QUICK READS

Japan Sees Over $300 Billion in Damages The Japanese government said damage from the earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast region would be more than $300 billion, raising the possibility that the economy may contract in the first half of fiscal year that starts April 1.

NRG Energy Casts Doubt on Reactor Plans NRG Energy’s CEO said the power company’s plans to build two big reactors at its South Texas nuclear plant could be delayed, or even canceled, in light of earthquake-related failures at a Japanese nuclear plant.

Canadian Government Likely to Fall The Conservative, minority government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper failed to win opposition-party approval for its budget, all but ensuring that his government will fall in coming days and be forced to seek new national elections.

Portugal Leader’s Fate Hinges on Budget Vote The future of Portuguese Prime Minister José Socrates hangs in the balance as the outcome of an austerity vote could lead to his resignation and push the government closer toward a financial bailout.

Housing Market’s Weakness Persists U.S. home prices fell for a third straight month in January, adding to evidence that the housing market is weakening even though the economy is improving

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Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher: “I think it’s very important that a central bank keep its word. We’re only as good as our word because we have a faith-based currency. And people have to maintain faith that when the central bank says it’s going to do something it will get it done.”

Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher:

I speak to more business operators than most of my colleagues. We all have different compositions, but I’m the least academic. I’m the dullest knife in the drawer in that Committee. I survey some 50 businesses. What I’m hearing to a person, without exception, in every sector in every size whether they’re public or private is they’re all looking at ways to price more aggressively because their costs are going up. And that concerns me. And when you press them…you’re beginning to hear numbers in the 3%-plus level.

I spent last week in England, and in addition to meetings at the Bank of England I did what I like to do, which is I talked to quite a few business operators. I was hearing English business operators in my direct conversations talking about 4% not (being) so bad and that they might concede wages increase accordingly. That sends a shiver up the spine of any right-thinking central banker. So if it can happen in the U.K…it can certainly happen in the United States, and it can happen here in Europe.

Disruption in Japan Slows Rise in Oil Price  In addition to Japan’s nuclear power industry, the earthquake and tsunami also damaged nine oil refineries, disrupting nearly one-third of the country’s refining capacity. Many factories and businesses have ground to a halt, and vehicle traffic in Japan’s bustling cities has eased. Oil shipments have been curtailed by damage at seaports along the tsunami-ravaged coast that will take months to repair. All told, Japanese demand for oil has been reduced by an estimated 1 million barrels a day. That is nearly one-quarter of what Japan imports, and roughly the same amount of oil that has been withdrawn from world markets by the unrest in Libya.

Stress Tests Loom For Ireland’s Banks Looming stress tests on four troubled Irish lenders will attempt to reach a definite count of the losses lurking in their loan books but could still fail to restore confidence in Ireland’s banking system.

IMF Lowers New Zealand Growth Forecast The IMF lowered its growth forecast for New Zealand, in a further blow to the nation’s economy that is being squeezed by the cost of two earthquakes and continuing weakness in the housing and retail industries.

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Martin Wolf charts

A chart of global vehicle sales

 

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