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While you were sleeping: Optimism on US budget talks

Wednesday 19th December 2012

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Wall Street climbed amid signs that budget talks between US Democrats and Republicans are finally progressing, raising optimism an agreement to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff will be reached by the year-end deadline.

President Barack Obama is said to have offered House Speaker John Boehner a lower target for new tax revenue. The two met at the White House yesterday. Boehner then made his case to fellow Republicans this morning and he retains their support, media reports say.

"It looks like the US budget talks are getting better and better," Pierre Mouton, portfolio manager at Notz Stucki & Cie in Geneva, told Bloomberg News. "We're not quite there yet, but both camps seem to be trying to get to an agreement. It's quite positive and the market's reaction is linked to that."

In afternoon trading in New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 0.90 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 1.19 percent, while the Nasdaq Composite Index rose 1.44 percent.

Other supportive signs came from the latest data on the housing market. Confidence among American homebuilders rose to the highest level in more than six years in December.

Shares in Apple rebounded 1.5 percent despite increasing concern among some of the company's most bullish analysts that it has at least temporarily hit a growth ceiling. A number of analysts have pared their price targets in the last few weeks.

A top official at the New York Stock Exchange told US lawmakers today that American stock markets and regulators are nearing an agreement on a "kill switch" to help calm markets in the event of future software trading glitches.

In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index finished the session with a 0.5 percent increase from the previous close. National benchmark stock indexes in France, the UK and Germany gained as well, rising 0.2 percent, 0.4 percent and 0.6 percent respectively.

The euro also strengthened, rising 0.5 percent to US$1.3228.

Meanwhile, Spain drew solid demand for its debt auctions today. It sold three-month bills an average yield of 1.195 percent, down from 1.254 percent at a previous auction on November 27, and six-month securities at 1.609 percent, compared with 1.669 percent last month, according to Bloomberg.

Greece got some good news when Standard & Poor's lifted its credit rating from selective default. "The outlook on the long-term rating is stable, balancing our view of the government's commitment to a fiscal and structural adjustment against the economic and political challenges of doing so," the agency said.

China has set its initial target for economic growth at 7.5 percent for a second year and tightened its inflation goal to the lowest level since 2010, Bloomberg reported, citing two bank executives and a regulatory official briefed on the matter.

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