Crude prices stay steady

SINGAPORE: Crude futures held firm on Monday above $48 a barrel — the highest since the end of November — with the New York Mercantile Exchange closed for the Martin Luther King Day holiday. Light sweet crude for February delivery rose 34 cents to $48.38 a barrel by midmorning in Asia. Heating oil gained was up less than five cents to $1.3509 a gallon. —AP

Irish trade team in China

DUBLIN: Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern was set to fly to Beijing on Monday at the head of his country’s biggest-ever trade mission to China including four ministers and representatives of more than 200 Irish companies. Ahern’s programme includes visits to Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. In Hong Kong he will meet Chief Secretary Tung Chee-hwa. —AFP

Bank fraud in China

BEIJING: Chinese authorities have arrested dozens of government officials and others accused in a scheme to steal 7.4 billion yuan ($900 million) from a state bank through fraudulent loans, news reports said on Monday. Prosecutors intend to file charges against 69 people including former employees of the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, one of the country’s four main state-owned commercial banks, the official Xinhua News Agency said. —AP

Consumer confidence

TOKYO: A key Japanese consumer confidence index fell to 44.3 in December from 47.9 in November, the first fall in three months, the Cabinet Office said on Monday. A majority of the 6,716 households surveyed said they were pessimistic about their economic well-being, indicating consumer spending may remain weak for the being, the government said. — AFP

P’ppines economy to grow

MANILA: Philippine economic growth likely reached 6.2 per cent in 2004, above the official target, Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri said on Monday. The government initially targetted gross domestic product (GDP) growth of between 4.9 and 5.8 per cent but after a robust first nine months, the official projection was raised to 6.1 per cent. —AFP