Economic Outlook: To-do lists

By ANTHONY HALL, United Press International  |  Dec. 20, 2011 at 9:56 AM
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Stocks on Wall Street are expected to trade lightly, but not optimistically, this week as the holidays begin and brokers look to wipe to-do lists clean.

In other words, it is time to dump stocks that look shaky on a firm's portfolio to strengthen end-of-year reports. That could bode poorly for banks and brand name retailers, depending on holiday sales. In better positions would be manufacturing firms, including U.S. automakers and electronics firms, such as Apple which won a victory Monday when the U.S. International Trade Commission ruled in its favor on a patent dispute with Google.

Bank stocks Monday tripped over a Wall Street Journal article that said the U.S. Federal reserve would likely go along with higher capital requirements for the nation's largest banks -- those that pose a systemic risk to the financial system.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the battered euro would survive the financial crisis -- but the crisis was not over.

In the central bank's six-month assessment of the eurozone's financial condition, the ECB went so far as to mention the specter of Lehman Brothers, the bank that symbolizes the financial crisis of 2008.

"The transmission of tensions among sovereigns, across banks and between the two intensified to take on systemic crisis proportions not witnessed since the collapse of Lehman Brothers three years ago," the report said.

Despite the dire warnings, the almost daily report of lower credit ratings in Europe and a pervasive sense of skepticism, the mood has shifted noticeably since the European summit two weeks back in which the European Union agreed to centralize financial authority and send more rescue funds to the International Monetary Fund.

Not many analysts would say that leaders in Europe plugged the right holes. The imbalances remain. Credit rating agencies have kept up, even increased their dogged pursuit of assessing risk -- and nobody's credit rating has gone up of late. Nevertheless, if there is no summit pending, there is no summit to analyze and no politicians to second-guess. For a moment, it appears calm. It might even last to the new year.

In international markets Tuesday, the Nikkei 225 index in Japan rose 0.49 percent, while the Shanghai composite index in China fell 0.1 percent. The Hang Seng index in Hong Kong was up 0.06 percent, while the Sensex in India dropped 1.33 percent.

The S&P/ASX 200 index in Australia shed 0.18 percent.

In midday trading in Europe, the FTSE 100 index in Britain was flat, up 0.01 percent, while the DAX 30 in Germany rose 1.31 percent. The CAC 40 in France rose 1.3 percent, while the Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.74 percent.

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