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Consumers curb spending, deepen recession fears

WASHINGTON, November 1 – Sharp falls in consumer spending in the United States and Germany deepened fears of a global recession as stock markets ended one of their most traumatic months in history with mixed results.

Evidence of declining confidence among businesses and consumers was signalled by a report from the US Commerce Department showing consumers cut spending by 0.3 percent in September, the steepest decline since June 2004.

The drop in spending, which accounts for two-thirds of US economic activity, came even as incomes rose 0.2 percent.

The report "underscores that we are in a consumer recession," said John Ryding at RDQ Economics.

A similar spending slump was apparent in Germany, Europe\’s biggest economy, with official figures showing retail sales had plunged by 2.3 percent in September.

Efforts to avert a financial system meltdown continued this week as central banks from the United States to Asia lowered borrowing costs.

Speculation grew that the European Central Bank and the Bank of England would follow suit next week with fresh rate cuts.

The Bank of Japan cut its key lending rate Friday for the first time since 2001 to 0.30 percent, forecasting that "increased sluggishness in Japan\’s economic activity will likely remain over the next several quarters."

The Japanese rate cut failed to halt a slide in Japanese shares, with Tokyo\’s Nikkei stock index closing down 5.01 percent as investors took profits after three days of gains.

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Automaker Nissan said it was axing 3,500 jobs worldwide as first half profits slumped by 40.5 percent on a sharp slowdown in the key US market and the soaring value of the yen.

Adding to the gloom was data showing the Japanese economy shrinking in the second quarter of this year, with the central bank predicting tepid growth of 0.1 percent in the current financial year to March and 0.6 percent next year.

Hong Kong shares closed down 2.5 percent as investors locked in recent sharp gains sparked by hopes that the credit crunch was easing.

However, Wall Street investors shrugged off the bearish news, instead focusing on lower interest rates and improving credit conditions.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 1.57 percent to close the week at 9,325.01, pushing weekly gains for blue chips to an eye-popping 11 percent but capping a month in which the index lost 14 percent.

"Investors let negative economic news roll right off their backs today, resuming their bargain-hunting ways from a day ago," said Mark Fightmaster at Schaeffer\’s Investment Research.

The optimism was tempered by Intel Corp., the world\’s biggest computer chipmaker, which warned that the economic slowdown may hurt its business. The US firm maintained its fourth-quarter revenue projections, however.

Crude oil climbed more than a dollar a barrel, ending a month that saw a record price plunge for New York\’s benchmark contract.

Light sweet crude for December delivery rose 1.85 dollars a barrel to close at 67.81 dollars, easing concerns about oil demand in a slowing global economy. The contract hit a record high of over 147 dollars a barrel in July.

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European stock markets also posted solid gains with the FTSE in London adding 2.0 percent, while in Paris the CAC 40 rose 2.33 percent and the Frankfurt DAX gained 2.44 percent.

US Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke urged the creation of a new system of US home-loan financing as the global financial system reels from problems stemming from the US mortgage sector that emerged over a year ago.

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