Archive for January, 2012

Iran’s “evil” leaders cannot be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons, President Shimon Peres said on Tuesday, calling the Islamic Republic’s nuclear ambitions the world’s single most important issue.

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President Shimon Peres.

Photo by: GPO

Peres’ comments came at the opening of the Herzliya Conference, which was attended by World Bank President Robert Zoellick, Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, and former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.

Referring to Iran’s contentious nuclear program, the president called the issue “ours and the world’s central problem at this time, accusing Iran of attempting to achieve regional and “even global hegemony.”

“Nuclear weapons mustn’t be allowed to fall into the hands of Iran’s Ayatollah regime,” Peres said, calling Iran’s religious leadership the “most morally corrupt regime in the world.”

Hinting at the possibility of a strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, the president reiterated the Israeli stance, according to which “no option should be ruled out in our dealing with the Iranian danger. This is an existential threat.”

“It is the duty of the international community to prevent evil and nuclear [weapons] from coming together. That is the obligations of most of the leaders of the free world, one which they must meet,” Peres said.

On what he called “the moral significance of this battle,” the president spoke of an Iranian regime which “executes people for their views. It funds, trains, and guides terrorists to spread terror and murder across the globe.”

“This is a way of operation that must be condemned by everyone everywhere,” Peres said, adding that, “eventually, the current Iranian leadership offers the future only destruction. It threatens human rights and the peace of nations.”

In his address to the Herzliya Conference, president Peres also spoke of the necessity to restart peace negotiations with the Palestinians, saying that ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the only way to ensure Israel isn’t made into the scapegoat of a rapidly changing Middle East.

If peace is not advanced, the president said, religious extremism could gain control of the region, “an extremism which Iran attempts to lead using its two proxies: Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Gaza, as well as other extensions throughout the region.”

“The terror organizations are trying to drag Israel into an Arab internal struggle so they can direct the masses’ rage against us. They have no rehabilitation plans, only incitement habits,” Peres added.

The only way to prevent this takeover of extremism, then, is “to put an end to the conflict between us and the Palestinians, similarly to the agreements with Egypt and Jordan.”

“When I say we must, I say so because I believe ending the conflict is possible. I’ve known the people heading the Palestinian Authority for decades,” Peres said, adding that he believed “[Palestinian] President Mahmoud Abbas and [Palestinian] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are worthy partners who do not wish to see the conflict go further.”

Speaking of the reasons for the recent inability to restart peace talks, the president said that the two issues mainly holding up negotiations were “borders and security.”

“The borders must be set as to determine the security arrangements, and must be set soon. This kind of negotiations must take place outside the box, and away from the headlines. Through it both sides will achieve something which cannot be achieved without talks – an end to the conflict,” Peres added.

The president’s comments came after, on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that peace prospects with the Palestinians were looking poor.

“As things stand now, according to what happened over the past few days – when the Palestinians refused even to discuss Israel’s security needs with us – the signs are not particularly good,” he told his cabinet in public remarks.

Netanyahu’s remarks came after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Ramallah on Saturday that Israel was to blame for the failure of the recent round of talks to relaunch direct talks.

Abbas claimed that during talks mediated by Jordan in recent weeks, Israel had presented an unclear position on security matters and on the question of borders between Israel and a future Palestinian state. Palestinian sources said Israel’s border proposal would have prevented the establishment a Palestinian state.

Palestinian officials said last week an Israeli negotiator’s verbal presentation on Wednesday of ideas for borders and security arrangements of a future Palestinian state was a non-starter, envisaging a fenced-off territory of cantons that would preserve most Jewish settlements.

Netanyahu said he still hoped the Palestinians would “come to their senses and continue the talks so that we can move on to real negotiations.”

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held five rounds of exploratory talks in Jordan, part of a push by international mediators to revive negotiations suspended in 2010 in a dispute over Jewish settlement building in the occupied West Bank.

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Health Minister Andreas Loverdos has indicated that he will not run for the PASOK leadership but will team up with Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Speaking on Tuesday in a joint press conference, Loverdos said he would join forces with Venizelos to avoid further division within PASOK.

“We have decided with Mr Venizelos to fight together for the country and within PASOK,” he said. “We will proceed together.”

Loverdos and Venizelos had been among the favorites to succeed PASOK leader George Papandreou but the two men also have a history of cooperation. Loverdos was one of Venizelos’s leading supporters when he unsuccessfully challenged Papandreou for the party leadership in 2007.

Loverdos did not state clearly how he would work together with Venizelos but it seems likely that the finance minister will stand as candidate for party president with Loverdos as his No. 2.

So far, Development Minister Micahlis Chrysochoidis is the the only Cabinet member to declare an interest in leading PASOK.

The health minister said that PASOK, which is flagging in the opinion poll, had already suffered enough and would only be hurt more by divisions among candidates.

“Our initiative may play a positive role in uniting the party,” said Venizelos.

The election for a new leader is not due to take place until March but there has been speculation that PASOK MPs may try to oust Papandreou earlier.

The Socialists’ parliamentary group is due to meet on Thursday and could call for a vote of no confidence in the former prime minister.

Rumblings have been growing within the party about Papandreou’s stewardship. His absence last week as a result of attending a meeting of the Socialist International in Costa Rica and a trip to Israel this week for a conference have not been received well by some PASOK members.

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( – Wall Street may have a spring in its steps, as indicated by the U.S. index futures, which point to a higher opening on Wall Street on Tuesday. The encouragement came from an assurance from Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, who indicated that the nation may be closer to inking a pact with its private creditors. The sustenance of the optimism may also depend on a slew of key earnings due to be released before the markets open and a few first tier domestic economic reports.

As of 6:30 am ET, the Dow futures are rising 78 points, the SP 500 futures are adding 8.40 points and the Nasdaq 100 futures are adding 15.50 points.

U.S. stocks retreated on Monday, although closing well off the lows of the session, with sentiment hurt by hurt by negative cues from Europe and a lackluster domestic consumer spending data.

On the economic front, the Conference Board is scheduled to release its consumer confidence report for January at 10 am ET. The report is expected to show that the consumer confidence index improved to 68 in January from 64.5 in December.

Shortly before that, the results of the Institute of Supply Management-Chicago’s business survey for January are scheduled to be released. Economists expect the business barometer index based on the survey to rise to 63 from 62.5 in December.

Additionally, the SP/Case-Shiller home price index, which tracks monthly changes in the value of residential real estate in 20 metropolitan regions across the U.S., is scheduled to be released at 9 am. Economists expect a 0.4 percent month-over-month drop in the 20-city composite house price index for November.

The Labor Department is scheduled to release its report on the employment cost index for the fourth quarter at 8:30 AM ET. Economists expect a 0.4% in the index for the quarter.

In corporate news, Rent-A-Center’s (RCII) earnings exceeded estimates, while its revenues were shy of estimates. The company’s updated 2012 guidance showed a sales growth estimate of 7-10 percent. The company estimates earnings of $3-$3.20 per share, including 20 cents per share dilution related to its international growth initiatives.

Reinsurance Group of America (RGA) reported fourth quarter operating income of $1.91 per share, lower than $2.15 per share last year. The results exceeded estimates. The company’s operating earnings per share guidance for 2012 surrounded the consensus estimate.

PAREXEL (PRXL) reported in-line second quarter earnings, while it issued a healthy guidance for its third quarter and the full year.

Plum Creek Timber (PCL) reported fourth quarter earnings that missed estimates by a penny, while its revenues despite declining from the year-ago period exceeded estimates. The company issued below-consensus guidance for the first quarter and the full year 2012.

Limited Brands (LTD) announced a 25 percent increase in its regular annual dividend to $1 per share.

RadioShack (RSH) announced preliminary fourth quarter results and now expects fourth quarter earnings of 11-13 cents per share. The company also said its net sales and operating revenues from continuing operations rose 6 percent to $1.39 billion. Analysts estimate earnings of 37 cents per share on revenues of $1.35 billion.

Archer-Midlands Daniels (ADM), Biogen Idec (BIIB), Entergy (ETG), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Illinois (ITW), Kulicke Soffa (KLIC), McGraw-Hill (MHP), Pfizer (PFE), Tellabs (TLAB), U.S. Steel (X), UPS (UPS) and Valero Energy (VLO) are among the companies due to release their results before the markets open.

After the markets close, Amazon (AMZN), Broadcom (BRCM), C.H. Robinson (CHRW), C.R. Bard (BCR), Illumina (ILMN), Jack Henry Associates (JKHY), JDA Software (JDAS), Manhattan Associates (MANH), Manitowoc (MTW), Seagate (STX), Stanley Furniture (STLY), Unisys (UIS), Websense (WBSN) and Suncor Energy (SU) are scheduled to report quarterly results.

The Asian markets closed a nervous session mostly higher, with the Indian, Hong Kong and Taiwanese markets pacing the gains in the region. Along with the Greek optimism, traders were also encouraged by a positive industrial production data from Germany.

Despite witnessing lackluster sentiment in early and late trading, Japan’s Nikkei 225 average added 9.46 points or 0.11 percent before closing at 8,803. A report released by Japan’sMinistry of Economy, Trade and Industry showed a 4 percent increase in industrial output compared to the previous month, with auto and electronics products leading the gains.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index rose 230.08 points or 1.14 percent to 20,391, while Australia’s All Ordinaries ended down 8.70 points or 0.20 percent at 4,326.

The European stocks are advancing too, with all three major averages in the region rising notably.

Chipmaker ARM Holdings reported fourth quarter pre-tax profits of 69 million pounds on 21 percent sales growth. The results were better than expected. Meanwhile, Spanish financial giant Banco Santander reported a tumble in its fourth quarter profits, hurt by charges related to its real estate holdings.

On the economic front, the eurozone jobless rate came in at 10.4 percent in December, equaling an upwardly revised rate for November, thus remaining at a record high.

Crude oil futures are surging up even as gold is seeing weakness, while risk currencies are gaining ground at the expense of the dollar.

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