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Financial Focus

George Osbourne’s pasty tax and other hikes in VAT will push up
the cost of living even further, according to official figures out yesterday,
while new data suggests higher wages could also be about to stoke
inflation.

The tax on hot food sold in retail outlets, along with higher
duties on fuel, cigarettes and alcohol, will pile 0.38 percentage points
on to the consumer price index (CPI) one-monthly rate, the Office for
National Statistics (ONS) said yesterday.

FACEBOOK will suspend trading of its shares on the secondary market
from next week in a sign the social network is inching closer to its
mammoth IPO, expected in May. SharesPost, a company that
facilitates trading of unlisted shares, said yesterday it will stop
processing trades of Facebook stock at close of play on Friday “to help
ensure the company’s orderly transition into the public markets.”
Facebook shares were trading at around $43 on SharesPost last night,
valuing the company at just over $100bn.

THE UK GOVERNMENT was accused of provoking panic yesterday
after ministers urged motorists to stockpile petrol ahead of possible fuel
tanker strikes. Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of the
Cobra committee, normally only convened in times of emergency, to
discuss how to keep supplies going. Downing Street later insisted that
while “motorists should consider keeping their tanks topped up”, there
is no shortage.

MARKETS:
ASIAN STOCKS fell for a second day as the “Bernanke bounce” faded and US durable goods orders for February grew
less than expected. The MSCI Asia Pacific index retreated 0.2% with Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average down 0.8%,
South Korea’s Kospi Composite index off 1.1% and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 inching down 0.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang
Seng index slid 1.2% while China’s Shanghai Composite index shed 0.8%.

IN OVERNIGHT TRADING, Wall Street’s S&P 500 finished the session with a loss of 0.6%. The FTSE Eurofirst 300 was
down 0.9%. Traders became more risk averse as the session progressed, exemplified by heavy losses for mining stocks,
usually a sign that aggregate demand concerns are permeating the market.

CURRENCIES:
THE YEN rose against all of its 16 major counterparts as Asian stocks extended a global slump in equities, boosting
demand for haven assets. Japan’s currency extended gains against the dollar amid speculation the country’s companies
will repatriate overseas earnings before the end of the fiscal year on March the 31st. The yen also advanced after data
showed Japanese retail sales rose more than forecast last month.

ENERGY:
OIL TRADED near the lowest close in almost a week in New York after U.S. inventories surged and Western countries
discussed tapping emergency reserves. West Texas Intermediate futures were little changed after falling 1.8% yesterday
as an Energy Department report showed crude supplies rose the most since July 2010.

COMMODITIES:
INVESTORS are buying palladium at the fastest pace in more than a year as analysts predict rising demand and
declining supply will turn this quarter’s worst- performing precious metal into the best by December. Holdings in
palladium-backed exchange-traded products rose 13% this year, poised for the best quarter since the end of 2010. The
metal will average $850 an ounce in the final three months of 2012, 30% more than now.

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