Wall Street Week Ahead: Bears hibernate as stocks near record highs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks have been on a tear in January, moving major indexes within striking distance of all-time highs. The bearish case is a difficult one to make right now.


Earnings have exceeded expectations, the housing and labor markets have strengthened, lawmakers in Washington no longer seem to be the roadblock that they were for most of 2012, and money has returned to stock funds again.


The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> has gained 5.4 percent this year and closed above 1,500 - climbing to the spot where Wall Street strategists expected it to be by mid-year. The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> is 2.2 percent away from all-time highs reached in October 2007. The Dow ended Friday's session at 13,895.98, its highest close since October 31, 2007.


The S&P has risen for four straight weeks and eight consecutive sessions, the longest streak of days since 2004. On Friday, the benchmark S&P 500 ended at 1,502.96 - its first close above 1,500 in more than five years.


"Once we break above a resistance level at 1,510, we dramatically increase the probability that we break the highs of 2007," said Walter Zimmermann, technical analyst at United-ICAP, in Jersey City, New Jersey. "That may be the start of a rise that could take equities near 1,800 within the next few years."


The most recent Reuters poll of Wall Street strategists estimated the benchmark index would rise to 1,550 by year-end, a target that is 3.1 percent away from current levels. That would put the S&P 500 a stone's throw from the index's all-time intraday high of 1,576.09 reached on October 11, 2007.


The new year has brought a sharp increase in flows into U.S. equity mutual funds, and that has helped stocks rack up four straight weeks of gains, with strength in big- and small-caps alike.


That's not to say there aren't concerns. Economic growth has been steady, but not as strong as many had hoped. The household unemployment rate remains high at 7.8 percent. And more than 75 percent of the stocks in the S&P 500 are above their 26-week highs, suggesting the buying has come too far, too fast.


MUTUAL FUND INVESTORS COME BACK


All 10 S&P 500 industry sectors are higher in 2013, in part because of new money flowing into equity funds. Investors in U.S.-based funds committed $3.66 billion to stock mutual funds in the latest week, the third straight week of big gains for the funds, data from Thomson Reuters' Lipper service showed on Thursday.


Energy shares <.5sp10> lead the way with a gain of 6.6 percent, followed by industrials <.5sp20>, up 6.3 percent. Telecom <.5sp50>, a defensive play that underperforms in periods of growth, is the weakest sector - up 0.1 percent for the year.


More than 350 stocks hit new highs on Friday alone on the New York Stock Exchange. The Dow Jones Transportation Average <.djt> recently climbed to an all-time high, with stocks in this sector and other economic bellwethers posting strong gains almost daily.


"If you peel back the onion a little bit, you start to look at companies like Precision Castparts , Honeywell , 3M Co and Illinois Tool Works - these are big, broad-based industrial companies in the U.S. and they are all hitting new highs, and doing very well. That is the real story," said Mike Binger, portfolio manager at Gradient Investments, in Shoreview, Minnesota.


The gains have run across asset sizes as well. The S&P small-cap index <.spcy> has jumped 6.7 percent and the S&P mid-cap index <.mid> has shot up 7.5 percent so far this year.


Exchange-traded funds have seen year-to-date inflows of $15.6 billion, with fairly even flows across the small-, mid- and large-cap categories, according to Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at the ConvergEx Group, in New York.


"Investors aren't really differentiating among asset sizes. They just want broad equity exposure," Colas said.


The market has shown resilience to weak news. On Thursday, the S&P 500 held steady despite a 12 percent slide in shares of Apple after the iPhone and iPad maker's results. The tech giant is heavily weighted in both the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 <.ndx> and in the past, its drop has suffocated stocks' broader gains.


JOBS DATA MAY TEST THE RALLY


In the last few days, the ratio of stocks hitting new highs versus those hitting new lows on a daily basis has started to diminish - a potential sign that the rally is narrowing to fewer names - and could be running out of gas.


Investors have also cited sentiment surveys that indicate high levels of bullishness among newsletter writers, a contrarian indicator, and momentum indicators are starting to also suggest the rally has perhaps come too far.


The market's resilience could be tested next week with Friday's release of the January non-farm payrolls report. About 155,000 jobs are seen being added in the month and the unemployment rate is expected to hold steady at 7.8 percent.


"Staying over 1,500 sends up a flag of profit taking," said Jerry Harris, president of asset management at Sterne Agee, in Birmingham, Alabama. "Since recent jobless claims have made us optimistic on payrolls, if that doesn't come through, it will be a real risk to the rally."


A number of marquee names will report earnings next week, including bellwether companies such as Caterpillar Inc , Amazon.com Inc , Ford Motor Co and Pfizer Inc .


On a historic basis, valuations remain relatively low - the S&P 500's current price-to-earnings ratio sits at 15.66, which is just a tad above the historic level of 15.


Worries about the U.S. stock market's recent strength do not mean the market is in a bubble. Investors clearly don't feel that way at the moment.


"We're seeing more interest in equities overall, and a lot of flows from bonds into stocks," said Paul Zemsky, who helps oversee $445 billion as the New York-based head of asset allocation at ING Investment Management. "We've been increasing our exposure to risky assets."


For the week, the Dow climbed 1.8 percent, the S&P 500 rose 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 0.5 percent.


(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Jan Paschal)



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Azarenka beats Li, defends Australian Open title


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Victoria Azarenka had the bulk of the crowd against her. The fireworks were fizzling out, and when she looked over the net she saw Li Na crashing to the court and almost knocking herself out.


Considering the cascading criticism she'd encountered after her previous win, Azarenka didn't need the focus of the Australian Open final to be on another medical timeout.


So after defending her title with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over the sixth-seeded Li in one of the most unusual finals ever at Melbourne Park, Azarenka understandably dropped her racket and cried tears of relief late Saturday night.


She heaved as she sobbed into a towel beside the court, before regaining her composure to collect the trophy.


"It isn't easy, that's for sure, but I knew what I had to do," the 23-year-old Belarusian said. "I had to stay calm. I had to stay positive. I just had to deal with the things that came onto me."


There were a lot of those things squeezed into the 2-hour, 40-minute match. Li, who was playing her second Australian Open final in three years, twisted her ankle and tumbled to the court in the second and third sets.


The second time was on the point immediately after a 10-minute delay for the Australia Day fireworks — a familiar fixture in downtown Melbourne on Jan. 26, but not usually coinciding with a final.


Li had been sitting in her chair during the break, while Azarenka jogged and swung her racket around before leaving the court to rub some liniment into her legs to keep warm.


The 30-year-old Chinese player had tumbled to the court after twisting her left ankle and had it taped after falling in the fifth game of the second set. Immediately after the fireworks ceased, and with smoke still in the air, she twisted the ankle again, fell and hit the back of her head on the hard court.


The 2011 French Open champion was treated immediately by a tournament doctor and assessed for a concussion in another medical timeout before resuming the match.


"I think I was a little bit worried when I was falling," Li said, in her humorous, self-deprecating fashion. "Because two seconds I couldn't really see anything. It was totally black.


"So when the physio come, she was like, 'Focus on my finger.' I was laughing. I was thinking, 'This is tennis court, not like hospital.'"


Li's injury was obvious and attracted even more support for her from the 15,000-strong crowd.


Azarenka had generated some bad PR by taking a medical timeout after wasting five match points on her own serve in her semifinal win over American teenager Sloane Stephens on Thursday. She came back after the break and finished off Stephens in the next game, later telling an on-court interviewer that she "almost did the choke of the year."


She was accused of gamesmanship and manipulating the rules to get time to regain her composure against Stephens, but defended herself by saying she actually was having difficulty breathing because of a rib injury that needed to be fixed.


That explanation didn't convince everybody. So when she walked onto Rod Laver Arena on Saturday, there were some people who booed, and others who heckled her or mimicked the distinctive hooting sound she makes when she hits the ball.


"Unfortunately, you have to go through some rough patches to achieve great things," she said. "That's what makes it so special for me. I went through that, and I'm still able to kiss that beautiful trophy."


She didn't hold a grudge.


"I was expecting way worse, to be honest. What can you do? You just have to go out there and try to play tennis in the end of the day," she said. "It's a tennis match, tennis battle, final of the Australian Open. I was there to play that.


"The things what happened in the past, I did the best thing I could to explain, and it was left behind me already."


The match contained plenty of nervy moments and tension, and 16 service breaks — nine for Li. But it also produced plenty of winners and bravery on big points.


Azarenka will retain the No. 1 ranking she's mostly held since her first Grand Slam win in Melbourne last year.


Li moved into the top five and is heartened by a recent trend of Australian runner-ups winning the French Open. She accomplished that in 2011, as did Ana Ivanovic (2008) and Maria Sharapova (2012).


"I wish I can do the same this year, as well," Li said.


Later Saturday, Bob and Mike Bryan won their record 13th Grand Slam men's doubles title, defeating the Dutch team of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling 6-3, 6-4.


Sunday's men's final features two-time defending champion Novak Djokovic and U.S. Open winner Andy Murray. Djokovic is seeking to become the first man in the Open era to win three titles in a row in Australia.


Azarenka was planning a night of partying to celebrate her second major title, with her friend Redfoo and the Party Rock crew, and was hopeful of scoring some tickets to the men's final.


She said she needed to let her hair down after a draining two weeks and hoped that by being more open and frank in recent times she was clearing up any misconceptions the public had of her.


"When I came first on the tour I kind of was lost a little bit," he said. "I didn't know how to open up my personality. It's very difficult when you're alone. I was independent since I was, you know, 10 years old. It was a little bit scary and I wouldn't show my personality.


"So the (last) couple of years I learned how to open up to people and to share the moments. I wasn't really good before. I hope I got better. It's your judgment."


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Antarctic rescue mission for 3 Canadians continues as weather improves






Rescue officials say efforts to locate three Canadians missing in Antarctica will continue today as weather conditions improve.


The Canadians were on a plane that went missing Wednesday during a flight from the South Pole to Terra Nova Bay.






New Zealand’s Rescue Co-ordination Centre says a plane is scheduled to fly to the area today to set up a base camp about 50 kilometres from where the missing plane’s emergency beacon was transmitting.


As soon as the weather clears, two helicopters will then start an aerial search.


Aircraft tried twice to spot the missing plane in the mountainous area, but couldn’t see it because of poor visibility and snow.


The rescue co-ordination centre says the crew of the missing aircraft have survival equipment and are well trained for the harsh environment.


Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Can sanctions deter North Korea?


























Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


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Kim Jong Un and his military


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Kim Jong Un and his military


Kim Jong Un and his military


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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • N. Korea said Thursday it plans to carry out new nuclear test and more long-range rocket launches

  • It said they are part of new phase of confrontation with United States

  • George A. Lopez says North Korea's aim is to be recognized as a 'new nuclear nation by fait accompli'

  • The Security Council sanctions aim to deteriorate and disrupt N. Korea's programs, says Lopez




Editor's note: George A. Lopez holds the Hesburgh Chair in Peace Studies at the Kroc Institute, University of Notre Dame. He is a former member, UN Panel of Experts on DPRK.


Indiana, U.S. (CNN) -- North Korea has responded to new Security Council sanctions condemning its December 12 rocket launch with a declaration that it plans a third nuclear test and more missile launches. Politically, it has made unambiguous that its "aim" is its enemy, the United States.


In this rapid reaction to U.N. sanctions, the young government of Kim Jong Un underscores what Security Council members have long known anticipated from the DPRK. Their end-game is to create a vibrant, integrated missile and nuclear weapons program that will result - as in the cases of Pakistan and India - in their being recognized as a new nuclear nation by fait accompli.


Read more: North Korea says new nuclear test will be part of fight against U.S.


In light of DPRK defiance - and a soon to occur nuclear test - the Security Council's first set of sanctions on North Korea since 2009 may seem absurd and irrelevant. These sanctions will certainly not prevent a new DPRK nuclear test. Rather, the new sanctions resolution mobilizes regional neighbors and global actors to enforce sanctions that can weaken future DPRK programs and actions.










Read more: U.N. Security Council slams North Korea, expands sanctions


The utility, if not the necessity, of these Security Council sanctions are to deteriorate and disrupt the networks that sustain North Korea's programs. Chances of this degradation of DPRK capabilities have increased as the new sanctions both embolden and empower the member states who regularly observe - but do nothing about - suspicious vessels in their adjacent waterways.


The resolution provides new guidance to states regarding ship interdiction, cargo inspections, and the seizure and disposal of prohibited materials. Regarding nuclear and missile development the sanctions expand the list of material banned for trade to DPRK, including high tech, dual-use goods which might aid missile industries.


Read more: South Korean officials: North Korean rocket could hit U.S. mainland


These new measures provide a better structure for more effective sanctions, by naming new entities, such as a bank and trading companies, as well as individuals involved in the illicit financing of prohibited materials, to the sanctions list. To the surprise of many in the diplomatic community - the Council authorizes states to expose and confiscate North Korea's rather mobile "bulk cash." Such currency stocks have been used in many regions to facilitate purchases of luxury goods and other banned items that sustain the DPRK elites.


Finally, the Security Council frees the Sanctions Committee to act more independently and in a timely manner to add entities to the list of sanctioned actors when evidence shows them to be sanctions violators. This is an extensive hunting license for states in the region that can multiply the costs of sanctions to the DPRK over time.


Read more: North Korea's rocket launches cost $1.3 billion


Whatever their initial limitations, the new round of U.N. sanctions serve as a springboard to more robust measures by various regional and global powers which may lead back to serious negotiations with DPRK.


Despite its bluster and short-term action plan, Pyongyang recognizes that the wide space of operation for its policies it assumed it had a week ago, is now closed considerably. To get this kind of slap-down via this Security Council resolution - when the launch was a month ago - predicts that any nuke test or missile launch from Pyongyang will bring a new round of stronger and more targeted sanctions.


Read more: North Korea silences doubters, raises fears with rocket launch


Although dangerous - a new game is on regarding DPRK. Tougher U.N. measures imposed on the North generated a predictable response and likely new, prohibited action. While DPRK may be enraged, these sanctions have the P5 nations, most notably China, newly engaged. A forthcoming test or launch will no doubt increase tensions on both sides.


But this may be precisely the shock needed to restart the Six Party Talks. Without this institutional framework there is little chance of influencing DPRK actions. And in the meantime, the chances of greater degrading of DPRK capabilities via sanctions, are a sensible next best action.


Read more: Huge crowds gather in North Korean capital to celebrate rocket launch


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of George A. Lopez.






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Fire 'rekindles' at Bridgeport warehouse




















A vacant warehouse in Bridgeport continues to burn.




















































A nearly 100-year-old Bridgeport warehouse is on fire again this morning after it was gutted during a 5-alarm fire on Tuesday, according to the Chicago Fire Department.


About 10 a.m., a tower ladder truck was sent to the scene to handle the rekindle at the ruins, according to the fire department.


Last night, as crews began demolishing the warehouse at 3757 S. Ashland Ave., the fire department officially released its conclusion as to how it began.








"In layman's terms, that means something that was burning such as a flame or match got near something that would burn," Langford said.


Langford said the building had no gas or electric service and no one was known to be living there. But the night of the blaze, Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago told reporters that in the past, firefighters had been called to the warehouse for small fires caused when squatters lit fires to stay warm.


The matter has been forwarded to the Chicago Police Bomb and Arson unit to determine if the fire involved foul play, Langford and police said.


Friday morning, a private wrecking company hired by the owners of the building began its demolition, Chicago Fire Department spokeswoman Meg Ahlheim said.


Tuesday night, a fire department battalion chief spotted smoke from the blaze as he drove past around 9 p.m. A third of the department's on-duty personnel were called to fight a fire fed by century-old support timbers. Crews have remained there since, dousing flames from the smouldering debris.


chicagobreaking@tribune.com






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At least 30 killed in Egypt clashes over death sentences


PORT SAID, Egypt/CAIRO (Reuters) - At least 26 people died on Saturday when Egyptians rampaged in protest at the sentencing of 21 people to death over a soccer stadium disaster, adding to bloody street turmoil confronting Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.


Armored vehicles and military police fanned through the streets of Port Said after the violence. The state news agency quoted a general as saying the military aimed to "establish calm and stability in Port Said and to protect public institutions".


Unrest flared with nationwide rallies on Friday to mark the second anniversary of the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, a democratic revolution that protesters now accuse Mursi of betraying by ramming through an Islamist-hued constitution.


While anniversary-related violence subsided, a new outbreak hit Port Said after a court sentenced 21 men to die for involvement in the deaths of 74 people after a local soccer match on February 1, 2012, many of them fans of the visiting team.


Residents ran wildly through the streets of Port Said, outraged that men from their city had been blamed for the stadium disaster, and gunshots were reported near the prison where most of the defendants were being held.


Security sources said 26 people, at least two of them policemen, had been killed in the Mediterranean coastal city. State television reported more than 200 people had been wounded.


Witnesses said some men stormed two police stations in Port Said, where protesters lit tires in the street, sending black smoke funneling into the air.


At least nine people were killed in clashes with police on Friday, mainly in the port of Suez where the army has also deployed. Hundreds were injured as police rained down tear gas on protesters armed with stones and some with petrol bombs.


The schism between Islamists and secular Egyptians is hurting efforts by Mursi, freely elected in June, to revive an economy in crisis - deprived of fresh investment and tourism due to political upheaval - and stem a slide in Egypt's currency.


The political strife and lack of security that has blighted the Arab world's most populous country over much of the post-Mubarak era is casting an ominous shadow over a parliamentary election expected to start in April.


DIVERSITY


Highlighting tensions, the opposition National Salvation Front coalition called for a government of national unity and an early presidential vote among other demands. It said it would call for more protests next Friday and could boycott the parliamentary election if its demands are not met.


Mursi's opponents say he has failed to deliver on economic pledges or be a president representing the full political and communal diversity of Egyptians, as he pledged.


His supporters say his critics do not respect the democracy that has given Egypt its first freely elected leader.


The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled Mursi to office, said in a statement that "corrupt people" and media who were biased against the president had stirred up anger on the street and incited violence.


At the Port Said soccer stadium a year ago, many spectators were crushed and witnesses saw some thrown off balconies after the match between Cairo's Al Ahly and local team al-Masri.


Families of victims in court cheered and wept for joy when Judge Sobhy Abdel Maguid read a list of 21 names "referred to the Mufti", a phrase used to denote execution, as all death sentences must be reviewed by Egypt's top religious authority.


A total of 73 people have been standing trial. Other rulings will be issued on March 9, the judge said.


One relative in the court shouted: "God is greatest." Outside the Al Ahly club in Cairo, fans also cheered. They had threatened more violence unless the death penalty was meted out.


Thousands took to the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and other cities on Friday to protest against what they call the creeping authoritarianism of Mursi's rule. Protesters in Cairo were again hurling stones at police lines in Cairo on Saturday.


SEEKING CHANGE


"We want to change the president and the government. We are tired of this regime. Nothing has changed," said Mahmoud Suleiman, 22, in Cairo's Tahrir Square, the cauldron of the 2011 anti-Mubarak revolt and near where youths stoned police.


Ahmed Salama, 28, a protester camped out with dozens of others in Tahrir, said: "The protests will continue until we realize all the demands of the revolution - bread, freedom and social justice."


Ismailia and Suez, cities which like Port Said lie on the Suez Canal, witnessed some of the worst violence on Friday. But a canal official said the unrest on Friday and Saturday had not disrupted traffic in the waterway vital to international trade.


In a statement in response to Friday's violence, Mursi said the state would not hesitate in "pursuing the criminals and delivering them to justice". He urged Egyptians to respect the principles of the revolution by expressing views peacefully.


The president met on Saturday with the National Defence Council, which includes senior ministers and security officials, to discuss the spate of violence.


In a televised statement, the National Salvation Front said it was holding Mursi responsible for the disturbances.


The Front was formed from disparate groups last year when Mursi awarded himself extra powers and fast-tracked an Islamist-flavored constitution to a referendum, opposed by the Front although the document was passed in the popular vote.


"Egypt will not regain its balance except by a political solution that is transparent and credible, by a government of national salvation to restore order and heal the economy and with a constitution for all Egyptians," prominent opposition politician Mohamed ElBaradei wrote on his Twitter account.


Until the Front was formed, the opposition had struggled to unite and their vote had been split at presidential and parliamentary polls, helping Islamists. The last parliament was dissolved based on court order, demanding a new vote this year.


Mustapha Kamal Al-Sayyid, a professor of political science at Cairo University, said the latest violence reflected the frustration of many liberal-minded Egyptians and others.


"The state of polarization between Islamists and others is most likely to continue and will have a very negative impact on the state's politics, security and economy," he said.


Inspired by the popular uprising in Tunisia, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose among Egyptians two years ago has unraveled, triggering bloody street battles last month.


(Additional reporting by Omar Fahmy; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich)



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Earnings lift Wall Street; S&P 500 advances for eighth day

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Friday as strong Procter & Gamble Co's earnings trumped weak housing numbers and helped carry the Standard & Poor's 500 index higher toward its longest winning streak in more than eight years.


Procter & Gamble shares rose 3.9 percent to $73.15 and gave the biggest boost to both the Dow and S&P 500 after the world's top household products maker's quarterly profit soared past expectations. The company also raised its sales and earnings outlook for the fiscal year.


But the stock market's gains were curbed after economic data showed new U.S. single-family home sales fell in December, although expectations for a continued housing sector recovery remain intact. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> edged up 0.15 percent.


Apple Inc dropped 2.1 percent to $441.24. The stock of the iPhone maker has dropped more than 17 percent since the start of the year on growth concerns. Friday's decline knocked the tech giant from its perch as the most valuable U.S. company, making it No. 2 after ExxonMobil Corp .


Helping to lift the Nasdaq index, Starbucks Corp , rose 4.3 percent to $56.94 after the coffee retailer reported stronger-than-expected sales in the United States and Asia.


The benchmark S&P 500 index is up 5.2 percent so far in January. The equity market's strong start this year has been attributed to solid corporate results, an agreement in Washington to extend the government's borrowing power, encouraging signs from the global economy and seasonal inflows into stocks.


Those factors helped the S&P 500 rally for a seventh day on Thursday to reach a five-year peak. But the index has struggled to convincingly climb above 1,500, a level it surpassed briefly on Thursday for the first time since December 2007.


"It looks like we are encountering a little short-term resistance. The market always likes whole numbers and 1,500 seems like as good as any," said Doug Foreman, co-chief investment officer at Kayne Anderson Rudnick Investment Management in Los Angeles.


"The earnings are coming in pretty good overall. Expectations had been pretty low for the quarter given the 'fiscal cliff' concerns, etc., so some of the stocks are acting pretty well even with numbers that are a little bit better than people had feared."


If the S&P 500 rises for an eighth day on Friday, it will be its longest winning streak since late 2004, when it rallied for nine straight days.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 55.58 points, or 0.40 percent, to 13,880.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> climbed 5.81 points, or 0.39 percent, to 1,500.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> rose 14.49 points, or 0.46 percent, to 3,144.88.


Honeywell International Inc posted fourth-quarter earnings just above Wall Street's estimates, reflecting the diversified U.S. manufacturer's campaign to boost profit margins in the face of sluggish sales growth. Honeywell's stock edged up 0.1 percent to $68.33.


The initial portion of earnings season has been encouraging relative to recent expectations. Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings growth is on track for a 2.9 percent rise, up from the forecast of a 1.9 percent gain at the start of the earnings season but well below the 9.9 percent increase in an October 1 forecast.


Thomson Reuters data through Friday showed that of the 147 S&P 500 companies that have reported earnings, 68 percent exceeded expectations. Since 1994, 62 percent of companies have topped expectations, while the average over the past four quarters stands at 65 percent.


Halliburton Co shares jumped 5.1 percent to $39.72 after the world's second-largest oilfield services company reported higher-than-expected earnings and sales for the fourth quarter. Strong international drilling activity offset a slowdown in onshore North America work, Halliburton said.


(Editing by Jan Paschal and Kenneth Barry)



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Murray edges Federer, reaches Australian final


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Andy Murray has finally beaten Roger Federer at a Grand Slam.


The U.S. Open champion beat 17-time major winner Federer 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-7 (2), 6-2 Friday at the Australian Open, calling it a massive confidence boost as he attempts to win his second consecutive major.


Murray, who missed his chance to serve out the match at 6-5 in the fourth set, will play defending champion and top-seeded Novak Djokovic in Sunday's final. Djokovic cruised past David Ferrer in straight sets in just under 90 minutes — 2 1/2 hours less than Murray's semifinal.


Advantage Djokovic.


There was some controversy in that 12th game of the fourth set when Federer appeared to glare and say something to Murray when the Scotsman stopped momentarily behind the baseline during the rally.


Murray ignored it after winning the point, but conceded serve in that game and lost the ensuing tiebreaker before regrouping in the fifth set.


"I mean, it wasn't a big deal," Federer said. "We just looked at each other one time. That's OK, I think. We were just checking each other out for bit. That wasn't a big deal for me — I hope not for him."


While Murray came into the match with a 10-9 career advantage, Murray had never beaten Federer in their three previous meetings at a major — the finals of the 2008 U.S. Open, 2010 Australian Open and last year at Wimbledon.


"It's always tough against him, when he plays in Slams is when he plays his best tennis," Murray said. "When his back was against the wall at 6-5 and I was serving, he came up with some unbelievable shots. I just had to keep fighting."


On Saturday, defending champion Victoria Azarenka will play Li Na of China for the women's singles title. Azaranka needs to win to retain her No. 1 ranking or it will go to Serena Williams.


Also, American brothers Bob and Mike Bryan will play their fifth consecutive Australian Open doubles final and attempt to win a record 13th Grand Slam doubles championship. They'll play the Dutch pair of Robin Haase and Igor Sijsling.


Federer outplayed Murray at stages of the match, but the 25-year-old Scotsman appeared to have the legs and stamina over the 31-year-old Federer in the fifth set, including a service break to clinch the tense match.


"It's big. I never beat Roger in a Slam before. It definitely will help with the confidence," Murray said. "Just knowing you can win against those guys in big matches definitely helps."


Federer said he was playing catch-up all night.


"Definitely it was more of a chase," Federer said. "I think I had my chances a little bit. Obviously, you're going to go through a five-setter with some regrets. But overall, I think Andy was a bit better than I was tonight."


Murray refused to elaborate on the details of the exchange in the fourth set.


"Stuff like that happens daily in tennis matches ... it was very, very mild in comparison to what happens in other sports," Murray said. "It's just one of those things."


Murray said while the outburst didn't "rattle" him, it might have helped Federer get back in the match.


"I think he raised his game, and that's what happens," he said. "Sometimes guys need to get emotion into the match. He definitely raised his level ... in that game I think he hit two balls onto the line and was extremely aggressive after that."


Asked again what Federer had said, Murray reiterated he didn't feel it was "relevant."


"I'm sure Roger won't talk about it and I have no interest in discussing it either, because, like I say, it happens all the time," he said. "People will want to make a big deal of it and it isn't really a big deal.


"It's a very late finish, I'm tired. I don't want to be wasting any energy, because I'll need all of it if I want to win against Novak on Sunday."


With a capacity crowd of 15,000 at Rod Laver Arena watching, including the Australian legend Laver himself, Federer opened the match serving and was in trouble early, losing a 28-rally point to set up break point for Murray. But Federer held the game with a stunning cross-court forehand that just looped over the net from the baseline.


Murray, who had not lost a set through five rounds at Melbourne Park this year, had the first service break — on his fourth break point — to lead 2-1. It came in unusually cool summer conditions in Melbourne — breezy and temperatures of only 60 degrees during most of the match.


The crowd was initially evenly split between Federer and Murray supporters — and at times, they were competing to be heard. At one point in the second set, a group of Murray fans wearing white shirts with blue letters spelling his nickname "Muzza" stood to chant Murray's name, while a group of Federer supporters with Swiss flags on their cheeks and shirts chanted Federer's name.


Earlier Friday, top-seeded Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci of Italy won the first title of 2013 at Melbourne Park, beating the unseeded Australian pair of Ashleigh Barty and Casey Dellacqua 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 for the women's doubles championship.


The 16-year-old Barty was attempting to become the youngest Grand Slam champion since Martina Hingis won the Australian Open singles title in 1997.


Li lost the Australian Open final to Kim Clijsters in 2011 two months before winning her first and only Grand Slam at the French Open.


"Last time was more exciting, (more) nervous because it was my first time to be in a final," Li said. "But I think this time (I'm) more calmed down, more cool."


Azarenka leads 5-4 in career matches, including winning the last four times they've played.


"I'm really hungry to defend my title," Azarenka said. "I've put myself in the position to give it the best shot."


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Goodell: Don’t sweat weather for 2014 Super Bowl






NEW YORK (AP) — Super Cold?


NFL officials aren’t just bracing for potential wintry weather at next year’s Northeastern Super Bowl — they’re embracing it, Commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday.






The first Super Bowl ever in the New York metropolitan area is almost exactly a year away in a region currently clenched by bitter cold, reviving chatter about whether the weather will chill fans’ enthusiasm. But Goodell said the league would be prepared if there’s snow, ice or low temperatures for the game on Feb. 2, 2014.


“Football is made to be played in the elements,” he said as he and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg previewed a week of city events leading up to the championship at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., home of the Giants and Jets. Pre-game parties and other activities also are set in New Jersey.


“We’re going to celebrate the game here, we’re going to celebrate the weather and we’re going to make it a great experience,” Goodell said.


Jets owner Woody Johnson acknowledged that “this is going to be challenging.” But, he added, “it’s going to be a lot of fun. … We have to welcome this weather, and we will.”


The Super Bowl has never been played outdoors in a cold-weather setting before. Organizers are positioning it as a cool — perhaps literally — new experience for fans and a lucrative showcase for both New Jersey and New York City, which are sometimes grudging neighbors. Events will range from a pre-game tailgate party at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey to a four-day festival that will shut down 10 blocks of Broadway.


An early estimate suggested the 2014 Super Bowl could generate $ 550 million to $ 600 million in economic activity on both sides of the Hudson River, host committee president Al Kelly said.


For New York, the event also evokes the sports-centered spectacle Bloomberg aimed to stage when the city proposed to host the 2012 Olympics, a plan that centered on building a stadium for the Jets on Manhattan’s far West Side. A state board ultimately nixed the stadium proposal amid traffic and other concerns.


The stadium could have brought the Super Bowl itself to the city, as the NFL at one point agreed the Jets could host the 2010 game if they had the new Manhattan facility. Instead, they and the Giants got a new home in MetLife Stadium, which opened in 2010.


Much of the activity surrounding the 2014 Super Bowl will be in New Jersey. Players will stay and train there, and a media day, tailgate party and some other events will be at various New Jersey venues.


“We’re getting a good share of the economic activity,” Gov. Chris Christie said, noting “the number and quality of events” planned in his state.


New Jersey also hopes to have legal gambling on the game, at the race track. Christie signed a sports betting bill into law last year, but the NFL and other sports leagues have sued to try to stop it.


New York City, meanwhile, will close Broadway between West 34th and West 44th streets, from Jan. 29 to Feb. 1 of 2014, for a free “Super Bowl Boulevard” celebration featuring player appearances, football clinics and a 36-foot-tall “XLVIII” in Times Square.


The game’s media center, expected to host about 5,000 journalists, and the televised NFL Honors awards show also will be in the city, where NFL headquarters are located.


“I think New York City is already the nation’s Super Bowl champion of tourism,” Bloomberg said.


The city estimates it drew some 52 million visitors last year.


___


Associated Press writer David Porter in Newark, N.J., contributed to this report.


___


Follow Jennifer Peltz at http://twitter.com/jennpeltz


Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Where is aid for Syria going?






STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • The U.S. ambassador to Syria says the U.S. has provided $210 million in humanitarian aid

  • The assistance has to be discrete, he said, to protect workers from being targeted

  • Washington has also provided $35 million worth of assistance to Syria's political opposition

  • Ambassador: We can help, but it's up to Syrians to find their way forward




(CNN) -- It has been more than a year since the United States government withdrew its ambassador to Syria and closed its embassy in Damascus.


On Thursday, that ambassador returned to the region along with a U.S. delegation, touring a Syrian refugee camp in Turkey to bring more attention to the growing humanitarian crisis. As the civil war has intensified in Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have sought refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and other neighboring countries.


Ambassador Robert Ford gave an exclusive interview to CNN's Ivan Watson and described what the U.S. is doing to help the refugees and the Syrian opposition.


Ivan Watson: The U.S. has given $210 million in aid (to Syria), but I think that there is a perception problem because no one can actually point at what that help is. So people conclude there is no help.


Robert Ford: The assistance is going in. It's things like tents, it's things like blankets, it's things like medical equipment, but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it because we don't want the people who are delivering it to be targeted by the Syrian regime.


The regime is going after and killing people who are delivering supplies. You see them bombing even bakeries and bread lines. So we're doing that, in part, to be discrete.



The assistance is going in ... but it doesn't come in big boxes with an American flag on it.
Robert Ford, U.S. ambassador to Syria



The needs are gigantic. So even though a great deal of American materials and other countries' materials are arriving, the needs are still greater. And that's why we're going to Kuwait to talk to the United Nations and to talk to other countries about how we can talk together to provide additional assistance.


Watson: The head of the Syrian National Coalition, which the U.S. government has backed, came out with a statement very critical of the international community, saying we need $3 billion if you want us to have any say on events on the ground inside Syria. Where is that money?


Ford: (Sheikh Ahmed) Moaz al-Khatib is a good leader, and we think highly of him and we have recognized his (coalition) as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. And, of course, he wants to get as many resources as possible because of the humanitarian conditions that I was just talking about. Especially the ones inside Syria.


But we also, at the same time, have to build up those (aid) networks I was talking about. In some cases, they start out with just a few people. We don't need just a few people, we need hundreds of people, thousands of people on the inside of Syria organized to bring these things in.


And so step by step, the Syrians, Moaz al-Khatib and his organization, need to build that capacity. We can help build it, we can do training and things like that. But in the end, Syrians have to take a leadership role in this.


Watson: Is Washington giving money to the Syrian National Coalition?


Ford: We absolutely are assisting the (coalition), with everything from training to, in some cases, limited amount of cash assistance so that they can buy everything ranging from computers to telephones to radios.








Frankly, if not for the American assistance in many cases, the activists inside Syria wouldn't be in contact with the outside world. It's American help that keeps them in contact with the outside world.


Watson: But, how much assistance has this coalition gotten from the U.S.?


Ford: So far, we've allocated directly to the coalition in the neighborhood of $35 million worth of different kinds of equipment and assistance. And over the next few weeks, couple of months, we'll probably provide another $15 million worth of material assistance.


Watson: Washington recently blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, the Nusra Front, calling it a terrorist organization even though inside Syria, it has attracted a lot of respect for its victories and for comparative lack of corruption compared to many rebel groups. How has blacklisting the Nusra Front helped the Syrian opposition?


Ford: We blacklisted the Nusra Front because of its intimate links with al Qaeda in Iraq, an organization with whom we have direct experience, which is responsible for the killings of thousands of Iraqis, hundreds of Americans. We know what al Qaeda in Iraq did and is still doing, and we don't want it to start doing that in Syria -- which is why we highlighted its incredibly pernicious role.


I think one of the things that our classification of Nusra as a terrorist group did is it set off an alarm for the other elements of the Free Syrian Army. There was a meeting of the Free Syrian Army to set up a unified command, (and) Nusra Front was not in that meeting -- which we think is the right thing to do. As Syrians themselves understand that Nusra has a sectarian agenda, as they understand better that Nusra is anti-democratic and will seek to impose its very strict interpretation of Islam on Syria -- which historically is a relatively moderate country in terms of its religious practices -- as Syrians understand that better, I think they will more and more reject the Nusra Front itself.


Watson: But I've seen the opposite. As I go into Syria, I hear more and more support and respect for the Nusra Front, and more and more criticism for the U.S. government each time I go back.


Ford: I think that people, Ivan, are still understanding what Nusra is. I have heard criticism from the Nusra Front from people like Moaz al-Khatib who, in Marrakesh (Morocco) in his speech, said he rejected the kind of ideology which backs up Nusra. ... We have heard that from the senior commander of the Free Syrian Army as well. And so the more people understand inside Syria what Nusra is and represents, I think they will agree that is not the group on which to depend for freedom in Syria.


Watson: Do you think the U.S. government could have done more?


Ford: I think the Syrians, as I said, are the ones who will bring the answer to the problem -- just as in Iraq, Iraqis brought the solution to the Iraq crisis, to the Iraq war. The Americans can help, and we helped in Iraq, but ultimately it wasn't the Americans. Despite our help, it was Iraqis.


In Syria, again, it has to be Syrians who find their way forward. Twenty-three million Syrians need to find their way forward. We can help, and we are helping: $210 million in humanitarian assistance, $50 million to help the political opposition get organized for the day after (Bashar) al-Assad goes. These are important bits of help. But ultimately, it's not the American help. It's the Syrians themselves.







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Streak of days without inch of snow finally over




















A relatively meager snowfall created huge headaches for commuters on Friday. CBS's Courtney Gousman capture this video on the Kennedy Expy. around 7:30 a.m. (Source: CBS Chicago)




















































More than an inch of snow fell on Chicago today, ending a streak that began 335 days ago.

At 9:30 a.m., 1.1 inches of snow was recorded at O'Hare International Airport since midnight. That's the first day an inch or more of snow has fallen there since last February. The previous record was a stretch of 319 days set in 1940.

This morning's light snow also marks the latest it has gone during a winter before an inch of snow has fallen over a day.


Chicago has usually received about 18 inches of snow by this time, according to WGN-TV meteorologist Tom Skilling. As of this afternoon, just under 3 inches of snow have fallen on the city this winter.

"There's been no winter that's been as lackluster as this one," Skilling said.

But the season could still make a comeback.

Skilling said he studied the city's 10 driest winters and found most of them took a snowy turn in February or March. In one of those winters, 22 inches fell in February after next to nothing in January, he said.


With six days left in January, Chicago is trailing its monthly average for precipitation -- rain and snow -- by about a quarter of an inch, according to state climatologist Jim Angel.

"It would take a lot of snow to catch up on the major deficits we're seeing in the northern part of the state," he said.








pnickeas@tribune.com


Twitter: @peternickeas






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Violence flares on anniversary of Egypt uprising


CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA, Egypt (Reuters) - Protesters clashed with police across Egypt on Friday on the second anniversary of the revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak, taking to the streets against the elected Islamist president who they accuse of betraying the revolution.


At least 91 civilians and 42 security personnel were hurt in violence across the country, officials said. Street battles erupted in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Port Said, where the Muslim Brotherhood's political party offices were torched.


Thousands of opponents of President Mohamed Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood allies massed in Cairo's Tahrir Square - the cradle of the uprising against Mubarak - to revive the demands of a revolution they say has been hijacked by the Islamists.


The January 25 anniversary showcased the divide between the Islamists and their secular foes that is hindering Mursi's efforts to revive an economy in crisis and reverse a plunge in Egypt's currency by enticing back investors and tourists.


Inspired by Tunisia's ground-breaking popular uprising, Egypt's revolution spurred further revolts across the Arab world. But the sense of common purpose that united Egyptians two years ago has given way to internal strife that has only worsened and last month triggered lethal street battles.


"It's definitely tense on the ground, but so far there hasn't been anything out of the ordinary or anything that really threatens to fundamentally alter the political situation," said Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center.


The Brotherhood decided against mobilizing for the anniversary, wary of the scope for more conflict after violence in December that was stoked by Mursi's decision to fast-track an Islamist-tinged constitution rejected by his opponents.


The Brotherhood fiercely denies accusations of trampling on democracy as part of a smear campaign by its rivals.


Before dawn on Friday, police battled protesters who threw petrol bombs and firecrackers as they tried to approach a wall blocking access to government buildings near Tahrir Square.


Clouds of tear gas filled the air. At one point, riot police used one of the incendiaries thrown at them to set ablaze at least two tents erected by the youths, a Reuters witness said.


Skirmishes between stone-throwing youths and the police continued in streets around the square into the day. Ambulances ferried away a steady stream of casualties.


"Our revolution is continuing. We reject the domination of any party over this state. We say no to the Brotherhood state," Hamdeen Sabahy, a popular leftist leader, told Reuters.


There were similar scenes in Suez and Alexandria, where protesters and riot police clashed near local government offices. Black smoke billowed from tyres set ablaze by youths.


Police also fired tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters who tried to scale barbed-wire barriers protecting the presidential palace in Cairo, witnesses said. Other protesters broke into offices of provincial governors in Ismailia, east of Cairo, and Kafr el-Sheikh in the Nile Delta.


In Tahrir Square, protesters echoed the chants of 2011's historic 18-day uprising. "The people want to bring down the regime," they chanted. "Leave! Leave! Leave!" chanted others as they marched towards the square.


"We are not here to celebrate but to force those in power to submit to the will of the people. Egypt now must never be like Egypt during Mubarak's rule," said Mohamed Fahmy, an activist.


BADIE CALLS FOR "PRACTICAL, SERIOUS COMPETITION"


With its eye firmly on forthcoming parliamentary elections, the Brotherhood marked the anniversary with a charity drive across the nation. It plans to deliver medical aid to one million people and distribute affordable basic foodstuffs.


Writing in Al-Ahram, Egypt's flagship state-run daily, Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie said the country was in need of "practical, serious competition" to reform the corrupt state left by the Mubarak era.


"The differences of opinion and vision that Egypt is passing through is a characteristic at the core of transitions from dictatorship to democracy, and clearly expresses the variety of Egyptian culture," he wrote.


Still, Mursi faces discontent on multiple fronts.


His opponents say he and his group are seeking to dominate the post-Mubarak order. They accuse him of showing some of the autocratic impulses of the deposed leader by, for example, driving through the new constitution last month.


"I am taking part in today's marches to reject the warped constitution, the 'Brotherhoodisation' of the state, the attack on the rule of law, and the disregard of the president and his government for the demands for social justice," Amr Hamzawy, a prominent liberal politician, wrote on his Twitter feed.


The Brotherhood dismisses many of the criticisms as unfair fabrications of their rivals, accusing them of failing to respect the rules of the new democracy that put the Islamists in the driving seat via free elections.


Six months into office, Mursi is also being held responsible for an economic crisis caused by two years of turmoil. The Egyptian pound has sunk to record lows against the dollar.


SOURCES OF FRICTION ABOUND


Other sources of friction abound. Little has been done to reform brutal Mubarak-era security agencies. A spate of transport disasters on roads and railways neglected for years is feeding discontent as well. Activists are impatient for justice for the victims of violence over the last two years.


These include hardcore soccer fans, or ultras, who have been rallying in recent days to press for justice for 74 people killed in a soccer stadium disaster a year ago in Port Said after a match between local side al-Masry and Cairo's Al Ahly.


The parties that called for Friday's protests listed demands including a complete overhaul of the constitution.


Critics say the constitution, which was approved in a referendum, offers inadequate protection for human rights, grants the president too many privileges and fails to curb the power of a military establishment supreme in the Mubarak era.


Mursi's supporters say that enacting the constitution quickly was crucial to restoring stability desperately needed for economic recovery, and that the opposition is making the situation worse by perpetuating unrest.


(Additional reporting by Ahmed el-Shemi, Ashraf Fahim, Marwa Awad and Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo and Yousri Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)



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Azarenka eludes chokehold, gains Australian final


MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Sloane Stephens sat for nine minutes, mostly staring at the court and trying to forget the curious timing of Victoria Azarenka's medical timeout.


She may have been the only one trying to ignore it.


The 19-year-old American had just saved five match points and broken Azarenka. But she knew she had to hold serve to stay in her first Grand Slam semifinal whenever Azarenka — the No. 1 player and defending Australian Open champion — returned to Rod Laver Arena.


The restless murmuring in the crowd gave way to slow claps. Why had Azarenka chosen that very moment for a medical break?


Azarenka eventually hustled onto the court, and Stephens won only three more points.


"I almost did the choke of the year," Azarenka said in a frank admission during an on-court interview. "At 5-3, having so many chances, I couldn't close it out."


The crowd that had cheered wildly for Stephens, only 25 hours after she ousted an injured Serena Williams, gave Azarenka tepid applause as she left the court. She'll face 2011 finalist Li Na in the final Saturday night. Given the support Li enjoyed in her 6-2, 6-2 win over No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova, there's no question which player the crowd will favor in the title match.


Azarenka's immediate post-match remarks suggest she panicked after failing to convert five match points, her forehand misfiring. She had little trouble finishing the match after she came back, and the No. 29-seeded Stephens had cooled off.


"I just felt a little bit overwhelmed. I realized I'm one step away from the final and nerves got into me for sure," Azarenka said.


The 23-year-old Belarusian said she was later compelled to explain that she misunderstood the question in the on-court interview, and she wanted to dispel the perception that her medical timeout amounted to little more than gamesmanship.


"I understand the point of people maybe not understanding what I said; me not understanding what I've been asked," she said during an official news conference more than two-thirds devoted to questions on her medical timeout. "So I'm just glad that I'm here, you know, to make everything clear.


"You know, I think you cannot really judge by (a) few words. The situation had to be explained."


Medical staff said Azarenka had timeouts for treatment of left knee and rib injuries. The rib needed to be manipulated because it was affecting her breathing. Tournament director Craig Tiley said Azarenka hadn't broken any rules.


Azarenka hadn't helped herself in a second television interview after the match when she said she couldn't breathe.


"I had chest pains," she said. "It was like I was getting a heart attack."


She tried to allay any negative perception with her explanation that the choking was related to shortness of breath from the rib injury, not her faltering game.


"When you cannot breathe you start to panic," she said. "I was really panicking, not because I couldn't convert my match point. That's not the case. I mean, I'm experienced enough to go over those emotions. But when you cannot breathe, when something's really blocking you, the stress — that was the stress I was talking about.


"What I said — that I was stressed out and choked — was not because I couldn't finish my shot. It was just so stressing me out the pain that I had that, maybe it was overreaction, but I just really couldn't breathe."


Azarenka had retired during previous Grand Slam matches, including a fourth-round match against Serena Williams at the 2009 Australian Open. But with a second major title so close, and the fact she needed to reach the final to retain the No. 1 ranking, she desperately didn't want to quit this time.


For her part, Stephens seemed sympathetic. She had to wait through a medical timeout Wednesday when Williams received treatment for a sore back — the 15-time major winner injured herself after leading by a set and a break. Another rival earlier in the tournament took a long break between sets for other reasons.


"I mean, when you take a medical break or timeout, obviously it's for a reason," she said. "I mean, just another something else that happens. If it was one of my friends, I would say, 'Oh, my God, that sounds like a PP, which is a personal problem. Other than that, it's just unfortunate."


Besides, Stephens said, it didn't affect the outcome of the match.


"No, not at all. She played obviously a really good match," she said. "First set she played awesome; got close in the second. It didn't go my way, but I wouldn't say at all what happened affected the match."


Novak Djokovic dispensed with No. 4-seeded David Ferrer 6-2, 6-2, 6-1 in the night match, saying he "played perfectly" to reach his third consecutive Australian Open title match. Then he dispensed some medical advice of his own.


The Serb, who won the Australian titles in 2008, 2011 and 2012, wore a white shirt with a red cross on the back, pretending to be a doctor to treat Henri Leconte during a legends doubles match at Rod Laver Arena.


He's relaxed now that he has an extra day to prepare for Sunday's final. Djokovic will next play the winner of Friday's semifinal between No. 2 Roger Federer, a four-time Australian Open champion, and No. 3 Andy Murray, the U.S. Open champion.


Djokovic lost only seven points in 11 service games against Ferrer, and hit 30 crisp, clean winners in an almost flawless performance.


"I cannot remember the last time I played so well," Djokovic said. "I've played many great matches, but this one stands out. Hopefully, I can play the same level on Sunday."


He played confidently in the first two sets, and was sublime in the third. Even Ferrer, who has now lost five Grand Slam semifinals and never reached a championship match, was surprised.


After hitting a forehand a fraction wide of the line and losing his challenge in a review, Ferrer double-faulted to give Djokovic match point. The errors were a measure of just how much pressure Djokovic was applying.


Right after his semifinal, Djokovic started playing mind games leading to the final.


"Federer-Murray, when they're playing it's always very close," he said, confirming he'd be closely watching the match. "I wouldn't give the role of the favorite to either of them. I expect to enjoy it. Whoever I play against, I'm going to be ready."


Read More..

New ‘Vomiting Virus’ Strain Behind Recent US Outbreaks






A new strain of norovirus — a stomach bug that causes diarrhea and vomiting  —  was responsible for most outbreaks of the disease in the U.S. in recent months, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said today (Jan. 24).


Last fall, 53 percent of norovirus outbreaks (141 out of 226) were caused by the new strain, dubbed GII.4 Sydney. Between September and December, the proportion of norovirus outbreaks caused by the new strain increased from 19 percent to 58 percent, the CDC said.






Norovirus outbreaks are common this time of year, typically striking between November and April. The peak usually occurs in January, so it’s too soon to tell whether or not the new strain will cause more outbreaks this season than during previous seasons, the CDC said.


New strains of norovirus typically emerge every two to three years. The current strain was first detected in Australia last March.


“New norovirus strains often lead to more outbreaks but not always,” said Dr. Jan Vinj√©, director of CaliciNet, the CDC‘s surveillance system for norovirus.


Norovirus is very contagious. Each year, about 21 million people in the U.S. fall ill from the bug, and about 800 die. Young children and the elderly are at highest risk for severe illness, the CDC said.


Fifty-one percent of outbreaks caused by the new strain were spread person to person, 20 percent were due to foodborne illness, 1 percent due to waterborne illness, and 28 percent had an unknown mode of transmission, the CDC said.


Health care workers should be aware of the potential for an increased number of norovirus infections this season, the CDC said.


Continued surveillance of the new strain will allow researchers to better assess the public health implications of the strain.


The best ways to prevent norovirus infections are hand washing with soap and water; disinfecting surfaces; rinsing fruits and vegetables; cooking shellfish thoroughly; and not preparing food or caring for others while ill, the CDC said.


Although the U.S. is currently experiencing flu and whooping cough outbreaks as well, experts say the three outbreaks are not related.


A study on the activity of the new norovirus strain is published in the Jan. 25 issue of the CDC‘s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.


Pass it on: Most outbreaks of norovirus last fall were caused by a new strain of the bug.


Follow Rachael Rettner on Twitter @RachaelRettner, or MyHealthNewsDaily @MyHealth_MHND. We’re also on Facebook & Google+.


Copyright 2013 MyHealthNewsDaily, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Neanderthal cloning? Pure fantasy




A display of a reconstruction of a Neanderthal man and boy at the Museum for Prehistory in Eyzies-de-Tayac, France.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Arthur Caplan: It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby

  • Caplan: Downsides include a good chance of producing a baby that is seriously deformed

  • He says the future belongs to what we can do to genetically engineer and control microbes

  • Caplan: Microbes can make clean fuel, suck up carbon dioxide, clean fat out of arteries




Editor's note: Arthur Caplan is the Drs. William F and Virginia Connolly Mitty professor and director of the Division of Bioethics at New York University Langone Medical Center.


(CNN) -- So now we know -- there won't be a Neanderthal moving into your neighborhood.


Despite a lot of frenzied attention to the intentionally provocative suggestion by a renowned Harvard scientist that new genetic technology makes it possible to splice together a complete set of Neanderthal genes, find an adventurous surrogate mother and use cloning to gin up a Neanderthal baby -- it ain't gonna happen anytime soon.


Nor should it. But there are plenty of other things in the works involving genetic engineering that do merit serious ethical discussion at the national and international levels.



Arthur Caplan

Arthur Caplan



Some thought that the Harvard scientist, George Church, was getting ready to put out an ad seeking volunteer surrogate moms to bear a 35,000-year-old, long-extinct Neanderthal baby. Church had to walk his comments back and note that he was just speculating, not incubating.


Still cloning carries so much mystery and Hollywood glamour thanks to movies such as "Jurassic Park," "The Boys From Brazil" and "Never Let Me Go" that a two-day eruption of the pros and cons of making Neanderthals ensued. That was not necessary. It would be unethical to try and clone a Neanderthal baby.



Why? Because there is no obvious reason to do so. There is no pressing need or remarkable benefit to undertaking such a project. At best it might shed some light on the biology and behavior of a distant ancestor. At worst it would be nothing more than the ultimate reality television show exploitation: An "Octomom"-like surrogate raises a caveman child -- tune in next week to see what her new boyfriend thinks when she tells him that there is a tiny addition in her life and he carries a small club and a tiny piece of flint to sleep with him.


The downsides of trying to clone a Neanderthal include a good chance of killing it, producing a baby that is seriously deformed, producing a baby that lacks immunity to infectious diseases and foods that we have gotten used to, an inability to know what environment to create to permit the child to flourish and a complete lack of understanding of what sort of behavior is "normal" or "appropriate" for such a long-extinct cousin hominid of ours.


When weighed against the risks and the harm that most likely would be done, it would take a mighty big guarantee of benefit to justify this cloning experiment. I am willing to venture that the possible benefit will never, ever reach the point where this list of horrible likely downsides could be overcome.




Even justifying trying to resurrect a woolly mammoth, or a mastodon, or the dodo bird or any other extinct animal gets ethically thorny. How many failures would be acceptable to get one viable mastodon? Where would the animal live? What would we feed it? Who would protect it from poachers, gawkers and treasure hunters? It is not so simple to take a long dead species, make enough of them so they don't die of isolation and lack of social stimulation and then find an environment that is close enough and safe enough compared with that which they once roamed.


In any event the most interesting aspects of genetic engineering do not involve making humans or Neanderthals or mammoths. They involve ginning up microbes to do things that we really need doing such as making clean fuel, sucking up carbon dioxide, cleaning fat out of our arteries, giving us a lot more immunity to nasty bacteria and viruses and helping us make plastics and chemicals more efficiently and cheaply.


In trying to make these kinds of microbes, you can kill all you want without fear of ethical condemnation. And if the new bug does not like the environment in which it has to exist to live well, that will be just too darn bad.


The ethical challenge of this kind of synthetic biology is that it can be used by bad guys for bad purposes. Biological weapons can be ginned up and microbes created that only infect people with certain genes that commonly associate with racial or ethnic groups.


Rather than worry about what will happen to real estate values should a new crop of "Flintstones" move in down the street, our public officials, religious groups and ethicists need to get serious about how much regulation the genetic engineering of microbes needs, how can we detect what terrorists might try to use, what sort of controls do we need to prevent accidents and who is going to pay if a bug turns out to cause more harm than good.


We love to think that the key to tomorrow lies in what humanity can be designed or empowered to do. Thus, the fascination with human cloning. In reality, at least for a long time to come, the future belongs to what we can do to design and control microbes. That is admittedly duller, but it is far better to follow a story that is true than one such as Neanderthal cloning that is pure, speculative fantasy.


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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Arthur Caplan.






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United Continental cutting 600 jobs; Chicago likely affected









United Continental Holdings Inc. will cut about 600 front-office jobs through voluntary and involuntary cuts, the company said Thursday as it announced disappointing financial losses for 2012.

The world's largest airline did not detail where cutbacks will take place, but Chicago is likely to be most affected considering the corporate headquarters and network operations center are in downtown Chicago and that Chicago O'Hare airport is one of the airline's largest hubs.

The job cuts were announced Thursday morning during a conference call about the airline's profits. United officials said they were disappointed in the airline company's 2012 performance and pledged to improve in 2013, both in financial performance and the airline's operational reliability.

They said they intend to win back corporate customers who defected to other airlines last year when the airline experienced periods of poor on-time performance and high cancellations rates. The operational problems, which have abated since the fall, stemmed from numerous computer-related glitches after the airline merged United and Continental customer reservation systems onto a common platform last March.

United CEO Jeff Smisek called 2012 "the toughest year of our merger integration," but that the airline was "back on track."

"Despite our integration pains, we accomplished an enormous amount and we are now in a position to go forward as a single carrier and compete effectively on a global scale," he said. "Our operations are running smoothly. Our many product improvements are rolling out and our customer satisfaction scores are climbing."

Smisek also said the airline maintains its confidence in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which was grounded in the U.S. and elsewhere after numerous glitches, including a serious fire hazard with its lithium ion batteries.

He said he had confidence in the airplane and "Boeing's ability to fix the issues just as they have done on every other new aircraft model they've produced."

Smisek said he has no indication on when the Federal Aviation Administration will allow the planes to fly again, including Dreamliner on a route between Chicago and Houston. Boeing is also based in Chicago.

United, the only U.S. carrier currently operating 787 planes, has six Dreamliners. Smisek said the company expects to take delivery of two additional 787s in the second half of this year.

EARNINGS

United Continental said it lost $723 million in 2012, or $2.18 per share. Excluding special charges of $1.3 billion, mostly related to merging United and Continental, the company earned $589 million, or $1.59 per share, meeting Wall Street analyst expectations.

In the fourth quarter, United lost $620 million, or $1.87 per share, compared with a loss of $138 million, or 42 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

It took charges of $430 million in the quarter, with much of that tied to paying off pension debt and costs for systems integration and training and severance. Excluding items, United said the 2012 quarterly loss was 58 cents a share, compared with a 61 cent loss expected by analysts on average, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Revenue fell 2.5 percent to $8.7 billion.

Superstorm Sandy, which barreled through the U.S. Northeast in late October, reduced revenue by about $140 million and profit by about $85 million in the fourth quarter. The storm caused shutdowns at major New York area airports, including New Jersey's Newark Liberty International where United operates a major hub.

CUSTOMER SERVICE

Customer service will be a larger focus for the airline, Smisek said during the conference call.

That focus includes a comprehensive customer service training program for airport agents, contact center agents and flight attendants, he said. It will also roll out a program called "It's Our Job," a companywide approach to customer service "that clearly explains our customer service standards and expectation for front line coworkers," Smisek said.

It will also include an expanded recognition program to reward employees for outstanding service, collecting more customer-satisfaction data and roll out of a new set of tools for airport agents, he said.

JOB CUTS

As far as the job cuts, they will not affect unionized workers, such as pilots, flight attendants and airport ground workers, a spokeswoman said. The airline in December reduced the officer ranks by several positions, representing 7 percent of managers with titles of vice president and higher. It will reduce management and administrative staff by 6 percent through voluntary and involuntary cuts and not filling empty positions.

Those cuts will begin in early February, Smisek said in a letter to employees Thursday morning.

gkarp@tribune.com

 
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