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Financial Focus

International forces launch second wave of air strikes on Libya early on Monday after halting the advance of Muammar Qaddafi’s forces on Benghazi and targeting air defences to let their planes patrol the skies.

ENGINEERS restored electricity to three reactors at a crippled Japanese nuclear power plant and hope to test water pumps at the quake-damaged facility soon, the first clear signs of progress in tackling the world’s worst atomic crisis in 25 years.

BAHRAIN’S King bin Isa Al Khalifa said a foreign plot against his kingdom had been foiled, but opposition groups said on Sunday that they stood by earlier demands for political reform.

CROWDS set fire to a headquarters of the ruling Baath Party in the Syrian city of Deraa on Sunday, as the wave of unrest in the Arab world shook even one of its most authoritarian states.

US sales of previously owned homes were forecast to have dropped in February to a three-month low, according to 60 economists surveyed by Bloomberg. Official data is due out later today, but is expected to indicate that a sustained housing market recovery is yet to develop in the US.

MARKETS:

A TWO-DAY rally at the end of the week helped Wall Street regain some ground, but it wasn’t enough to offset the losses that briefly wiped out the 2011 gains in the S&P and Dow. European shares were in a similar position for the week, with the Eurofirst 300 index falling 3%, its fourth week of declines, despite a better day on Friday.

ASIAN shares rose through the morning, despite China’s latest 0.5% reserve requirement rise, as investors focused on expected positive earnings reports from banks and rising energy companies. While the Nikkei and Hang Seng stayed strong throughout the session, Chinese shares lost some ground towards the close.

WHILE gains are likely to be capped by the continuing geo-political concerns, financial bookmakers expect the leading European indexes to rise today, as investors focus on the M&A activity in the telecom sector.

CURRENCIES:

THE POUND fell against the euro again last week, continuing its four week slide, as investors bet the BoE will be slower to raise rates than the ECB. This is the Euro’s longest run of declines since October 2010. THE YEN weakened for the second day as the G7 nations are expected to continue selling the currency to curb its rise and help support Japan’s economy.

ENERGY:

OIL prices climbed as allied air strikes in Libya threatened to prolong supply problems in North Africa’s third-biggest producer. CONCERNS about atomic power, following the Japanese nuclear crisis, will put pressure on the shipbuilding industry as demand for liquefied-natural gas tankers is set to rise. Already in short-supply, shipping lines may be quick to order LNG tankers as contracts for other ships mean that yards have few slots available before 2014.

COMMODITIES:

Silver extended its biggest gain for two weeks today, as allied aircraft began to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya, driving energy prices higher and boosting demand for safe-haven precious metals.

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