Economic Outlook: Seeking solid ground

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  March 16, 2011 at 9:14 AM
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Stocks in Asia ran higher Wednesday, jumping 5.68 percent in Japan, where attention is also focused on a potential nuclear plant catastrophe.

U.S. investors may find some solace in the turnaround in the Nikkei 225 index, which fell more than 6.18 percent Monday and 10.55 percent Tuesday. Japan, as the world's third largest economy, has long tentacles and nations around the globe were examining their nuclear plants or calculating what lessons could be learned from events in Japan, which began with a massive, late-afternoon earthquake on Friday.

In Germany, officials said they would shut down their nuclear power plants and the European Union said all 143 nuclear power plants in the region would be tested, The New York Times reported.

Most of the corporate business community is on edge, waiting for news on a final containment solution at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant or the unthinkable converse of that.

Deutsche Bank strategist Jim Reid told The Wall Street Journal European and U.S. markets "had probably priced in a rise of around 5 percent in the Nikkei," which puts U.S. markets on level ground for Wednesday.

Markets also have economic reports to consider Wednesday. The U.S. Producer Prices index rose 1.6 percent in February compared to January, the Department of Labor said. Private home building starts in February dropped 22.5 percent from January, with building permits down 8.2 percent from the previous month.

Investors are also anticipating a weekly report on U.S. crude oil reserves, which have held up despite civil unrest in Libya as the spring driving season comes into play.

Commodity markets are following the trends set by equities with crude oil prices dropping 3.9 percent Tuesday to $97.33 per gallon. Gold dropped 2.1 percent to $1,395.50 per troy ounce on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

All eyes are still focused on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

"This is an accident that has not finished," International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano said.

In other international markets, the Hang Seng index in Hong Kong rose 0.1 percent while the Shanghai composite index in China added 1.19 percent. The Sensex index in India gained 1.05 percent while the S&P/ASX 200 in Australia rose 0.65 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain lost 0.57 percent while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 0.33 percent. The CAC 40 index in France dropped 0.46 percent while the Stoxx Europe 600 was flat, falling 0.02 percent.

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