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The US has accused China of illegally subsidising the production of wind power equipment Reuters reports, with officials saying they were concerned that Chinese manufacturers of wind turbines and related parts and components could have received several hundred million dollars in questionable government grants in 2008. The US has asked for talks at the World Trade Organisation, which is the first step in filing a trade case. “Import substitution subsidies are particularly harmful and inherently trade distorting, which is why they are expressly prohibited under WTO rules,’’ said Ron Kirk, the US trade representative, in a statement. “These subsidies effectively operate as a barrier to US exports to China.”
Airgas has rejected another takeover offer from Air Products, Reuters reports, after the sweetened $5.9bn bid was deemed not enough by the industrial gas producer. Meanwhile Air Products reiterated that its $70 per share cash offer is “best and final.” Airgas’ board wants at least $6.5bn, or $78 per share, and all ten directors were united in urging shareholders not to accept Air Products’ tender offer, which expires on 14 January. Air Products approached Airgas about a takeover in late 2009, but talks have stumbled over the price. Dealbook analyses the Airgas rejection.
Six regional banks have repaid funds that the US Treasury supplied during the financial crisis, returning $2.7bn to taxpayers, the FT reports. More than two years have passed since the US government invested $389bn in a financial system which was frozen by crisis . Many of the nation’s largest banks and insurers have since repaid their bail-out funds, underlining the weaknesses of those still in its programme. The diverging path of the industry’s haves and have-nots has helped spur a pick-up in merger activity among regional banks. The latest crop includes four of the top 25 largest remaining Tarp recipients. The US Treasury said on Wednesday that Huntington Bancshares, First Horizon National, Wintrust Financial, Susquehanna Bancshares and Heritage Financial each bought back all of the government’s outstanding preferred shares and paid out dividends. A sixth lender, Bank of Kentucky Financial, repurchased half of the Treasury’s preferred shares.
On Capitol Hill and in the White House, Rahm Emanuel enjoyed the reputation of a political rottweiler who inspired fear and loathing in Washingtom, the FT reports. All that changed when Mr Emanuel quit his job as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff this year to run for mayor of Chicago. He has now undergone a transformation. Pugnacity has been replaced by affability, aggression by geniality, and the famously quick temper has given way to seemingly endless patience. Indeed, the main barrier between Mr Emanuel and the mayor’s office has not been another candidate but a legal challenge to his status as a Chicago resident for the past year – a prerequisite for mayoral candidates. A hearing officer has said that Emanuel meets the residency requirement to run for mayor of Chicago, Bloomberg reported today. However the recommendation is non-binding and must be considered by the Board of Election Commissioners later today.
Global stocks are brushing their best levels in nearly 27 months, before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, as investors continue to place bets that better economic growth in 2011 will power risky assets yet higher, the FT’s global market overview reports. The FTSE All-World equity index was up 0.2 per cent to 216.7, commodities were mixed and the dollar lower. Markets were unfazed as South Korea began a large-scale military exercise near the border with the North. The Kospi index fell just 0.03 per cent on soft technology stocks. Hopes that an improvement in the US economy will add an extra boost to growth in 2011 is continuing to buoy sentiment, pushing the FTSE Asia Pacific index up 0.4 per cent, close to the best levels since July 2008. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.4 per cent to a six-week high, after Riversdale Mining climbed as much as 2.2 per cent to A$16.84 on the back of Rio Tinto’s formal $3.9bn offer. China’s Shanghai Composite was down 0.8 per cent as oil refiners lost ground on concerns that operating costs would increase following recent gasoline and diesel price hikes. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was off 0.1 per cent and India’s Sensex was down 0.2 per cent. The FTSE 100 has tickled the 6,000 level in early skirmishing, up 0.2 per cent at 5,998 as resources stocks continue their storming run. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 index was up 0.1 per cent. The dollar index was down 0.3 per cent at 80.45, while the Korean won was up 0.4 per cent to the greenback as traders brushed off any worries surrounding Seoul’s military exercises.
A Christmas flirtation between US shopping centres, social media and Handel’s Messiah has suffered a setback after fire officials in northern California shut down an impromptu performance of the oratorio amid safety concerns, the FT reports. An estimated 5,000 people crowded into the food-court of the Roseville Galleria shopping mall outside Sacramento on Monday night for a planned “flash mob” performance of the Messiah’s Hallelujah chorus by local choral singers. But fire officials ordered the closure and evacuation of the steel-framed building before the performance could begin, after loud cracks and popping noises were heard from the second floor. Westfield, which runs the centre, said the response to the event “was far greater than anticipated by organisers” and the building closed “out of an abundance of caution”. The event was the latest in a series of retail-centre Messiahs and other pieces that have erupted across North America this year, with local musical groups using social media such as Twitter and Facebook to pull in “flashmob” crowds.
Hispanic voters’ apparent disenchantment with Republicans is likely to become a growing problem for the party after US census results showed that population gains in mostly Republican “Sun Belt” states were driven by Latino voters, the FT reports. Texas, a solid “Red” state that supported John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, is gaining four new seats in the House of Representatives. according to census results. But two of them could well be won by Democrats, analysts say, marking the beginning of a gradual shift that could favour Democrats in states such as Nevada, Arizona and Colorado.
President Barack Obama sealed a big foreign policy victory after months of effort when the US Senate ratified an arms control agreement with Russia, the FT reports. Wednesday’s 71-26 vote to approve the Start treaty, which Mr Obama personally negotiated with Dmitry Medvedev, his Russian counterpart, marks the latest in a series of successes for the US president following large Republican gains in Congressional elections last month. “This is the most significant arms control agreement in nearly two decades,” Mr Obama declared after the ratification, which was backed by 13 Republicans. Mr Medvedev said Russia would proceed to approve the treaty “in parallel” with the Senate ratification.
Our national pastime of guessing house prices pauses for no cold breath in the run-up to Christmas. The RICS 2011 Housing Forecast released today brings the estimate that house prices will be 2 per cent lower than present levels at the end of 2011. Essentially, the report articulates the view that ropey mortgage availability and fewer properties coming onto the market (interest rates supporting current mortgage-holders) will temper a dramatic plunge in prices. The report also mentions plans afoot, via the New Homes Bonus Scheme, to encourage local authorities (through payments equal to council tax for each property for several years) to boost available housing stock.
Time for the ‘however’: Read more
Vince Cable, UK business secretary, has been humiliatingly stripped of his role in regulating the media as he paid the price for telling undercover reporters that he had “declared war on” Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon the FT reports. The fact that Mr Cable has a quasi-judicial role over Mr Murdoch’s bid for outright control of BSkyB made the comments to total strangers all the more remarkable; Labour suggested he should be sacked on the spot. News Corp, whose stable of newspapers includes The Sun and The Times, issued a statement saying it was “shocked and dismayed” by his comments. The company added: “They raise serious questions about fairness and due process.” Mr Hunt, who now has jurisdiction, has previously indicated he saw nothing wrong with the News Corp bid, but added he would not second-guess the regulatory investigation. However the FT also reports that transferring the power to decide whether News Corp can take full control of British Sky Broadcasting from Vince Cable to Jeremy Hunt will make little difference to the outcome, say analysts and lawyers.
Intel has won approval from the Federal Trade Commission for its proposed $7.68bn acquisition of McAfee, Reuters reports. The chipmaker said it would continue to cooperate with the European Commission’s review of the deal, following concern that McAfee could gain privileged access to security features on Intel’s microprocessor chips, as reported in the WSJ last week. The EU had previously levied a record fine of €1.06bn ($1.39bn) against Intel in 2009 for shutting out rival Advanced Micro Devices.