NEW YORK, January 31 -- U.S. stocks closed down on Friday after a volatile session as investors worried at the end of a rough month for the market about weak U.S. growth data and whether instability in Europe could hurt corporate earnings in the United States.
U.S. economic growth slowed sharply in the fourth quarter as weak business spending and a wider trade deficit offset the fastest pace of consumer spending since 2006. This came after Greece's finance minister said the government would not cooperate with the European Union and International Monetary Fund mission.
A brief afternoon rally from rising oil prices failed to stick as investors, nervous about U.S. and global economies, fled to bonds from equities and even sold off utilities stocks, the worst performing sector on the day.
"It feels like a flight-to-safety trade on a month-end. People are putting money into assets that have done well this month," said Peter Coleman, head trader at ConvergEx Group in New York, who said Friday was a good reflection of the month.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 251.9 points, or 1.45 percent, to 17,164.95, the S&P 500 .SPX lost 26.26 points, or 1.3 percent, to 1,994.99 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC dropped 48.17 points, or 1.03 percent, to 4,635.24.
The S&P energy sector was the only one to finish up on Friday with a 0.74 percent increase after falling as much as 1.5 percent earlier in the session. It rebounded when crude futures rose 8 percent after a survey showed the biggest decline since 1987 in the number of rigs drilling for U.S. oil. For the week, the Dow and S&P were each down 2.8 percent, and the Nasdaq fell 2.6 percent. For January, the Dow was down 3.6 percent and the Nasdaq was off 2.1 percent.
The S&P fell 3.1 percent in January, which was its biggest monthly loss since January 2014 and its first back-to-back monthly decline since April-May 2012. Consumer spending was a bright spot as data showed U.S. consumer sentiment rose in January to its highest in 11 years on better job and wage prospects. That confidence appeared to be reflected in some corporate results. Amazon AMZN.O shares jumped 13.7 percent after earnings beat Wall Street expectations on strong holiday season sales.
"Winners are being rewarded, whereas the market has really no tolerance for anything that comes up short," said Randy Bateman, chief investment officer of Huntington Asset Management in Columbus, Ohio.
In contrast to the broader market, shares of burger restaurant Shake Shack SHAK.N rose more than 118.6 percent in their market debut. About 8.5 billion shares changed hands on U.S. exchanges, well above the almost 7 billion average for the last five sessions, according to BATS Global Markets.
NYSE declining issues outnumbered advancers 2,107 to 991, for a 2.13-to-1 ratio; on theNasdaq, 2,040 issues fell and 691 advanced, for a 2.95-to-1 ratio.
The S&P 500 posted 18 new 52-week highs and 15 lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 43 new highs and 86 new lows.
BEIRUT, January 30 -- Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has warned that his group was ready to respond to any attack by Israel at any time and in any place, insisting that rules of engagement no longer applied between the Lebanese movement and Israel.
In a televised speech on Friday during a rally held to honour the six Hezbollah fighters and one Iranian general killed in an Israeli airstrike in Syria’s Quneitra on January 18, he said, "We in Hezbollah are no longer concerned with anything called the rules of engagement. It is our right, our legal right and our moral right, to confront the aggression at any time, any place and in any form whatsoever."
Hezbollah responded to the strike on Wednesday with a military operation against an Israeli convoy in the Israeli occupied Shebaa Farms on Wednesday, killing two soldiers and wounding several others.
"[In the Golan Heights] we have al-Nusra Front; thousands of fighters who have tanks, all kinds of weapons, and military positions," he said. "It is the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda...and the Israelis provide them with air cover, open the border for their wounded and treat them in Israeli hospitals."
Heavy celebratory gunfire could be heard across Beirut prior to his speech, which was attended by thousands in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Detailing the Hezbollah operation in the Shebaa Farms on Wednesday, which killed two Israeli soldiers, he pointed out how it was conducted in the same manner in which Israel conducted its strike in Quneitra, highlighting that the war between them is now tit-for-tat.
"They killed us in broad daylight, we killed them in broad daylight. They killed us around 11:30 am, we killed them at 11:30 am. They targeted two cars, we targeted two cars. They had killed and wounded, we too had martyrs."
At the end of his speech, in what seemed like a message to the Lebanese people, he concluded that the party did not want to enter into a war with Israel, but it is ready for it if it came to them.
"We don’t want a war. This is not weak talk. But we are not afraid of war."
HILVERSUM, January 29 -- A 19-year-old brandishing a fake weapon threatened a security guard to gain access to the headquarters of Dutch national broadcaster NOS and demand air time, before police stormed a TV studio to arrest him.
Nobody was injured in the incident near Amsterdam on Thursday night, but it forced NOS off air for around an hour and set the Netherlands on edge, coming just weeks after the deadly attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris that left 12 people dead.
When NOS came back on air, it showed recorded footage of the young man, wearing a black suit, white shirt and black tie, and carrying a pistol with what looked like a silencer attached.
Police said later the gun was a fake and that the man had no criminal record. Detectives were investigating his possible motives. Speaking calmly to someone off-camera, apparently the security guard he had forced to let him into the building, the man said: "We are hired in by intelligence agencies."
Shortly after, police burst in with their guns drawn and ordered the man to drop his weapon and put his hands up.
Arrested without fight
At least five police officers then ordered him to turn around and lie down, which he did and he was arrested without a struggle and taken to a nearby police station for questioning. Martijn Bink, a NOS reporter, said he spoke to the man after he was arrested and he claimed to be from a hackers' collective. He did not elaborate.
Police said in a statement the man demanded airtime and threatened that bombs would go off at several locations around the Netherlands if his demand was not met. Special police units evacuated the building and thoroughly searched it but allowed staff back in later in the evening after finding nothing suspicious.
Prosecutor Johan Bac, who spoke in Hilversum, said the man was from the small town of Pijnacker near The Hague. Bac said he was being held on suspicion of making a threat, weapons possession and taking a hostage. The suspect's name was not released by the prosecutor. Officials said they were still investigating the man's background and the seriousness of the threat he posed.
"There is a major investigation under way to get clarity as quickly as possible about what happened here tonight," Bac said.
Jan de Jong, NOS director, told the broadcaster that the headquarters had extra security in the aftermath of the attack on Charlie Hebdo. The media park in Hilversum, 20km east of Amsterdam, is home to NOS and many other Dutch broadcasters. It has been tightly guarded for years, since Pim Fortuyn, a Dutch politician, was killed in a parking lot there in 2002 by an animal-rights activist.
"This is your worst nightmare, especially after Charlie Hebdo," De Jong said later on a special NOS news show.
De Jong said he would speak to staff on Friday and already tight security would again be reviewed.
"We don't want to turn this into a bunker," he said.
NEW YORK, Januari 28 -- The American technology giant reported record financial results on Tuesday, partly thanks to its efforts to make headway in China.
Despite a spotty past record, Apple was able to gain market share and, for the first time, led in smartphone unit sales in the country during the fourth quarter, according to research firm Canalys.
Its surging popularity in China is all the more remarkable when one realizes that its iPhone products cost about twice that of competing handsets. While China's average household income stood at only $2,100 in 2012, that fails to reflect the wide gap that's separating the country's urban nouveau riche -- who have the resources to shell out the local cost of almost $900 for an iPhone 6 -- versus its less affluent rural citizens.
Its new iPhone 6 Plus has played into consumer preferences for phones with bigger screens, which helped attract new Chinese customers, Canalys said.
KOBANI. January 27 -- Kurdish forces have reclaimed the city of Kobane from the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Kurdish sources.
A campaign was launched to push ISIS out of the nearly 350 villages surrounding the iconic northern Syrian town, local officials say.
Losing Kobani after more than four months of intense fighting is a significant propaganda blow to ISIS. The group invested extensive military resources to capture the isolated town on the border with Turkey.
"Daesh [ISIS] took most of the places it wanted in Syria and Iraq but could not capture Kobani," said Anwar Muslim, the prime minister of the self-ruled administration of Kobane, referring to the organisation by its Arabic name.
This victory marks the beginning of the end for Daesh
Kurdish forces have so far taken control of at least three villages in the southern surroundings of Kobani. It will be a highly challenging task for them to expel ISIS from the dozens of villages that dot the plains around the agricultural town.
Coalition airstrikes on ISIS targets in Kobani's villages continued on Monday night, according to local sources, but the city of Kobani itself was quiet on Tuesday. Muslim said the local fighters in Kobani were capable of holding their ground and ISIS forces had been "seriously weakened".
ISIS's defeat in Kobani further shatters the organisation's claims to invincibility, particularly as it coincides with the group's retreat from Kurdish and other Iraqi forces in northern and central Iraq. ISIS has not officially reacted to the Kurdish statements about its defeat in Kobani city proper. But many ISIS members took to social media to post messages of denial and support for fellow fighters in Kobani.
One account that appeared to belong to an ISIL member or sympathiser posted a snapshot of tweets from international news outlets regarding Kurds' victory in Kobane and urged fellow ISIL members not to trust such reports.
Kurdish officials in Kobani say they still have to "cleanse" the remnants of ISIS's presence in the city.
"There are many mines and bombs planted around," said Idriss Naasan, the deputy foreign minister of Kobani's administration. "There are also many corpses of Daesh fighters that need to be removed."
The final push against ISIS inside Kobani city occurred on Monday as Kurdish forces regained control of Kaniye Kurdan and Miktel neighbourhoods on the eastern edges of the city.
The operation was aided by as many as 17 air strikes carried out by the US-led coalition on Sunday and Monday, according to an announcement from the US military.
Following the victory in Kobani, images spread on social media of jubilant local forces dancing to the tune of Kurdish songs. Kurdish civilians in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and as far as Europe took to the streets to celebrate the "liberation" of Kobani - a city that has become a powerful symbol of resistance and nationalist aspirations for Kurds.
TOKYO, January 25 -- The Islamic State (ISIS) has reportedly demanded the release of an Iraqi woman detained in Jordan in exchange for a Japanese-national they have held captive.
In a video recording posted online on Saturday, Kenji Goto, a freelance Japanese journalist abducted while reporting on Syria's civil war last year, spoke of ISIS's demand for a prisoner exchange to guarantee his release.
"They are just demanding the release of their imprisoned sister Sajida al-Rishawi. It is simple. You give them Sajida and I will be released," Goto says in the video. The authenticity of the video was not to verify.
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said after a cabinet meeting late on Saturday that saving Goto's life was a top priority. "The government of Japan will, in its entirety, do its utmost in order to have him released," Abe said.
Al-Rishawi, who is referred to as an "imprisoned sister" in the recording, has been held by Jordanian authorities since 2005, and has not been seen publicly in around nine years.
She was arrested and later sentenced to death "for conspiracy to carry out terror acts" after a triple bomb attack on the Radisson SAS hotel in Amman, the Jordanian capital, in November 2005.
Al-Rishawi, who is now belived to be in her early-40s, was arrested four days after the attack, in which her husband, Ali Hussein al-Shammari, and two other Iraqis, blew themselves up.
In a television confession after her arrest, she said that she too had tried but failed to activate her explosives at a wedding reception. Sixty people died in the attack.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor to ISIS, claimed responsibility for the bombings. "A group of our best lions launched a new attack on some dens... After casing the targets, some hotels were chosen which the Jordanian despot turned into a backyard for the enemies of the faith," a statement on a website usually used by the group said.
ISIS has released several videos of executions of captured enemy fighters, activists and journalists. The armed group has taken vast parts of Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate in territory under its control in June.
Since then it has fought the Syrian and Iraqi governments, other armed groups and Kurdish forces.
ATHENS, January 25 -- Greece has begun voting in an election expected to bring in a government led by the left-wing Syriza party, which has promised to take on international lenders and roll back painful austerity measures imposed during years of economic crisis.
Barring a huge upset, victory for Syriza, which has led opinion polls for months, would produce the first government in the eurozone openly committed to cancelling the austerity terms of its EU and IMF-backed bailout programme.
A Syriza win would represent another turning point for Europe after last week's announcement by the European Central Bank of a massive injection of cash into the bloc's flagging economy after years of trying to clamp down on budgets and pushing countries to pass structural reforms.
"At first they were calling for actually stepping away from the Euro," Turton said, "but they have since pulled back from that position."
Turton also reported that while Syriza's policies have appealed to many groups hit by the economic crisis facing Greece, one group in particular is the youth, among whom as many as 50 percent are unemployed.
While Syriza is expected to form the biggest group in the 300-seat parliament, it is unclear if it will be able to govern alone or have to form a coalition with one or more of the smaller parties. Final polls on Friday gave the party led by 40-year-old Alexis Tsipras a lead of up to 6.7 points with 31.2 to 33.4 percent of the vote, close to the level needed for an outright victory.
Three out of four polls showed Syriza widening the gap over the centre-right New Democracy party of Prime Minister Antonis Samaras.
After its most severe crisis since the fall of its military government in 1974, Greece's economy has shrunk by some 25 percent, thousands of businesses have closed, wages and pensions have been slashed and unemployment among young people is over 50 percent.
At the same time, its massive public debt has climbed from 146 percent of gross domestic product in 2010 to 175.5 percent last year, the second highest in the world.
TOKYO, January 24 -- Japan has condemned a video purporting to have been released by the Islamic State (ISIS) announcing that the group has killed one of two Japanese hostages they are holding for ransom.
The Japanese government said on Saturday that the recording appeared to show that captive Haruna Yukawa has been killed. Yukawa, a private military contractor, was kidnapped in Syria last August.
"This is an outrageous and unacceptable act of violence," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters as he arrived at his Tokyo office early on Sunday morning local time, Reuters reported. "We strongly demand the immediate release" of the remaining captive, Kenji Goto, he added, referring to the freelance Japanese journalist who was abducted while reporting on Syria's civil war last year.
The purported video surfaced after a deadline for Japan to pay the ISIL group a $200m ransom passed on Friday. Reports from Tokyo, said the Japanese government was trying to verify the authenticity of the video.
"There are some [people on social media] who are doubting the veracity of the pictures," Fawcett said. The video was not posted on any of ISIS's official channels and does not bear the the group's black and white flag.
The group has reportedly now demanded that one of its members is released from custody in Jordan as a swap for the release of Goto. US National Security Council deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement on Saturday that the US intelligence community was also working to confirm the video's authenticity.
"We have seen the video purporting to show that Japanese citizen Haruna Yukawa has been murdered by the terrorist group ISIS," Ventrell said. "The United States strongly condemns ISIS’s actions and we call for the immediate release of all the remaining hostages. We stand in solidarity with Japan and are coordinating closely."
On Tuesday, the ISIL group released a video threatening to kill Yukawa, 42, annd Goto, 47, unless they received $200m within 72 hours, directly demanding the ransom from Abe. The ransom video, identified as being made by ISIS's Al-Furqan media arm, was released shortly after Abe had pledged $200m in aid to countries to fight against ISIS.