Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Before the Bell: Futures Advance Ahead of Housing, Confidence Data

U.S. stock futures markets advanced yet again Tuesday morning, indicating Wall Street's holiday cheer hadn't abated as 2009 draws to an end. While data on housing and consumer confidence could still change sentiment this morning, if current trend continues to the close, markets could extend the winning streak to a seventh session.

Stocks rallied Monday, with all three major indices -- Dow industrials, S&P 500 and Nasdaq -- closing at fresh 2009 highs on some optimism about a recovery in retail sales and gains several other sectors. However, volumes continue to be thin as so many have taken this week off.

Two economic reports are due out:
The S&P/Case-Shiller home price index for October will be released at 9:00 a.m. Eastern. Economists are expecting the home price index of 20 major cities fell 7.2% compared to last October, according to Thomson Reuters. These annual declines, however, have been shrinking. Compared to the previous month, economists expect a rise of 0.2%, after gaining 0.3% in the previous month, according to Reuters data.

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern, December consumer confidence will be reported and is expected to rise to 53 from 49.5, according to Briefing.com. The index hit a historic low of 25.3 in February. It has since climbed, albeit not always smoothly as rising unemployment has taken a toll on consumers.

Overseas, Asian stock markets moved mostly higher Tuesday in dwindling holiday trade. European stock markets also moved higher Tuesday as investors continued to book modest gains amid thin volume.

Fredette scores 49 against Arizona

Jimmer Fredette scored a school-record 49 points as BYU routed host Arizona 99-69 on Monday. Bob Skousen had set the school mark of 47 against UCLA in 1961. Fredette also broke the McKale Center record of 45 points by Providence’s Eric Murdock on Dec. 23, 1990. The Cougars (13-1) swept the Pac-10’s Arizona schools by a combined 43 points.
Derrick Williams scored 17 points for Arizona (6-6), which has dropped two December home games for the first time since 1983, when the Wildcats opened 1-6 under first-year coach Lute Olson. After Fredette broke the school record with a 3-pointer with 2:55 to play, coach Dave Rose called time and removed him from the game. He shot 16-of-23 from the floor, including 9-of-13 from 3-point range. The 6-foot-2 guard also had nine assists and seven rebounds.

“It’s an amazing feeling, unlike any other,” he said.

Burying Arizona in a hail of 3-pointers, the Cougars took command with a 16-0 run and led 39-16 with 9:25 left in the first half. At one point, BYU had more 3-pointers (eight) than Arizona had field goals (seven).

San Jose State 78, UC Irvine 68: Adrian Oliver had 29 points and seven rebounds, leading the host Spartans (7-5) over the Anteaters (6-6). San Jose State opened the second half with an 8-1 run to build a 49-36 lead and pushed its advantage to 59-44 on Robert Owens’ 3-pointer with 12:47 left. Irvine later put together a 7-0 run to pull within.

Durant Ties Season High With 40! Thunder Storm Past Nets 105-89

The longer this season progresses the more it appears that we are witnessing history in the making in the Association. At the pace the New Jersey Nets are now playing at they will end up with a 6-76 record when the NBA regular season concludes in April. If that were to happen the Nets would absolutely blow the 1972-1973 Philadelphia 76ers out of the water as the “Worst Team In NBA History.”

There have been other teams that looked like they would be an actual contender at the start of a season only to eventually hit a hot streak and fall out of the running. But the Sixers record of 9-73 may fall by the wayside this season as New Jersey keeps up their historic pace.

The Nets are now 2-29 so far in the campaign as they fell Monday night to a team that is starting to get a lot of positive attention the Oklahoma City Thunder. Thunder forward Kevin Durant scored 40 points which matched his previous best this season and New Jersey has now lost ten straight games as the fell to Oklahoma City by a 105-89 margin. New Jersey forward Yi Jianlian led all five Nets starters with 29 points however it was not nearly enough as his team fell behind early and never seemed to regain their composure.

How tough do you imagine playing for New Jersey this season has been for anyone on the team? They must go out onto the court every game asking themselves how they will blow it in that game. There is no way you can ever win with that kind of attitude so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. They have fired their head coach they have gotten their injured players back on the hardwood but the song remains the same.

OKC jumped on top at the end of the first by a 32-27 margin. The Thunder would get their lead up to six points by the time the contest reached the half as they led 61-55. The Nets would only see their deficit increase in the third as Oklahoma City would be on top at the end of the period 84-76. New Jersey completely fell apart down the stretch scoring just 13 points in the final 12 minutes and the Thunder had a pretty easy win.

Kevin Durant knocked down a game high 40 points, 5 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists while Nenad Krstic had 19 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and 1 steal. Russell Westbrook had a double-double with 16 points, 10 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals while Nick Collison came and also recorded a double-double with 11 points, 10 boards and 1 block.

Yi Jianlian had a strong game for the Nets as he scored 29 points, 7 rebounds and 2 steals while Courtney Lee added 17 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds and 1 steal. Trenton Hassell had 14 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals while Brook Lopez knocked down 10 points in the loss. Oklahoma City now has a 16-14 record and will play in Washington Tuesday night against the Wizards while New Jersey is 2-29 and will host the Knicks Wednesday.


Even some more 4th quarter Brett Favre heroics couldn’t lock up a first-round bye for the Minnesota Vikings. Favre rallied the purple troops from a 17-point deficit to tie the Chicago Bears, 30-30, only to watch his stud running back Adrian Peterson cough up a fumble in OT, allowing Jay Cutler to throw his fourth TD pass of the game for an improbable 36-30 win. It was the Vikes’ third loss in four games.

“I know we’re fortunate to be in the playoffs but we have to play better than we did the last few weeks or we’ll be home fairly quickly,” Favre said. “I’m just being honest as I can be.” –FOX Sports.

The loss from the Vikes reduces them to a 3-seed in the NFC playoffs, meaning that Favre could be stuck playing in another outdoor game in the playoffs. Everyone seemed to be making a big deal about Favre’s aversion to cold weather and not the fact that the Vikings’ pass rush and cornerback coverage seemed to be non-existent last night. It’s a wonder that Antoine Winfield didn’t need a skin graft after being burned so many times last night.

While wrapping up a season of Monday night stinkers, this game actually delivered some excitement and watchability, highlighted by Favre’s 4th-down jump-ball toss to Sidney Rice in the last minute of regulation. Also, the commentary in the booth was, I have to admit, not terrible last night. Jon Gruden brought solid analyses bookended with groan-worthy coaching cliches, perhaps epitomizing that folksy/nerdy balance that ESPN had been looking to strike all season. Much like the Bears, the Monday Night booth are going out on a high note.

Russia needs new arms to counter US shield: Putin

MOSCOW — Russia must develop new offensive weapons to counter US missile defences and prevent US policymakers from feeling they can "do whatever they want," Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.

"To preserve the balance, we must develop offensive weapons systems, not missile defence systems as the United States is doing," Putin said during a visit to the Russian Pacific port city of Vladivostok.

"The problems of missile defence and offensive arms are very closely linked," the powerful Russian prime minister said in comments broadcast on state television.

"By building such an umbrella over themselves our partners could feel themselves fully secure and will do whatever they want, which upsets the balance.

"Aggressiveness immediately increases in real politics and economics" in this situation, he added.

Putin's comments -- coming on the heels of a similar statement by President Dmitry Medvedev -- marked a toughening of Moscow's stance on strategic security ties with the United States.

The former Cold War foes are in talks on a successor to the now-expired START nuclear disarmament treaty.

They had hoped to complete a new pact by year's end, but the talks are still in progress and no new agreement is expected before next month at the earliest.

President Barack Obama announced last July plans to "reset" troubled US ties with Russia. Two months later, he cancelled plans to deploy elements of a new US missile shield in eastern Europe, near Russia's borders.

Moscow had fiercely opposed those plans, pushed by Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, and at first cautiously welcomed Washington's decision.

Obama however made clear US intentions to continue work on a new missile defence system elsewhere, and Putin's comments Tuesday marked the sharpest language heard from Moscow in some time on US missile defence plans.

Putin said Washington should share its missile defence plans with Moscow if it wanted to ease Russian alarm on the issue.

"Let the Americans hand over all their information on missile defence and we are ready to hand over all the information on offensive weapons systems," he said.

Medvedev earlier this month said Russia would continue to develop a new generation of nuclear missiles even as the START successor talks continued.

Moscow is asserting a right to build new strategic missiles and seeking concessions on this issue from US negotiators in disarmament talks in Geneva, defence analyst Alexander Konovalov said.

The Russian military wants to roll out new long-range missiles to compensate for terms in the old START treaty which it viewed as asymmetrical, favorable to the United States and still impacting the strategic balance today, he added.

Putin however said START negotiations were "developing positively."

His remarks bolster a view that Putin, who preceded Medvedev as president, still has considerable sway in shaping Russian foreign policy, a prerogative which under the constitution should be the purview of Medvedev.

"This is not his sphere, but Putin is showing he is not weaker than Medvedev," Konovalov added.

START, signed in 1991 just before the collapse of the USSR, led to deep cuts in the Russian and US nuclear arsenals but expired without a replacement on December 5.

Russia has long pushed for a link between offensive and defensive weapons in a new START treaty, and such language was part of a joint declaration on disarmament by Medvedev and Obama after their Moscow summit July.

Oil prices advance toward $79

World oil prices rose toward 79 dollars on Tuesday as traders expected that freezing weather in the United States would further strengthen demand for heating fuel.

New York's main futures contract, light sweet crude for delivery in February, rose 13 cents to 78.90 dollars a barrel.

Brent North Sea crude for February delivery gained 23 cents to 77.55 dollars per barrel.

The market should also win support from geopolitical tensions sparked by the crackdown on protests by major oil producer Iran and renewed terrorism fears after last week's failed attempt to set off an explosive device aboard a US airliner, analysts said.

"Colder weather in North America, geopolitical concerns over Iran, the latest chapter in the Russo-Ukrainian dispute, as well as expectations of further crude stockdraws in the US may have provided support," said analysts at the JBC Energy consultancy in Vienna.

Oil prices had jumped last week as a larger-than-expected drop in US energy stockpiles had sparked hopes of rising demand, traders said.

Data released by the US Department of Energy last Wednesday had showed US crude stockpiles dropping 4.9 million barrels to 327.5 million in the week ending December 18.

On Tuesday, meanwhile, Russia and Ukraine signed a new agreement on Russian oil transits via Ukraine to Europe for next year, a spokesman for Ukrainian energy company Naftogaz said.

A spokeswoman for the Russian energy ministry in Moscow confirmed that a new agreement had been settled.

"Yesterday night everything fell into place. An additional agreement has been signed," Naftogaz spokesman Valentyn Zemlyansky told AFP.

Naftogaz owns Ukraine's state pipeline operator UkrTransNafta, which said on Monday it was seeking to change the terms of a 2004 transit contract with Russia for oil shipments to the European Union.

The announcement came hours after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin accused Ukraine of abusing its position as a transit country.

In January 2009, Russia had halted gas supplies transiting through Ukraine over a price dispute for several days, leaving swathes of the EU without heating amid a severe winter.

More like me, warns bomb suspect

The alleged terrorist behind the Christmas Day airliner plot is said to have told US agents there are more people "just like him" ready to carry out future attacks.

An al Qaida group based in Yemen claimed responsibility for the failed attempt to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit as US president Barack Obama pledged to hunt down the plotters.

Meanwhile, photographs apparently showing the underpants filled with explosives worn by alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab were broadcast by ABC News.

The American government pictures show the singed underwear with a six-inch packet of a high explosive called PETN sewn into the crotch, the US network reported.

ABC News said Abdulmutallab was carrying about 80g of PETN, more than one-and-a-half times the amount carried by "shoe bomber" Richard Reid in 2001 and enough to blow a hole in the side of an aircraft.

Abdulmutallab, 23, a former engineering student at University College London, has reportedly told FBI agents he is one of many would-be terrorists in Yemen ready to carry out attacks in the near future.

Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, an alliance of militants based in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, said the action was retaliation for a US operation against the group in Yemen.

The group said in an internet statement that the failed attack exposed the "large myth" of American and international security services and claimed only a "technical error" had prevented the bomb from detonating.

Mr Obama broke off his family holiday in Hawaii on Monday to announce he had launched reviews into airport security and the monitoring of suspected terrorists.

In his first public comments on the incident, he said: "A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we have found all those responsible."

Family 'stunned' by Briton's execution

The family of a man from north London executed by lethal injection for drug smuggling have spoken of their shock at his death as China came under attack from the UK Government.

Brothers Soohail and Nasir Shaikh, speaking on behalf of the family of their cousin Akmal Shaikh, said they were "deeply saddened, stunned and disappointed" by the execution of their "beloved cousin".

Both men had travelled to China to visit their cousin in prison and to make a last-minute plea for clemency from the authorities.

Shaikh, 53, from Kentish Town, north London, who was arrested in Urumqi, north west China, in September 2007, was convicted of smuggling 4kg (8.8lb) of heroin into the country.

But it is widely believed by his family and supporters that he was seriously mentally ill and was duped into carrying the drugs unknowingly by a gang.

Campaigners said the courts in China failed to commission an assessment of his medical condition in spite of his obvious mental illness, believed to be bipolar disorder.

In a statement issued through the human rights group Reprieve, Soohail and Nasir Shaikh said the execution was carried out despite repeated requests for clemency and a proper appraisal of their cousin's mental state.

They said: "We are astonished at suggestions that Akmal himself should have provided evidence of his own fragile state of mind.

"We find it ludicrous that any mentally ill person should be expected to provide this, especially when this was apparently bipolar disorder, in which we understand the sufferer has a distorted view of the world, including his own condition.

"That this was regarded as sufficient grounds for refusal by the judicial authorities to order any mental health assessment is shocking to us. Despite our own and other pleas, the Chinese authorities have maintained their refusal to investigate Akmal's mental health."