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U.S. is top 2012 property investment pick

NEW YORK (iBBC News) - The United States will remain the top choice of most global commercial real estate investors in 2012, but the country has lost ground to Brazil which ranked No. 2 this year, according to a survey released Sunday.

While the United States offers the most stable and secure option in commercial real estate, investors said improvement in rent and occupancy growth and the repeal of a 1980 foreign investment tax would have the strongest impact on their investment decisions, according to the 20th annual survey of Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate (AFIRE) members.

For about the past year or so, investors in U.S. commercial real estate have focused on gateway cities such as New York, Washington, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles, driving prices up and yields down.

Meanwhile commercial property in Brazil, with its bubbling economy and safer investment environment, has become a hot spot for global investors. Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city, jumped to the fourth best city for real estate investment dollars in 2012, up from 26th place last year.

The United States is still very desirable and was second behind the UK in attracting cross border investment in 2011, according to Real Capital Analytics preliminary figures.

"The negative is it doesn't promise a whole lot of capital appreciation because the prime markets are already fully priced," AFIRE Chief Executive Officer James Fetgatter said. "By no means will Brazil replace the U.S., at least not in the forseeable future. Brazil is considered now a much safer place to invest and a place where you can get capital appreciation and good yield."

AFIRE'S survey respondents hold more than $874 billion of real estate globally, including $338 billion in the United States.

Sixty 60 percent of respondents said they plan to increase their investment in U.S. real estate in 2012, down from a record 72 percent last year, according to the 20th annual survey.

Some 42.2 percent said they believed the United States in 2012 would offer the best opportunity for the price of their commercial real estate investments to increase, down from 64.7 percent last year's survey.

The United States lost ground to Brazil, with 18.6 percent saying Brazil's property market offered the best growth opportunity for their investment dollars. That's up 14.2 percentage points, moving Brazil up to second place from fourth, and pushing China down to No. 3, according to the AFIRE survey.

Seventy percent of respondents picked one of the three countries as their favorite, while the remaining 30 percent had top choices from 13 other countries on five continents.

Respondents said they would invest more in U.S. commercial property if the fundamentals of rent and occupancy growth were stronger.

Another U.S. barrier respondents cited was the Foreign Investment in Real Property Tax Act (FIRPTA). The 1980 act, originally designed to protect farm property from foreign ownership, subjects foreign buyers to both their domestic and U.S. taxes when they sell their investment, unless their home country has a taxation treaty with the United States.

FIRPTA opponents have argued that the act unfairly penalizes foreign investors of real estate. Such double taxation does not apply if they buy U.S. stocks or bonds.

As for the top cities for foreign investment in 2012, New York remained No. 1. London moved up to No. 2 from No. 3, swapping ranks with Washington. Sao Paulo was fourth, and San Francisco moved up to No. 5 from No. 10 last year.

Europe's sovereign debt problems and looming recession pushed most of the countries there - except for a few such as Switzerland and Poland - off the map for real estate investors. Germany lost about half its support among respondents in terms of stability and price appreciation, according to the survey.

Emerging markets also seem to be getting more popular among potential investors. Respondents identified 25 countries they would consider for investment, up from 18 last year. Brazil topped the list, with China in second place, as each did last year. Turkey moved up to No. 3 from No. 7 last year. India and Vietnam each dropped down one spot, to No. 3 and No. 4 respectively. Appearing for the first time were Colombia, at No. 10, Hungary at No. 12, and Qatar at No. 17.

As for U.S. commercial real estate, respondents said that this year they would most likely invest in apartment buildings, the fourth consecutive year multifamily topped the list. Of all the types of U.S. commercial real estate, the multifamily sector has not only recovered from the post-2007 real estate slump but rents and occupancy are even stronger than before.

Warehouse and distribution centers ranked second, up from No. 5 last year. Office properties were third, up a notch from No. 4. Retail properties - shopping centers and malls - slipped to No. 4 from No. 2. Hotels ranked No. 5, down from No. 3 last year.

The survey was conducted in the fourth quarter by the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate, Wisconsin School of Business.

Gunmen attack bars in northeast Kenya, 5 dead

GARISSA, Kenya (iBBC News) - Gunmen sprayed bullets at New Year revellers in two bars in northeastern Kenya on Sunday, killing five people, a witness and police said, the latest in a wave of attacks near the border with Somalia.

Kenyan security forces suspect al Shabaab Islamist rebels, who are fighting the Western-backed government in Somalia, are also behind a string of deadly strikes in the border region.

A worker at one of the bars in the town of Garissa said gunmen approached in a vehicle, opened fire and then drove away.

"The guys fired from the vehicle. They first shot the guard, (and then) shot more bullets at those who tried to leave and those who were at the entrance," said the witness who declined to be named.

North Eastern provincial police commander Leo Nyongesa said five people had been confirmed dead. A medic, who asked not to be identified, said 28 people had been wounded, including security officers and several women.

"I can see ambulances and the military. Local police have taken two bodies and four people who had gunshot wounds to Garissa general hospital," a Reuters photographer said.

Kenyan forces crossed into Somalia in October to attack the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab militants, whom it blamed for a spate of kidnappings and cross-border attacks on its soil.

Al Shabaab has denied responsibility for the kidnappings and has vowed major retaliation against Kenya.

Kenyan police said on Saturday they were looking for 15 people who they said had information on al Shabaab.

Last week two grenades were hurled at a club in Wajir-district in northeastern Kenya, wounding at least seven people.

Suspected al Shabaab gunmen on Sunday also shot dead a member of a local security committee in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, home to more than 400,000 Somalis, Nyongesa said.

The committee, made up of elders and youths in the world's largest refugee camp, helps Kenyan security forces find al Shabaab militants. Another member of the committee was shot dead on Thursday.

"Al Shabaab has now resorted to intimidating locals, Kenyans and Somali refugees working with us to restore security at all the camps in Dadaab," said Nyongesa.

Shootings and roadside bombs in the Dadaab camp since Kenya sent troops into Somalia have forced many aid agencies to scale down humanitarian operations. Most foreign aid workers have left the camp.

Arab body calls for pullout of monitors in Syria

CAIRO (iBBC News) — A pan-Arab body called Sunday for the immediate withdrawal of the Arab League monitors in Syria because President Bashar Assad's regime has kept up killings of government opponents even in the presence of the observers.

The 88-member Arab Parliament said that Arabs are angered by the Syrian regime's ongoing killings while the nearly 100 monitors are in the country. The monitors are supposed to be ensuring Syria complies with terms of the League's plan to end the 9-month-old crackdown on dissent — a plan Syria agreed to on Dec. 19.

However, the Kuwaiti head of the Arab Parliament, Ali Salem al-Deqbasi, said the presence of the monitors is distracting from the "flagrant violations" committed by Assad's regime.

"The killing of children and the violation of human rights law is happening in the presence of Arab League monitors, raising the fury of Arab people," he said.

"The mission of the Arab League team has missed its aim of stopping the killing of children and ensuring the withdrawal of troops from the Syrian streets, giving the Syrian regime a cover to commit inhumane acts under the noses of the Arab League observers," al-Deqbasi said in a statement.

According to activists, more than 150 people have been killed across the country since the observers began their one-month mission on Tuesday.

The Arab League plan demands that the government remove its security forces and heavy weapons from cities, start talks with the opposition and allow human rights workers and journalists into the country. It also calls for the release of all political prisoners.

The Arab League created the Arab Parliament, which is made up of lawmakers and advisers from states around the Middle East. Its recommendations are nonbinding.

Fixing poses threat to 2012 Games - Olympics Minister

LONDON (iBBC News) - The integrity of the London 2012 Olympics could be shattered by the "enormous" threat of illegal gambling rings trying to fix results, the Olympics minister said on Sunday.

Event fixing could play "a very real part" at the Olympics, Hugh Robertson said, adding that he was trying to convince other governments to take the threat seriously to avoid a scandal which could scar the reputation of the Games.

"We know that there are enormous illegal betting syndicates in both the Indian subcontinent and across the far east," Robertson told Sky News.

"We know that pressure is very often exerted on athletes and indeed athletes' families. We know it's out there.

"It's very difficult in cultures where they don't admit that gambling takes place, so it all happens behind closed doors, in back rooms and so on and so forth, it all happens illegally. It's very, very difficult to police that."

Illegal betting and event fixing have not been detected at previous Olympics, according to authorities, but Robertson's ramping up of the rhetoric reflects a concern that not enough is being done across the world to clamp down on the activity.

A joint intelligence unit, comprising the International Olympic Committee, Britain's Gambling Commission watchdog and the police, will operate during the 2012 Games, drawing on information from betting firms, national Olympic committees and Interpol.

The IOC, which has banned athletes and their entourages from placing any bets during the Games, has issued advice to athletes and officials and will set up an email hotline for reporting suspicious activity.

The IOC used betting early warning systems during the Beijing 2008 and the Vancouver 2010 Olympics and neither Games showed anything suspicious.

But IOC president Jacques Rogge has said there is a danger gambling rings will penetrate the Games in the future.

Robertson said he was confident that sufficient action had been taken to minimise the threat in Europe, through information sharing and co-operation between organised crime agencies, police, gambling bodies and sports organisations.

"It's not really an expensive thing, it's more about setting a good example and convincing others that this is a threat that needs to be taken seriously," he said.

Gas prices rise 30 percent in Myanmar for new year

YANGON, Myanmar (iBBC News) — Gas prices have risen more than 30 percent for the new year in Myanmar and sparked fears of other goods costing more as well.

Motorists learned of the increase at the pump on Sunday when prices increased from 2,500 kyat (3.15 dollars) to 3,350 kyat (4.2 dollars) per Imperial gallon (4.2 liters).

Myanmar's energy production is not enough to meet domestic demand, and it imports petrol and other fuels. The government subsidizes gas prices and rations it to two Imperial gallons (4.2 liters) a day.

An unannounced price hike in 2007 sparked anti-government protests that led to the "saffron rebellion." The military government then in power crushed it, leaving at least 15 dead and thousands arrested.

Beaten Hewitt makes encouraging return

Former world number one Lleyton Hewitt returned after four months out with injury to put on a typically fighting performance against Spain's Fernando Verdasco at the Hopman Cup on Sunday.


It was Hewitt's first match on the comeback trail after a major foot problem and although he was beaten by Verdasco in three sets in Perth, the two-time Grand Slam winner showed he can still match the best -- if his body holds up.


A couple of untimely double faults in the 12th game of the third set ruined Hewitt's attempt to upset the world number 24, as the Spaniard prevailed 6-3, 3-6, 7-5 in just over two hours at the mixed team championships.


The result levelled the tie after Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova beat Anabel Medina Garrigues 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 in the women's singles.


The Spaniards then survived match point to win a gruelling deciding mixed doubles in a tiebreak 3-6, 6-3, 11-9.


The men's singles clash was the injury-prone Hewitt's first since September and came just days after the Australian, ranked 186th in the world, scoffed at rumours of impending retirement.


Speaking after the mixed doubles, Hewitt, 30, said: "I feel pretty good at the moment."


Verdasco, who has been ranked as high as seven in the world, said it was an encouraging return performance from Hewitt that augured well for the year ahead.


"Lleyton is a very tough player," he said. "He always fights until the end. He played really well, I was playing well. I think and I hope he will have a good 2012."


Hewitt appeared to move freely and showed his usual grit to claw his way back from 4-1 down to level the third set in the singles.


A tiebreak loomed, but successive double faults handed Verdasco match point, and a wayward forehand from Hewitt that sailed long sealed his fate.


Earlier, the 33rd-ranked Gajdosova overcame a second set lapse to see off Medina Garrigues, ranked 27th.


It was Gajdosova's fourth win in as many meetings with the Spaniard.


"I think I got a little bit relaxed," the Australian said of the second set. "I was playing well in the first, but my feet stopped and she started playing better."

Libya militia says holds Gaddafi supporters over plot

TRIPOLI (iBBC News) - A Libyan militia chief said on Sunday his fighters had captured nine supporters of overthrown leader Muammar Gaddafi who had been plotting to blow up Tripoli's power grid on New Year's eve.

"We captured explosives with them that they bought from the black market and now we're interrogating them," the commander of Tripoli's Revolutionist Council Abdullah Naker told Reuters.

Militia groups who helped oust Gaddafi last year still hold considerable power in Libya, and have taken the law into their hands in several areas, setting up road blocks and arresting suspects despite the presence of an official police force.

Naker said the nine Gaddafi supporters had been funded by a group of businessmen affiliated to the former leader, who was killed in October after militias overran his home town of Sirte.

Naker also accused the nine and their supporters of trying to relaunch the former leader's official television station Al Jamahiriya.

The men had been planning to set off a number of explosions in the capital, state media reported, quoting a statement from Libya's electricity and renewable energy authority.

Libya's interim government set a deadline that expired on December 20 for militias to leave Tripoli, and most withdrew their fighters and dismantled checkpoints last week.

Naker said a number of bands returned to the capital on Saturday, in a show of strength to Gaddafi supporters that he said were still at large, threatening the country.

Libya's interim rulers are trying to persuade thousands of militia fighters to join the military, police and civil service to try to break up the forces controlled by rival commanders with regional allegiances.

Naker and other militia chiefs have said they want guarantees that their men will be paid well by the government before letting them go.

Clashes follow teen protester's funeral in Bahrain

MANAMA, Bahrain (iBBC News) — Riot police in Bahrain fired tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades as they clashed Sunday with hundreds of opposition supporters, some hurling Molotov cocktails, following the politically charged funeral of a 15-year-old boy.

Thousands of opposition supporters carrying Bahraini flags and chanting anti-government slogans converged on the island of Sitra, south of the capital Manama, to mourn the death of Sayed Hashim Saeed.

Police earlier tried to seal off the site of the funeral to prevent crowds from gathering.

The opposition says the teenager died Saturday after a tear gas canister fired at close range hit him in the chest.

Jaffer al-Sheik, 40, who identified himself as a relative of Saeed, said after the funeral that the boy died while participating in a protest march. He said the canister fired by riot police caused burns on Saeed's chest arm and head.

The Interior Ministry has raised questions about the circumstances of Saeed's death, saying that burns on the boy's body could not have come from a tear gas canister. It has asked the public prosecutor to investigate.

The clash on Sitra marks the latest burst of violence in more than 10 months of confrontations and widespread street protests on the strategic Gulf island nation, which is home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The country's Shiite-led opposition is pressing for greater rights and reforms from the country's Sunni monarchy.

Also Sunday, Bahrain's new police chief announced that the kingdom would hire an additional 500 police officers "from all sections of Bahrain society," according to a statement from the country's Information Affairs Authority. The official, Tariq Alhassan, said the extra officers would work only in communities from where they were recruited.

Bahrain's Shiites have long complained of systematic discrimination that largely keeps them out of state security forces and top government jobs.

The government has vowed to undertake reforms following the release of a report in November that outlined human rights abuses carried out by the government during this year's unrest.

Shell CEO keeping close eye on Petroplus

ZURICH (iBBC News) - Royal Dutch Shell is closely watching developments at European oil refiner Petroplus , which is closing three of its refineries after running out of money for crude supplies since bankers froze its credit lines abruptly last week.

"We are permanently watching the developments at Petroplus. Due to our size in Switzerland we rely on our customers to secure supplies," Shell Chief Executive Peter Voser was quoted as saying in an interview with Swiss newspaper Sonntag on Sunday.

A victim of oversupply in European refining and of an investment strategy under former boss Thomas O'Malley that fell foul of an industry downturn, Petroplus and European government officials have been locked in talks with the 13 banks that froze a $1 billion facility it needed to buy crude oil.

The debt-laden group said on Friday it would start temporary shutdowns of three of its five refineries in January: Petit Couronne in France, Antwerp in Belgium and Cressier in Switzerland.

Petroplus also said on Friday it would continue talks with the bankers in the coming days.

NKorea vows to defend Kim Jong Un 'unto death'

PYONGYANG, North Korea (iBBC News) — North Korea vowed Sunday to make an all-out drive for prosperity as it unites behind new leader Kim Jong Un, ushering in 2012 with promises to resolve food shortages, bolster its military and defend Kim Jong Il's young son "unto death."

The pledge in North Korea's annual New Year's message comes as the country enters a new era, with Kim Jong Un installed as supreme commander of the 1.2 million-strong military and as ruling party leader following his father's Dec. 17 death.

On the streets of Pyongyang, the mood was more somber than in past New Year's celebrations, as people gathered in large crowds to pay tribute to Kim Jong Il, who ruled the country for 17 years.

This New Year's message didn't include the North's routine harsh criticism of the United States and avoided the country's nuclear ambitions, a suggestion that Pyongyang may be willing to continue talks with Washington to win food aid.

This year is a crucial one for North Korea as it tries to build a "great, prosperous and powerful nation" befitting the April 2012 centenary of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung, the new leader's grandfather.

"Glorify this year 2012 as a year of proud victory, a year when an era of prosperity is unfolding," said the New Year's message, carried by the official Korean Central News Agency. "The whole party, the entire army and all the people should possess a firm conviction that they will become human bulwarks and human shields in defending Kim Jong Un unto death."

In Pyongyang, the day was cold, snowy and gray, with splashes of bright color provided by flags, lanterns and banners reading "Happy New Year" that decorated the streets. The celebration, however, coming just days after the official mourning period for Kim Jong Il ended, was muted, unlike past years when cheerful people in their best holiday clothes thronged the streets.

From early morning, streams of people, their expressions solemn, bowed and laid bouquets and wreaths at monuments to Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung. Families trudged through the snow, carrying potted flowers and plants, to put their offerings beneath large portraits of a broadly smiling Kim Jong Il.

Workers at covered flower stands handed out yellow and red flowers to large crowds. Some slogans around the city repeated the official New Year's message, calling on citizens to glorify the coming year. Newly released posters urged people to "turn sorrow into strength and courage," a sentiment often heard from North Koreans since Kim's death.

"We lost the great Kim Jong Il because we did not do our work well. How can we have a rest?" Vice Minister of Mining Industry Pak Thae Gu told The Associated Press.

Kim Jong Un spent part of the day visiting a tank division, state media said, in what was apparently his first reported military field inspection since his father's death. Kim Jong Il regularly visited military units, factories and farms across the country, and his son's trip provides further evidence of the North's intention to link him closely with the military.

Kim Jong Un praised soldiers for closely watching enemy troops, KCNA reported. He was accompanied by his uncle and key patron Jang Song Thaek and Ri Yong Ho, chief of the General Staff of the Korean People's Army.

The New Year's message said North Korea would boost its military and boasted that the country is "at the epochal point of opening the gates of a thriving country," with parts of Pyongyang "turned into socialist fairylands."

Still, the message acknowledged the country's food crisis, saying "the food problem is a burning issue." North Korea had been in talks with the United States on food aid, but they stopped because of Kim Jong Il's death.

The United Nations has said a quarter of North Korea's 24 million people need outside food aid and that malnutrition is surging, especially among children.

The message, a joint editorial appearing in the Rodong Sinmun, Joson Inmingun and Chongnyon Jonwi newspapers, said North Korea must build on foundations laid last year and turn itself "into an economic giant."

"This year's message shows North Korea will focus on its economy and ideological solidarity to establish stability" for Kim Jong Un's leadership, said Yoo Ho-yeol, a professor at Korea University in South Korea.

"There is also no specific mention of the United States or the nuclear program, and that shows North Korea is leaving room for the chance of improved ties with the United States," Yoo said.

The traditional New Year's Day message is closely watched and takes on added significance this year, coming just two weeks after Kim Jong Il died.

North Korea in recent days has cemented Kim Jong Un's position as its new leader and on Saturday officially named him supreme commander of the military.

The New Year's message linked Kim Jong Un to the "songun," or military-first, policy of Kim Jong Il, and called him "the eternal center" of the country's unity.

The message spoke of a desire for reunification with South Korea — a point North Korea often mentions — but did not give specifics. The North warned Friday that there would be no softening of its position toward South Korea's government after Kim Jong Il's death.

North Korea, which has tested two atomic devices since 2006, has said it wants to return to long-stalled talks on halting its nuclear weapons program in return for aid. Washington and Seoul, however, have insisted that the North show progress on past disarmament commitments before negotiations can resume.

The six-nation nuclear talks involve the two Koreas, the United States, China, Russia and Japan.

The Korean peninsula remains technically in a state of conflict because the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

Kim Jong Un also received a boost from China, his country's biggest backer, as President Hu Jintao sent congratulations to Kim on his appointment as head of the military.

BlackRock's Bob Doll sees hopeful signs in 2012

It's a bittersweet way for investors to begin a new year.

On the one hand, economic news in the U.S. has been getting steadily better. This holiday shopping season is shaping up to be the best since the Great Recession; the housing market is showing signs of life and even the job market is on the mend.

Then, there's Europe. The region's leaders have failed again to convince investors that they will be able to prevent a breakup of their 17-nation currency union. Greece could still default on its debt, causing huge losses for banks in France and elsewhere that hold Greek bonds. Investors fear that could cause a financial panic to spread around the world, like what happened in 2008 after the U.S. brokerage Lehman Brothers collapsed.

In the U.S., too, there are plenty reasons for investors to be cautious. Many companies are still wary of hiring, and banks are afraid to turn on the lending spigots.

Who better to guide investors during these uncertain times than Bob Doll, who helps oversee $3.6 trillion in assets as chief investment officer at the world's biggest money manager, BlackRock.

Doll recently spoke with The Associated Press about how 2011 worked out for investors, what he's optimistic about in 2012 and what he's worried about. He's hopeful that Europe can stick to its goal of greater fiscal austerity. But he acknowledges that — like his own New Year's resolution of losing 15 pounds — enforcing the outcome is the tricky part.

Here are excerpts from the conversation, edited for clarity.

Q: How does 2011 stack up for you?

A: We entered the year hopeful. Global economies were looking better. But the tsunami disaster in Japan cast a bigger shadow on global growth than a lot of people initially thought. Then there were big political upheavals in the Middle East with the Arab Spring. Those political and social issues contributed to a rise in oil prices that didn't help the fledgling U.S. economic recovery. Then Europe kept coming back as problem. All the wild cards that showed up were on the negative side. The year started high on hopes that were dashed.

Q: With Europe looming large going into the New Year, what's the outlook for 2012?

A: The probability of a solution to Europe's issues is low. Nobody even knows what it will be. Or what a solution looks like.

The European authorities' attitude to dealing with their problem is to close their eyes, hold their noses and hope it might go away. Stumbling along is the most likely path forward.

The alternative is more troublesome. If there's immense pressure on politicians, there can be an accident that takes the form of a bankruptcy, or nationalizing some banks, the collapse of the euro, or that a country exits the European Union. Nobody even knows how that can potentially take place.

Muddling through is the best option. Europe can then face a mild recession and economic contagions are limited. But the darker scenario could lead to a financial contagion which will be drag the global economy down.

Q: But that won't make the problems go away.

Q: The European Central Bank has a lot of different masters to serve. The ECB has Germany looking over its shoulder and is aware that it will have to help the troubled countries, but doesn't want to help them too fast.

They want to see fiscal austerity before bailing out anyone. But how do you enforce fiscal austerity? It's nice for me to say that I will lose 15 pounds in the first month of the year. What recourse does anybody have if I've actually gained 2 pounds instead?

Q: It's like those stories coming out of Greece where people get higher taxes tacked on to their utility bills and they say they won't pay them because they can't.

A: Exactly. It's an illustration of the principle that they want to do the right thing, but how can they get it done if nobody will pay the bill.

Q: OK, let's talk about the U.S. What's your view of economic growth here?

A: One thing is for sure: we are not heading into a recession. The recent numbers are encouraging, but we can't get carried away. If the economy grows from 2.5 percent to 3 percent or a little higher, we can't expect the next stop to be 4 percent.

Consumers are spending, but not a lot. Employers are hiring, but not a lot. There are constraints and headwinds that prevent us from having the typical bounce-back recovery that you'd like to see after a recession. What's important for the U.S. is to maintain respectable growth. Our economy is not yet strong enough to withstand any financial contagion that spreads from Europe.

Q: And what about the big drag on the economy: housing. Is there a turnaround on the horizon?

A: My view is that we are probably in a long-term bottoming process in real estate. According to the Case-Shiller index, the cataclysmic decline in home prices has long ended and prices bottomed out in May 2009. But we've continued to bounce along. Banks are unwilling to make mortgage loans and many loans are higher in value than the homes. All that's kept the real estate recovery very slow.

New construction is taking place at just half the pace of population growth. At some point those things will have to balance out.

Q: Globally, China and India seem to be slowing down. Does that worry you, given that a lot of corporate growth seems to have come from overseas lately?

A: You're right; corporate profits don't equate to U.S. growth anymore. U.S. consumption only accounts for 28 percent of the S&P 500 profits. Only 55 percent of the largest companies' revenue comes from the U.S.

Even with continued slowing, China and India will count for about half of global GDP growth in 2012. So those are critical economies. If the authorities can beat runaway inflation in those countries, and Europe doesn't fall off a cliff, their economies will have a soft landing. And that's important.

Q: Did I hear you right when you said you're aiming to lose 15 pounds?

A: Yeah. Fifteen pounds would be a good number to lose, but only after the New Year.

Q: But if I check back with you in a month I wouldn't be able to enforce it, right? Just like the ECB?

A: Exactly. (Breaks into booming laughter.) Who's going to enforce it?
 
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