leth, head of institutional client trading at Saxo Capital Markets in Singapore. “Particularly U.S. data, as we’re getting close to a liftoff.”

On Wall Street, the SP 500 .SPX ended the day unchanged at 2,108.63, as downbeat earnings offset solid economic data.

U.S. gross domestic product data released on Thursday showed growth accelerated in the second quarter, though slightly short of some forecasts. Growth was tweaked higher in the first quarter, backing the Fed’s assessment at its meeting this week that the economy was expanding “moderately.”

“While some economists look at these numbers and say that they are weak or the economy is worse off than before because of the downward revisions in 2012 and 2013, we believe there’s enough here for the Fed to raise interest rates for the first time in nine years,” said Kathy Lien, managing director at BK Asset Management in New York.

“While we are bullish dollars and believe that further gains are likely, there’s just under two months to the next monetary policy meeting and the dollar is overbought,” she said in a note to clients.

The dollar inched down about 0.1 percent on the day to 123.985 yen JPY=EBS, after rising as high as 124.58 overnight, its highest level since June 10.

The euro edged about 0.1 percent higher to $1.0942 EUR=EBS, after dropping to a one-week low of $1.0835 on Thursday.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was about 0.2 percent lower at 97.386 .DXY, after rising to a one-week high of 97.773 overnight.

Crude oil slipped for a second session as mixed economic data from the U.S. overnight weighed on sentiment. U.S. crude CLc1 was down 0.4 percent at $48.15 a barrel.

London copper was facing its biggest monthly loss since January amid sputtering Chinese demand and a stronger dollar. It’s facing a near 9 percent downturn for July, its weakest showing since January, and the second-worst performance since 2012.

The stronger dollar also pushed down gold, which is on track for a sixth straight weekly fall, its longest retreat since 1999. It fell 1 percent with a 5-1/2-year low in sight. Spot gold XAU= was last steady on the day at $1,086 per ounce.

(Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Eric Meijer)

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China stock regulator probes market impact of automated trading

SHANGHAI China’s securities regulator on Friday said it is investigating the impact of automated trading on the market, as Beijing intensifies pressure on its financial industry in the wake of a share-price plunge.

The China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), in an announcement on its official microblog, also said it had restricted 24 stock trading accounts for suspected irregularities, including abnormal bids for shares and bid cancellations that might have impacted wider market performance.

The Chinese government has massively intervened on multiple fronts to rescue its stock market after it slumped over 30 percent in less than four weeks following June 12. But it has struggled to produce a sustainable turnaround.

It appears Beijing is trying to reinforce the “national team” of brokerages and banks that have pledged to buy and hold shares until markets recover. The effort could be sabotaged if sophisticated investors use fancy trading techniques to profit from volatility or manipulate prices.

In addition to moving more state and private money into the stock market to stem a panic, Beijing has also campaigned against “malicious short selling”, which some have blamed for the precipitous slide.

Heavy regulator pressure has been applied to trading in derivatives, especially index futures, and now regulators appears to be concerned about the impact of automated trading strategies.

Wang Feng, CEO of Alpha Squared Capital, a Chinese hedge fund that uses such strategies, said his business is unlikely to be affected.

“The CSRC is only targeting those who use program trading to frequently submit and then cancel bids, thus disturbing the market and manipulating prices,” he said.


“Such a practice is closely watched by regulators in the U.S. as well.”

However, many Chinese professional investors have accused Beijing of making derivatives and other trading strategies a scapegoat, which they fear is hobbling efforts to upgrade China’s financial industry.

As Chinese stock markets are still up about 50 percent in the past 12 months, many investors say Beijing is overreacting, although others contend the rally’s highly leveraged nature implies a wider economic risk if indexes collapse.

Many funds management companies have invested heavily in staff and technology to profit from China’s recently developed derivatives markets and from using high frequency or algorithmic trade to make money from small movements in stock prices, as in the U.S.

“How do you define what is malicious?” said one hedge fund manager. “The changing rules have a big impact on hedge funds’ businesses, preventing them from executing their strategies properly.”

(Additional reporting by Lu Jianxin and Nathaniel Taplin; Editing by Kim Coghill and Richard Borsuk)

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Hedge fund Elliott eyes fresh market turbulence

BOSTON/NEW YORK Paul Singer’s $27 billion hedge fund Elliott Associates is worried about Europe’s prospects and is bracing for fresh market turbulence.

In a letter to investors dated July 23 and seen by Reuters on Thursday, the New York-based firm told clients that it has returned 2.8 percent in its Elliott Associates, L.P. and 2.2 percent in its Elliott International Limited.

While both funds beat the Standard Poor’s 500 Stock Index’s 1.2 percent gain, the fund spent pages explaining its more cautious approach and warning that even after a six-year bull market in stocks, there is “no such thing as a permanent trend in the markets.”

It worries about central bankers’ easy money policy noting that governments that have “abused the power to create ‘money’ have always, eventually, paid a huge price for their profligacy.”

“We are not bragging about our record, nor do we feel defensive about not keeping up with the SP 500 in the last few years,” adding that it invests carefully especially at a time it sees more chance for severe market turmoil.

It also expressed concern about Europe even after the region found a solution to Greece’s debt problem and worries that long-term problems have not been adequately addressed, possibly causing “the breakup of the euro.”

“The bottom line in our view is that Europe is in a very difficult situation,” the fund wrote.

Still Elliott sees what it calls “attractive opportunities in the activist equity area and a few interesting situations in event arbitrage.” The firm recently lost a campaign to block the merger of two Samsung affiliates in Korea.

It also said it is cooling on real estate investments, noting “the balance in our real estate securities trading has turned to the sell side.”

The firm recently raised $2.5 billion in new capital, calling it “dry powder.”

But it also warned investors in the normally secretive hedge fund world to stop sending its closely followed letters to journalists and others.

“We have learned the identities of certain individuals who breached their confidentiality obligations by disclosing the contents of Elliott’s quarterly reports,” the firm wrote adding “We are taking action and seeking monetary damages from violators.”

The Wall Street Journal first reported on Elliott’s tough stance to keep its letters private.

(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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LinkedIn’s revenue beat fails to connect with investors

LinkedIn Corp (LNKD.N), operator of the biggest social networking site for professionals, reported a better-than-expected 33 percent rise in quarterly revenue on Thursday, driven by strong growth in its business serving recruiters.

LinkedIn’s shares were down 3.9 percent in after-hours trading, however, as investors focused on the company’s widening losses and an underwhelming full-year revenue forecast.

LinkedIn has been spending heavily to acquire businesses and build up its sales and development teams in an effort to leverage off its 380 million members.

The company bought, a leader in the training video market, for $1.5 billion in May in its biggest deal ever.

LinkedIn said it now expected the business to contribute about $90 million to 2015 revenue – more than double its original forecast. But while the extra $50 million was a positive surprise, the company raised its overall revenue forecast by only about $40 million.

“There are some near-term challenges that they need to overcome, which is the weakness in display advertising,” Monness, Crespi, Hardt Co analyst James Cakmark told Reuters.

Total costs jumped about 53 percent to $792 million.

LinkedIn has also been investing to improve its mobile presence and is developing new products for China, where it now has about 10 million members, up from 4 million last February.

“If any U.S.-based Internet company has a chance to succeed in China in the near term I think it’s LinkedIn,” Axiom Capital analyst Victor Anthony told Reuters.

Overall membership at the end of the second quarter was up 21 percent from a year earlier.

Revenue in LinkedIn’s Talents Solutions business, which sells services to recruiters, rose 38 percent to $443 million.

The business accounted for 62 percent of total revenue. LinkedIn also gets revenue from advertising and premium subscriptions.

LinkedIn, which gets 38 percent of its revenue from outside the United States, said that excluding the impact of the strong dollar revenue would have risen 38 percent in the period.

The net loss attributable to shareholders widened to $67.7 million, or 53 cents per share, from $1 million, or 1 cent per share. Revenue rose 33.3 percent to $711.7 million.

Excluding items, the company earned 55 cents per share. Analysts had expected earnings of 30 cents per share on revenue of $$679.8 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

LinkedIn said it expects full-year revenue of about $2.94 billion, up from an earlier forecast of about $2.90 billion.

Up to Thursday close of $227.15, LinkedIn’s shares had fallen about 1 percent this year.

(Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar and Kshitiz Goliya in Bengaluru; Editing by Ted Kerr)

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Checked bag fees are here to stay: United Airlines CEO

NEW YORK Still hoping for the day airlines let all customers check bags and make reservation changes for free?

Forget it, said United Continental Holdings Inc’s (UAL.N) Chief Executive Jeff Smisek at an industry lunch on Thursday, defending airlines even as they reap billions in profit and face federal probes into pricing practices.

Some travelers are “having difficulty recognizing that we’re now a business,” Smisek told attendees, recalling the bankruptcies and mergers that reshaped the loss-making industry in the decade after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“They criticize us if we charge for more legroom. Let me tell you though: that’s what businesses do.”

Smisek, who took the helm of the merged United and Continental in 2010, said customers should not expect services such as checked bags to be bundled cheaply into airfares, as they were in the past, but priced on a sliding scale as extras, as in other industries.

“If you want more data on your data plan so you can watch faster, better cat videos, you call ATT, and they’re happy to increase your data plan,” said Smisek. “And they charge you for it. That’s what businesses do.”

Smisek’s comments come at a sensitive time for airlines.

Last week, the U.S. Transportation Department opened an investigation into whether airlines gouged prices to take advantage of a train-service closure.

Just weeks before that, the U.S. Justice Department began investigating whether carriers have colluded on pricing by signaling plans to limit flights.

Airlines have said they are confident the probes will reveal no wrongdoing.

Smisek said inflation-adjusted airfares in 2015 are lower than they were in 2000. At the same time, recent billion-dollar profits have allowed carriers to improve service, raise employee wages and return cash to shareholders.

He made the remarks before saying that unfairly subsidized competition from Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways could spoil the picture. Those carriers deny they are subsidized.

Some consumer advocates say a lack of transparency into ancillary fees, which cannot easily be compared across airlines when booking on travel websites, concerns them more than the fees themselves.

The Transportation Department is considering a rule to require airlines to disclose ancillary fees at all points of sale.

“Now they’re rich,” said Charlie Leocha, chairman of consumer advocacy group Travelers United. “They can afford to be nice to us and at least put some competition back into the system.” Leocha was not at the lunch.

(Story refiles to fix spelling of ‘an’ in second paragraph)

(Reporting By Jeffrey Dastin in New York; Editing by Bill Rigby)

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Wall Street ends flat; Expedia flies after the bell

Wall Street ended flat on Thursday as investors digested ho-hum corporate earnings and new data showed that the economy grew more quickly in the second quarter.

Procter Gamble (PG.N), Facebook (FB.O) and Whole Foods Market (WFM.O) all fell after quarterly reports that left investors wanting more.

U.S. economic growth accelerated in the June quarter as solid consumer spending offset a drag from weak business spending on equipment, suggesting steady momentum that could bring the Federal Reserve closer to hiking interest rates this year.

With a mixed bag of corporate earnings over halfway through second-quarter reporting season and a sharp focus on when the Fed will begin raising interest rates from near zero, investors on Thursday saw few reasons to pay more for shares.

“We’ve been stuck in a 3-percent band since almost the beginning of the year,” said Warren West, principal at Greentree Brokerage Services in Philadelphia. “There’s nothing motivating investors to push it outside of that in either direction.”

The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended 0.03 percent weaker at 17,745.98, while the SP 500 .SPX was unchanged at 2,108.63. The Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 0.33 percent to 5,128.79.

Six of the 10 major SP sectors were higher, with the utilities index .SPLRCU leading gainers, up 0.72 percent, and the energy index .SPNY the biggest decliner, down 0.65 percent.

Thursday’s GDP report lifted the dollar as some investors bet on a September, rather than December, rate hike. The dollar index .DXY rose 0.6 percent to 97.545 after touching its highest in a week.

With 64 percent of SP 500 companies having reported second-quarter results, analysts expect overall earnings to edge up 1 percent and revenue to decline 3.6 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Valuations remain a concern. The SP 500 is trading near 16.8 times forward 12-month earnings, above the 10-year median of 14.7 times, according to StarMine data.

“Earnings haven’t been great,” said John Canally, investment strategist at LPL Financial. “We are in a slow-growth environment and anything that knocks that down further is not a plus for the market.”

After the bell, Expedia (EXPE.O) jumped 8 percent and Amgen (AMGN.O) was 2 percent higher, both posting quarterly reports that pleased investors.

LinkedIn’s (LNKD.N) quarterly revenue beat expectations but its stock was down almost 2 percent after initially jumping around 10 percent.

During Thursday’s session, Skechers USA (SKX.N) jumped 16 percent as the sports shoe maker and retailer reported a better-than-expected rise in quarterly revenue.

Procter Gamble fell 4.0 percent, Facebook dropped 1.8 percent and Whole Foods slumped 11.6 percent.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by 1.04 to 1. On the Nasdaq, that ratio was 1.10 to 1, favoring advancers.

The SP 500 saw 35 new 52-week highs and 7 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 70 new highs and 79 new lows.

Some 6.4 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, below the daily average of 6.7 billion this month, according to BATS Global Markets.

(Editing by Nick Zieminski and Chris Reese)

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GE may ship $10 billion in work overseas as U.S. trade bank languishes

WASHINGTON General Electric Co is taking steps to shift some U.S. manufacturing work overseas now that the U.S. Export-Import Bank will be shuttered at least until September, the industrial giant’s global operations boss told Reuters on Thursday.

GE Vice Chairman John Rice said the conglomerate is bidding on over $10 billion worth of projects that require support from an export credit agency (ECA) like Ex-Im.

With Ex-Im unable to extend new loans or guarantees thanks to an effort by congressional Republicans to shut it down, GE is arranging with ECAs in other countries to finance the deals involved, with much of the production going to GE plants in those foreign locations. The prospective government partners include Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Hungary, he said.

“We’re submitting the tenders now. So we are identifying where we’ll bid this and the ECA support that comes with it, and it’s not in the United States,” Rice told Reuters in a telephone interview from Atlanta

Ex-Im has been unable to consider any new financing requests since Congress allowed the bank’s charter to expire on June 30.

Rice’s comments come as the U.S. Congress starts a five-week summer recess with no clear path to revive Ex-Im in the months ahead. A group of conservative Republicans, who say the 81-year-old trade bank is a nest of “crony capitalism” that doles out government welfare to GE, Boeing Co and other wealthy corporations, want to keep it closed for good.

An effort to revive the bank as part of a multi-year transportation bill won strong support in the U.S. Senate, but stalled this week when the House of Representatives approved a short-term funding extension without the Ex-Im provision.

Boeing chairman Jim McNerney on Wednesday said the aircraft maker was actively looking at moving “key pieces” of its operations to other countries that could offer export credits.

Rice, who is based in Hong Kong, said GE is not moving to shift work and jobs overseas “just to make a point” to Congress, but to win contracts that require export credit agency support. “We’re doing this because if we don’t, we can’t submit a valid tender,” he said.

In one such power-sector bid, for example, GE would do final assembly work on its aero-derivative gas turbine power generation units at GE plants in Hungary or China instead of a factory in Houston. It already has capacity in place, and export credit agencies willing to support the work, he said.

“Next year, if we win this bid, work that would have been in Houston will be someplace else,” Rice said.

GE also is seeking financing from another country’s export credit agency to save a $350 million locomotive deal with Angola that has lost access to Ex-Im support, Rice said.

Ex-Im opponents say the private sector will innovate to fill any void left by Ex-Im. “The sky hasn’t fallen” since Ex-Im halted lending, Ted Cruz, the Republican senator and presidential candidate, said earlier this month.

But Rice said more business will move overseas if Ex-Im stays dead.

“The people who are on the other side of this don’t really understand how global business is conducted,” he said. “They don’t want to understand it.”

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Fed’s ‘nearly balanced’ language no bar to Sept rate rise

WASHINGTON The U.S. Federal Reserve will not need to see balanced risks to the economy to proceed with an interest rate hike in September, according to former Fed officials and a review of central bank statements through recent turns in policy.

In its latest statement, released Wednesday, the Fed said it continued to judge the risks to the U.S. economy as “nearly balanced,” meaning it still sees a greater threat of a new downturn than it does of accelerating inflation and excessive growth.

Wall Street closely watched the language as a possible tip-off to a September rate hike. Removal of the word “nearly” would have been seen as a sign that liftoff was almost certain, ending more than six years of near zero rates.

But a review of Fed statements over the past 10 years indicates the risk language used by the Fed is a poor predictor of “regime change.” (Graphic:

A major change in Fed policy in June 2004 was with language about risks that is similar to that of the current statement. Prior to its decision to begin raising rates at that meeting, the Fed had for several months judged the risks to the economy as “roughly equal.” It kept that characterization at the June meeting, and for nearly a year after that.

Today’s situation may be similar. Potential risks from overseas are unlikely to disappear between now and the Fed’s next meeting in September, for example. But that will not necessarily hold the Fed back.

“Risks seem a little tilted to the downside. China, oil, Europe,” said Cornerstone Macro economist Roberto Perli, a former Fed board staffer. But the current risk language “doesn’t represent a major constraint… Policy is so accommodative, to say risks are ‘nearly balanced’ could justify a 25 basis point increase.”

The Fed will have nearly a two-month dose of data to pore over at its Sept. 16-17 meeting to either confirm the economy’s strength or decide on a continued pause. That includes Thursday’s report showing that U.S. growth rebounded over the last three months to a 2.3 percent annualized rate, a positive surprise.

Two employment reports, in August and September, could all but cement a rate hike if both show job growth holding steady at this year’s average pace of around 208,000 per month, or could complicate the Fed’s plans if they dip appreciably below that.


“To be honest, the risks are never perfectly balanced,” said David Stockton, the Fed’s former research director and now a fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But “unless we get some seriously disappointing news on the labor market it looks like a Fed that is ready to move and more likely than not in September.”

The Fed’s annual conference in Jackson Hole will offer the central bank a chance to fine-tune, if needed, its message on the economy. Fed chair Janet Yellen, though, has said she does not plan to attend the Aug. 27-29 meeting and has no major policy speeches on the calendar at this point.

Fed officials would like to see the country’s steady job growth lead to higher wages and rising prices. Yet generating more inflation may prove difficult given the drag on global demand from the downturn in China and the collapse in oil and other commodity prices. All that will make it harder for the Fed to conclude that risks are in balance.

But that does not preclude a policy move. In the past, changes in economic conditions have even caused the Fed to see risks tilted in one direction at one meeting, but then move in the other at the next.

With the housing and financial crisis in its early stages in 2007, the Fed at an August meeting that year left rates intact and said that rising inflation – not the looming economic meltdown – remained its “predominant policy concern.”

A month later it cut rates by a half a percentage point, and kept doing so until it reached bottom. Rates have stayed near zero since December 2008.

More than five years later, in July 2013, the Fed for the first time since the crisis noted that the downside risks to the economy were beginning to recede.

In December 2013 the central bank upgraded the outlook with the conclusion that the Fed saw risks “as having become more nearly balanced.” In March 2014, it switched to the “nearly balanced” phrase that remains today.

That phrasing may not have to change until inflation becomes a real concern. But that does not mean the Fed will delay the start of a rate increase cycle that is expected to proceed slowly over the next few years, said Jon Faust, a former adviser to Yellen and an economics professor at Johns Hopkins University.

“It is going to be hard to call the risks balanced until we are comfortably away from zero (interest rate) and closer to normal.”

(Reporting by Howard Schneider; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

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Amgen profit tops Street view, boosts full-year forecast

Amgen Inc (AMGN.O) on Thursday reported higher-than-expected second-quarter profit and revenue, helped by strong sales of its Enbrel rheumatoid arthritis drug and cost cutting, and the company raised its full-year forecasts.

Excluding special items, Amgen earned $2.57 per share, topping analysts’ average expectations by 14 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The strong second-quarter performance led the world’s largest biotechnology company to boost 2015 profit and revenue expectations. Amgen now sees adjusted earnings of $9.55 to $9.80 per share, up from its prior view of $9.35 to $9.65. It sees revenue coming in between $21.1 billion and $21.4 billion, up from $20.9 billion to $21.3 billion.

“The magnitude of the guidance raise was substantial,” said Cowen and Co analyst Eric Schmidt. “The numbers are all very good.” Amgen’s shares rose 1.8 percent in extended trading.

The company is expecting U.S. approval of what could be its next big product, a potent new type of cholesterol fighter called Repatha, by late August. It won European approval earlier this month. Regeneron (REGN.O) and Sanofi (SASY.PA) gained U.S. approval of a similar medicine last week.

“We are on track to deliver on our long-term objectives for patients and shareholders,” Chief Executive Robert Bradway said in a statement.

The company also named to its board industry veteran Fred Hassan, who has a long history of selling large companies, including Pharmacia and Schering-Plough.

“They are making headway with expense cuts,” said Bernstein analyst Geoffrey Porges. “Now it’s really all about the PCSK9 approval and launch,” he said of Repatha.

Revenue for the quarter rose to $5.37 billion, exceeding Wall Street forecasts of $5.32 billion.

Unfavorable foreign exchange rates due to the strong dollar hurt revenue by 2.5 percentage points, the company said. Amgen gets about 22 percent of its sales from overseas.

Enbrel sales rose 8 percent to $1.36 billion, driven by price increases despite a highly competitive market. Analysts had been looking for about $1.25 billion.

Osteoporosis drug Prolia also topped expectations by about $30 million with sales of $340 million for the quarter.

Sales of the infection-fighting white blood cell boosters Neulasta and Neupogen, which are bracing for competition from new biosimilar versions, were in line with expectations at $1.41 billion.

Amgen has been working to cut costs. Research and development expense was down 6 percent and operating expenses fell 1 percent.

Net profit rose to $1.65 billion, or $2.15 per share, from $1.55 billion, or $2.01, a year ago.

(Additional reporting by Deena Beasley in Los Angeles; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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