US manufacturing activity grew last month at the fastest pace in seven months, boosted by a rise in new orders. Builders also ended a poor year for construction by spending more on homes and projects for the fifth straight month. The reports bolster other data showing the US economy started the year strong. The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group of purchasing managers, said on Wednesday that its manufacturing index rose last month to 54.1 from 53.1 in December. Readings above 50 indicate expansion. Consumers are buying more cars and trucks, while businesses ordered more machinery and other equipment. That has driven manufacturing, which expanded for the 30th straight month. Both new orders and order backlogs rose to nine-month highs. Increasing order backlogs suggest manufacturers are lacking the capacity to meet demand.
Unilever predicts hard year
Consumer goods group Unilever said this year would be a difficult year as growth in emerging markets, which accounts for more than half its business, slows and demand in Europe and North America stays flat at best. The gloomy outlook sent shares in the Anglo-Dutch group sharply lower early yesterday after it broadly watched sales growth and profit margin forecasts for last year. Unilever, which pushed up the prices of brands such as Dove, Hellmann’s and Knorr to offset higher commodity costs, said growth in emerging markets had now slowed because of these price rises and weak consumer confidence. The world’s third-biggest consumer goods group reported underlying sales last year rose 6.5 percent in line with forecasts of 6.4 percent, with four-quarter growth of 6.6 percent compared with rival Procter & Gamble, which saw a 4 percent rise.
Glencore eyes Xstrata
Glencore International PLC, the world’s largest listed commodity trader, offered to buy the shares in Xstrata PLC that it doesn’t already own to add coal, copper and nickel mines from Africa to Asia. Glencore has made an all-share offer, Zug, Switzerland-based Xstrata said yesterday in a statement to the London stock exchange. Glencore already holds a 34 percent stake in Xstrata and the rest of the company is valued at ￡21.9 billion (US$35 billion) based on yesterday’s closing price. Joining Xstrata with Glencore, located 3.2km away in Baar, would reunite two groups that separated a decade ago when Xstrata bought Glencore’s Australian and South African coal mines for US$2.5 billion and went public in London. A deal may generate savings of as much as US$704 million, Credit Suisse Group AG said in a report in October.
Glitch halts TSE trading
The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE) suffered its biggest disruption in six years as a computer glitch halted trading in 241 securities including shares of Sony Corp and Hitachi Ltd, leaving investors concerned the bourse isn’t ready for a merger with its Osaka rival. Trading resumed at 12:30pm local time, about 4.5 hours after the bourse detected the error, which bourse spokeswoman Yukari Hozumi said was in one of eight servers that sends order information to investors. The error, discovered at about 8am yesterday, was in a server tied to the Flex information-transmission system, according to a document obtained by Bloomberg News. The glitch didn’t involve the exchange’s Arrowhead order processing system built by Fujitsu Ltd, bourse spokeswoman Yukari Hozumi said by telephone.