Building approvals dive. Approvals to build new homes in Australia tumbled beyond all expectations in November, as a clamp on credit and economic uncertainty outweighed lower interest rates, pointing to a dire quarter for construction. Coming a day after retail trade data for November surprised on the upside, the building approvals figures — which predated the introduction of the government’s stimulus package on December 8 but followed the introduction of two percentage points of cuts to the official cash rate from September to November — reinforced the dire state of the housing market and the likelihood of an interest rate cut of between 50 and 75 basis points in February. Building approvals fell 12.8% to 9,581 units in November, seasonally adjusted, against a market forecast for a 1.5% decline. In the year to November, building approvals fell 34.7%, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).– Business Spectator

Satyam revelation rocks Indian markets. B. Ramalinga Raju, chairman of the scandal-plagued Indian outsourcing specialist Satyam Computer Services, has resigned, confessing that he had conspired to cook the firm’s books for several years. In a letter to Satyam’s board, which was released Wednesday morning to the stock exchanges and market regulator, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, Raju owned up to inflating the firm’s cash and bank balances by $1 billion and fudging the firm’s revenues and operating margin in the quarter that ended in September 2008. The actual operating margin was 3% ($12.5 million), on revenues of $434 million, as against the incorrectly reported operating margin of 24% ($133 million), on $554 million in revenues. Debts were overstated by $100 million, and liabilities understated by $253 million. — Forbes

Obama takes note of budget deficit but promises decisive action. President-elect Barack Obama took sober note Wednesday of a stunning projection by the Congressional Budget Office for a $1.2 trillion federal budget deficit this year, then warned that without decisive action, “trillion-dollar deficits will be a reality for years to come.” He said for the first time that changes in the vastly expensive social programs that target the poor and the elderly – programs like Social Security and Medicare consume nearly half of all federal spending — would be “a central part” of his administration’s budget plans. The size and pervasive reach of those programs almost guarantees contentious debate over any change. — International Herald Tribune

Fed’s Hoenig says US economy’s outlook is ‘grim’. The U.S. economic outlook through the first half of 2009 is “grim”, and the first signs of a recovery may not emerge until the third quarter, said Thomas Hoenig, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “When you look ahead, it is grim,” Hoenig said today during a speech in Kansas City. We will have negative growth through the first half of the year. The bank president’s remarks underscore the view of policy makers that “substantial” risks to the economy remained when they cut the benchmark interest rate to a record low last month to stem the yearlong recession. — Bloomberg

Russia-Ukraine gas crisis intensifies as all European supplies are cut off. Gazprom, the state-owned Russian gas group, today cut off all supplies to Europe travelling through Ukrainian pipelines, intensifying the political and economic crisis that has arisen out of a payments dispute between the two countries. The complete shutdown comes ahead of top-level talks in Moscow tomorrow between Gazprom and Naftogaz executives to resolve a pricing dispute that has arisen in each of the last four years. Ukraine, semi-bankrupt and being bailed out by the IMF and EU, is being offered natural gas at higher prices, but substantially below those charged on European markets. — The Guardian