Bad weather in the United States curbed activity on Wall Street in a busy week for earnings, while investors had reason for caution as the Federal Reserve holds its first policy meeting of the year. Japan's Nikkei gained 1.4 percent, while Australia's main index added 0.5 percent.
Microsoft Corp said on Monday fiscal second-quarter profit fell, in line with Wall Street's forecasts, as sluggish personal computer sales dampened demand for Windows software and the company struggled with unfavorable currency moves against the strong U.S. dollar. "While currency is a headwind for Microsoft and other large international companies, we would characterize the headline numbers as good enough, although some bulls may have been hoping for a bigger beat," said Daniel Ives, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets. Microsoft reported profit of $5.86 billion, or 71 cents per share for the latest quarter, compared with $6.56 billion, or 78 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter.
The U.S. budget deficit will decline slightly to $468 billion this fiscal year, the lowest level since President Barack Obama took office, congressional forecasters said on Monday in a report heralding the end of a brief period of dramatically shrinking red ink. The deficit, down from the $1 trillion-plus levels of Obama's first four years and a $483 billion gap in fiscal 2014, will stay largely flat in 2016, then begin to march upward due to rising costs for debt and caring for fast-retiring Baby Boomers. Estimates by the Congressional Budget Office kick off what promises to be a contentious budget debate in Washington. Republicans now in control of Congress seek to eliminate deficits within 10 years with cuts to social safety net programs while lowering tax rates and boosting military spending.
By Florence Tan SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices were little changed on Tuesday, with Brent holding above $48 following comments from a top OPEC official that prices may have found a floor. OPEC Secretary-General Abdullah al-Badri said oil prices may have bottomed out and could rise very soon. "Crude oil markets continue to consolidate near term," ANZ analysts said in a note, adding that Brent traded in the range of $48-$50 last week and has shown little direction. "OPEC's Secretary General commented yesterday that prices may have bottomed but there was no imminent prospect of OPEC producers sitting down to discuss cutbacks until mid-year," the analysts said.
Packaging companies Rock-Tenn Co and MeadWestvaco Corp agreed to form a combined $16 billion company to take on market leader International Paper Co in the United States and abroad. Shares of MeadWestvaco and Rock-Tenn rose to record highs. Demand for the corrugated boxes made by both companies has risen sharply as internet shopping has taken off. The merger, announced by both companies on Monday, will create the second-largest U.S. packaging company behind International Paper, which has a market capitalization of nearly $23 billion.