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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Armstrong meeting with USADA appears unlikely

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lance Armstrong's lawyers say the cyclist will talk more about drug use in the sport, just likely not to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that led the effort to strip him of his Tour de France titles.

In a testy exchange of letters and statements revealing the gulf between the two sides, USADA urged Armstrong to testify under oath to help "clean up cycling."

Armstrong's attorneys responded that the cyclist would rather take his information where it could do more good — namely to cycling's governing body and World Anti-Doping Agency officials.

USADA's response to that: "The time for excuses is over."

The letters, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, underscore the continuing feud between Armstrong and USADA CEO Travis Tygart, the man who spearheaded the investigation that uncovered a complex doping scheme on Armstrong's U.S. Postal Service teams.

Armstrong's seven Tour de France victories were taken away last year and he was banned for life from the sport.

In an interview with Oprah Winfrey last week, Armstrong admitted doping, said he owed a long list of apologies and that he would like to see his lifetime ban reduced so he can compete again.

His most realistic avenue toward that might be telling USADA everything he knows in a series of interviews the agency wants started no later than Feb. 6.

That seems unlikely.

Armstrong attorney Tim Herman responded to USADA's first letter, sent Wednesday, by saying his client's schedule is already full, and besides, "in order to achieve the goal of 'cleaning up cycling,' it must be WADA and the (International Cycling Union) who have overall authority to do so."

By Friday night, Herman strongly suggested Armstrong won't meet with USADA at all but intends to appear before the UCI's planned "truth and reconciliation" commission.

"Why would we cooperate (with USADA)?" Herman said in a telephone interview. "USADA isn't interested in cleaning up cycling. Lance has said, 'I'll be the first guy in the chair when cycling is on trial, truthfully, under oath, in every gory detail.' I think he's going testify where it could actually do some good: With the body that's charged with cleaning up cycling," Herman said.

In its last letter to Armstrong, sent Friday evening, USADA attorney William Bock said his agency and WADA work hand-in-hand in that effort.

"Regardless, and with or without Mr. Armstrong's help, we will move forward with our investigation for the good of clean athletes and the future of sport," Bock's letter reads.

The letters confirm a Dec. 14 meeting in Denver involving Armstrong, Tygart and their respective attorneys, which is when, in Tygart's words, Armstrong should have started thinking about a possible meeting with USADA.

"He has been given a deadline of February 6th to determine whether he plans to come in and be part of the solution," Tygart said in a statement. "Either way, USADA is moving forward with our investigation on behalf of clean athletes."

The letters were sent to the AP after details about a Tygart interview with "60 Minutes," being aired Sunday, were made public.

Among Tygart's claims: Armstrong is lying when he says he didn't dope during his 2009-10 comeback.

Tygart said USADA's report on Armstrong's doping included evidence Armstrong was still cheating in those years.

"His comeback was totally clean," Herman said. "It's pretty fashionable to kick Lance Armstrong around right now."

Tygart also reiterated that an Armstrong associate offered USADA a donation of more than $200,000. Armstrong denied that in his interview with Winfrey, too.

In advancing his claim that USADA is only a bit player in the investigation, Herman noted in his letter, sent to USADA on Friday, that most cycling teams are based in Europe.

"I'm pretty sick of people trying to blame a European cycling culture that goes back to the 1920s on one guy," Herman said.

Bock's response to that: "Your suggestion that there is some other body with which Lance should coordinate is misguided," he said in his final letter.


AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this report.

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Exxon Mobil dethrones Apple as world’s most valuable company

Apple (AAPL) has lost its title as the word’s most valuable company to Exxon Mobil (XOM) only a year after it reached the milestone. Despite reporting strong earnings this week, expectations are high for the company and its guidance has Wall Street investors worried. Shares of Apple have been hit hard in recent weeks and have continued to fall to a 12-month low. On Friday, the company’s market cap fell below $ 416 billion, giving Exxon Mobil the title of world’s most valuable company once again. As of publication, Apple is currently trading down more than 2% at $ 441.36 a share with a market cap of $ 414.26 billion.

[More from BGR: Unlocking your smartphone will be illegal starting next week]

This article was originally published on BGR.com

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Police and protesters clash in Egypt, army sent to Suez

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian protesters scuffled with police in Cairo on Saturday and troops were deployed in Suez after nine people were shot dead in nationwide protests against President Mohamed Mursi, exposing deep rifts two years after Hosni Mubarak was ousted.

After a day of clashes on Friday, tension remained high with a court expected to rule later on Saturday in a case against suspects accused of involvement in a stadium disaster that killed 74 people. Fans have threatened violence if the court does not deliver the justice they seek.

Eight people including a policeman were shot dead in Suez, east of the capital, and another was shot and killed in Ismailia, another city on the Suez Canal, medics said, after a day when police fired tear gas at stone-throwing youths.

Another 456 people were injured across Egypt, officials said, in Friday's unrest fuelled by anger at Mursi and his Islamist allies over what the protesters see as their betrayal of the revolution that erupted on January 25, 2011.

"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman, 22, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, near where youths were still hurling stones at police on the other side of a concrete barrier early on Saturday morning.

The protests and violence have laid bare the divide between the Islamists and their secular rivals. The schism is hindering the efforts of Mursi, elected in June, to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.

Protesters accuse Mursi and his Islamist allies of hijacking Egypt's revolution that ended 30 years of Mubarak's autocratic rule. Mursi's supporters say their critics are ignoring democratic principles after elections swept Islamists to office.

"The protests will continue until we realize all the demands of the revolution - bread, freedom and social justice," Ahmed Salama, 28, a protester camped out with dozens of others in Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 revolt.

The court hearing over the Port Said stadium disaster in February last year has fuelled concerns of more unrest.

Live images were shown from inside the court shortly before the session began. Some of those attending chanted for justice and held up pictures of those killed.

The court on the outskirts on Cairo, and in the same police compound where Mubarak was tried and jailed, is due to rule on Saturday in the cases brought against 73 people, 61 of whom are charged with murder in what was Egypt's worst stadium disaster.

However, the public prosecutor has said new evidence has emerged, meaning a verdict may be postponed.


Alongside the 61 charged with murder, another 12 defendants, including nine police officers, are accused of helping to cause the February 1, 2012, disaster at the end of a match between Cairo's Al Ahly and al-Masri, the local side.

Expecting a verdict, hardcore Al Ahly fans, known as ultras, have protested in Cairo over the last week, obstructing the transport network. The Port Said disaster triggered days of street battles near the Interior Ministry in Cairo last year.

In a statement in response to Friday's violence, Mursi said the state would not hesitate in "pursuing the criminals and delivering them to justice". He urged Egyptians to respect the principles of the revolution by expressing views peacefully.

The president was due to meet later on Saturday with the National Defense Council, which includes senior ministers and security officials, to discuss the violence and deaths as a result of the protests.

Troops were deployed in Suez after the head of the state security police in the city asked for reinforcements. The army distributed pamphlets to residents assuring them the deployment was temporary and meant to secure the city.

"We have asked the armed forces to send reinforcements on the ground until we pass this difficult period," Adel Refaat, head of state security in Suez, told state television.

Street battles erupted in cities including Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said. Arsonists attacked at least two state-owned buildings. An office used by the Muslim Brotherhood's political party was also torched.

The Brotherhood decided against mobilizing for the anniversary, wary of the scope for more conflict after December's violence, stoked by Mursi's decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.

Inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that already triggered bloody street battles last month.

(Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Marwa Awad, Ali Abdelatti and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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Euro jumps ahead of ECB loan repayments

LONDON (Reuters) - The euro hit an 11-month high and European shares dipped on Friday as markets braced for news on how much banks will repay of the one trillion euros in European Central Bank crisis funds that have been keeping them afloat.

Data due showing whether Britain is heading for its third recession since the financial crisis began and on German business sentiment was also in the spotlight after upbeat manufacturing reports from the United States and China.

Estimates of the size of the banks' likely repayment of the cheap ECB money average around 100 billion euros according to a Reuters poll, although some analysts believe it could be as high as 300 billion as stronger banks try to show they are weaning themselves off of central bank life support.

"An initial repayment in excess of 100 billion euro would be a positive surprise for markets and likely supportive for risk assets," said Michael Symonds, a credit analyst at Daiwa Capital Markets.

Ahead of the announcement from the ECB due at 1100 GMT, the euro gained 0.3 percent to be above $1.34 to the dollar, its highest level since February last year. Against the yen, the single currency rose 0.5 percent to 121.48 yen, its highest level since April 2011.

In the equity market the broad FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> index of pan-European shares dipped to 0.1 percent to be just under 1,170 points, near its 22 month high. London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were flat to 0.2 percent higher in early trade. <.l><.eu><.n/>

Earlier the MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> eased 0.5 percent, for a weekly drop of about 1 percent, its biggest loss in two months.

The falls came as tech-heavy markets such as South Korea and Taiwan weakened further following disappointing results from Apple this week, but were expected to be contained.

"The PMI indicators from the U.S., Europe and China should serve to keep markets tracking higher," said Tim Waterer, senior trader at CMC Markets in Sydney.

Manufacturing in China and the U.S. grew this month at the quickest pace in about two years, while data suggesting German growth picked up boosted hopes for a swifter euro zone recovery.

Brent crude held above $113, on track to post a second week of gains on the robust economic data, which has improved the outlook for fuel demand in the world's two largest oil consumers.

(Additional reporting by Marc Jones; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

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Voice of Te'o prankster? Couric plays voicemails

NEW YORK (AP) — The person Manti Te'o says was pretending to be his online girlfriend told the Notre Dame linebacker "I love you" in voicemails that were played during his interview with Katie Couric.

Taped earlier this week and broadcast Thursday, the hour-long talk show featured three voicemails that Te'o claims were left for him last year. Te'o said they were from the person he believed to be Lennay Kekua, a woman he had fallen for online but never met face-to-face.

After the first message was played, Te'o said: "It sounds like a girl, doesn't it?"

"It does," Couric responded.

The interview was the All-American's first on camera since his tale of inspired play after the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend on the same day in September unraveled as a bizarre hoax in an expose by Deadspin.com on Jan. 16.

Te'o's parents appeared with him for part of the interview and backed up his claim that he wasn't involved in the fabrication, saying they, too, had spoken on the phone with a person they believed to be Kekua.

Couric addressed speculation that the tale was concocted by Te'o as a way to cover up his sexual orientation. Asked if he were gay, Te'o said "no" with a laugh. "Far from it. Faaaar from that."

He also said he was "scared" and "didn't know what to do" after receiving a call on Dec. 6 — two days before the Heisman Trophy presentation — from a person who claimed to be his "dead" girlfriend.

The first voicemail, he said, was from what was supposed to be Kekua's first day of chemotherapy for leukemia.

"Hi, I am just letting you know I got here and I'm getting ready for my first session and, um, just want to call you to keep you posted. I miss you. I love you. Bye," the person said.

In the second voicemail, the person was apparently upset by someone else answering Te'o's phone.

The third voicemail was left on Sept. 11, according to Te'o, the day he believed Kekua was released from the hospital and the day before she "died."

"Hey babe, I'm just calling to say goodnight," the person on the voicemail said. "I love you. I know that you're probably doing homework or you're with the boys. ... But I just wanted to say I love you and goodnight and I'll be ok tonight. I'll do my best. Um, yeah, so get your rest and I'll talk to you tomorrow. I love you so much, hon. Sweet dreams."

Couric suggested the person who left those messages might have been Ronaiah Tuisasosopo, a 22-year-old man from California, who Te'o said has apologized to him for pulling the hoax.

"Do you think that could have been a man on the other end of the phone?" she asked.

"Well, it didn't sound like a man," Te'o said. "It sounded like a woman. If he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. That's an incredible talent to do that. Especially every single day."

Tuiasosopo has not spoken publicly since news of the hoax broke. The Associated Press has learned that a home in California where Te'o sent flowers to the Kekua family was once a residence of Tuiasosopo and has been in his family for decades.

Also on Thursday, the woman whose pictures were used in fake online accounts for Kekua said Tuiasosopo confessed to her in a 45-minute phone conversation as the scheme unraveled.

Diane O'Meara spoke with The Associated Press in a telephone interview. She said Tuiasosopo told her he'd been "stalking" her Facebook profile for five years and stealing photos.

O'Meara's attorney, Jim Artiano, said they had not decided on whether to take any legal action.

The 23-year-old O'Meara, of Long Beach, Calif., said she knew Tuiasosopo from high school and he contacted her through Facebook on Dec. 16. She said that, over the next three weeks, Tuiasosopo got in touch with her several times, attempting to get photos and video of O'Meara. She said he made up a story about wanting them to help cheer up a cousin who was injured in a car crash.

O'Meara learned her identity had been stolen on Jan. 13 when she was contacted by Deadspin.com.

The next day she got in touch with Tuiasosopo.

"When I contacted Ronaiah I got a very bizarre vibe from him, he became very nervous, he wasn't asking the questions I expected. He was asking 'Who contacted you? What did they say?'" O'Meara said.

Later that day, he confessed, O'Meara said. She said she asked Tuiasosopo why he didn't simply stop the hoax.

"He told me he wanted to end the relationship," O'Meara said. "He said he wanted to stop the relationship between Lennay and Manti, but Manti didn't want Lennay to break up with him ... He said he tried to stop the game many times."

When news of the hoax broke a few days later, O'Meara said she received a text from Tuiasosopo asking her to call him as soon as possible. O'Meara said she didn't respond.


Associated Press writer Tami Abdollah contributed to this report from Los Angeles.

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Soccer coach suspended in Maine West hazing case

Another soccer coach linked to hazing allegations on athletic teams at Maine West High School has been suspended without pay by the district while officials pursue his dismissal.

Maine Township High School District 207 officials reached that decision on freshman boys soccer coach Emilio Rodriguez at a special board meeting Thursday night, a month after reaching the same decision on the employment of head varsity soccer coach Michael Divincenzo.

“The board believes Mr. Rodriguez violated District 207 Board of Education policy and professional expectations by failing to adequately prevent, recognize, report and punish student hazing,” board president Sean Sullivan said in a statement read at the meeting.

Both men were originally placed on paid leave and reassigned from teaching duties this fall when allegations of hazing surfaced in early October on the Des Plaines school’s soccer and baseball teams.

Those allegations are the subject of a lawsuit filed on behalf of four alleged hazing victims on the soccer team and against the district, both coaches and Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan.

Rodriguez, a tenured applied arts and technology teacher, has 17 days to request a hearing on his dismissal through the Illinois State Board of Education, officials said.

Through an attorney, Divincenzo recently requested an appeal hearing with the state board. The appeal process could take up to one year, officials said.

Rodriguez could not be reached for comment on Thursday night. But Des Plaines police reports show he and Divincenzo previously denied any knowledge of team hazing or initiation rituals.

District officials also fulfilled early promises made shortly after the hazing allegations surfaced by approving the hiring of former assistant U.S. attorney Sergio Acosta to lead the district’s independent investigation into hazing allegations, and California-based consultant Community Matters to lead focus groups studying bullying and hazing prevention techniques.

Last week, district officials confirmed the receipt of grand jury subpoenas in the Cook County state’s attorney’s ongoing investigation. Officials reiterated their commitment to “cooperate fully with all agencies conducting their own investigations, including the Cook County State’s Attorney, Des Plaines Police and the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

One subpoena, dated Dec. 6 and obtained by the Tribune, directs Maine West Principal Audrey Haugan to produce “personnel files, disciplinary records, reports, memorandums, summaries, interviews, investigations, notes, statements or other such writings or recordings for Michael Divincenzo and Emilio Rodriguez, and any and all other employees associated with coaching student athletes from 2007 to the present time.”

In another Dec. 6 subpoena, Superintendent Ken Wallace is directed to produce “any written materials describing or explaining” school, student athlete, coach or teacher conduct codes or rules, “or rules or any other similar such writings including but not limited to the topics of hazing, sexual misconduct or physical misconduct in any manner associated with Maine West High School.”

Wallace, Haugan, Maine East Principal Michael Pressler and Maine South Principal Shawn Messmer also received subpoenas dated Dec. 7. Those subpoenas, which were partially redacted, seek “any and all letters, emails, reports, memorandums, call logs, writings, recordings, or other such material regarding” redacted information, “including any such documents from within the school records or school file for” redacted information.


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North Korea threatens war with South over U.N. sanctions

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea threatened to attack rival South Korea if Seoul joined a new round of tightened U.N. sanctions, as Washington unveiled more of its own economic restrictions following Pyongyang's rocket launch last month.

In a third straight day of fiery rhetoric, the North directed its verbal onslaught at its neighbor on Friday, saying: "'Sanctions' mean a war and a declaration of war against us."

The reclusive North has this week declared a boycott of all dialogue aimed at ending its nuclear program and vowed to conduct more rocket and nuclear tests after the U.N. Security Council censured it for a December long-range missile launch.

"If the puppet group of traitors takes a direct part in the U.N. 'sanctions,' the DPRK will take strong physical counter-measures against it," the North's Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said, referring to the South.

The committee is the North's front for dealings with the South. DPRK is short for the North's official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously condemned North Korea's December rocket launch on Tuesday and expanded existing U.N. sanctions.

On Thursday, the United States slapped economic sanctions on two North Korean bank officials and a Hong Kong trading company that it accused of supporting Pyongyang's proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The company, Leader (Hong Kong) International Trading Ltd, was separately blacklisted by the United Nations on Wednesday.

Seoul has said it will look at whether there are any further sanctions that it can implement alongside the United States, but said the focus for now is to follow Security Council resolutions.

The resolution said the council "deplores the violations" by North Korea of its previous resolutions, which banned Pyongyang from conducting further ballistic missile and nuclear tests and from importing materials and technology for those programs. It does not impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.

The United States had wanted to punish North Korea for the rocket launch with a Security Council resolution that imposed entirely new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option. China agreed to U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after North Korea's 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.


North Korea's rhetoric this week amounted to some of the angriest outbursts against the outside world coming under the leadership of Kim Jong-un, who took over after the death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

On Thursday, the North said it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test, directing its ire at the United States, a country it called its "sworn enemy".

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the comments were worrying.

"We are very concerned with North Korea's continuing provocative behavior," he said at a Pentagon news conference.

"We are fully prepared ... to deal with any kind of provocation from the North Koreans. But I hope in the end that they determine that it is better to make a choice to become part of the international family."

North Korea is not believed to have the technology to deliver a nuclear warhead capable of hitting the continental United States, although its December launch showed it had the capacity to deliver a rocket that could travel 10,000 km (6,200 miles), potentially putting San Francisco in range, according to an intelligence assessment by South Korea.

South Korea and others who have been closely observing activities at the North's known nuclear test grounds believe Pyongyang is technically ready to go ahead with its third atomic test and awaiting the political decision of its leader.

The North's committee also declared on Friday that a landmark agreement it signed with the South in 1992 on eliminating nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula was invalid, repeating its long-standing accusation that Seoul was colluding with Washington.

The foreign ministry of China, the North's sole remaining major diplomatic and economic benefactor, repeated its call for calm on the Korean peninsula at its daily briefing on Friday.

"The current situation on the Korea peninsula is complicated and sensitive," spokesman Hong Lei said.

"We hope all relevant parties can see the big picture, maintain calm and restraint, further maintain contact and dialogue, and improve relations, while not taking actions to further complicate and escalate the situation," Hong said.

But unusually prickly comments in Chinese state media on Friday hinted at Beijing's exasperation.

"It seems that North Korea does not appreciate China's efforts," said the Global Times in an editorial, a sister publication of the official People's Daily.

"Just let North Korea be 'angry' ... China hopes for a stable peninsula, but it's not the end of the world if there's trouble there. This should be the baseline of China's position."

(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; editing by Jeremy Laurence and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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Shares dip as investors brace for euro zone data

LONDON (Reuters) - European shares weakened on Thursday as investors braced for the year's first reading on euro zone business activity for 2013 after data showed that France, the region's second-biggest economy, may be in recession.

Markets are hoping for a modest improvement in the estimates for manufacturing and service sector activity across the euro area for January, due later, to support the recent rallies in equities and peripheral European debt markets.

"January's flash PMI data (for France) signals a very disappointing start to 2013," said Jack Kennedy, senior economist at Markit, which compiles the purchasing managers' index (PMI) data.

Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top company shares fell 0.3 percent to 1,164.30 points after the French data was released, still not far from a peak of 1,170.29 points hit two weeks ago, a level not seen since early 2011.

London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> were down by up to 0.5 percent.

"All the major benchmarks are looking overbought, and any short-term correction will be seen as a buying opportunity, but the longer-term trend is still to the upside," said Jawaid Afsar, a sales trader at Securequity.

The euro fell 0.2 percent on the day to hit $1.3286 after Markit said its preliminary composite purchasing managers' index (PMI) for France, covering activity in the services and manufacturing sectors combined, came out at 42.7 for the month, down from 44.6 in December.

The common currency recovered slightly when German PMI data for January showed private-sector activity jumped to its highest level in a year.


The main European tech stock index <.sx8p> was down 0.85 percent after the world's largest technology company, Apple , released disappointing earnings figures after the U.S. markets had closed.

The results had earlier fanned earnings worries across the technology sector in Asia, overshadowing positive data on Chinese manufacturing activity.

China's HSBC flash purchasing managers' index (PMI) rose to 51.9 in January to a two-year high, signaling a rebound in manufacturing activity and confirming a recovery in growth in the world's second-largest economy was on track.

(Additional reporting by David Brett; Editing by Will Waterman)

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Defending champ Azarenka into final against Li

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka overcame some anxiety, a sore left knee, and a slew of frustrating forehand errors before fending off American teenager Sloane Stephens to reach the Australian Open final against Li Na.

For the second time in two days, 19-year-old Stephens sat patiently in a courtside chair late in the second set while an experienced, older player took a medical timeout.

On Thursday, the top-seeded Azarenka asked for a medical timeout after wasting five match points with a sequence of forehand errors, but returned to quickly finish off a 6-1, 6-4 win on her sixth match point. The outcome was different on Wednesday, when Stephens rallied from a set and a break down to beat an injured Serena Williams in three sets.

After dropping serve in the ninth game of the second set, Azarenka went to the locker room for treatment — the tournament confirmed later it was for left knee and rib injuries — and then returned to break the 29th-seeded Stephens' serve to finish off the match.

"Well I almost did the choke of the year right now at 5-3 having so many chances I couldn't close it out," Azarenka said in an on-court TV interview. "I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure."

The crowd had tried to get Stephens back into the match in the second set. Fans yelled encouragement after almost every point and a few in the crowd heckled Azarenka by mocking the noise she makes when she hits the ball.

Azarenka started to lose her composure when she hit a forehand way beyond the baseline on her third match point, her hooting sound elevating to a louder, high-pitched shriek.

After Stephens saved the match points, the crowd gave her a huge round of applause and a few people jumped out of their seats. Azarenka got a tepid applause after clinching the match.

The 23-year-old Azarenka later said she'd had difficulty breathing.

"I couldn't breathe. I had chest pains," she said. "It was like I was getting a heart attack.

"After that it wasn't my best, but it's important to overcome this little bit of a struggle and win the match."

Stephens said the timing of the medical break didn't affect the match.

"It's happened before. Last match, match before, I've had people going for medical breaks, going to the bathroom," she said. "Didn't affect me. Just another something else that happens."

The temperature hit 97 degrees during the second women's semifinal, slightly hotter than it had been when Li Na beat No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-2 to reach the Australian Open final for the second time in three years.

Sharapova was the heavy favorite after conceding only nine games in her first five matches, a record at the Australian Open.

But the semifinal started badly for the 25-year-old Russian, serving double-faults to lose the first two points and conceding a break in the first game.

Li was the first Chinese player to reach a Grand Slam final when she lost to Kim Clijsters at Melbourne Park in 2011. She had her breakthrough a few months later when she won the French Open, beating Sharapova in the semifinals along the way.

The crowd got behind Li early in the match, yelling "Come on, Li Na!" and others yelling "Jia You!" which is "Come on" in Chinese. After she broke Sharapova to take a 5-2 lead, the Chinese fans in the crowd shook Chinese flags and shouted again, "Jia You!"

"I don't know what happened (but) I always play well here, so thanks guys," said Li, who was playing her third Australian Open semifinal in four years. "I just came to the court feeling like, 'OK, just do it.'"

The heat and the speed of the court surface suited Li's game.

She broke Sharapova in the third game of the second set and served an ace to move within a point of a 4-2 lead, but lost the next three points to give her opponent a break opportunity.

Two big second serves took Sharapova by surprise, and Li fended off the challenge.

Li's coach, Carlos Rodriguez — who worked with retired seven-time major winner Justine Henin — pumped his fist over his heart after Li won the game.

Sharapova had control in her next service game, but Li scrambled from side to side and pushed the reigning French Open champion to go for the lines, getting a series of unforced errors and another break.

The sixth-seeded Li has been working since August with Rodriguez, and credits him with reviving her career with a renewed emphasis on condition.

"I'm happy. I know I have a tough coach, a tough physio," Li said, looking across to the stands and adding: "You don't need to push me anymore. I will push myself."

Sharapova, who lost the 2012 Australian final in straight sets to Azarenka, admitted it was hard to get into the match against Li.

"She was certainly much more aggressive than I was, dictating the play. I was always on the defense," said Sharapova, who could have gained the No. 1 ranking by reaching the Australian final. "When I had my opportunities and break points in games that went to deuce, I don't think any of them really went my way."

The composition of the women's semifinals was somewhat unexpected.

Stephens produced the upset of the tournament to advance to a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time with her 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory over 15-time major winner Serena Williams on Wednesday. Williams, who had been bidding for a third consecutive Grand Slam title, hurt her back in the second set and, after leading by a set and a break, ended a 20-match winning streak.

While there were surprises in the composition of the women's last four, the makeup of the men's semifinals was as expected.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic will continue his bid for a third consecutive Australian title when he takes on No. 4 David Ferrer on Thursday. No. 2 Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray will meet Friday.

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Deep freeze grips northern U.S. from Minnesota to Maine

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) – Frigid arctic air held the U.S. Midwest and Northeast in its icy grip on Wednesday, with the cold so dangerous that municipal emergency warming centers opened up and ski resorts shut down.

The National Weather Service warned the wind chill could make the temperature feel like 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit(minus 40 degrees Celsius) in parts of Northern Minnesota until noon on Thursday.

Wintry conditions from Minneapolis to Washington marked the coldest conditions in many parts of the United States in four years, but were nowhere near the record lows for January, meteorologists said.

“This cold that we are experiencing right now came straight from the arctic,” said Tom Kines, an AccuWeather.com senior meteorologist.

Washington, D.C., reported its coldest weather in four years, reaching 16 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 9 degrees Celsius)at Reagan National Airport early Wednesday.

The National Weather Service issued a wind chill warning for New Hampshire until Wednesday evening, with values as low as 43 degrees below zero (minus 42 degrees Celsius) because of steady winds up to 20 miles per hour and gusts up to 30 mph.

New Hampshire’s Wildcat Mountain ski area said it would be closed to skiers on Wednesday and Thursday as temperatures, forecast to drop to 10 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (minus 23 degrees Celsius), made for “unsafe conditions” for skiers and workers.

The deep freeze had forced some Minnesota school districts to delay openings or cancel classes and activities on Tuesday, and some ski areas to close early due to the wind chills.

“It won’t take that much wind to get things a little bit colder than they really seem to be,” National Weather Service meteorologist Kevin Kraujalis said.

Temperatures in Minnesota were on par with New York state, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.

Connecticut’s governor Dannel Malloy urged towns and cities to open warming centers and at least four municipalities did, including Bristol, Torrington, Meriden and West Haven, said Scott DeVico, spokesman for the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services & Public Protection. At least 22 people seeking shelter called an emergency 211 phone line overnight, he said.

Warming centers were open across New York City.

In Chicago on Wednesday, a five-story warehouse, that caught fire in frigid cold on Tuesday, was covered in ice as water from the fire hoses froze.

(Additional reporting by Scott Malone in Boston and Ian Simpson in Washington; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Bob Burgdorfer)

Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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Benghazi blame-game is useless

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  • Anthony Cordesman: Questions for Hillary Clinton on Benghazi attack inevitable, important

  • But political blame game useless, a discouraging message to diplomats, military advisers, he says

  • He says in hindsight, warnings, pleas for support mistakenly make crisis seem obvious

  • Writer: U.S. must focus forward: encourage, support risk-takers doing crucial work in field

Editor's note: Anthony H. Cordesman holds the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Follow CSIS on Twitter.

(CNN) -- Politics are politics, and partisan congressional challenges over the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and other Americans in Benghazi, Libya, last September were inevitable.

But while some of the questions Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked in her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee bordered on politics at their worst, some represented democracy at its best: A legitimate challenge of how the government works. The fact is, we do need to ask serious questions about the way our diplomats function, how they are deployed and protected.

In her responses, Clinton took responsibility, as the top official in every department always must. The question now, however, is what, if anything, will we really learn from the events that led to the deaths of Stevens and his colleagues?

Anthony H. Cordesman

Anthony H. Cordesman

Do we actually learn something from their courage and sacrifice, and the similar experience of other American diplomats and officers that have faced similar attacks in the past? Or do we go on playing a pointless blame game, creating a climate that discourages our diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams and intelligence officers from taking necessary risks -- and relies even more on fortifying our embassies.

Three lessons here. The first: Virtually every post mortem that relies on the blame game has the same result. There is always someone who asked for more resources and warned of the risk before the event. There are always enough intelligence indicators so that once you go back -- knowing the pattern of actual events -- it becomes possible to predict the past with 20-20 hindsight.

The problem is that the post mortems and hearings tend to be useless. Every prudent security officer has always asked for more; the indicators that could provide warning with 20-20 hindsight will still be buried in a flood of other reporting that warns of crises that don't take place; U.S. officials will still have to deal with what intelligence experts call "noise" -- the vast amount of reporting and other data that make it impossible to sort out the right information until the event actually occurs and the patterns are known. All of this makes it hard to know what request or warning ever matters.

Opinion: Algeria hostage crisis shows jihadists on rise

Yes, intelligence and warning can always be improved if the post mortem is realistic and objective. But the resulting improvements will never be enough. No one will ever assess all the risks correctly, U.S. diplomats and other Americans will be vulnerable when they operate in a hostile environment, and risk-taking will remain inevitable.

The second lesson is that we cannot deal with crises like the political upheavals in the Arab world, or the more direct threats that countries like Iran and North Korea can pose, unless our diplomats and military advisers take risks -- and more casualties -- in the process.

Stevens and those around him did what had to be done. These are the teams that can help lead unstable countries towards democracy and stability. They are the crucial to our counterterrorism efforts in the field and to building up the military security capabilities of developing states. They are key to uniting given factions, creating effective governance, and persuading states to move toward development and greater concern for human rights.

They can only be effective if they are on the scene, work with the leaders and factions involved, and often go into harms way where there are terrorist and military threats. Like Stevens, they cannot wait for perfect security, stay in a safe area, or minimize risks and deal with the realities of Libya, filled with local power struggles, extremist elements and potential threats.

We need risk-takers. We need them in any country that is going through the kind of upheavals taking place in Libya, as well as in countries where our enemies operate, and semi-war zones like Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen. We need diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams, and intelligence officers that reach far beyond our embassies and go into high risk zones. We need to reward and honor those risk-takers, not those who shelter in safety and avoid the risks they should take or fear their career will be damaged if anyone is killed or hurt.

Opinion: Algeria crisis is a wakeup call for America

The third lesson is that we do need to steadily strengthen our ability to provide secure mobility, better intelligence, better communications, and better protection for those diplomats, U.S. military advisory teams and intelligence officers. We need to be able to better provide emergency help to those American NGO personnel and businessmen who take similar risks.

We need both an administration and a Congress that look beyond the blame game and understand that some things are worth spending money on. We need them to understand that what we once called the Arab Spring is clearly going to be the Arab Decade, and we face different but equally real risks in the field in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

It is far better -- and cheaper even, in the medium term -- to fund strong U.S. country teams, military advisers, counterterrorism teams and development efforts than to let nations collapse, to let extremists take over, to lose allies, and see American NGOs and businesses unable to operate.

We need to see what new methods and investments can protect our people in the field and reduce the risks they should be taking. The answer may be special communications, intelligence system, helicopters and armored vehicles, emergency response teams and new career security personnel to replace contractors and foreign nationals.

What the answer is not is partisan blame, risk avoidance, punishing those who do take risks for the result, and failing to make the improvements in security for risk takers -- while building larger fortress embassies. If you want to honor the Americans lost in the line of duty, focus on the future and not the past.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Anthony Cordesman

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Bulls rally to beat Pistons 85-82

As the United Center rocked and the Bulls celebrated Marco Belinelli's go-ahead, three-point play with 7.5 seconds left, Joakim Noah remained down in the photographer's pit along the baseline, cameras and cheerleaders all around him.

"I didn't really see the play," Noah said. "I had the cheerleaders' pom-poms in my face."

His teammates saw it, which is why they were celebrating the shot that sealed the Bulls' stirring 85-82 comeback over the Pistons, their 17th straight victory in this series. It marked the second time in just more than a month the Bulls erased a 17-point deficit against the Pistons to prevail.

And yet Noah, who had authored, really, the play of the season — one that defines the heart and hustle that has the Derrick Rose-less Bulls on pace for 50 victories now that the midway point has been reached — remained down.

"We were over there celebrating and he was still knocked over by the cheerleaders," said Nate Robinson, who kick-started the rally with nine straight points early in the fourth. "We were like, 'Oh, yeah, we have to go help him up.' But that play shows how hard Jo works. He never gives up."

Noah smiled, clearly relishing the opportunity to tweak his teammates.

"Damn, it took forever, right?" he said of the delay.

All's well that ends well, right?

But make sure to find a replay of Noah's hustle, which came off Belinelli's bricked jumper. As Noah tumbled into cameras and cheerleaders, Belinelli cut to the basket, grabbed the fruit of Noah's effort and laid it in as Rodney Stuckey fouled him.

"I scored, but the credit goes to Jo," said Belinelli, who scored his second game-winner in four games.

Coach Tom Thibodeau just shook his head.

"Quite frankly, I don't know he got to it," Thibodeau said. "It was an incredible play."

The Bulls then watched tying 3-point attempts from Tayshuan Prince and Stuckey rim out as time expired.

"I stayed with the play," Noah said. "The basketball gods were on our side. It's not really a great play because if Detroit gets it, it's a four-on-five fast break the other side. Fortunately, we got it. "

Robinson's boundless energy can delve into extracurricular emotion, but there's no denying he jump-started the comeback. Robinson keyed a 12-2 run to open the fourth with nine straight points and a dish for a fast-break dunk from Butler, who tied his career-highs with 18 points and nine rebounds.

Butler, starting again for the injured Luol Deng, played all but 91 seconds and overcame a 1-for-8 start. He also hit a huge 3-pointer — the Bulls missed their first 10 and made just 3 of 14 — for an 82-80 lead before Jason Maxiell tied the game with 29.4 seconds left off a defensive breakdown.

"Jimmy just kept working the game," Thibodeau said. "He never got down. He kept battling and battling."

Robinson finished with 11 points.

"That's Nate. He made a lot of big-time plays for us," Thibodeau said. "He's not afraid. I respect that about him.

"The group that started the fourth quarter played with energy, got some stops and got us going.

Noah played 45 minutes with 10 points and 18 rebounds.

"We just kept saying, 'We're going to rally together,'" Butler said. "That's what this team is all about."


Twitter @kcjhoop

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North Korea to target U.S. with nuclear, rocket tests

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said on Thursday it would carry out further rocket launches and a nuclear test that would target the United States, dramatically stepping up its threats against a country it called its "sworn enemy".

The announcement by the country's top military body came a day after the U.N. Security Council agreed to a U.S.-backed resolution to censure and sanction North Korea for a rocket launch in December that breached U.N. rules.

"We are not disguising the fact that the various satellites and long-range rockets that we will fire and the high-level nuclear test we will carry out are targeted at the United States," North Korea's National Defence Commission said, according to state news agency KCNA.

North Korea is believed by South Korea and other observers to be "technically ready" for a third nuclear test, and the decision to go ahead rests with leader Kim Jong-un who pressed ahead with the December rocket launch in defiance of the U.N. sanctions.

China, the one major diplomatic ally of the isolated and impoverished North, agreed to the U.S.-backed resolution and it also supported resolutions in 2006 and 2009 after Pyongyang's two earlier nuclear tests.

Thursday's statement by North Korea represents a huge challenge to Beijing as it undergoes a leadership transition with Xi Jinping due to take office in March.

China's Foreign Ministry called for calm and restraint and a return to six-party talks, but effectively singled out North Korea, urging the "relevant party" not to take any steps that would raise tensions.

"We hope the relevant party can remain calm and act and speak in a cautious and prudent way and not take any steps which may further worsen the situation," ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters at a regular press briefing.

North Korea has rejected proposals to restart the talks aimed at reining in its nuclear capacity. The United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas are the six parties involved.

"After all these years and numerous rounds of six-party talks we can see that China's influence over North Korea is actually very limited. All China can do is try to persuade them not to carry out their threats," said Cai Jian, an expert on Korea at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Analysts said the North could test as early as February as South Korea prepares to install a new, untested president or that it could choose to stage a nuclear explosion to coincide with former ruler Kim Jong-il's Feb 16 birthday.

"North Korea will have felt betrayed by China for agreeing to the latest U.N. resolution and they might be targeting (China) as well (with this statement)," said Lee Seung-yeol, senior research fellow at Ewha Institute of Unification Studies in Seoul.


Washington urged North Korea not to proceed with a third test just as the North's statement was published on Thursday.

"Whether North Korea tests or not is up to North Korea," Glyn Davies, the top U.S. envoy for North Korean diplomacy, said in the South Korean capital of Seoul.

"We hope they don't do it. We call on them not to do it," Davies said after a meeting with South Korean officials. "This is not a moment to increase tensions on the Korean peninsula."

The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

A South Korean military official said the concern now is that Pyongyang could undertake a third nuclear test using highly enriched uranium for the first time, opening a second path to a bomb.

North Korea's 2006 nuclear test using plutonium produced a puny yield equivalent to one kiloton of TNT - compared with 13-18 kilotons for the Hiroshima bomb - and U.S. intelligence estimates put the 2009 test's yield at roughly two kilotons

North Korea is estimated to have enough fissile material for about a dozen plutonium warheads, although estimates vary, and intelligence reports suggest that it has been enriching uranium to supplement that stock and give it a second path to the bomb.

According to estimates from the Institute for Science and International Security from late 2012, North Korea could have enough weapons grade uranium for 21-32 nuclear weapons by 2016 if it used one centrifuge at its Yongbyon nuclear plant to enrich uranium to weapons grade.

North Korea gave no time-frame for the coming test and often employs harsh rhetoric in response to U.N. and U.S. actions that it sees as hostile.

Its long-range rockets are not seen as capable of reaching the United States mainland and it is not believed to have the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range missile.

The bellicose statement on Thursday appeared to dent any remaining hopes that Kim Jong-un, believed to be 30 years old, would pursue a different path from his father Kim Jong-il, who oversaw the country's military and nuclear programs.

The older Kim died in December 2011.

"The UNSC (Security Council) resolution masterminded by the U.S. has brought its hostile policy towards the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (North Korea) to its most dangerous stage," the commission was quoted as saying.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard and Sui-Lee Wee in Beijing; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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European shares edge up as economic sentiment improves

LONDON (Reuters) - European stocks edged toward 22 month highs on Wednesday, driven by upbeat corporate earnings, an easing in fears about the U.S. hitting its debt ceiling and a better outlook for the global economy.

Strong investor confidence data from Germany, Japan's plans to shore up the world's third largest economy, and improving economic numbers this month from the world's top two economies, the U.S. and China, have all cheered investors.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi added his weight to the brighter outlook saying, in a speech in Frankfurt, that "the darkest clouds over the euro area subsided" in 2012.

"The sense of panic experienced in the financial system at times over the last few years looks unlikely to return," said Nick Kounis, head of macro economic research at ABN AMRO.

"We expect global growth to improve gradually this year before gaining strength next year," he said.

After a rally on Wall Street, which saw the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> hit a fresh five-year closing high, Europe's main share markets all opened higher.

The FTSE Eurofirst 300 index <.fteu3> of top European shares rose 0.1 percent to 1,166.83 While London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> open as much as 0.3 percent higher.

Earnings from likes of tech firms Google and IBM were supporting the gains along with news that BHP Billiton , the world's biggest mining company, had boosted its iron ore output in the December quarter.

However, a slight retreat in Asian shares after they had hit 17-1/2 month highs left the MSCI world equity index <.miwd00000pus> just below the fresh 20-month peak of 352.54 hit on Tuesday.

In the debt market German Bund futures edged higher at Wednesday's open however traders said the gains were unlikely to be sustained with investors still upbeat about higher-yielding euro zone bonds.

Yields fell across the euro zone debt market on Tuesday after Spain sold a new 10-year bond that drew massive demand from foreign investors.

Sentiment is also expected to improve as Republican leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives said they aim to pass on Wednesday a nearly four-month extension of the U.S. debt limit to May 19.

Meanwhile the yen held firm against the dollar and the euro as monetary easing announced on Tuesday by the Bank of Japan failed to provide an immediate a stimulus as some had hoped.

The BOJ doubled its inflation target to 2 percent and adopted an open-ended commitment to buy assets starting in 2014, sparking an unwinding of yen short positions from speculators looking for more immediate easing steps.

The dollar fell 0.4 percent to 88.30 yen while the euro slid 0.8 percent to 117.42 yen. The dollar hit a 2-1/2-year high of 90.25 yen on Monday.

(Reporting by Richard Hubbard. Editing by Peter Graff)

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Callahan denies allegations of Super Bowl sabotage

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) — Former Oakland coach Bill Callahan has denied allegations made by two of his former players that he "sabotaged" the Raiders in their Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay 10 years ago.

Former Raiders receivers Tim Brown and Jerry Rice both said in recent interviews they believe Callahan undermined his own team in the Super Bowl in 2003 because of his close friendship with Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden by altering the game plan less than two days before Oakland's 48-21 loss.

"While I fully understand a competitive professional football player's disappointment when a game's outcome doesn't go his team's way, I am shocked, saddened and outraged by Tim Brown's allegations and Jerry Rice's support of those allegations made through various media outlets over the last 24 hours," Callahan said Tuesday in a statement. "To leave no doubt, I categorically and unequivocally deny the sum and substance of their allegations."

The hubbub over a game played a decade ago began Monday when Brown said on Sirius XM Radio that he believed Callahan altered the game plan because of his close ties to Gruden, the former Raiders coach who hired Callahan, and because Callahan hated the Raiders.

"We all called it sabotage, because Callahan and Gruden was good friends, and Callahan had a big problem with the Raiders, hated the Raiders, and only came because Gruden made him come," Brown said.

While many of Brown's teammates, including quarterback Rich Gannon, came to Callahan's defense on radio and Twitter on Tuesday, Rice sided with Brown that Callahan's decision to shift the game plan from a run-oriented attack to a pass-heavy offense after a week of practice was done to hurt the team.

"I was very surprised that he waited till the last second and I think a lot of the players they were surprised also so in a way maybe because he didn't like the Raiders he decided 'Hey look maybe we should sabotage just a little bit and let Jon Gruden go out and win this one,'" Rice told ESPN.

Both Rice and Brown also said the decision to alter the plan less than two days before the game might have contributed to starting center Barret Robbins leaving the team that Friday night to go party in Tijuana. Robbins missed a team meeting and walkthrough and was suspended for the game. He was hospitalized and diagnosed as bipolar.

Former Raiders offensive lineman Frank Middleton said in a phone interview that he didn't believe Callahan's change in game plan contributed to Robbins' problems or that Callahan purposely lost the game even if there were bad feelings between the coach and players.

"Callahan hated us," Middleton said. "He didn't want to see a lot of us succeed because of who we were. I do believe Callahan had bad feelings against us. But to say he threw the game, I can't say that."

Middleton acknowledged that the plan the team used in the game was different than what was practiced but said he didn't know if that was because Robbins had left the team and the Raiders were forced to use backup center Adam Treu.

The Raiders threw a then club-record 619 passes in the 2002 season but originally planned to run the ball more in the Super Bowl to take advantage of Tampa Bay's undersized defensive front. But Oakland fell behind early in the game and had 49 pass plays and a season-low 11 runs.

Gannon threw five interceptions, including three returned for touchdowns, in the lopsided loss.

Callahan, currently the offensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys, said he tried to win the game and suggestions to the contrary were "ludicrous and defamatory."

"Any suggestion that I would undermine the integrity of the sport that I love and dedicated my life to, or dishonor the commitment I made to our players, coaches and fans is flat out wrong," he said. "I think it would be in the best interests of all, including the game America loves, that these allegations be retracted immediately."

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Democratic Senators Pass Torch to EPA on Climate Change

After years of trying—and failing—to get climate-change legislation through Congress, top Senate Democrats are publicly ready to hand over the power to President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency.

“A lot of people don’t recognize that EPA has huge authority to reduce carbon in the air,” Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairwoman Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said at a briefing Tuesday.

“A lot of you press me … on: ‘Where is the bill on climate change? Where is the bill’? There doesn’t have to be a bill,” Boxer told a group of reporters in her office in the Hart Senate Building. “There will be many approaches, but I’m telling you right now, EPA has the authority in the transportation sector, in the electricity sector, and the industrial sector under the Clean Air Act.”

Boxer’s public comments come a few months after another top Democrat, Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center Chairman Chuck Schumer of New York, made similar comments to another group of reporters shortly after the election in November. Speaking at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast, Schumer noted the significance of EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions and said that Congress could instead tackle smaller bits of policy, such as energy-efficiency legislation.

The statements by Boxer and Schumer that they won’t push big climate legislation and will defer to EPA on global warming are two of the clearest signals yet that the Democratic Party will not only defend the agency’s authority to regulate carbon emissions but that it will also follow through on the regulations, despite Republican criticism and industry pleas to slow down the rules. Boxer’s statement also came on the heels of Obama’s Inaugural Address, where he gave a full-throttled call to action on climate change.

After spending the past two years fighting over EPA and casting messaging votes on the agency’s carbon rules, Congress is poised for even more intense partisan clashes. This year’s fights will carry more weight as the agency gets closer to rolling out the regulations that will affect coal-fired power plants across the country. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., ensured during the last congressional session that no GOP-led efforts to pass legislation delaying or eliminating EPA’s climate rules can succeed. Boxer is confident Senate Democrats can beat back expected GOP efforts this Congress, too.

“We will stop it every time, let me just tell you that,” Boxer said.

A 2007 ruling from the Supreme Court is backing Boxer up. Republicans—with potential support from some moderate Democrats up for reelection in 2014—will nonetheless put up a big fight. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., who has been the ranking member on the Environment and Public Works Committee during Obama’s first term, and GOP leadership in the House have vowed to keep trying to curtail EPA on a whole host of issues, especially climate change. A request for comment to the Environment panel’s new top Republican, Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, was not returned.

Energy News Headlines – Yahoo! News

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2013 could be 'climate game-changer'

An ice sculpture entitled 'Minimum Monument' by Brazilian artist Nele Azevedo outside Berlin's Concert Hall, September 2, 2009.


  • The "neglected" risk of climate change seems to be rising to the top of leaders' agendas

  • Extreme weather events are costing the global economy billions of dollars each year

  • Gas can be an important bridge to a lower carbon future but it's not the answer

  • More investment in renewable energy is needed, with fewer risks

Editor's note: Andrew Steer is President and CEO of the World Resources Institute, a think tank that works with governments, businesses and civil society to find sustainable solutions to environmental and development challenges.

(CNN) -- As leaders gather for the World Economic Forum in Davos, signs of economic hope are upon us. The global economy is on the mend. Worldwide, the middle class is expanding by an estimated 100 million per year. And the quality of life for millions in Asia and Africa is growing at an unprecedented pace.

Threats abound, of course. One neglected risk -- climate change -- appears to at last be rising to the top of agendas in business and political circles. When the World Economic Forum recently asked 1,000 leaders from industry, government, academia, and civil society to rank risks over the coming decade for the Global Risks 2013 report, climate change was in the top three. And in his second inaugural address, President Obama identified climate change as a major priority for his Administration.

Andrew Steer

Andrew Steer

For good reason: last year was the hottest year on record for the continental United States, and records for extreme weather events were broken around the world. We are seeing more droughts, wildfires, and rising seas. The current U.S. drought will wipe out approximately 1% of the U.S. GDP and is on course to be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Damage from Hurricane Sandy will cost another 0.5% of GDP. And a recent study found that the cost of climate change is about $1.2 trillion per year globally, or 1.6% of global GDP.

Shifting to low-carbon energy sources is critical to mitigating climate change's impacts. Today's global energy mix is changing rapidly, but is it heading in the right direction?

Coal is the greatest driver of carbon dioxide emissions from energy, accounting for more than 40% of the total worldwide. Although coal demand is falling in the United States -- with 55 coal-powered plants closed in the past year -- it's growing globally. The World Resources Institute (WRI) recently identified 1,200 proposed new coal plants around the world. And last year, the United States hit a record-high level of coal exports—arguably transferring U.S. emissions abroad.

Meanwhile, shale gas is booming. Production in the United States has increased nearly tenfold since 2005, and China, India, Argentina, and many others have huge potential reserves. This development can be an economic blessing in many regions, and, because carbon emissions of shale gas are roughly half those of coal, it can help us get onto a lower carbon growth path.

However, while gas is an important bridge to a low carbon future—and can be a component of such a future—it can't get us fully to where we need to be. Greenhouse gas emissions in industrial countries need to fall by 80-90% by 2050 to prevent climate change's most disastrous impacts. And there is evidence that gas is crowding out renewables.

Renewable energy -- especially solar and wind power -- are clear winners when it comes to reducing emissions. Unfortunately, despite falling prices, the financial markets remain largely risk-averse. Many investors are less willing to finance renewable power. As a result of this mindset, along with policy uncertainty and the proliferation of low-cost gas, renewable energy investment dropped 11%, to $268 billion, last year.

What do we need to get on track?

Incentivizing renewable energy investment

Currently, more than 100 countries have renewable energy targets, more than 40 developing nations have introduced feed-in tariffs, and countries from Saudi Arabia to South Africa are making big bets on renewables as a growth market. Many countries are also exploring carbon-trading markets, including the EU, South Korea, and Australia. This year, China launched pilot trading projects in five cities and two provinces, with a goal of a national program by 2015.

Removing market barriers

Despite growing demand for renewable energy from many companies, this demand often remains unmet due to numerous regulatory, financial, and psychological barriers in the marketplace.

In an effort to address these, WRI just launched the Green Power Market Development Group in India, bringing together industry, government, and NGOs to build critical support for renewable energy markets. A dozen major companies from a variety of sectors—like Infosys, ACC, Cognizant, IBM, WIPRO, and others— have joined the initiative. This type of government-industry-utility partnership, built upon highly successful models elsewhere, can spur expanded clean energy development. It will be highlighted in Davos this week at meetings of the Green Growth Action Alliance (G2A2).

De-risking investments

For technical, policy, and financial reasons, risks are often higher for renewables than fossil-based energy. Addressing these risks is the big remaining task to bring about the needed energy transformation. Some new funding mechanisms are emerging that can help reduce risk and thus leverage large sums of financing. For example, the Green Climate Fund could, if well-designed, be an important venue to raise funds and drive additional investments from capital markets. Likewise, multi-lateral development banks' recent $175 billion commitment to sustainable transport could help leverage more funds from the private and public sectors.

Some forward-looking companies are seeking to create internal incentives for green investments. For example, companies like Unilever, Johnson & Johnson, and UPS have been taking actions to reduce internal hurdle rates and shift strategic thinking to the longer-term horizons that many green strategies need.

Davos is exactly the type of venue for finding solutions to such issues, which requires leadership and coalition-building from the private and public sectors. For example, the the G2A2, an alliance of CEOs committed to addressing climate and environmental risks, will launch the Green Investment Report with precisely the goal of "unlocking finance for green growth".

Depending on what happens at Davos—and other forums and meetings like it throughout the year—2013 could just be a game-changer.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Andrew Steer.

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