Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wall Street edges higher on bank earnsings

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose early Thursday, putting the S&P on track for its third straight advance after Bank of America and Morgan Stanley reported earnings and as strong demand at European bond auctions eased euro zone debt concerns.

Bank of America Corp climbed 5.2 percent to $7.14 after it reported a fourth-quarter profit, reversing a year-earlier loss, boosted by one-time items and lower expenses for bad loans.

Fellow financial Morgan Stanley jumped 6.2 percent to $18.45 after the Wall Street bank posted a quarterly loss but still managed to top analysts' expectations.

Financial shares have rallied since the start of the year. The S&P financial index <.GSPF> is up more than 7 percent for 2012, helping to push the benchmark S&P 500 index up 4 percent. The index was up 0.6 percent in early trading.

In a sign that investor nervousness over the euro zone's debt crisis was easing, Spain and France both drew strong demand at government debt auctions.

"It's a combination of no horror stories out of Europe and it is earnings season. We are up and down with the different earnings releases, of course, but in general they are expected to be good," said Frank Lesh, a futures analyst and broker at FuturePath Trading LLC in Chicago.

"Overall, earnings are expected to be positive and a positive influence for the market." Learn More...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Russian space probe crashes into Pacific

MOSCOW (AP) — A Russian space probe designed to boost the nation's pride on a bold mission to a moon of Mars has come down in flames, showering fragments into the south Pacific west of Chile's coast, officials said.

Pieces from the Phobos-Ground, which had become stuck in Earth's orbit, landed in water Sunday 1,250 kilometers (775 miles) west of Wellington Island in Chile's south, the Russian military Air and Space Defense Forces said in a statement carried by the country's news agencies.

The military space tracking facilities were monitoring the probe's crash, its spokesman Col. Alexei Zolotukhin said. Zolotukhin said the deserted ocean area is where Russia guides its discarded space cargo ships serving the International Space Station.

RIA Novosti news agency, however, cited Russian ballistic experts who said the fragments fell over a broader patch of Earth's surface, spreading from the Atlantic and including the territory of Brazil. It said the midpoint of the crash zone was located in the Brazilian state of Goias.

The $170 million craft was one of the heaviest and most toxic pieces of space junk ever to crash to Earth, but space officials and experts said the risks posed by its crash were minimal because the toxic rocket fuel on board and most of the craft's structure would burn up in the atmosphere high above the ground anyway.

The Phobos-Ground was designed to travel to one of Mars' twin moons, Phobos, land on it, collect soil samples and fly them back to Earth in 2014 in one of the most daunting interplanetary missions ever. It got stranded in Earth's orbit after its Nov. 9 launch, and efforts by Russian and European Space Agency experts to bring it back to life failed. Learn More...

Monday, January 9, 2012

SEC wants banks to say more on European debt exposure

(Reuters) - The Securities and Exchange Commission has urged banks to publish more details about their exposure to European sovereign debt, a factor in the recent bankruptcy of the futures brokerage MF Global Holdings Ltd .

In guidance issued on Friday, the regulator's Division of Corporation Finance said disclosures by publicly-traded financial institutions have been "inconsistent in both substance and presentation."

It said this could make it harder for investors to discern how much risk the banks are taking, both individually and relative to each other, and how the exposures will affect operating results or financial health.

The SEC urged that banks reveal direct and indirect exposures "separately by country, segregated between sovereign and non-sovereign exposures."

It said they should also provide more details on hedging, through such instruments as credit default swaps, and sums they might need to raise if forced to close out their positions.

"In determining which countries are covered by this guidance, registrants should focus on those experiencing significant economic, fiscal and/or political strains such that the likelihood of default would be higher than would be anticipated when such factors do not exist," the SEC said. Learn More...

Friday, January 6, 2012

GM offers fix to Volt to prevent fire risk

(Reuters) - General Motors Co said on Thursday it has developed a proposed fix to the battery pack for the Chevrolet Volt to eliminate the risk of a fire being triggered days after a crash.

GM said it would strengthen structural protection for the 400-pound lithium-ion battery in the Volt by adding steel reinforcements and take other steps to prevent coolant fluid from leaking and triggering a fire.

U.S. safety regulators indicated they were ready to sign off on the relatively quick repairs for the Volt, heading off a costly distraction for the top U.S. automaker and the prospect of a safety recall on its highest profile vehicle.

GM has made the Volt the symbol of its determination to seize a leadership position in fuel economy and green technology, and its engineers have been racing to respond to a safety investigation by U.S. regulators since late last year.

"This remains a halo vehicle for us in technology and design," Mark Reuss, GM's chief of North American operations, told reporters.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened a probe of the Volt's battery pack in November.

NHTSA, which has the power to review proposed safety fixes by automakers, said the changes to the battery pack developed by GM appear to protect the Volt from fires of the kind it found possible in its safety tests. Learn More...

Monday, January 2, 2012

Tight race in Iowa kicks off 2012 campaign

DES MOINES, Iowa (Reuters) - Iowa Republicans cast the first votes of the 2012 White House campaign on Tuesday, with Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul in a high-stakes battle to win the party's kick-off nominating contest.

Voters will gather in schools, libraries and other public spots across the state to render judgment in the frequently shifting Republican race to pick a challenger to President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Santorum, a conservative former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, is the latest candidate to rise in polls in a race that has seen a handful of hopefuls roll through the top spot.

He is battling Romney, the national front-runner and narrow leader in Iowa polls, and libertarian Paul for a crucial win in Iowa that could provide momentum and a surge of new donations as the race moves to next week's contest New Hampshire.

"Get folks and bring them to the caucus with you," Santorum told supporters in Perry, Iowa, on Monday as each of the candidates made a final pitch for votes and tried to bolster their turnout.

Iowa polls showed many voters could still change their mind before Tuesday night, adding an element of unpredictability to an already fluid race.

"I'm undecided, and I'm still in the same boat as when I came," said Zander Morales, a hospital worker in Des Moines after he attended a rally on Monday for Paul, the U.S. congressman from Texas. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do." Learn More...