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Dec. 29, 2012 at 12:58 PM
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Airlines: 2012 safest in nearly 50 years

NEW YORK, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Commercial flying in the United States and elsewhere in 2012 was safer than it has been in more than nearly fifty years, industry data show.

There have been 22 commercial airline crashes resulting in fatalities this year, down from 28 in 2011, data from the Aviation Safety Network show.

The 10 year average for crashes with fatalities is 34 per year, The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday.

The most recent commercial flight that crashed with fatalities in the United States, including cargo and passenger flights, was in 2009 near Buffalo, N.Y.

The improved safety record is attributable to more reliable equipment and the airline industry's adoption of a policy of no retribution against pilots or mechanics who report technical problems, the Journal said.

"Overall, it was the certainly the safest year ever," according to Paul Hayes, director of safety at Ascend, a consulting firm that complies an annual report on airline safety.

Previously, 2011 had been the safest year ever, but 2012 is "almost twice as safe" as that, the report from Ascend said.

Ten of the 22 fatal crashes in 2012 involved commercial passenger flights, with three of those involving large jetliners and seven involving turboprop planes.

For the year, 470 people died in airline crashes, a 61 percent drop from the 10-year average of 770 fatalities per year.

France strikes down tax hikes for rich

PARIS, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- France's Constitutional Council shot down President Francois Hollande's proposed 75 percent income tax rate for citizens making more than $1.3 million annually.

In its ruling Saturday, the council said Hollande's policy "failed to recognize equality before public burdens" because, unlike other forms of income tax, the new tax rate would be to be applied to individual citizens instead of households, the BBC reported.

The new tax rates, which would affect about 1,500 people, angered France's business community and prompted a number of wealthy citizens to emigrate.

Hollande's government said it would rework its proposal to address the concerns of the council, but will press on with the legislation.

"The government will propose a new system that conforms with the principles laid down by the decision of the Constitutional Council," said Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

Nikkei streaks, ends year at high point

TOKYO, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A financial analyst said Japanese stocks were benefiting from the weakening yen, which pushed the Nikkei 225 above its pre-earthquake level Friday.

"There is a popular view in the market that Japanese companies will get a huge boost from this foreign-exchange factor, especially in fiscal 2013," said Hiroichi Nishi, assistant general manager of equity research at SMBC Nikko Securities Inc.

"Things may get even better for Tokyo stocks if the United States can avert the fiscal cliff and Wall Street stocks rebound strongly," Nishi said.

Japan's Nikkei 225 index closed at 10,395.18 Friday, its highest mark since March 10, 2011, the day before a massive earthquake struck with the epicenter in Northeast Japan, Kyodo News reported.

The weaker yen benefits Japanese exporters, as it helps make their prices more competitive abroad. While exporting firms gained with a four-day winning streak through Friday, utility firms, drug companies and airlines did not fare so well.

The yen has been falling, with the expectation that the new government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will aggressively deploy monetary easing strategies to stimulate the economy.

The Nikkei 225 closed out the year at its highest point for the year for the first time since 1999.

Dexia granted $118 billion bailout

BRUSSELS, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The European Commission has granted struggling bank Dexia its third bailout since 2008, with plans to break the firm into two smaller companies.

The commission approved $112.2 billion loan guarantees and a capital injection of $7.26 billion, Radio France Internationale reported Saturday.

The bailout "ensures that the continued market presence of some parts of the Dexia group is truly justified ... and that competition distortions resulting from the aid received are minimized," said European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia.

"The plan brings the cost for the taxpayer down to the level strictly necessary to carry out the orderly resolution process," he said.

The restructuring calls for Dexia's core business to be wound down, leaving behind Belfius -- which is owned by Belgium and will maintain the bank's retail and insurance businesses -- and the Dexia Municipal Agency, which will continue the bank's financing for regional and local governments in France and Belgium.

Dexia, which found itself overexposed when the financial crisis hit, was once valued at $396 billion.

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