A Look At Economic Developments Around The Globe

A look at economic developments and activity in major stock markets around the world Wednesday:

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CAIRO - Moody's Investors Service downgraded the ratings for five Egyptian banks while Standard & Poor's lowered its ratings for two banks, the latest volley of bad news for the economy of a nation mired in violent protests.

Both international ratings agencies cited the political turmoil in Egypt and its potential impact on the country's economy, raising concerns that included a possible liquidity squeeze and government's ability to support the banking sector.

Analysts have also grown increasingly concerned that the chaos in Egypt will begin to affect other countries in the oil-rich Mideast.

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DUBLIN - Ratings agency Standard & Poor's cut its credit grade for Ireland. S&P warned that it could lower the rating more because of doubts about the true scale of defaulting loans yet to surface in the country's largely state-owned banks.

S&P's reduction took Ireland's credit rating down one notch to A minus. That's a shallower cut than the ones imposed last month by Moody's and Fitch after Ireland's November negotiation of a potential 67.5 billion euro ($93 billion) credit line from the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

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LONDON - Fighting on the streets of Cairo weighed on sentiment, pushing European stocks down from earlier highs, while the euro eased from three-month highs against the dollar after a ratings downgrade of Ireland.

Germany's DAX closed almost unchanged, while the CAC-40 in France fell 0.2 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares rose 0.7 percent.

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TOKYO - Earlier in Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 stock average gained 1.8 percent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 1.8 percent. Markets in China and South Korea were closed for the Chinese Lunar New Year.

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LISBON, Portugal - Financially troubled Portugal raised 1.26 billion euros in a Treasury bill sale and its borrowing costs fell.

Portugal is one of the most vulnerable economies in the 17-nation eurozone due to its high debt and anemic growth, and it is scrambling to avoid a bailout by adopting harsh austerity measures.

Tensions about Europe's debt woes are receding, however, because investors hope European officials will announce a long-term solution to the debt crisis by early next month.

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MADRID - Spain's government, unions and business leaders put up a united front as they signed a pact with reforms aimed at boosting a fragile economy at the heart of Europe's debt crisis.

But yet more bad news preceded the signing at a high-profile ceremony at the prime minister's office: the number of people in Spain filing for jobless benefits rose to a record 4.2 million. The overall jobless rate stands at a staggering 20.3 percent.

The centerpiece of the pact is a measure approved last week by the Cabinet to raise the retirement age gradually from 65 to 67 starting in 2013.

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SAO PAULO - Brazil's government says the country's industrial output rose 10.5 percent in 2010, the biggest increase in more than two decades.

Industrial production grew 10.9 percent in 1986.

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MOSCOW - Russia's economy grew more than expected over the past year and the government is undertaking initiatives to accelerate growth further, the finance minister said.

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BUDAPEST, Hungary - Hungary's prime minister says the end of private pension schemes in Hungary is "definitive" and can't be overturned by the courts.

Viktor Orban said the ongoing transfer of funds from private pension plans to the state is needed to save Hungary's state pension system from collapse and tackle the country's debt.

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GENEVA - Asia is now exporting two-thirds of the world's mobile phones, personal computers, digital televisions and other high-tech goods for information and communications, in a significant shift in world trade accentuated by the global financial crisis, the U.N. reported.

The new U.N. data shows that China and Hong Kong exported $498 billion in such goods in 2009, more than four times the United States share of $113 billion. Also included in such trade were cameras, iPads, CD and DVD players and other consumer electronics.

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ATHENS, Greece - Doctors at Greek state hospitals and public health centers and Athens' public transport employees are striking to protest planned spending cuts.

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MADRID - Spanish bank BBVA said it made a net profit of 939 million euros ($1.3 billion) in the fourth quarter of 2010, up from 31 million euros a year earlier, when it wrote down sharply the value of holdings in the United States.

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STOCKHOLM - Nordea AB, the largest bank in the Nordic region, reported a 72 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit as interest income grew and loan losses shrank.

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REYKJAVIK, Iceland - Iceland's central bank cut its key interest rate by a quarter of a point to 4.25 percent.