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An employee works inside a metal workshop in Kolkata, India, Jan. 3, 2011 (RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI)
An employee works inside a metal workshop in Kolkata, India, Jan. 3, 2011 (RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI)

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Hear that hum? That's the sound of the world's factories Add to ...

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Manufacturing expands

The world's factories continue to rebound from the depths of the recession.

Purchasing managers indexes in the United States and Europe show manufacturing picking up, and still strong in China and India though at a slower pace of growth.

In the U.S., the Institute for Supply Management said today its index climbed in December to 57 from 56.6 a month earlier, marking the 17th month in a row of expansion.

Coupled with a rebound in construction spending in November, also reported today, the U.S. indicators helped buoy hopes for the rebound.

"Together these reports are another illustration that the U.S. economy is gathering momentum again," said Paul Ashworth, chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics in Toronto.

"Our calculations suggest that fourth-quarter GDP growth was a strong 4 per cent annualized and, with the new fiscal stimulus now being introduced, growth in the first quarter of the new year is likely to come in at around that same pace."

Facebook raises $500-million It appears there's no stopping the runaway success of Facebook. The social networking phenomenon has raised $500-million (U.S.) from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and a Russian investor, Digital Sky Technologies,The New York Times reports, pegging its value at $50-billion.

The company would now be worth more than the likes of eBay, Yahoo and Time Warner, the newspaper says, adding an investment from Goldman indicates just how forceful Facebook has become. The cash injection, it adds, will allow Facebook to attract key employees, come out with new products and maybe even take over other companies.

"When you think back to the early days of Google, they were kind of ignored by Wall Street investors, until it was time to go public," Silicon Valley investor Chris Sacca, who holds a stake in Twitter and at one time worked for Google, told the newspaper. "This time, the Street is smartening up. They realize there are true growth businesses out here. Facebook has become a real business, and investors are coming out here and saying, 'We want a piece of it."'

Euro crisis: New Year, same old Europe's debt crisis opened the new year with the same old: The euro dipped against the U.S. dollar Monday, though it rallied against other currencies.

What's in store for 2011 where the debt crisis is concerned?

European bondholders and policy makers face severe headwinds that may make a restructuring of sovereign debt necessary, Moody's Analytics says in a report that sees the continent's credit crisis as the biggest threat to the global recovery.

"Europe might still be able to muddle through, but an orderly restructuring of sovereign debt is looking more desirable as the damage to budget cuts mounts and as high-debt countries struggle to escape recession," economist Andres Carbacho-Burgos said in a recent report.

Disasters cost insurers billions Natural disasters cost the global insurance industry about $37-billion (U.S.) last year, a new calculation shows, putting 2010 among the top six "loss-intensive" years since 1980.

Munich Re, the largest reinsurer in the world, cited 950 natural catastrophe with overall losses of $130-billion. Of those losses, Munich Re reported, $37-billion was insured. The reinsurer was not suggesting that earthquakes were the result of climate change, but said that weather-related events, such as storms and floods, accounted for 90 per cent of the total 950.

"The overall picture last year was dominated by an accumulation of severe earthquakes to an extent seldom experienced in recent decades," the company said in its report.

"The high number of weather-related natural catastrophes and record temperatures both globally and in different regions of the world provide further indications of advancing climate change."

Munich Re listed five events that could be pegged as "great natural catastrophes" based on UN definitions:

  • The Haiti earthquake in January, one of the most devastating in the past 100 years
  • The quake in Chile in February
  • The quake in central China in Paril
  • The Russian heatwave that ran from July to September
  • Floods in Pakistan from July to September

"The severe earthquakes and the hurricane season with so many storms demonstrate once again that there must be no slackening of our efforts to analyze these risks in detail and provide the necessary insurance covers at adequate prices," Munich Re's Reinsurance chief executive officer, Torsten Jeworrek, said in a statement.

"These prices calculated by the insurance industry make it possible to assess the economic consequences of these otherwise difficult-to-evaluate risks."

Oil prices high, but no surge seen Oil prices are challenging the $100 (U.S.) level again, but analysts don't expect a 2008-style surge to the $150 area, a Reuters analysis suggests.

Energy firms are boosting their spending before there's a supply crunch, while the U.S. dollar has firmed up, the news agency reported, while short-term fundamentals, such as more crude in storage and more refining capacity, are solid.

Analysts expect average prices to climb by about 8 per cent this year.

Fiat eyes majority stake in Chrysler Fiat today set the stage for boosting its 20-per-cent stake in Chrysler to majority control, splitting its auto making business from the unit that produces trucks and tractors.

"If Chrysler is listed this year, we should think about speeding up the option of increasing our stake," Fiat chief executive officer Sergio Marchionne told reporters, according to Reuters.

He said there are no plans at this point to merge Fiat and Chrysler, but he is looking at boosting Fiat's ownership of the U.S. auto maker to 51 per cent this year.

Boyd Erman's Morning Meeting For all the talk of the BRIC countries, the bond market is betting on the U.S., saying U.S. companies are less of a risk than any others in the world, Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman reports today.

That's the logical takeaway from figures reported by Bloomberg News that show that the yield over Treasury bonds that investors demand on U.S. corporate bonds is lower than the global average for the first time on record.

From today's Report on Business

Follow on Twitter: @michaelbabad

 
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