Inflation surges to 16-year high

Inflation soared to 4.4% last month – the biggest jump in the cost of living in more than 16 years – on the back of rocketing food prices, clouding hopes that the Bank of England will move to cut interest rates in coming months.

The Office for National Statistics said today that the consumer prices index (CPI), the government’s preferred inflation measure, leapt to an annual rate of 4.4%, up from 3.8% in June. This beat analysts’ expectations of inflation of 4.1%, and is more than double the government’s target.

This is the highest level recorded since the CPI series began in January 1997. According to analysts, inflation was last higher in April 1992 when it hit 4.7%.

The main driver was hefty rises in food prices, particularly bacon, ham and poultry. The cost of meat on the year was up a record 13.7%. Bread and cereal prices also shot up and fuel inflation was at an all-time high as well.

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Japan: Economy Shrinks 2.4%; Recession Looms

Aug. 13 (Bloomberg) — Japan’s economy, the world’s second biggest, contracted last quarter as exports fell and consumers spent less, bringing the country to the brink of its first recession in six years.

Gross domestic product shrank an annualized 2.4 percent in the three months ended June 30 after expanding 3.2 percent in the first quarter, the Cabinet Office said today in Tokyo. The Nikkei 225 Stock Average fell 2.1 percent, the most since Aug. 1.

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Credit crunch misery deepens for UBS


Photograph: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

UBS has underlined its status as one of the biggest losers in the credit crunch by announcing £5.1bn of fresh writedowns and its fourth quarterly loss in a row.

The Swiss bank said this morning that it made a net loss of 358m Swiss francs (£173m) in the second quarter of this year. The loss was caused by its continuing exposure to the US housing market, and a huge outflow of funds as wealthy individuals took their money elsewhere.

The new writedowns push UBS’s total since the crisis started to $42bn, bringing it closer to Citigroup ($47bn) and Merrill Lynch ($46bn).

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Bear Stearns: Insider Trading

Aug. 11 (Bloomberg) — On March 11, the day the Federal Reserve attempted to shore up confidence in the credit markets with a $200 billion lending program that for the first time monetized Wall Street’s devalued collateral, somebody else decided Bear Stearns Cos. was going to collapse.

In a gambit with such low odds of success that traders question its legitimacy, someone wagered $1.7 million that Bear Stearns shares would suffer an unprecedented decline within days. Options specialists are convinced that the buyer, or buyers, made a concerted effort to drive the fifth-biggest U.S. securities firm out of business and, in the process, reap a profit of more than $270 million.

Whoever placed the bet used so-called put options that gave purchasers the right to sell 5.7 million Bear Stearns shares for $30 each and 165,000 shares for $25 apiece just nine days later, data compiled by Bloomberg show. That was less than half the $62.97 closing price in New York Stock Exchange composite trading on March 11. The buyers were confident the stock would crash.

“Even if I were the most bearish man on Earth, I can’t imagine buying puts 50 percent below the price with just over a week to expiration,” said Thomas Haugh, general partner of Chicago-based options trading firm PTI Securities & Futures LP. “It’s not even on the page of rational behavior, unless you know something.”

`Lottery Ticket’

The 57,000 puts that traded March 11 at the $30 strike price and the 1,649 that traded at $25 were collectively worth about $1.7 million, Bloomberg data show. Each put is equal to 100 shares of stock.

“That trade amounted to buying a lottery ticket,” said Michael McCarty, chief options and equity strategist at New York-based brokerage Meridian Equity Partners Inc. “Would you buy $1.7 million worth of lottery tickets just because you could? No. Neither would a hedge fund manager.”

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One Third of New Owners Owe More Than House Is Worth

Aug. 12 (Bloomberg) — Almost one-third of U.S. homeowners who bought in the last five years now owe more on their mortgages than their properties are worth, according to Zillow.com, an Internet provider of home valuations.

Second-quarter home prices fell 9.9 percent from a year earlier, giving 29 percent of owners negative equity, said Zillow, the Seattle-based service that offers values for more than 80 million homes. For those who bought at the 2006 peak of the housing market, 45 percent are now underwater, Zillow said.

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China to overtake US as largest manufacturer

China is set to overtake the US next year as the world’s largest producer of manufactured goods, four years earlier than expected, as a result of the rapidly weakening US economy.

The great leap is revealed in forecasts for the Financial Times by Global Insight, a US economics consultancy. According to the estimates, next year China will account for 17 per cent of manufacturing value-added output of $11,783bn and the US will make 16 per cent.

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Fed auctions another $25 billion to combat a serious credit squeeze

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Federal Reserve has auctioned another $25 billion in loans to the nation’s banks and given them more time to pay the money back in an effort to combat a serious credit squeeze.

The Fed announced Tuesday that the money would be loaned at a rate of 2.754 percent. In the latest auction, the Fed offered the loans for an extended period of 84 days, rather than the 28-day period for the previous loans.

It marked the Fed’s latest attempt to be innovative in providing the nation’s banking system with the cash it needs to combat a serious credit crisis stemming from mounting mortgage loan losses.

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US: Most companies paid no federal income taxes

Report says most corporations pay no federal income taxes; lawmakers blame loopholes

WASHINGTON (AP) – Two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1998 and 2005, according to a new report from Congress.

The study by the Government Accountability Office, expected to be released Tuesday, said about 68 percent of foreign companies doing business in the U.S. avoided corporate taxes over the same period.

Collectively, the companies  reported trillions of dollars in sales, according to GAO’s estimate.

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Fed: More banks are tightening lending standards

WASHINGTON – More banks are tightening lending standards on home mortgages and other consumer and business loans as a deepening credit crisis exerts a heavier toll on the economy.

Federal Reserve said Monday the percentage of banks reporting tighter lending standards rose across various loan types in its July survey. In April, the central bank had found that the percentage of banks reporting tighter lending standards was already near historic highs.

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