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March 26, 2013 at 11:40 AM
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Stock indexes take off on new data

NEW YORK, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. stock indexes rose Tuesday after the U.S. Commerce Department said durable goods orders were up in February.

New orders for goods expected to last at least three years rose 5.7 percent from January, the fifth rise in orders in the past six months.

A closely watched monthly index of U.S. home prices, the S&P-Case/Shiller report, also gave stocks a boost. The 20-city Composite Index released Tuesday indicated prices rose 8.1 percent in January from 12 months prior.

In late morning trading, the Dow Jones industrial average added 90.32 points, or 0.61 percent, to 14,535.82. The Nasdaq added 9.13 points, or 0.28 percent, to 3,244.42. The Standard and Poor's 500 gained 9.13 points, or 0.48 percent, to 1,559.09.

Ten-year U.S. treasury bonds rose 2/32 to yield 1.92 percent.

Against the dollar, the euro was at $1.2862 from Monday's $1.2853. Against the yen, the dollar was higher at 94.22 yen from 94.41 yen.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 index lost 0.6 percent, 74.84 points, to 12,471.62.

South Korea, Japan, China begin FTA talks

SEOUL, March 26 (UPI) -- South Korea, China and Japan began free trade agreement talks Tuesday in Seoul even as Japan has unresolved territorial issues with the other two.

The three-day talks, marking the first round of the FTA effort, will discuss the scope of the negotiations, the South Korean government said.

The countries decided in November to proceed with talks to boost trade. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said the talks are seen as a way to deal with territorial issues.

South Korea and China are already involved in talks for a bilateral free trade agreement. Similar talks between South Korea and Japan haven't proceeded since 2004 because of Japan's reluctance to lower tariffs on agricultural goods, the report said.

A FTA among the three countries would create one of the world's largest markets as they together account for 20 percent of the global gross domestic product and 17.5 percent of all global trade, Yonhap reported. The combined GDP of the countries totaled $12.34 trillion in 2010.

Japan's territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea has worsened since Japan nationalized the islands in September. The islands are also claimed by China and the dispute has affected bilateral trade.

Relations between Japan and South Korea also have been affected over the South Korean-controlled island called Takeshima by Tokyo and Dokdo by Seoul.

U.S. durable goods orders rose in February

WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- U.S. durable goods orders rose in February, the fifth increase in the past six months, the U.S. Commerce Department said Tuesday.

Factory orders rose 5.7 percent, $12.4 billion, to $232.1 billion after an upwardly revised decline of 3.8 percent in January.

A month prior, the January decline was reported at 5.2 percent.

Excluding transportation equipment, factory orders for goods expected to last at least three years fell 0.5 percent. Excluding defense orders, new business for factories increased 4.5 percent, the Commerce Department said.

Transportation orders, which have been swinging up and down for the past six months, returned to making gains in February. For the month transportation orders "drove the increase" with a gain of $13.3 billion, or 21.7 percent, in new orders, which totaled $74.4 billion in the month.

Orders for non-defense-related capital goods rose 10 percent to $80.8 billion, the largest increase in five months.

"Capital goods" is a category of investment into production equipment, such as printing presses, backhoes and computers -- equipment that represents businesses investing in themselves. It is seen as a gauge of confidence among producers.

Shipments of durable goods, up five of the past six months, also rose in February, rising by 1 percent or $2.2 billion to $229.3 billion, the Commerce Department said.

Email suggests willful bill padding

NEW YORK, March 26 (UPI) -- Email messages from former attorneys at a firm being sued for over billing appear to reveal they were aware the bill was being padded, court papers in New York show.

The case began in April 2010, when the client, Adam Victor, hired the world's largest law firm, DLA Piper, to handle a bankruptcy case for Project Orange Associates, a power plant company that was providing steam to Syracuse University.

However, Victor's bill went well beyond the original estimate and the law firm eventually sued him for $675,000 -- the unpaid portion of his bill.

Victor then sued the law firm for padding his bill using a variety of shady law firm practices, such as assigning too many lawyers to do a task and assigning junior lawyers to do work, which can end up taking longer than necessary and produce inferior results, The New York Times reported Tuesday.

Email messages from three company attorneys -- none of which are still at the firm -- show the firm was aware it was way over budget.

"I hear we are already 200k over our estimate -- that's Team DLA Piper!" wrote Rich Eisenegger, who was one of the firm's attorneys at the time.

The practice known as "churning" is one in which law firms essentially do work that isn't really necessary and an email written by former DLA Piper attorney Christopher Thomson directly addresses that practice.

"Now Vince has random people working full time on random research projects in standard 'churn that bill, baby!' mode. That bill shall know no limits," Thomson wrote.

Thomson also wrote that, "DLA seems to love to low-ball the bills and with the number of bodies being thrown at this thing it's going to stay stupidly high and with the absurd litigation Project Orange Associates has been in for years it does have lots of wrinkles."

"Lawyers sometimes conflate their own financial interests with the interests of the client who pays the bills," Professor Ross said. "Of course, most lawyers are ethical, but the billable hour creates perverse incentives," law professor William Ross at Samford University's Cumberland School of Law told the Times.

Victor said he began his association with the firm in the 1990s, when it was smaller and he knew the lawyers handling his projects. Then, "as the firm got bigger, there were all of these lawyers who I didn't know suddenly showing up on my bills," he said.

Eisenegger and Thomson declined to comment on the case, as did the law firm, the Times said.

DLA Piper is the world's largest by number of lawyers with 4,200 attorneys in more than 30 countries on its staff, the Times said.

Revenue at the firm in 2012 came to $2.25 billion, The American Lawyer magazine reported.

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