Wednesday, August 11, 2010

US dollar falls to a 15-year low against the yen

US dollar falls to a 15-year low against the yen

By SHINO YUASA (AP) – 46 minutes ago

TOKYO — The U.S. dollar slid to a 15-year low against the yen Wednesday, dragged down by the anemic recovery in the world's biggest economy.

The greenback was quoted at 84.71 yen in London, the lowest since 1995, before recovering slightly to hover under 95 yen.

Investors stepped up selling of dollars after the Federal Reserve announced Tuesday additional monetary easing steps in a bid to shore up the flagging U.S. economy. The central bank also downgraded its assessment of the economy's prospects.

"Investors were unnerved by the Fed's statement. It just confirmed that the U.S. economic recovery is slowing," said a dealer at a Japanese bank in Tokyo. The dealer declined to be named as he was not authorized to talk to the media.

The yen's recent rise against the dollar has punished shares of Japanese exporters like Sony Corp. as it makes their products less competitive in overseas markets. It can also reduce the value of profits made overseas when they are returned to Japan.

Japan's Nikkei 225 stock average tumbled 258.20 points, or 2.7 percent, to 9,292.85 on Wednesday. Sony Corp. dropped 2.8 percent and Nissan Motor Co. dived 3.6 percent.

Alarmed by the soaring yen, Japanese Trade Minister Masayuki Naoshima said the government will conduct an emergency survey of some 200 exporters to see what affect it is having on their profits.

A spike in the yen "will have a major impact on the Japanese economy," Naoshima told reporters. A ministry official said those 200 companies include major auto and electronics makers.

The government aims to finish the survey by the end of August and hopes to come up with steps to support exporters, the official said.

The Fed's new measure to stimulate the U.S. economy involves spending a relatively small amount of money by the standards of previous stimulus efforts — about $10 billion a month, economists estimate — buying government debt.

The move is designed to drive interest rates on mortgages and corporate borrowing at least a little lower and help the economy grow faster.

In its statement after a one-day meeting, the U.S. central bank said the pace of the recovery "has slowed in recent months." After its last meeting in late June, the Fed was rosier, saying that the recovery was "proceeding" and the job market improving.

Jobs figures for July released earlier this month showed the U.S. unemployment rate stuck at 9.5 percent.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

A stock indicator on an electric board flashes the current update outside a securities firm in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010. The Nikkei 225 stock average led the region's losses, diving more than 2.5 percent as the yen crept toward a 15-year high against the dollar, hitting shares of exporters. (AP Photo/Junji Kurokawa)

Death toll in China landslides rises to 1,117

Death toll in China landslides rises to 1,117

By DAVID WIVELL (AP) – 28 minutes ago

ZHOUQU, China — Heavy rains on Wednesday lashed a remote section of northwestern China as the death toll from weekend flooding that triggered massive landslides jumped to 1,117 and the hopes of finding more survivors faded.

At least 627 people were still missing, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday night, citing local officials.

The National Meteorological Center warned there was a "relatively large" chance of more landslides in the coming days, as the rain was expected to grow heavier, with up to 3 1/2 inches (90 millimeters) forecast for Friday.

The chances of finding more survivors were falling by the hour, although soldiers on Wednesday rescued a 50-year-old man who had been trapped in knee-deep mud on the second floor of a hotel, Xinhua reported.

But troops and rescue teams, joined by traumatized survivors, were turning to recovering bodies and seeing to the needs of the living. Clean drinking water was a primary concern, with most local sources destroyed or too polluted to use.

Entire communities in Gansu province's Zhouqu district were swallowed up when the debris-choked Bailong River jumped its banks Sunday, releasing wave after wave of mud and rubble-strewn water. While torrential rains were the direct cause, tree cutting that left the dry hills exposed and the weakening of cliff faces by a massive 2008 earthquake were seen as contributing factors.

Buildings were torn from their foundations, their lower floors blown out by the force of the debris-laden water. Three villages comprising hundreds of households were entirely buried and much of the county seat left submerged.

"In some households, all the people have died," making the counting of the dead more difficult, Zhang Weixing, a Ministry of Civil Affairs official, told a news conference Wednesday.

Crews using explosives and excavators rushed to drain an unstable lake on the Bailong upriver of Zhouqu, fearing more rain could cause a massive breach, bringing more misery to the town.

"The danger of the barrier lake collapsing has been basically eliminated," Jiao Yong, deputy vice minister of the Ministry of Water Resources, told the news conference.

Disinfectant crews in protective suits sprayed chemicals across the ground and over machinery, the smell of death heavy in the air. State media reported numerous cases of dysentery, while infected injuries, a lack of sanitation, clean drinking water and accumulating garbage increased the risk of typhoid, cholera and other diseases.

But the deputy director of the Health Ministry's emergency office, Zhang Guoxin, said there have been no reports of an epidemic outbreak.

Rescue crews have been largely reliant on hand tools, with heavy equipment either unable to traverse the difficult terrain or mired in mud up to several yards (meters) deep.

But roads reopened Wednesday, allowing heavy earth-moving equipment and supplies to flow in.

At least 45,000 people have evacuated their homes, and the Ministry of Civil Affairs reported the delivery of 30,000 tents to the area, with thousands more on the way. Zhouqu has a population of 134,000, but it wasn't clear how many needed emergency shelter.

Shen Si, a member of the Tibetan ethnic group native to the area, watched forlornly as troops dug to reach the bodies of her relatives inside their buried home.

"My mother and father in their 60s and my younger brother, all three of them, are buried here in our house still," she said.

Throughout the area, bodies were seen wrapped in blankets and tied to sticks or placed on planks and left on the shattered streets for pickup.

The death toll rose to 1,117, up from 702 reported on Tuesday.

China's leadership has ordered teams to continue the search for survivors, and the ruling Communist Party's all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee met Tuesday to discuss rescue and relief work.

"It is now a critical time ... we must give the highest prominence to the protection of people's lives and properties," it said in a statement.

Flooding in China has killed more than 2,000 people this year and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage across 28 provinces and regions.

Copyright © 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Photo 1 of 11
Rescue workers search for victims as a disinfectant crew spays the area after a mudslide swept through the town of Zhouqu in Gannan prefecture of northwestern China's Gansu province, Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2010. Entire communities in Gansu province's Zhouqu district were swallowed up when the debris-choked Bailong River jumped its banks Sunday, releasing wave after wave of mud and rubble-strewn water. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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