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By Adam Rose BEIJING (Reuters) - China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 18 months in the first quarter of 2014, official data showed on Wednesday, with signs of waning momentum already prompting limited government action to steady the world's second-largest economy. Authorities have ruled out major stimulus to fight short-term dips in growth, and some analysts think the economy will continue to lose momentum into the middle of the year. It was China's slowest annual growth since the third quarter of 2012, when growth was also 7.4 percent. "I don't think they're going to announce any further significant measures to support growth." Beijing has announced some modest measures, such as tax cuts for small firms and speeding up some investment in rail projects, to try to steady growth around its target of 7.5 percent without disrupting plans to restructure the economy.
By Wayne Cole SYDNEY (Reuters) - Asian share markets were mostly in the black on Wednesday after China reported economic growth a touch above forecasts, a relief for investors who had feared a much weaker outcome. China's economy grew 7.4 percent in the first quarter, from a year earlier, pipping forecasts of 7.3 percent. "But the problem is that the government has to resort to stimulus repeatedly to support the economy (which) means it's having a hard time to unleash new growth drivers." The relief rippled through regional markets with Japan's Nikkei adding to early gains to be up 2.2 percent. Yahoo Inc jumped 10 percent thanks to strong results from Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the Chinese e-commerce company in which Yahoo holds a 24 percent stake.
By Jacqueline Poh HONG KONG, April 16 (RLPC) - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) is stepping up its supervision of Hong-Kong-based banks' credit risk management by asking banks to show stable funding requirements and agree to regular onsite examinations of credit underwriting processes and stress-testing, the HKMA said in a statement. These measures come after a steep rise in offshore lending to Chinese mainland companies by Hong Kong-based banks. Chinese onshore companies borrowed HK$2.276 trillion of customer loans at the end of 2013, excluding HK$313 billion of trade finance loans, according to the HKMA. "The increase in Hong Kong banking sector's mainland-related lending is a natural consequence of the growth of the mainland economy and development of mainland corporates," said HKMA, which reinforces Hong Kong's role as a significant international financial center.
By Alicia Underlee Nelson and Richard Valdmanis FARGO, North Dakota/BANGOR, Maine (Reuters) - The U.S. Federal Reserve ought not to raise interest rates until the economy is much closer to full strength, two of the Fed's most dovish policymakers said on Tuesday. "If you commit to keeping rates low even as the recovery is proceeding, even as we continue to recover, I think people have a sense, the Fed has the recovery's back," Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank President Narayana Kocherlakota said at North Dakota State University. "And that's the message that I think we need to do a better job of promoting." If households and businesses believe the Fed is close to raising rates, they may decide to save rather than to spend, inhibiting recovery, Kocherlakota said. But because inflation is so low, he said, the Fed can afford to remain accommodative even while the recovery strengthens, and it will likely need to raise rates only gradually when the time comes.
By David Schwartz PHOENIX (Reuters) - Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on Tuesday signed into a law a bill allowing state health authorities to conduct surprise inspections of abortion clinics without first obtaining a warrant, handing another victory to abortion foes. The Republican-backed bill, which gained final legislative approval from the state Senate last week, removes a provision from state law requiring a judge to approve any spot inspections conducted at the nine clinics in Arizona licensed to perform abortions. No other medical facilities in the state require such a warrant for unannounced inspections. "This legislation will ensure that the Arizona Department of Health Services has the authority to appropriately protect the health and safety of all patients," gubernatorial spokesman Andrew Wilder said in announcing that Brewer, a Republican, had signed the measure.
By Leika Kihara TOKYO (Reuters) - Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda on Wednesday affirmed its upbeat view of the economy, even as global financial markets wobble, stressing that growth will pick up around mid-year as the sting of a sales tax hike fades. Price rises will broaden as the economy continues gradually to improve, Kuroda added, reiterating his view that Japan is making headway towards the central bank's price goal of 2 percent inflation in about a year's time. Kuroda's comments came a day after he met Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss the economy, which drew some market speculation the BOJ may come under pressure to expand stimulus as a rebound in the yen and sliding Japanese share prices cloud the outlook for the world's third-largest economy. BOJ officials have repeatedly expressed confidence that this month's increase in the national sales tax will not derail the economy or prevent inflation from hitting the central bank's 2 percent target.
By Jonathan Kaminsky OLYMPIA, Washington (Reuters) - Two incompatible ballot measures on background checks for gun buyers in Washington state enjoy majority support in a poll released on Tuesday, but the one advancing stricter gun controls is more popular. They are the latest touchstones in a longstanding fight over background checks on gun buyers. The debate hinges on whether their expansion constitutes a common-sense approach to keeping guns away from criminals and the mentally unstable or a first step in broader restrictions on gun ownership. Initiative 594 would require all firearm sales, including those at gun shows and conducted online, to be predicated on a background check of the buyer.
By Scott Malone BOSTON (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden, other leaders and survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing shared messages of thanks and defiance on Tuesday at a tribute to the three people killed and 264 wounded in the attack exactly one year ago. From Patrick Downes, who lost a leg when a pair of homemade bombs ripped through the crowd at the race's finish line, to Biden, speakers recalled how police officers, spectators and others on the scene reacted immediately to help the wounded amid the chaos on April 15, 2013. Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who managed the response to the attack during the final year of his two decades in office, recalled the struggles of the families of Martin Richard, 8, Krystle Campbell, 29, and Chinese national Lu Lingzi, 23, who died in the largest mass-casualty attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.
Chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne said the data showed his coalition government policies were bringing greater economic security, and his civil servants have said that on some measures, living standards are already rising. But his Labour Party opposite number, Ed Balls, said the CPI data failed to capture rapidly rising house prices, and that tax and benefit changes since 2010 meant that the average household was almost 1,000 pounds a year worse off. House prices are rising at their fastest since June 2010, up 9.1 percent on the year, according to ONS data released alongside the CPI figures. Prices in London are up 17.7 percent, the biggest jump since July 2007.
The New York Police Department has disbanded a surveillance unit that targeted and monitored Muslim communities, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. The unit, which began in 2003, has been largely inactive since the incoming Police Commissioner William Bratton took over the department in January, and its detectives have been reassigned, the report said. "Understanding certain local demographics can be a useful factor when assessing the threat information that comes into New York City virtually on a daily basis," Stephen Davis, the NYPD's chief spokesman, was quoted as saying. "In the future, we will gather that information, if necessary, through direct contact between the police precincts and the representatives of the communities they serve," he said.
DAYTON, Ohio (AP) — On the road in a tour bus this week, the U.S. transportation secretary is spreading some bad news: The government's Highway Trust Fund is nearly broke. If allowed to run dry, that could set back or shut down projects across the country, force widespread layoffs of construction workers and delay needed repairs and improvements.
By Joseph Ax NEW YORK (Reuters) - Prosecutors can use radical preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri's own inflammatory words against him during his trial in New York on terrorism-related charges, including praise for Osama bin Laden and for the September 11, 2001, attacks, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday. The decision came two days before opening statements are scheduled to take place in Manhattan federal court. Lawyers for Abu Hamza had argued that video and audio recordings of Abu Hamza justifying violence against non-Muslims would unfairly taint the jurors' emotions, making it impossible for him to have a fair verdict. But U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest said most of the tapes can be played for the jury to show Abu Hamza's state of mind and his willingness to provide aid to militant organizations.
By Gabriel Debenedetti WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans increasingly think Democrats have a better plan for healthcare than Republicans, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted after the White House announced that more people than expected had signed up for the "Obamacare" health plan. Nearly one-third of respondents in the online survey released on Tuesday said they prefer Democrats' plan, policy or approach to healthcare, compared to just 18 percent for Republicans. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius stepped down last week after overseeing the law's rollout, including the HealthCare.gov website's tumultuous first weeks, when many users were unable to access the system to purchase or research their insurance options.
By John Tilak TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index edged higher on Tuesday after upbeat U.S. economic data and corporate results helped offset worries about increasing instability in Ukraine and a sharp decline in gold-mining shares. Gains in shares of Coca-Cola Co and Johnson & Johnson after their earnings reports brightened the overall mood. The market brushed aside news that Russia declared Ukraine on the brink of civil war as Kiev said an "anti-terrorist operation" against pro-Moscow separatists was under way, with troops and armored personnel carriers seen near a flashpoint eastern town. Investor sentiment appeared to be turning positive after global stock markets fell last week on concerns about overextended valuations and worries about the U.S. Federal Reserve's monetary policy.
By Silvio Cascione BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's growing prosperity is allowing teenagers to stay in school for longer instead of searching for jobs to support their families, boosting the country's long-term prospects but also causing some economic headaches. The shift helps explain one of the biggest debates among economists who follow Brazil - why unemployment remains at record lows of about 5 percent despite slow economic growth. A Reuters analysis of unemployment data found that the share of working-age people "not willing to work" in Brazil's six major cities has jumped by 6 percentage points to 39 percent since 2002. The case of Mariane Soares, 18, helps explain the shift.