Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jobs, factory data strengthen growth outlook

The number of Americans filing for new jobless benefits fell to a near four-year low last week and factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic area grew in February, more evidence of sustained momentum in the economy.

The economic outlook was brightened further by other data on Thursday showing builders breaking more ground on new residential projects in January, pointing to signs of life in the distressed housing market.

The reports added to a raft of solid data that now has analysts expecting only a mild slowdown in growth in the first quarter. Economists also have dialed down their expectations for another round of bond-buying or quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve.

"The numbers add to the belief that the economy is shifting gears. There is just no number that is giving us a whole lot of trouble, except for consumer spending," said Joel Naroff, chief economist at Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pennsylvania.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits dropped 13,000 to a seasonally adjusted 348,000, the lowest level since March 2008, the Labor Department said.

Economists polled by Reuters had forecast claims rising to 365,000. The four-week average of new claims, seen as a better measure of labor market trends, fell 1,750 to 365,250 - the lowest since April 2008.

In a separate report, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank said its business activity index rose to 10.2 this month from 7.3 in January as orders and shipments jumped. Though factories in the region hired fewer workers this month, they increased hours for existing employees, which bodes well for wage growth.

"Everything is stronger than expected. Barring any unforeseen problems from Europe it appears we're in a self-sustaining cycle of growth. We're better than where we were but not as good as we'd hope," said Jim Awad, managing director at Zephyr Management in New York.

The run of fairly solid data was extended, with the Commerce Department reporting that housing starts rose 1.5 percent to an annual rate of 699,000 units last month, beating economists' expectations for a 675,000-unit pace.

Starts were boosted by multi-unit buildings, reflecting growing demand for rental apartments as Americans move away from homeownership. Permits for future home construction rose 0.7 percent to a 676,000-unit pace in January.

U.S. stocks rose and prices for U.S. Treasury debt fell on the data, while the dollar rallied against the yen.

The data on employment, manufacturing and retail sales also have raised doubts on whether the U.S. central bank will keep its pledge to hold interest rates at ultra low levels until at least through 2014. The Fed made its low rate commitment before January's employment report was released.

Minutes of the Fed's January 24-25 meeting released on Wednesday showed a few policymakers believed a third round of quantitative easing would be needed this year to support the U.S. economy.

Last week's drop in new unemployment claims pushed them below the 350,000 level that economists normally associate with sustained strength in the labor market. Claims have declined for three straight weeks.

Job gains have exceeded 200,000 for two straight months and the unemployment rate dropped to a three-year low of 8.3 percent in January.

But considerable slack still remains, with 23.8 million Americans either out of work or underemployed. There are no job openings for nearly three out of every four unemployed.

The number of people still receiving benefits under regular state programs after an initial week of aid tumbled to its lowest level since August 2008.

In a second report, the Labor Department said prices received by farms, factories and refineries edged up just 0.1 percent in January as food and energy costs fell. Wholesale prices dipped 0.1 percent in December.

But producer prices excluding food and energy rose 0.4 percent last month, the largest gain since July, after increasing 0.3 percent in December.

"While I am bullish on the economy I don't see growth getting away from us enough to the point where it becomes inflationary any time soon," said David Coard, head of fixed income sales and trading at the Williams Capital Group in New York.

Wholesale prices outside of food and energy were pushed up by drugs costs, which accounted for about 40 percent of the increase. Higher prices for light motor trucks and household appliances also contributed.

Printed report on Sayedee war crime: ex-editor

Senior journalist Abed Khan, a former editor of the daily 'Samakal', has verified a newspaper report implicating Jamaat-e-Islami leader Delwar Hossain Sayedee in torture and persecution during the Liberation War.

Khan, the 26th prosecution witness, deposed at the war crimes tribunal on Thursday in a case against Jamaat executive council member Sayedee. He told the court that the February 2007 report in his newspaper had stated that Sayedee was at the scene of loot and plunder at Parerhat market, under Pirojpur district.

The International Crimes Tribunal, set up to try crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War, has indicted Sayedee on 20 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Defence counsel Mizanul Islam, who had met with an accident on Feb 12 on his way to Dhaka, was back in court on Thursday and led the cross-examination.

Islam is expected to resume once the court returns from lunch recess at 2pm.

Abed Khan told the court that the report, published on Feb 10, 2007 when he was editor, was a compilation of dispatches from district correspondents. Roughly translated from Bengali, the headline read 'Jamaat godfathers beyond reach' — at a time when a military-stewarded interim government had taken up an initiative to tackle corruption.

Sayedee was among four Jamaat leaders named in the report, said Abed Khan, 67, a journalist for nearly 50 years. He said the report stated that Sayedee had led a group in loot and plunder of several shops at Parerhat, which resulted in a libel cases against him.

The Jamaat leader was sued for Tk 100 million in damages in Pirojpur but the case was later dismissed.

Prosecutor Haider Ali took the opportunity to include the report as a court exhibit.

Also the founding editor 'Kaler Kantho', Abed Khan was asked about some details of the report.

Once the prosecutor was done asking him about the report, Khan proceeded to speak his mind with the leave of the court.


Tribunal chairman Nizamul Huq told him that the court would only accept what was relevant to the case.

To this, Khan said that as a freedom fighter he was aware of certain facts, having witnessed those events first hand. He said he wanted to use this opportunity to speak for a tribunal that is prosecuting war crimes charges.

Khan then went on say how Jamaat-e-Islami, whether before liberation or afterward, had never really deviated from Abul A'ala Maududi's core principles, which did not have any place for nationhood or nationalism.

Khan said Sayedee's actions and sermons only strived to establish those values and principles.

The journalist said Jamaat had always opposed democratic movements in Pakistan, or later in Bangladesh. He also mentioned that Maududi, the Jamaat founder, had been sentenced to death for inciting an anti-Ahmadiyya riot in Punjab, Pakistan.

Maududi was subsequently acquitted and his later actions suggest that he became a stooge of the Pakistan government in the early 1950s, the former Samakal editor said.

He told the court that beginning with the Language Movement of 1952, Jamaat had not been in favour of democratic movements. As instances, he mentioned the 1954 national elections, 1962 anti-army movement and education movement, the six-point movement of 1966 and the subsequent movement for self-governance.

He also said Jamaat emerged in its "true form" after the assassination of Bangladesh's founding president Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, along with most of his family members, in 1975.


When Abed Khan went on to say that Jamaat had emerged as a full political force during the military regimes of Ziaur Rahman and Hussain Mohammad Ershad, Nizamul Huq said this would not be included in the court records.

Khan then continued saying that Jamaat's political influence had extended quite far and even went as far as to form government. He was stopped once again, as the defence started an uproar by this time.

Defence counsel Tajul Islam rose to say that this was no place for political lectures, and suggested that the witness should go to the Paltan grounds to make such statements.

Khan said given the general context, it is evident that the seven-man squad of Sayedee included member of Razakars, Al Badr and Al Shams.


Taking up the cross-examination, Mizanul Islam started with the historical perspective that Abed Khan had deliberated upon.

However, the first few questions had more to do with Khan's personal ties.

Mizanul Islam: Is the founder of East Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami Party, Maulana Abdur Rahim, a close relative of yours?

Abed Khan: Yes, by marriage.

Islam: Maulana Akram Khan is also a relative?

Khan: Yes.

Mizanul Islam then proceeded to establish a historical perspective, showing that pre-Liberation War politics in Pakistan saw several personalities playing unexpected roles.

He referred to Abdul Jabbar Khan and Fazlul Quader Chowdhury being speakers of the same Parliament in the late 1960s. Khan was also made to confirm that Jabbar Khan's son Rashed Khan Menon is an ally of the present Awami League-led government and heads the parliamentary standing committee on education ministry.

Menon's younger brother Shahidullah Khan is publisher of New Age, which was held in contempt of the tribunal. The court will rule on that matter on Feb 19.

Fazlul Quader Chowdhury's son Salauddin Quader Chowdhury is a BNP Member of Parliament from Chittagong and is behind bars at present, charged with crimes against humanity.


Sayedee's is the first case to proceed to the trial stage at the tribunal. The prosecution on Sept 4 proposed framing of charges against him on 31 counts for crimes against humanity and genocide.

On Oct 3, the tribunal indicted Sayedee on 20 counts.

The tribunal also sent Jamaat's former chief Ghulam Azam to jail on Jan 11. His indictment hearing began on Feb 15 and the tribunal is expected to rule on a second bail petition on Feb 23.

Besides Sayedee, Jamaat chief Matiur Rahman Nizami, secretary general Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mujaheed and assistant secretaries general Mohammad Kamaruzzaman and Abdul Quader Molla, and Bangladesh Nationalist Party's standing committee member and MP Salauddin Quader Chowdhury have been detained on war crimes charges.

The tribunal granted conditional bail to former BNP lawmaker and minister Abdul Alim on March 31 last year. The bail was extended further on Jan 16, ordering him to be present in the court on Mar 15 when the prosecution has been directed to submit formal charges against the BNP leader.

Ghulam Azam trial may cause political instability, says Al Jazeera

The Al Jazeera television has reported that the trial of former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam for crimes against humanity may throw Bangladesh into further political instability.

The observation came in a report the Qatar-based television carried Wednesday. 

In a tone seemingly downplaying the need of the trial, the report says Ghulam Azam is being tried for crimes against humanity committed more than 40 years ago.

“The 89-year-old Azam cannot walk, cannot see, nor can he really hear. Yet he has 10 armed police officers watching him at all times,” reads the report.

Saying that the prosecution of war criminals was part of Sheikh Hasina’s election manifesto, it said the incumbent government is determined to fulfil the pledge.

Quoting officials as saying that three million people died in the nine-month “conflict” in 1971, Al Jazeera's Nicolas Haque who sent the dispatch from Dhaka said “the country's war crimes tribunal believes he collaborated with Pakistan's army, orchestrating mass killings during Bangladesh's 1971 war of independence with Pakistan”.

The reporter identified Ghulam Azam as “like no other detainee”, adding that he led the Jamaat until 2000.

The Al Jazeera report said a recent hearing by the UN working group on arbitrary detentions concluded the detention of Ghulam Azam and others as “arbitrary and in breach of international law”.

Talking to the TV, Law Minister Shafique Ahmed rejected the accusation.

He said: “This tribunal is not an international war crimes tribunal, this is a domestic tribunal.”

“Those who have been arrested are facing trial. So it’s not an illegal detention,” added Ahmed.

If found guilty Azam will face the death penalty, the report said. 

“Whatever decisions this court (International Crimes Tribunal) comes to, it will have dramatic consequences. It may bring justice to many but at the price of throwing Bangladesh into further political instability,” the reporter concluded.