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WATER continues to be dumped onto overheating nuclear reactors in Japan, with engineers working tirelessly to divert power from the main grid to start water pumps needed to cool reactors and spent fuel rods. The US has offered to send nuclear experts, but is also making plans to evacuate any of its citizens that wish to leave.

The prices paid at US farm and factory gates rose by 1.6% in February, the largest increase since June 2009, and double economists’ forecasts. Producers blame soaring food and energy costs, and urged the Fed to be vigilant on commodity prices.

THE ORGANISATION for Economic Co-operation lowered the UK’s growth forecast for this year from 1.7% to 1.5%, but said that the Chancellor must persevere with the spending cuts, as they “will bring long-term gain”.

MARKETS:

FEARS over the worsening nuclear crisis in Japan, escalating violence in the Middle East and the prospect of an EU bailout for Portugal, sent global markets plunging for the third day in a row yesterday. The S&P 500 has now lost all of its 2011 gains, and the FTSE 100 crashed to a 3-month low.

JAPAN’S Nikkei index limited its losses overnight as investors, shaken by a yen surge and the deepening nuclear power plant crisis, recovered their composure and cautiously moved in to pick up blue-chips that are now considered to be good value. The broader Topix index was down 0.8%, recovering from an intraday low of 4.3%.

EUROPEAN shares are set to rise slightly today, steadying after six straight days of falls in a sell-off that some see as overdone. Investors will remain cautious over the nuclear crisis in Japan, which is bound to limit further gains during the day.

CURRENCIES:

THE YEN rose to a post World War II high against the dollar, as investors and insurers are forecast to redeem overseas assets to pay for Japan’s damages. The Bank of Japan is expected to intervene to weaken the currency. Portugal’s debt-worries brought a halt to the recent Euro-rally, but Danske Banke predicts that the UK pound will weaken to 89p per euro in the next three months, as the ECB will lift interest rates four months before the BoE.

ENERGY:

JAPAN’S business community faces “irreversible” damage to its power-supply capacity if Tokyo Electric Power Co. suspends operations at all nuclear plants, and thermal power plants are unable to resume operating, according to a chief economist at Citigroup Global Markets in Tokyo.

COMMODITIES:

GOLD and silver are tracking equities lower, with industrial metals also hit as Japanese car makers and other manufacturing companies struggle to restore production in the wake of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami.

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