Metso says U.S. appeal court reverses favourable ruling

A U.S. appeal court has overturned an earlier verdict in a patent infringement case that found in favour of Finnish engineering firm Metso, the company said on Wednesday.

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Metso had sued U.S.-based rival Terex Corp and other firms of infringing on its patents involving lateral folding conveyors.

It said it would seek a reversal of the appeals court's decision, and expects a final outcome in 2014.

 

UPDATE 1-Amazon UK pays $3.7 mln tax on $6.5 bln sales

Amazon.com's main UK unit paid $3.7 million of taxes on its 2012 income, it said on Wednesday, despite group UK sales of $6.5 billion (4 billion pounds), prompting criticism from lawmakers and competitors.

Amazon.co.uk Ltd added in its accounts, published through the UK companies register, that it received 2.5 million pounds in government grants during 2012 - just ahead of the 2.4 million it paid in corporation tax, the UK form of corporate income tax.

 

Corporate tax avoidance has risen to the top of the political agenda in Europe following revelations in the past couple of years about how little big names like Apple Inc., Starbucks, Google and Microsoft pay in tax in markets where they reap billions of dollars in sales.

The companies say they follow the rules but UK Prime Minister David Cameron has called for international action on the shifting of profits, which can help firms cut tax bills.

Amazon.co.uk reported a small corporate income tax bill because all sales to British customers are routed through a Luxembourg affiliate, Amazon EU Sarl, which employs around 500 staff.

The British subsidiary, which employed 4,191 people at the end of 2012 and thousands more indirectly via contracting agencies, is deemed, for tax purposes, to be a service provider to the Luxembourg unit.

It is funded by fees it receives from Amazon EU and since these only just cover operating costs, little is left over for the UK tax authority, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) to tax.

Amazon EU pays little tax in Luxembourg because it pays hundreds of millions of euros each year in fees to a tax exempt affiliate, also registered in Luxembourg.

Amazon was not immediately available for comment but has previously said it follows the tax rules in every country where it operates.

John Hemming, a member of parliament with the Liberal Democrats, the junior party in Britain's governing coalition, said the figures showed the inadequacy of existing rules to tackle the problem of profit shifting by major corporations.

"The government clearly needs to do a detailed study on how to handle the tax implications of e-commerce," he said.

But Nick Smith, a member of parliament with the opposition Labour party, said he wanted the tax authorities to take a close look at Amazon, describing its tax payment as "pathetic".

"HMRC should be going through this company's tax arrangements with a fine-tooth comb," he said.

Mark Brighton of Kew Books, which operates three bookstores in southwest London, said Amazon.co.uk's low tax bill highlighted the unfair competition small retailers like himself face.

Larger booksellers, electronics retailers and grocers have also criticised Amazon's arrangements in the past year.

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In December, a committee of British lawmakers grilled an Amazon executive about the company's tax affairs and accused it of behaving "immorally".

Like other businesses, Amazon also pays taxes on employee wages and collects value added tax, a European form of sales tax, for the government.

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Including adjustments in relation to previous years, Amazon.co.uk Ltd had a total tax charge of 3.2 million pounds.

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US STOCKS-Wall Street holds flat after data; Deere weighs

U.S. stocks slipped on Wednesday, as both the Dow and S&P 500 held near their most recent record highs after a flurry of economic data did little to upset investor expectations for central bank policies.

 

Data showed activity in New York state's manufacturing sector unexpectedly contracted to its lowest level in four months, falling to minus 1.43 from 3.05 in April, and below expectations for an increase to 4.

In addition, industrial production fell 0.5 percent in April, more than the expected 0.2 percent decline for the month.

But a separate report showed producer prices recorded their largest drop in three years in April, falling by a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent, the biggest decline since February 2010, which should enable the Federal Reserve to maintain its accommodative monetary policy.

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 had rallied to fresh record highs in the prior session as investor expectations central bank stimulus measures will continue to support further equity market gains.

Stimulus actions taken by central banks around the globe have helped spur the S&P 500 to a 15.6 percent gain for the year, while the Dow has jumped 16 percent.

"This can continue as long as the policy remains tilted towards pushing investors at the margin towards riskier assets and that is essentially what it is," said Chris Wolfe, chief investment officer for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Private Banking and Investment Group in New York.

"Data like today coupled with Chinese data recently suggests that we may be in an uncertain period and policy kind of stays where it is."

The Dow Jones industrial average dipped 14.06 points, or 0.09 percent, to 15,201.19. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index shed 1.70 points, or 0.10 percent, to 1,648.64. The Nasdaq Composite Index lost 1.89 points, or 0.05 percent, to 3,460.72.

Industrial shares declined, weighed down by a 4.2 percent drop in Deere & Co to $89.77 after the agricultural equipment maker said it was cautious because of weakness in the construction market. The S&P industrial sector index lost 0.3 percent.

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market index gained to 44 from a downwardly revised 41 in April and above the 43 forecast, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders, inching closer to the 50 mark which indicates builders see market conditions in a more favorable light.

An improving housing market has been seen as a tailwind to the economic recovery.

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Macy's advanced 1 percent to $47.84 after the retailer reported higher first-quarter profit and sales, and raised its quarterly dividend 25 percent.

SunPower Corp shares jumped 14.1 percent to $21.71 after the maker of solar panels and solar power plants said it expects to post an adjusted profit for the current quarter.

Germany's Rewe seeks buyer for consumer electronics chain

Rewe, one of Germany's largest retailers, said it is looking to sell its ProMarkt chain of consumer electronics stores because it is unable to compete with competition from online retailers such as Amazon.com.

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Rewe said the stores had little prospect of a profitable future, and that with a market share of just 1.4 percent in Germany, restructuring was not appropriate.

 

A spokesman declined to comment on whether interest had been shown in the chain, which has 70 stores. Rewe would consider the sales of stores individually or as a package, he said.

Other European electronics retailers to feel the heat from online competition include Metro AG's Media-Saturn and Darty, which is closing loss-making operations in Spain.

ProMarkt saw sales drop 15.5 percent last year. By comparison, Media-Saturn, which finally started selling products online in 2011 with the acquisition of Redcoon, reported a 4 percent rise in sales in Germany for 2012.

Metro declined to comment on Wednesday on whether it would be interested in ProMarkt.

Saudi's Mobily denies asking for help to spy on customers

Saudi Arabia's No. 2 telecom operator Mobily denied claims by a software engineer that the company had asked him to build surveillance tools to intercept customers' messages on Twitter and other services.

Matthew Rosenfield, who uses the pseudonym Moxie Marlinspike, published emails on his blog purporting to be from Mobily which included a request for help in intercepting traffic over applications such as Twitter, Whatsapp, Viber and Line.

 

Marlinspike said the company wanted to be able to monitor or block mobile data on these applications and that Mobily had provided him with design documents to produce computer code - known as SSL certificates - that the company could use for interception.

Marlinspike said on the blog he declined to help.

Mobily, formally known as Etihad Etisalat and an affiliate of the United Arab Emirates company Etisalat, said the contents of the blog post, which have whipped up a storm of comments on social media, were false.

"Mobily or its employees never communicated with the author of this blog," the company said. "Mobily communicates with information security companies only based on legal and lawful requirements. We never communicate with hackers. Moreover, it is not our job to spy on customers."

The Saudi telecom regulator issued a vaguely worded directive in March warning that many web-based communication tools such as Whatsapp, an instant messaging service and Viber, a phone and messaging service, broke local laws.

It ordered the kingdom's three operators Mobily, Saudi Telecom Co and Zain Saudi, to ensure they comply. The regulator, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), did not say which laws it was referring to.

CITC has not said how long operators would be given to adhere to the rules or what action would be taken if they failed to do so.

However, local media have reported that telecom companies had been asked to tell CITC whether they were able to monitor such applications.

CITC was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

Marlinspike is the co-founder of Whisper Systems, a company that makes software to improve security and privacy for smartphones and other mobile devices and which was acquired by Twitter in 2011.

In an email to Reuters, Marlinspike said he thought Mobily contacted him because of his expertise in SSL certificates.

He declined to provide copies of the emails purported to be from Mobily. His blog states he received emails from Yasser D. Alruhaily, Executive Manager of the Network & Information Security Department at Mobily.

A Yasser Alruhaily is listed on social networking website Yatedo with a similar job title. (Reporting by Matt Smith; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Erica Billingham)

US STOCKS-Wall St extends rally as tech shares lead

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq rose for a fourth straight day on Wednesday as tech shares gained and offset some weak economic data.

 

Equities have rallied in recent weeks, with both the Dow and S&P 500 hitting all-time highs as investors expect central bank stimulus measures will keep supporting market gains.

Such policies have helped spur advances of about 15 percent in major indexes this year despite data showing signs of slowing growth. Activity in New York state's manufacturing sector unexpectedly contracted in May, falling to minus 1.43 from 3.05, below expectations for an increase to 4. Another report showed that U.S. industrial production fell 0.5 percent in April, more than expected.

"It's disconcerting that the data was so much lower than what we were looking for, but there's no reason for investors to sell," said Michael Binger, senior portfolio manager at Gradient Investments in Minneapolis. "The main things driving the market - the Fed, earnings, consumer confidence - are holding up, and people put money in the market on any down day. I still see a lot of value."

Agilent Tech was one of the S&P 500's top percentage gainers a day after the company posted adjusted earnings that beat expectations and doubled its stock-buyback program to $1 billion. The company also said it would cut 2 percent of its global work force.

Tech shares also got a lift from Netflix Inc, up 4.5 percent at $244.55, and Yahoo Inc, up 3 percent at $27.44.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 37.98 points, or 0.25 percent, at 15,253.23. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 5.87 points, or 0.36 percent, at 1,656.21. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 8.54 points, or 0.25 percent, at 3,471.15.

On the downside, Deere & Co gave a cautious outlook even as earnings topped forecasts. The stock fell 4.6 percent to $89.45. Deere's decline dragged on on the S&P industrial index , which was up only 0.1 percent.

In other data released on Wednesday, the U.S. Producer Price Index recorded its largest drop in three years in April, falling a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent.

The NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market index rose to 44 from a downwardly revised 41 in April, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders. The May reading was above forecasts and closer to the 50 mark, which indicates builders see market conditions in a more favorable light.

An improving housing market has been seen as a tailwind to the economic recovery.

Crude oil fell 1.8 percent after data showed the euro zone was in its longest recession ever, while a stronger dollar and rising U.S. refined products stockpiles put additional pressure on prices.

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The drop in crude pressured shares of energy companies, with Marathon Oil down 1.8 percent at $34.74, and Cliffs Natural Resources, off 3.2 percent at $21.44.

"One of the biggest things we're watching today is commodity prices, which are down pretty big across the board," said Binger, who helps oversee about $330 million.

Macy's shot up 2 percent to $48.34 after the retailer reported higher first-quarter profit and sales, and raised its quarterly dividend 25 percent.

SunPower Corp shares surged 16.2 percent to $22.12 after the maker of solar panels and solar power plants said it expects to post an adjusted profit for the current quarter.

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BRIEF-Google says 900 million android devices activated as of now

Google Inc : * Says 900 million android devices activated as of now * Says revenue per user for app developers in Google play store now 2.5 times

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what it was a year ago

Google to face UK lawmakers again over tax

Google Inc faces another grilling over its tax affairs from a committee of British lawmakers on Thursday who have called the company back after questions were raised about testimony given in an earlier hearing.

Corporate tax avoidance has become a major issue in Britain, where there are concerns over rising government debt and accusations from lawmakers that the UK tax authority has adopted a light touch approach to taxing big businesses.

 

Google's Northern Europe boss, Matt Brittin, was called to testify to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) in November about Google's low UK tax bill.

From 2006 to 2011, Google generated $18 billion in revenues from the UK, according to statutory filings, and paid just $16 million in taxes.

Brittin told the PAC Google was not taxed on the profits of its core advertising business in Britain, because all UK sales were conducted from Ireland.

Reuters revealed that the Internet search giant had described its London offices on its website as a base for sales teams and advertised dozens of London-based sales vacancies.

Committee chairwoman, Margaret Hodge said the company had questions to answer.

"When Google appeared before the Committee last year we were told they were not selling in the UK. There appears to be a clear discrepancy between that and the evidence that has now been uncovered by Reuters," she said.

"This hearing is their chance to explain themselves."

Google is just one of a raft of companies including Apple Inc., Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon.com, whose tax affairs have come under scrutiny.

All the companies say they follow international tax rules.

On Wednesday, Amazon.com Inc, which was also called to testify at the November PAC hearing, attracted criticism from politicians over its tax bill for 2012.

Accounts published on Wednesday showed Amazon.co.uk Ltd, Amazon's main UK unit paid $3.7 million of taxes on its 2012 income. Amazon Group had UK sales of $6.5 billion (4 billion pounds) in 2012.

Google's auditor, Ernst & Young, and representatives from the UK tax authority are also being called to answer questions.

Google says 900 mln Android mobile devices activated

Some 900 million smartphones and tablets running Google Inc's Android software have been activated since the platform's inception in 2010, executives said at the company's annual developers' conference on Wednesday.

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Google said revenue from Android, the software used by Samsung and other mobile device makers that competes with Apple Inc, is also gaining momentum. Google executives said revenue per user for Android applications developers is now 2-1/2 times its year-earlier level.

 

Roughly 5,500 software developers are attending this year's "Google I/O" convention at San Francisco's Moscone Center from Wednesday through Friday.

UPDATE 3-EU warns China it is ready to launch telecoms dispute

The European Commission has told China it is prepared to launch an investigation into anti-competitive behaviour by producers of mobile telecoms equipment, opening a new front in a multi-billion-euro trade offensive against a critical partner.

 

European Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said he and fellow commissioners had agreed in principle to open an anti-dumping and anti-subsidy case against China, but would first seek to negotiate a solution with Chinese authorities.

"The clock is ticking. We have had an open-door policy for negotiations with our Chinese partners for approximately one year now and we hope that the Chinese authorities step forward and engage with us in a serious manner," De Gucht's spokesman told a news briefing on Wednesday.

While no companies were named in the statement from De Gucht, officials have in the past said Huawei and ZTE Corp, the world's second- and fifth-largest telecoms equipment makers, were the objects of their concern.

In a statement, Huawei said it was disappointed the Commission had taken the unprecedented step of threatening to launch a case on its own initiative, rather than based on complaints from European companies.

It also dismissed the allegation that it was selling telecoms equipment below cost to secure market share.

"Huawei is confident that these unfounded accusations can be addressed and amicable solutions can be found," it said.

"Regrettably, to date the Commission has not responded to Huawei's requests for meetings and has relied upon unsubstantiated and incorrect information."

ERICSSON OPPOSES MOVE

The Commission's move, which is not supported by all member states or by Sweden's Ericsson, the global industry leader, runs the risk of sparking a trade conflict with China.

The European Union is China's most important trading partner, while for the EU, China is second only to the United States. Chinese exports of goods to the 27-member bloc totalled 290 billion euros ($376 billion) last year, with 144 billion euros going the other way.

The EU now has 31 ongoing trade investigations, 18 of them involving China. The largest to date is that into 21 billion euros of imports from China of solar panels, cells and wafers, for which it is set to impose punitive duties.

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While European manufacturers such as Ericsson, Nokia Siemens Networks and Alcatel-Lucent have suffered as a result of cheap Asian imports, they are not prepared to make a formal complaint for fear of Chinese reprisals, which has made it hard for the Commission to gather evidence.

The EU said that by launching a case on its own initiative - known as an ex-officio case - it would provide a degree of protection for EU companies too concerned to step forward.

Chinese telecoms operators will start awarding contracts for super-fast mobile networks this year, expected to give a big boost to both Huawei and ZTE.

China exports network equipment, base stations and connections used by telecoms providers to transmit voice and data messages worth more than 1 billion euros a year to the European Union, giving it almost a quarter of the market.

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The investigation is not into end-user devices such as telephones and modems but into interconnecting equipment.

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Ericsson, the global leader with around 35 percent of the mobile equipment market, said it opposed the Commission move.

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"Ericsson is a strong supporter of free trade," said Ulf Pehrsson, Ericsson's head of government and industry relations. "We don't believe in this type of unilateral measure."

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M&S's make-or-break clothing strategy gets early thumbs-up

Fashion media and analysts broadly welcomed Marks & Spencer's new clothing strategy and a preview of autumn/winter fashion ranges, giving the firm's boss some respite from pressure over falling sales.

Britain's biggest clothing retailer said on Tuesday it would focus on better quality and styles in womenswear, deliver more compelling and clearer sub-brands, and make shopping easier in stores, as it tries to reverse nearly two years of declining sales.

 

On Wednesday, shares in the 129-year-old firm, up 20 percent over the past year after periodic bouts of bid speculation, rose up to 4 percent, hitting a five-year high of 438 pence.

However, bookmaker Ladbrokes still made Chief Executive Marc Bolland odds-on at 8/11 to have left his position by the end of the year.

"The changes outlined contained a variety of enhancements based on detailed customer feedback that even the bears will find hard to completely ignore," said analysts at N+1 Singer, arguing that investors should not underestimate the potential from the changes if they gained traction.

M&S will present the autumn/winter ranges to the bulk of Britain's fashion media on Wednesday and Thursday but some key fashion editors have already viewed the ranges and like them.

Lisa Armstrong of The Daily Telegraph called it "the most convincing effort I've seen for a long time," The Times' Laura Craik said "M&S is back in the game," and the Guardian's Jess Cartner-Morley said the collection "could be a high street game changer."

Liz Jones, the influential fashion columnist at the Daily Mail newspaper, had a sneak preview last week and said she was "pleasantly surprised", praising much improved quality.

UNDER PRESSURE

Bolland, CEO since May 2010, is under pressure from investors to revive M&S's clothing business, which has reported seven straight quarterly falls in underlying sales.

The autumn/winter ranges are widely seen as make-or-break for a new general merchandise team, assembled by Bolland and led by John Dixon, the former boss of M&S's food business, and Belinda Earl, the former CEO of Debenhams and Jaeger.

Bolland has repeatedly said the new team will not make a major impact on sales until the ranges start hitting the shops in late July.

But on Tuesday, he cautioned the market not to expect too much too soon. "This is a step in the right direction. The one thing that we want to be very clear on is that it's a step by step approach," he said.

Independent retail analyst Nick Bubb remained sceptical, given M&S's recent history.

"We were disappointed about the dichotomy between Bolland's view that all major store revamp work will be completed this financial year and Dixon's evident frustration with the clutter and poor presentation standards of the stores," he said.

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And while analysts at Credit Suisse said the strategy seemed mostly sensible, they questioned how reinvesting in quality would be paid for.

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"As with last week's logistics presentation we are left thinking this may well be the right change in management and strategy, two, or more, years late," they said.

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Next week Bolland will present M&S's 2012-13 results, with analysts on average forecasting a 7 percent fall in pretax profit to 658 million pounds ($1.0 billion), according to a poll on the company's website. That would be a second straight annual decline, although the dividend is expected to be maintained.

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U.S. corn farmers plant crop before rain arrives

Warm and dry weather in the U.S. Midwest on Wednesday will help boost corn plantings that have fallen to a record low pace, which poses a threat to production prospects, an agricultural meteorologist said.

 

"Today will be the best day," said Andy Karst, meteorologist for World Weather Inc. "Then showers develop tonight, with scattered showers into the weekend."

Karst said heavier rainfall would develop beginning Saturday and continue through Wednesday next week, further stalling corn seedings. "The heaviest rains will be Saturday through Monday in the west and Monday through Wednesday in the east," he said.

Drier weather late next week should allow farmers to resume plantings, he said. "It's not ideal, but not bad either. They need to get corn planted soon."

After a cold and wet spring in most of the U.S. crop belt, farmers have seeded 28 percent of their intended corn acres, up from 12 percent a week earlier but far behind the five-year average of 65 percent, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said in a weekly report on Monday.

The planting pace for corn was the slowest for this point in the year in USDA records dating back to the 1980s, lagging 1984, when farmers had seeded 29 percent of their corn.

The figure fell below the average estimate of 29 percent from analysts surveyed by Reuters ahead of the report.

For soybeans, the USDA said planting was 6 percent complete, up from 2 percent a week earlier. But the pace was the slowest for the 19th week since 1984, when soybeans were only 4 percent seeded. The five-year U.S. average is 24 percent.

U.S. corn yields are unlikely to reach their full potential this year as the slowest planting pace on record shortens the growing season, increasing risks that plants will pollinate under peak summer heat, agronomists said on Tuesday.

"We have taken some off of our yield potential," said Emerson Nafziger, extension agronomist at the University of Illinois. "Our preference is to have it in the ground by May 1."

Nafziger said that based on the last six years of the university's lab results for Illinois, corn planted after May 10 in the state, which ranks second in production of the crop, could see a yield loss of 6 percent. The yield losses increase to 12 percent after May 20 and 20 percent after May 31, he added.

Corn grown in the U.S. Midwest grain belt typically starts pollinating in July. Plant growth and yield potential can be reduced if plants are forced to devote energy to staying cool during the hottest days of summer.

Chicago Board of Trade corn futures were trading lower early on Wednesday on outlooks for improved crop planting weather. (Additional reporting by Julie Ingwersen, Michael Hirtzer, Karl Plume and Tom Polansek in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

UPDATE 2-Taiwan imposes sanctions on Philippines over killing

Taiwan imposed sanctions against the Philippines on Wednesday, rejecting as unacceptable a Philippine apology for the killing of a fisherman from Taiwan last week.

The row is the latest flare-up in tension in Asian seas where disputes in various places between various countries have raised fears of conflict in the economically vibrant region where competition for resources is intensifying.

 

Earlier on Wednesday, Taiwan recalled its envoy to the Philippines. The sanctions included the freezing of applications for work permits, the cessation of economic exchanges and military exercises in waters between the two sides.

A spokesman for Philippine President Benigno Aquino had said a formal apology was being offered to the "appropriate authority" in Taiwan over the "unfortunate loss" of the fisherman.

But Taiwan's Premier Jiang Yi-huah said the apology was inadequate because it called the fisherman's death unfortunate and unintentional, according to a statement from the Taiwan government on its website.

"We can absolutely not accept this," Jiang was quoted as saying.

The fisherman was killed in a shooting last week by the Philippine coastguard in waters off the northern Philippines. Taiwan said the killing took place in its exclusive economic zone and was a violation of international law.

A Philippines fisheries official said earlier one of its vessels, acting under the threat of being rammed, opened fire last Thursday on a Taiwanese fishing boat about 170 nautical miles southeast of Taiwan, killing one person on board.

Taiwan had issued an ultimatum to the Philippines to apologise to the man's family.

A Taiwan Defence Ministry official said military vessels and aircraft would be dispatched to the Bashi Channel between Taiwan and the Philippines for a two-day military drill.

Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told a news conference in Manila an apology was being offered and he appealed to Taiwan not to take out its anger on the more than 85,000 Filipinos working in Taiwan, many as domestic workers.

"We understand the grief and hurt of the family and of the people of Taiwan over this unfortunate loss and we empathize with them," Lacierda said, appealing for "calm and sobriety".

"Let us not involve our Filipino compatriots there. They are there working and they are there working for an honest living".

Philippine President Benigno Aquino had ordered a "thorough, exhaustive, impartial and expeditious investigation" into the shooting, Lacierda said.

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In Washington, the United States expressed concern over the increase in tensions between two of its allies and called on both sides to quickly work to resolve their differences.

"We urge the Philippines and Taiwan to take all appropriate measures to clarify disagreements and prevent recurrence of such tragic events," State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told a news briefing.

"We continue to urge both parties to ensure maritime safety and refrain from actions that could further escalate tensions in the region and undermine prospects for a rapid and effective resolution of differences," Ventrell added.

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The Philippines and Taiwan, as well as China, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam, are embroiled in disputes over territory in the nearby South China Sea, potentially rich in oil and gas and criss-crossed by crucial shipping lanes.

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The disputes have sometimes escalated to confrontation between vessels.

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To the north, China and Japan, and Japan and South Korea, are involved in different disputes over small islands. Fears of confrontation have grown there too over the past year.

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(Reporting by Clare Jim and Christine Lu in Taipei and Manuel Mogato in Manila; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel and Cynthia Osterman)

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CORRECTED-Beef prices soar as U.S. grilling season finally heats up

A turn to warmer weather in the United States and pent up demand for steaks and burgers ahead of the traditional grilling season sent wholesale prices for choice-grade beef to a record high of $205.91 per hundredweight on Tuesday, up 36 cents from the previous record set late last week.

Beef prices normally rise in the spring but this year's smaller beef supply coupled with the late arrival of warm spring cookout weather, triggered a strong increase in the beef market, analysts and traders said.

 

"Beef is seasonally strong this time of year. It usually tops out about now but what is different this year from past years is the beef supply is lower, so there is some question if the top is in," said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities, Des Moines, Iowa.

The cold soggy start to spring put outdoor cookouts on hold throughout most of April and early May, but with forecasts for more typical spring weather this week, grocers stocked up for a seasonal bump in sales of steaks and ground beef.

"The seasonal demand is here, the warmer weather and the grilling season most definitely is helping," said Dennis Smith a broker for Archer Financial.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle futures were lower in most contracts despite the record high beef price, as the higher beef market had been anticipated. The spot June cattle held firm due to the pressing demand for beef to meet the improved cookout atmosphere.

"Some of them are thinking beef may be topping out at $206 and we're just barely under that so that is why you're seeing a selloff in futures," Roose said.

Demand for beef traditionally escalates just ahead of the annual U.S. Memorial Day holiday, which is May 27 this year.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) weekly retail scanner data shows Memorial Day ranks third in weekly holiday beef retail sales at about $370 million, behind U.S. Labor Day sales of $380 million. The U.S. July Fourth holiday is No. 1 at around $400 million.

The high price for beef has led some analysts to forecast a drop in demand soon as consumers shift to lower-priced pork and chicken.

But for now the beef market keeps climbing.

"A lot of people thought $205 might be the top but we've gone through that so there's no indication the top is in, it looks like we'll go even higher," Smith said.

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The record-high wholesale beef prices likely will increase grocery store beef prices, which are already at lofty levels, analysts said.

The average retail beef price in March hit a record $5.30 per lb, surpassing the previous record of $5.15 in November, according to the government's Economic Research Service. (Addititional reporting by Theopolis Waters and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)

CORRECTED-UPDATE 1-Beef prices soar as U.S. grilling season finally heats up

A turn to warmer weather in the United States and pent-up demand for steaks and burgers ahead of the traditional grilling season sent wholesale prices for choice-grade beef to a record high of $206.09 per hundredweight on Tuesday, up 60 cents from the previous record set late last week.

 

Beef prices normally rise in the spring but this year's smaller beef supply, coupled with the late arrival of warm spring cookout weather, triggered a strong increase in the beef market, analysts and traders said.

"Beef is seasonally strong this time of year. It usually tops out about now but what is different this year from past years is the beef supply is lower, so there is some question if the top is in," said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities, in Des Moines, Iowa.

The cold soggy start to spring put outdoor cookouts on hold throughout most of April and early May, but with forecasts for more typical spring weather this week, grocers stocked up for a seasonal bump in sales of steaks and ground beef.

"The seasonal demand is here, the warmer weather and the grilling season most definitely is helping," said Dennis Smith, a broker for Archer Financial.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle futures were lower in most contracts despite the record high beef price, as the higher beef market had been anticipated. The spot June cattle held firm due to the pressing demand for beef to meet the improved cookout atmosphere.

"Some of them are thinking beef may be topping out at $206 and we're just barely under that so that is why you're seeing a selloff in futures," Roose said.

Demand for beef traditionally escalates just ahead of the annual U.S. Memorial Day holiday, which is May 27 this year.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) weekly retail scanner data shows Memorial Day ranks third in weekly holiday beef retail sales at about $370 million, behind U.S. Labor Day sales of $380 million. The U.S. July Fourth holiday is No. 1 at around $400 million.

The high price for beef has led some analysts to forecast a drop in demand soon as consumers shift to lower-priced pork and chicken.

But for now the beef market keeps climbing.

"A lot of people thought $205 might be the top but we've gone through that so there's no indication the top is in, it looks like we'll go even higher," Smith said.

The record-high wholesale beef prices likely will increase grocery store beef prices, which are already at lofty levels, analysts said.

The average retail beef price in March hit a record $5.30 per lb, surpassing the previous record of $5.15 in November, according to the government's Economic Research Service. (Addititional reporting by Theopolis Waters and Michael Hirtzer in Chicago; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer and Mohammad Zargham)

UPDATE 1-India monsoon may arrive late as southwest thirsts

India's monsoon rains may arrive on the southern coast around June 3, the weather office forecast on Wednesday, a late debut that will raise fears any revival for drought-hit tracts of southern and western farmland could be delayed.

 

The rains, which run from June to September, are vital for the 55 percent of farmland without irrigation in India, one of the world's largest producers and consumers of food.

"The date of onset of southwest monsoon over Kerala is likely to be on 3rd June," the India Meteorological Department said in a statement, adding the forecast has an error margin of four days, a time frame treated as normal.

Last year, the monsoon hit Kerala four days after the June 1 date forecast by the weather office, and the season brought below average rainfall across the country, leaving several key sugar and cotton-growing states parched by drought.

A poor monsoon could be bad news for the coalition government as it gears up for a series of state elections this year and a national election due by May 2014 as deficient rainfall could dent hopes for a fast economic rebound and reignite inflation.

The weather department said it was too early to say how the monsoon would behave over these states, echoing caution from Food Minister K.V. Thomas last month.

"Let the monsoon first arrive and then travel at least for about two weeks, then only would it be possible to forecast how the monsoon would be over the drought hit states," D.S. Pai, the lead forecaster at the Indian weather office, told Reuters from the western city of Pune.

He added that the slight delay forecast for the onset took into account a cyclone currently on the east coast which should fizzle out this week and that would help the monsoon regain momentum.

"There is no need to raise any alarm bell at this juncture as the monsoon could even hit the Kerala coast one day ahead of its normal date as per model assessment," he said.

Weather office data shows that the monsoon hit the Kerala coast as late as June 10 in 2005, over-running the onset forecast by three days, but the four-month rainy season still had overall average rainfall.

"The delay of 3 days is manageable and we won't see any impact on crops, productivity and others... If there is any further delay, it will be a cause of concern," said Harish Galipelli, head of commodities, at JRG Wealth Management.

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India's weather office has forecast an average monsoon in 2013 for the country overall.

Timely arrival of the rains are necessary to boost prospects for farm output, by giving crops planted by farmers sufficient time to mature and yield a bumper harvest.

The rainy season starts over the Kerala coast and unfurls over the rest of India and neighbouring Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal by mid-July.

The meteorological department will update its overall forecast for the monsoon in June, when the rains are expected to have spread over half of India. (Additional reporting by Siddesh Mayenkar in MUMBAI; editing by Jo Winterbottom and James Jukwey)

Paltrow dad's cancer: Paltrow says Dad's Cancer Diagnosis Inspire her Healthier Diet

Paltrow dad's cancer: Paltrow says Dad's Cancer Diagnosis Inspire her Healthier Diet. Star Gwyneth Paltrow, the wakeup call to eat healthier came when her late father, director Bruce Paltrow, was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago.

Appearing on the cover of Beach magazine's debut issue, the Iron Man 3 actress spoke of how seeing her own father's health dwindle made her open her eyes.

"I began to consider the effects of food when my father was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998," she told the magazine. "I started to research anti-cancer diets in hopes that he would try to hit it from all angles."

Bruce Paltrow died in October 2002 at age 58 due to complications of cancer and pneumonia. But Paltrow, 40, used his health struggle as a catalyst for change -- eliminating dairy and gluten in her diet.

"It's about being mindful about what you are putting in," she explained. "Good whole foods are the way we have eaten for generations. It's amazing how good you feel when you just cut out the processed stuff."

Paltrow, married to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin for 10 years, also has their kids, Apple, 8, and Moses, 6, follow the diet.

In her 2012 cookbook, It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, she writes, "Every single nutritionist, doctor and health-conscious person I have ever come across...seems to concur that [gluten] is tough on the system and many of us are at best intolerant of it and at worst allergic to it."

 Source: OMG

UPDATE 1-End of line for fish dumping as EU agrees to boost stocks

European fisheries ministers agreed on Wednesday to end decades of overfishing and the discarding of fish in European waters in an effort to restore devastated stocks.

 

The agreement, which needs the approval of the European Parliament, could end haggling over annual fishing quotas and introduce long-term plans to replenish fish stocks, which have been all but wiped out in some European waters.

But environmental groups said the plan was not ambitious enough and there were immediate concerns that the European Parliament could raise objections.

"This decision ... is a major conciliatory step in the direction of the European Parliament and hopefully paves the way for successful conclusion of the ... negotiations," said Ireland's fisheries minister, Simon Coveney, who chaired the talks. Ireland holds the EU presidency.

"The historic package agreed this morning will prepare the way for a European-wide discards ban," and pave the way for more sustainable fishing levels, he said.

Ministers negotiated for 36 hours to reach the deal to overhaul the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, which dates from the 1970s and is widely regarded as a failure for allowing subsidised, industrial-sized fleets to devastate fishing grounds.

About 80 percent of Mediterranean and 47 percent of Atlantic stocks are overfished, European Commission figures show.

The deal will introduce new limits on catches and a ban on throwing some species of undersized or unwanted fish back into the sea, often to die, which damages reproduction of species.

The discards ban would apply to mackerel and herring by 2015 and to other species from 2016.

The European Parliament, which will examine the deal later this month, may seek more ambitious measures, such as setting a 2020 deadline to replenish stocks. Its first reaction to the agreement was to say it was not "courageous" enough.

Campaign groups expressed disappointment and said they believed it would take longer than expected to replenish stocks.

A report by the World Wide Fund for Nature said it would take more than 100 years for fish stocks to recover. Sea lobby group OCEANA said the ban would allow a substantial amount of fish to be thrown back.

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"We have a fraction of the fish that used to be there," said Markus Knigge from research group the Pew Charitable Trusts, saying overfishing led to a very low reproduction rate which needed time to recover.

British television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - whose campaign against overfishing, Fish Fight, has attracted almost 860,000 supporters - said he backed the European Parliament's more ambitious demands such as enforcing dates by when fish stocks should have improved.

There are several reasons for overfishing. Fishermen face time pressures and premiums are offered by retailers for fish of a certain size.

Britain's fisheries minister, Richard Benyon, said: "This was a difficult negotiation, and although it is not as ambitious as I would have liked, we have stuck to our key principles.

"This package of reforms fulfils our promise to make discards a thing of the past and ensure sustainable fishing for future generations." (Reporting by Claire Davenport; Editing by Philip Blenkinsop and Janet Lawrence)

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Venezuela's Maduro buries hatchet with billionaire businessman

Socialist leader Nicolas Maduro and the billionaire boss of Venezuela's biggest private company have buried the hatchet after a war of words over food shortages and other economic problems in the South American nation.

 

Perpetuating the hard-line rhetoric of his predecessor Hugo Chavez, newly-elected Maduro turned on Empresas Polar president Lorenzo Mendoza in recent days, accusing him of hoarding products as part of an "economic war" on the state by private business.

Mendoza, whose company is Venezuela's biggest beer- and flour-maker, denied that and pointedly challenged the government to sell production plants nationalized under Chavez back to the private sector to boost efficiency.

On Tuesday night, the pair met to discuss their differences in a spat seen by Venezuelans as a bellwether for state-business relations going forward under Maduro's government.

Both sides came out of the meeting sounding reconciliatory and pledging to work together to overcome food shortages that have increased tensions in Venezuela after Maduro's disputed election win last month.

"It was very cordial, direct, sincere meeting ... We clarified we are producing at full capacity," Mendoza said.

"The president was very kind in listening to us and communicating the need to keep investing, producing and supplying markets. That is our lifelong commitment, passion and vocation ... Part of this issue (shortages) has to do with the high politicization (in Venezuela)."

Vice President Jorge Arreaza gave a similar account of the meeting. "The problem's been overcome," he told state TV.

TOUGH ECONOMIC PANORAMA

Supplies of food and other basic products have been patchy in recent months, with long queues forming at supermarkets and rushes occurring when there is news of a new stock arrival.

The situation has spawned jokes among Venezuelans, particularly over the lack of toilet paper. The government announced this week it was importing 50 million rolls to compensate for "over-demand due to nervous buying."

Authorities have also allowed increases in some price controls on products - including basics like chicken, beef and milk - to the consternation of consumers but relief of private businesses that complain of sometimes having to sell at a loss.

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Mendoza's Polar is a central player in the Venezuelan economy, employing more than 31,000 people and accounting for 3 percent of non-oil GDP, according to its own figures.

As well as dominating Venezuela's beer market, the company controls 48 percent of the flour sector, 35 percent of pasta, 20 percent of rice, and 11 percent of cooking oil.

According to Forbes, the U.S-educated Mendoza, 47, is Venezuela's second richest man with $4 billion net worth.

Chavez frequently threatened to nationalize Polar, but in the end went no further than a few minor takeovers of warehouses and land, perhaps in recognition of the status the company has, with its products in almost every Venezuelan household.

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Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who disputes Maduro's narrow win by 1.5 percent of votes in last month's presidential election, says the food shortages and rhetoric against Polar have simply illustrated the government's economic incompetence.

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Others have been struck by Mendoza's unusually public defense against Maduro's comments, something the businessman seldom did during Chavez's 14-year rule.

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"In the end, the meta-story here is the change in attitudes. It strains the mind to think that Mendoza would have been this feisty in defending his company if he were dealing with Hugo Chavez at the peak of his popularity," wrote pro-opposition blogger Juan Cristobal Nagel.

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"The fact that he is willing to go to bat for his company - and his ideas - so vehemently is further proof that Maduro is a weak president, that he is no Chávez."

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Maduro supporters, however, say the former bus driver and union leader's willingness to sit down with Mendoza demonstrated his qualities as a negotiator.

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The late Chavez turned the state into a major player in the food industry through a wave of nationalizations, but many of those operations have struggled to maintain production after their takeover due to factors including labor disputes.

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With inflation at a worrying 12.5 percent in the first four months of the year alone, and growth expected by most economists to slow after the end of last year's election-year, Maduro faces a tough economic as well as political environment.

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Aware of the long-held enmity by Venezuela's business elite towards his mentor Chavez, Maduro has since his first day in power been railing against "bourgeois" saboteurs and "speculators" whom he blames for economic problems. (Additional reporting by Enrique Andres; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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Bottle hits singer: Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert Injured By Bottle on Stage At Concert

Bottle hits singer: Frederick 'Toots' Hibbert Injured By Bottle  on Stage At Concert. Officials claims the leader of the reggae band Toots and the Maytals was injured when a 19-year-old man threw a bottle and hit the singer during a concert in Richmond.

Police said Sunday the man has been charged with aggravated assault. Authorities have not identified him. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that ( ) Frederick "Toots" Hibbert was treated at a hospital for a cut to his head and released. http://bit.ly/17PhlkD


Hibbert was treated for a laceration on his forehead which he sustained during the incident. Police say the incident occurred around 10:15 p.m. Saturday, and the concert was stopped 15 minutes early. Hibberts son, a bass player in the band, told reporters that his father had to get 8 to 10 stitches on his head after he was struck by the flying vodka bottle. He has been released from the hospital.

Hibbert was hit by a glass bottle thrown from the crowd Saturday night as the band was performing at the Dominion Riverrock outdoor sports and music festival. The band stopped playing after he was hit.

Festival organizers say Hibbert was in good spirits despite the traumatic event and regretted that the concert had to be stopped early.

Source:  TIME

'Iron Man 3' kicks off US, Canada run with $15.6 mln ticket sales

International hit "Iron Man 3" flew into U.S. and Canadian theaters, kicking off Hollywood's summer blockbuster season with $15.6 million in ticket sales late Thursday and early Friday.

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The superhero sequel from Walt Disney Co's Marvel studio is expected to finish the weekend with one of the biggest debuts in film history. Box office analysts predict the movie will bring in $150 million or more from Friday through Sunday, likely ranking in the top five all-time openings.

 

The opening night sales fell short of the $18.7 million earned a year ago by Disney's "The Avengers," which brought together Iron Man, The Hulk and other Marvel superheroes. "Avengers" went on to earn $207 million in its first three days, a record for the North American (U.S. and Canadian) market.

"Iron Man 3," starring Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire businessman Tony Stark, has pulled in $345.4 million in overseas markets since it debuted April 24, Disney said on Friday. The film set opening day records in several countries including China and Russia.

In "Iron Man 3," Stark fights to save the world from an extremist known as The Mandarin, played by Ben Kingsley.

UPDATE 1-'Iron Man 3' soars with huge $175.3 mln in US, Canada debut

Superhero sequel "Iron Man 3" rocketed to the top of U.S. and Canadian box office charts, kicking off Hollywood's summer movie season with $175.3 million in weekend ticket sales for the second-biggest film opening of all time.

Combined with international sales, the movie from Walt Disney Co's Marvel studio brought its global haul to an estimated $680.1 million, Disney said on Sunday.

 

The film stars Robert Downey Jr. as billionaire businessman Tony Stark, whose superhero alter-ego spars with an evil extremist.

"Iron Man 3" fed off the success of the first two installments plus last year's "The Avengers," a superhero mashup that united Iron Man, The Hulk and other Marvel characters. "Avengers" opened on the same weekend last year with $207.4 million over its first three days, a record for the United States and Canada.

"Iron Man 3" finished second on the all-time list behind "Avengers" and ahead of the July 2011 release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - Part 2," which opened with $169.2 million, according to the box office division of Hollywood.com.

"It is an extraordinary start," said Dave Hollis, Disney's executive vice president of distribution. "The start on the U.S. side is something that we are exceptionally proud of."

The $200-million production is another hit for Disney, which is focusing its movie studio on franchise films like "Iron Man" that can spawn movie sequels, toy sales and theme-park rides.

The two previous "Iron Man" movies earned a combined $1.2 billion around the world, according to the Box Office Mojo website.

"Iron Man 3" debuted in international markets starting April 24 to record openings in many countries including China and Russia, generating buzz ahead of its release the United States and Canada.

The big domestic numbers for "Iron Man 3" boosted the overall box office, which is dragging behind 2012 after a sluggish winter and spring.

Studios are counting on summer action films, superhero stories and sequels to lift ticket sales in the coming months. Future releases include sci-fi sequel "Star Trek Into Darkness," Superman reboot "Man of Steel" and robot-versus-aliens action flick "Pacific Rim."

The "Iron Man" mania trounced all other movies over the weekend.

Last week's winner, dark action comedy "Pain & Gain," dropped to second place with $7.6 million. Baseball drama "42" took the No. 3 slot with $6.2 million.

Rounding out the top five, Tom Cruise's post-apocalyptic thriller "Oblivion" grossed $5.79 million, and the animated film "The Croods" rang up $4.2 million.

"Pain & Gain" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. Comcast Corp's Universal Pictures distributed "Oblivion." Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc , released "42."

Paltrow dad's cancer: Dad's Cancer Diagnosis Inspired My Healthier Diet

Paltrow dad's cancer: Dad's Cancer Diagnosis Inspired My Healthier Diet. Gwyneth Paltrow, the wakeup call to eat healthier came when her late father, director Bruce Paltrow, was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago.

Appearing on the cover of Beach magazine's debut issue, the Iron Man 3 actress spoke of how seeing her own father's health dwindle made her open her eyes.

"I began to consider the effects of food when my father was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998," she told the magazine. "I started to research anti-cancer diets in hopes that he would try to hit it from all angles."

Bruce Paltrow died in October 2002 at age 58 due to complications of cancer and pneumonia. But Paltrow, 40, used his health struggle as a catalyst for change -- eliminating dairy and gluten in her diet.

"It's about being mindful about what you are putting in," she explained. "Good whole foods are the way we have eaten for generations. It's amazing how good you feel when you just cut out the processed stuff."

Paltrow, married to Coldplay frontman Chris Martin for 10 years, also has their kids, Apple, 8, and Moses, 6, follow the diet.

In her 2012 cookbook, It's All Good: Delicious, Easy Recipes That Will Make You Look Good and Feel Great, she writes, "Every single nutritionist, doctor and health-conscious person I have ever come across...seems to concur that [gluten] is tough on the system and many of us are at best intolerant of it and at worst allergic to it."

 Source: Omg.yahoo

Losses widen in Q1 at indebted Spanish media group Prisa

Indebted Spanish media group Prisa , owner of the country's best-read generalist newspaper El Pais, said on Thursday that losses widened nearly 50 percent in the first quarter from a year ago to 12 million euros ($15.7 million).

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Falling advertising revenues in Europe have been squeezing Prisa in the past year, despite growth in Latin America.

Prisa, which has television, radio and publishing assets across Europe and Latin America, said advertising revenue fell by 10.9 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago.

 

Earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) fell 25 percent from a year ago to 78.4 million euros.

The company, which said its net bank debt stood at just over 3 billion euros at the end of the first quarter, made a full year loss of 255 million euros in 2012. ($1 = 0.7637 euros) (Reporting by Sarah White; Editing by Julien Toyer)

Bottle hits singer: Singer Reggae was hit with bottle on stage

Bottle hits singer: Singer Reggae was hit with bottle on stage. Police have arrested a 19-year-old man after he threw a bottle onto the stage hitting Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, of the reggae band Toots and the Maytals, during a concert at the Dominion Riverrock in Richmond Saturday. According to WTVR's report on May 19, William C. Lewis has been charged with aggraved assault and public intoxication.

Hibbert was treated for a laceration on his forehead which he sustained during the incident. Police say the incident occurred around 10:15 p.m. Saturday, and the concert was stopped 15 minutes early. Hibberts son, a bass player in the band, told reporters that his father had to get 8 to 10 stitches on his head after he was struck by the flying vodka bottle. He has been released from the hospital.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Jack Berry, executive director of Venture Richmond, which produced the three-day music-and-sports event with Richmond Sports Backers stated that he believes the vodka bottle that hit the singer was stolen from the mixed-beverage sales area and not brought in from outside.

He also told media outlets:

"Dominion Riverrock is a wonderful event for our community, but unfortunately this edition has been marred by the actions of one individual...This was one individual who committed a horrible act."

'Iron Man' beats strong 'Gatsby' in movie box office showdown

Tony Stark's superpowers lifted blockbuster "Iron Man 3" back to the top of movie charts in the United States and Canada, beating out a strong debut over the weekend for lavish Jazz Age drama "The Great Gatsby."

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Coming off a gigantic opening a week earlier, "Iron Man 3" commanded $72.5 million in ticket sales from Friday through Sunday in its second weekend. "Gatsby," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as millionaire Jay Gatsby in the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald tale, earned a strong $51.1 million, according to studio estimates.

 

"Iron Man 3" stars Robert Downey Jr. as Stark, a billionaire businessman with a superhero alter ego. The movie from Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios opened last weekend with $174.1 million for the second-biggest movie opening of all time.

In distant third place, dark action comedy "Pain & Gain" grossed $5 million. The film stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as bodybuilders-turned-criminals who kidnap a wealthy deli owner.

Warner Bros., a unit of Time Warner Inc, distributed "The Great Gatsby." "Pain & Gain" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc.

UPDATE 1-'Iron Man' beats strong 'Gatsby' in box office showdown

Tony Stark's superpowers lifted blockbuster "Iron Man 3" back to the top of movie charts in the United States and Canada, beating out a strong debut over the weekend for lavish Jazz Age drama "The Great Gatsby."

Coming off a gigantic opening a week earlier, "Iron Man 3" commanded $72.5 million in ticket sales from Friday through Sunday in its second weekend. "Gatsby," starring Leonardo DiCaprio as millionaire Jay Gatsby in the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald tale, earned a strong $51.1 million, according to studio estimates.

 

Domestic ticket sales for "Iron Man 3" dropped 58 percent from a week earlier, when the film hauled in $174.1 million for the second-biggest movie opening of all time. The film from Walt Disney Co's Marvel Studios stars Robert Downey Jr. as Stark, a billionaire businessman with a superhero alter ego.

International sales for "Iron Man 3" reached a massive $664 million through Sunday after adding $89 million from the weekend, Disney said. The film's worldwide take now stands at $949 million.

"Gatsby" outpaced pre-weekend forecasts for an opening of up to $45 million. Directed by Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, it is the latest Hollywood rendition of Fitzgerald's classic American novel, "The Great Gatsby." A 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow fared poorly at the box office.

DiCaprio stars in the title role, a millionaire pining for a lost love, played by Carey Mulligan, during the height of the hedonistic 1920s. Tobey Maguire and Joel Edgerton also star. Rapper Jay-Z produced the soundtrack.

"We never expected to open this picture at this level," said Dan Fellman, president of theatrical distribution for Warner Bros., the Time Warner Inc unit that distributed the film.

Fellman said the picture, which has been accorded the prestigious opening night slot at this week's Cannes Film Festival, was now well-positioned for a long run into the summer as an alternative to traditional action movies.

The majority of ticket buyers were female by 59 percent to 41 percent, and 31 percent of ticket buyers were under age 25, Warner Bros. said.

"We're going to have a nice, long healthy run," he told Reuters.

DiCaprio's performance was widely praised, but the movie, which cost about $105 million to produce, received a mixed reception from critics. As of Saturday, 48 percent of reviews recommended the film on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

But in its opening weekend, the film very nearly eclipsed the total $57.4 million take of Luhrmann's most successful film, "Moulin Rouge," which went on to win several Academy Awards.

Elsewhere over the weekend, dark action comedy "Pain & Gain" starring Mark Wahlberg placed a distant third with $5 million at U.S. and Canadian theaters.

Comedy "Peeples," the other new nationwide release, finished fourth with $4.9 million. Produced by Tyler Perry, the film stars Craig Robinson and Kerry Washington in the story of a well-off family's reunion that is interrupted when a man arrives to seek their daughter's hand in marriage.

Baseball drama "42" finished in fifth place with $4.7 million.

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"Star Trek Into Darkness," which opens domestically on Wednesday, took in $31.7 million in seven international territories including Britain, Mexico, Australia and Germany, Paramount Pictures reported.

"Pain & Gain" was released by Paramount Pictures, a unit of Viacom Inc. Lions Gate Entertainment distributed "Peeples," and Warner Bros. distributed "42."

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US STOCKS-Wall Street to dip at open after Empire State data

U.S. stocks were set to dip at the open on Wednesday, indicating the S&P 500 may ease from its most recent record high after weaker-than-expected manufacturing data.

 

Data showed activity in New York state's manufacturing sector unexpectedly contracted to its lowest level in four months, falling to minus 1.43 from 3.05 in April, and below expectations for an increase to 4.

But a separate report showed producer prices recorded their largest drop in three years in April, falling by a seasonally adjusted 0.7 percent last month, its biggest decline since February 2010, which should enable the Federal Reserve to maintain its accommodative monetary policy.

"Empire (State general business conditions index data) is bad and that is consistent with what we have been seeing at the national level and the regional level," said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist, at Federated Investors in New York.

"Could that number spark some profit taking today? Absolutely. The bigger question is what is the longer term picture? The direction for the market is up."

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 rallied to a fresh record high on Tuesday, buoyed by gains in large-cap shares, on investor expectations central bank stimulus measures will continue to support further equity market gains.

The S&P 500 is up 15.7 percent for the year, while the Dow has jumped 16.1 percent.

S&P 500 futures slipped 3.3 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures lost 17 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures shed 3.75 point.

Investors will eye housing data at 10:00 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT) for signs of continued improvement, with the release of the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo housing market index for May. Economists in a Reuters survey expect a reading of 43 versus 42 in April.

An improving housing market has been seen as a tailwind to the economic recovery.

Deere & Co fell 3.8 percent to $90.22 in premarket trading after the agricultural equipment maker reported higher quarterly earnings and forecast a record profit for the full year, but warned "global financial pressures as well as adverse weather patterns" made it cautious about its outlook.

SunPower Corp shares jumped 8 percent to $20.55 before the opening bell after the maker of solar panels and solar power plants it expects to post an adjusted profit for the current quarter.

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U.S.-listed shares of Research in Motion shed 2.2 percent to $14.91 in premarket trading after Bernstein cut its rating on the Blackberry maker to "market perform."

UPDATE 1-Malaysia's Najib packs new cabinet with conservatives

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, whose poor showing in a general election earlier this month has left him vulnerable to the conservative wing of his party, announced a cabinet on Wednesday that was packed with the traditionalists.

The 57-member cabiner was also strikingly short of representatives from the Chinese minority.

 

Najib's coalition recorded its worst ever result in the May 5 election, and lost the popular vote for the first time. Its majority in parliament was reduced, throwing an economic reform programme into doubt.

Although Najib included some younger elements from his Barisan Nasional coalition and a non-partisan banker and an anti-corruption activist in the cabinet line-up, most of the key posts were retained by established leaders of his United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).

Muhyiddin Yassin remained deputy prime minister while Zahid Hamidi was named home (interior) minister, swapping portfolios with Najib's cousin Hishammuddin Hussein, who is the new defence minister.

The main Chinese party allied with the ruling coalition declined to take up cabinet posts after a dismal showing in the election, and of the two Chinese in the cabinet, one is non-partisan, while the other, a deputy minister, is from a regional party. The previous cabinet had six full ministers from the minority group.

"He has tried to appease the conservatives but he is also reaching out with a reformist message to appeal to the younger generation of voters," said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Najib blamed the poor showing on a "Chinese tsunami," a remark that stirred up tensions between the majority ethnic Malays represented by UMNO and Chinese, who overwhelmingly voted for a three-party opposition alliance.

Critics have said the coalition was also abandoned by urban voters on complaints of rising corruption and ballooning living costs, despite a series of cash handouts.

Malays make up about 60 percent of the 28 million people, while Chinese comprise more than 25 percent. The country also has a significant minority of ethnic Indians.

UMNO, which dominates Barisan, now faces a leadership election in October or November that is likely to be fought between traditional and reformist wings. Najib may have to step down, ruling party sources have told Reuters.

"DISLOYALTY"

Conservatives have blamed ethnic polarisation and Chinese "disloyalty" for the election result while reformists have urged Najib to expand steps to make UMNO more inclusive beyond its base of poor, rural Malays.

Malaysia's former and longest-serving prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, a powerful figure in UMNO, was quoted by local media as saying "ungrateful Chinese" and "greedy Malays" were to blame for the result.

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Many members of the cabinet are seen as Mahathir loyalists, while his son has been named the chief minister of Kedah state, a powerful regional post. The state of Johor, near Singapore, also has a chief minister linked to Mahathir.

"Divisions have opened up in Malaysian society," Najib said. "Now it is time for all of us, in government and beyond, to put the bitterness behind us, and work towards national reconciliation."

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In a gesture to concerns over corruption, Najib handed a post in his department to Transparency International (Malaysia) President Paul Low, one of the two Chinese ministers.

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In a nod to corporate expertise, he also appointed Wahid Omar, chief executive officer of Malaysia's largest bank Maybank , to the post of economic planning minister.

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Wahid joins former Malaysia Airlines CEO Idris Jala, who was retained to continue the country's $444 billion economic transformation programme that was launched in 2009.

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UMNO youth leader Khairy Jamaluddin, a reformist, was appointed as Youth and Sports Minister.

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"Najib has made a gesture, he appointed Khairy and it is known that Mahathir doesn't like him. So Najib is stepping a little out of Mahathir's shadow," said Oh, the senior fellow at NTU. (Editing by Stuart Grudgings and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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UPDATE 2-MegaFon muscles ahead in Russian mobile market

MegaFon has overtaken its main competitor in Russia's cut-throat mobile phone market, posting bumper earnings on Wednesday to help crown it leader by market value and put its other rival in the shade.

 

MegaFon, owned by Russia's richest man Alisher Usmanov, lags New-York listed MTS in terms of revenues and subscriber numbers, but as a result of an aggressive cost-cutting campaign launched last year, it was able to hike its margin forecast and announce a dividend of $1.3 billion, helping its shares rise.

Its results put Vimpelcom, Russia's third-biggest mobile phone provider with assets in emerging markets and Italy, firmly in its place. It failed to impress analysts by reporting a below-forecast 28 percent rise in net profit on Wednesday.

"MegaFon has probably shown the strongest results that any other operator is unlikely to match," said Anna Lepetukhina, analyst at Sberbank Investment Research.

Since its November initial public offering, shares in MegaFon have risen by 68 percent, valuing the company at $20.6 billion, above $19.9 billion for MTS and Vimpelcom.

"It used to have quite high expenses in the past because it was an aggressive player, focused on growing revenues rather than on efficiency," Lepetukhina said. "Now that it's focused on efficiency, it has room to cut (costs) and improve efficiency."

Russia's mobile operators have been focusing on cutting costs as the market has matured, meaning there is less need to spend on advertising revenues to lure new subscribers, although they have had to invest in rolling out next-generation networks.

MegaFon, which analysts say is best placed of all Russia's mobile phone firms for the 4G roll out, reported a 36.5 percent rise in first-quarter net income to 12.6 billion roubles, above the 10.6 billion rouble forecast by analysts in a Reuters poll.

It also boosted operating income before depreciation and amortisation (OIBDA) as a percentage of revenues to 47.8 percent - its best result in two years - from 40.6 percent a year ago.

HEALTHY COMPETITION

MegaFon, which raised $1.7 billion in its November flotation in London and Moscow, also raised its full-year guidance for that margin to 42.5-44.0 percent from 41.6-43.0 percent, while keeping its high single-digit revenue growth forecast.

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Vimpelcom, part of tycoon Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, increased its margin to 42 percent in the first quarter from 41.1 percent the year earlier, versus a 41.8 percent forecast.

"We have very healthy competition in Russia, you see it in churn numbers, in prices coming down, in willingness to invest in data networks," Jo Lunder, the chief executive officer of Vimpelcom, told Reuters by telephone.

"There has been a gradual movement to focusing on cashflows and profitability, and I think it is good for the market and for customers as it means that operators will have cashflow to reinvest," said Lunder.

Unlike many European peers, Russian mobile firms are still growing revenues thanks mainly to the increasing use of smartphones which leads to more internet traffic on mobile networks.

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Elsewhere in Europe, telecoms firms are struggling with an overcrowded market, regulations and recession.

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Russian companies are building out data-centred 4G networks after the distribution of LTE (Long Term Evolution) licences last summer. But they are also returning excess cash to shareholders, offering comparable dividend yields.

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MegaFon on Wednesday announced a long-expected dividend, set at 64.51 roubles per share, or a total of 40 billion roubles, for 2012 and the first quarter of 2013.

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Breaking down the figure gives a 2012 payout of 54.17 roubles, implying a 5.2 percent yield, while including the 10.34 roubles payable on first-quarter results, the yield would rise to 6.2 percent.

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Vimpelcom's dividend yield stands at 7.1 percent based on the 2012 payout, but taking into account a special, one-off dividend of nearly the same size, the yield comes to 14 percent.

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MTS' stock offers a dividend yield of 5.6 percent based on the payout of 30.2 billion roubles for 2012. The company also intends to pay an additional dividend in the autumn worth around 11 billion roubles.

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