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Financial Focus

Portuguese deficit figures for 2010 came in worse than expected at 8.6% GDP versus the 7.3% target. The Portuguese finance minister blamed the deficit figure on a change in calculations, adding that the government does not have the legal power to seek any kind of rescue until after elections in June.

THE UK’s William Hague called on the Syrian government to show restraint during protests for political reform planned for today. The Foreign Office yesterday advised all British nationals to leave Yemen while commercial airlines are still flying, as it is highly unlikely that the government will be able to evacuate British nationals in the event of a further breakdown of law and order.

MARKETS:

The S&P 500 has gained 5.4% in the first quarter, and is expected by many to breakthrough the stubborn 1,330 points level today if the US jobs report turns out to be good as expected today.

THE NIKKEI average fell overnight, having found a new two-week high, with investors keen to lighten recently built positions ahead of the weekend and before the release of US payrolls data later in the day. China’s Shanghai Composite is currently up on signs that manufacturing activity is increasing. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng also rose by a small margin.

EUROPEAN shares are set to rise today, rebounding from yesterday’s falls and with investors expecting an upbeat jobs report from the US. Gains are likely to be limited because of worries over Ireland’s banks and on renewed bailout fears for a heavily indebted Portugal.

CURRENCIES:

THE EURO rose to its highest level in five months against sterling yesterday, as speculation grew that interest rates in Europe will rise faster than in the UK. The yen dropped to a ten-month low against the euro as signs that global growth is gathering momentum bolstered demand for riskier assets.

ENERGY:

OIL prices jumped to their highest close in two and a half years yesterday, with Brent near a record quarterly rise of more than $22. The news follows further unrest across the Middle East. US officials said President Barack Obama has now authorised covert support for Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi.

COMMODITIES:

AGRICULTURAL futures jumped yesterday, and corn surged overnight, after two US government reports said that inventories were lower than previously thought. Farmers will struggle to replenish rapidly shrinking US grain stocks this year, despite plans to give the most land to corn since the second World War, and near-record acreage to soya beans, the reports said.

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