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US weekly jobless claims rise

Written By prayud samsah on Kamis, 28 Februari 2013 | 08.16

NEW claims for US unemployment benefits fell last week to 344,000, in line with the recent trend after the previous week's spike higher, government figures show.

Claims, an indicator of the pace of layoffs across the country, fell by 22,000 in the week to February 23 from the previous week's revised 366,000, the Labor Department reported on Thursday.

The four-week moving average fell by 6,750 claims to 355,000.

Concerns were mounting on Thursday that the "sequester" federal spending cuts expected to come into effect on Friday will cause a spike in layoffs by government contractors and temporary government employees.

Unemployment remains the biggest challenge to the US economy, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress this week.

According to the latest official data, the US unemployment rate was 7.9 per cent in January.

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Pessimists live longer, study shows

OLDER people who look on the darker side of life tend to live longer than optimists, who in turn face an increased risk of illness and mortality, a new study by a German research institute has found.

Researchers in Germany and Switzerland found older people who believe their life satisfaction will be above average in future face a 10 per cent higher mortality risk or are more likely to develop physical health problems, the DIW think-tank said.

"It is possible that a pessimistic outlook leads elderly people to look after themselves and their health better and take greater precautions against risks," said one of the researchers, Frieder Lang.

"It seems that older people who have a low expectation of how contented they will be in future lead longer and healthier lives than those who believe their future is rosy," DIW said.

The study was conducted by a team from the Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuernberg, the Berlin-based DIW as well as Humboldt University in Berlin and the University of Zurich.

They analysed long-term data compiled between 1993 and 2003 where the same people belonging to three different age groups were asked every year to assess their current level of life satisfaction and how contented they expected to be in five years.

Over the 10-year period the researchers checked with each participant six times whether their expected level of satisfaction tallied with reality five years on.

Results showed 25 per cent of older participants realistically estimated their future contentment, while around 43 per cent underestimated it and 32 per cent overestimated, the DIW said.

Young adults mostly had an unrealistically rosy view of their future while middle-aged people were largely spot on, it said.

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US economy grew slightly at end of 2012

THE US economy grew slightly in the fourth quarter last year, the government says, revising its prior estimate of a small contraction.

Gross domestic product grew at an annual rate of 0.1 per cent in the October-December period, the Commerce Department said in its second official estimate. In its initial estimate in January, GDP contracted by 0.1 per cent.

"While today's release has revised the direction of change in real GDP, the general picture of the economy for the fourth quarter remains largely the same as what was presented last month," the department said.

The revision did not change the growth rate for all of 2012 of 2.2 per cent, helped by a solid 3.1 per cent pace in the third quarter.

Scott Hoyt of Moody's Analytics said the scant growth in the revised reading "highlights the impact the budget negotiations in Washington and weakness of overseas economies have had on the US economy".

The slowdown reflected sharp drops in inventory building and federal government spending ahead of the January 1 "fiscal cliff" of across-the-board automatic tax hikes and spending cuts.

Private inventories and government spending each fell roughly 1.5 per cent.

A drop in exports, by 0.6 per cent, also contributed to the slower GDP growth.

Consumer spending, which drives about 70 per cent of US economic activity, was revised down a notch, to 2.1 per cent from 2.2 per cent.

Most analysts expected a stronger GDP reading of 0.5 per cent growth for the final quarter amid signs the economy was picking up in the first quarter.

"While not negative any more, the weakness in Q4 GDP still looks grossly exaggerated; other data, such as employment growth and the ISM indexes, suggest that the trend is at least 2.0 per cent, perhaps better than that," said Jim O'Sullivan, chief US economist at High Frequency Economics.

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke, in testimony to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, warned economic growth remained uneven and could be further hurt by the government's steep budget cuts, or sequester, slated to take effect on Friday.

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China says US-based hackers attack it

HACKERS mainly based in the United States attacked two Chinese military websites including the Defence Ministry page an average of 144,000 times a month last year, the ministry says.

China's first report of attacks on its websites steps up a war of words between the powers, after a US security company said last week that a Chinese military unit was behind a series of hacking attacks on US firms.

"The Defence Ministry and China Military Online websites were hacked from overseas on average 144,000 times a month in 2012," ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said on the ministry's website.

China Military Online is a People's Liberation Army news website.

Some 62 per cent of the attacks came from the United States, he said, adding that the number of hacking assaults on military websites "has risen steadily in recent years".

He did not specify any entities from which the alleged attacks originated.

A report from US security firm Mandiant said a unit of China's People's Liberation Army had stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organisations, mostly based in the United States.

China's defence ministry had said the report had "no factual basis".

Geng called on US officials to "explain and clarify" what he said were recent US media reports that Washington would carry out "pre-emptive" cyber attacks and expand its online warfare capabilities.

He added: "At present, China's military has no cyber warfare units."

Last month the New York Times and other American media outlets reported they had come under hacking attacks from China, and a US congressional report last year named the country as "the most threatening actor in cyberspace".

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Kabul demands control of Afghan militia

PRESIDENT Hamid Karzai has given US-led foreign forces three months to transfer control over armed Afghan militias to his government, following allegations of abuse by the militiamen.

The move appeared to be a further sign of Kabul's determination to take control of the 11-year war against the Taliban, and in particular of militias reportedly trained by the Americans and operating without Kabul's control.

With the bulk of NATO's 100,000 combat soldiers due to leave next year, Karzai has several times sought to set the pace of the transition to full Afghan government control, scheduled by the end of 2014.

A presidential order released by the Afghan council of ministers said Karzai had appointed a delegation assigned "to ask coalition forces to hand over within three months the mentioned armed groups to Afghan security institutions".

It said security chiefs decided on February 17 "to identify and merge those armed groups which have been established by international coalition forces and are operating out of the structure of Afghanistan's national security institutions".

On Sunday Karzai ordered US special forces to pull out of Wardak, a strategic province on the doorstep of Kabul troubled by Taliban violence, in two weeks after accusing the Afghan militias they work with of torture and murder.

An Afghan official told AFP Thursday's move was precipitated by the allegations of abuse.

US officials have said they were unaware of any incident that could have precipitated the order. A spokesman for the US-led NATO mission said while the allegations were being investigated, no evidence had yet been found.

On February 16 Karzai restricted Afghan forces from calling in NATO air strikes - an important weapon in the fight against insurgents - amid concern over civilian casualties.

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US stocks dip on disappointing growth

US stocks have edged mostly lower after a fresh government estimate on economic growth in the fourth quarter came in lower than expected.

Five minutes into trade on Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 17.11 points, or 0.12 per cent, to 14,058.26.

The broad-based S&P 500 retreated by 0.65 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 1,515.34.

The tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index nudged higher by 0.11 points to 3,162.36.

The trading came as the Commerce Department revised the fourth-quarter growth rate to a positive 0.1 per cent, instead of a contraction of 0.1 per cent. Economists had forecast a revision to 0.5 per cent.

Trade was also negatively affected by some disappointing results from JC Penney and other retailers.

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Fukushima cancer risk near plant: WHO

JAPAN'S 2011 Fukushima disaster raised the cancer risk for people living near the atomic plant, but no jump in cases is expected elsewhere, the UN's health agency says, sparking an angry reaction from anti-nuclear campaigners.

Within a 20km perimeter of the plant, rates of thyroid cancer among women who were exposed to radiation as infants were expected to be up to 1.25 per cent, the World Health Organisation said in a report.

This represented a 70 per cent increase over the baseline risk of thyroid cancer over a Japanese woman's lifetime, which is 0.75 per cent, the UN health agency noted.

"In view of the estimated exposure levels, an increased risk of cancer was the potential health impact of greatest relevance," Maria Neira, the WHO's director of public health and environment, told reporters as she launched the report on Thursday.

"Outside the most exposed areas, so outside of Fukushima prefecture, and even in some areas of Fukushima prefecture, the predicted risk remains low and even non-observable. That means we didn't observe any increase in cancer above what we call the natural variation in baseline rates," she explained.

Other forms of cancer also looked set to rise, albeit to a lesser extent, the agency said.

It pointed to a slightly higher risk of breast cancer among women exposed as infants, and of leukaemia among men.

Radiation doses from the stricken plant were not expected to cause an increase in miscarriages, stillbirths and physical and mental conditions that could affect babies born after the accident, the WHO said.

Senior WHO official Angelika Tritscher added: "In neighbouring countries and the rest of the world, the estimated increase in cancer risk is negligible. So there's no additional health risk expected due to the Fukushima accident."

Anti-nuclear campaigners slammed the report.

"The WHO's flawed report leaves its job half done," said Rianne Teule, Greenpeace International's nuclear radiation expert.

"The WHO report is clearly a political statement to protect the nuclear industry and not a scientific one with people's health in mind."

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