Money in a Minute: Headlines for March 17, 2011

CURRENCIES AND MARKETS: Japanese stocks down, currency up

The dollar reached an all-time low against the Japanese yen Thursday, dropping to as low as 76.5 dollars/yen before recovering slightly. Currencies in places where natural disasters occur typically gain as money is repatriated from other countries by insurance companies in order to start paying damages in the local currency. Damage estimates in Japan are now approaching $200 billion.

A stronger yen means imports from Japan could become more expensive for Americans.

Japanese stocks reversed yesterday’s gains by losing 1.4 percent in Thursday’s trading. Oil prices rose above $99 a barrel “as traders mulled whether damage to nuclear power plants in Japan will eventually boost demand for crude,” reports the Associated Press.

JAPAN: Natural gas will stay cheap, even if Japan needs more of it

Japan’s loss of 11 nuclear reactors means that alternative fuels, like coal and natural gas, could be in shorter world supply, driving up global prices. But that won’t mean higher natural gas prices for us here in the United States. “The price of natural gas has edged up since the earthquake and tsunami pushed some of Japan’s nuclear reactors to the brink of meltdown,” CNN reports. But while prices may spike in other parts of the world, “the U.S. already sits on a vast oversupply of the fuel.”

AUTO: Honda recalling 2011 Civics to fix gas-tank valve

If you own a 2011 Civic, take note: Honda is recalling 18,056 of them to inspect the fuel pump. A valve inside the fuel tank might cause a fuel leak in a rollover crash, USA Today reports. So far, no cases have been reported.

CONSUMER PROTECTION: GOP calls new consumer bureau too powerful

President Obama’s plans for a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is supposed to “protect consumers from problems with mortgages, credit cards and other lenders,” MSNBC reports. But House Republicans say it goes too far. Financial Services Chairman Spencer Bachus called it “the most powerful agency that’s ever been created in Washington.”

FOOD: Higher prices for food are about to get worse

Last month’s rise in wholesale food prices was the biggest in 36 years – which means it won’t be long before those hikes hit Americans at the retail level. “Cold weather accounted for most of it, forcing stores and restaurants to pay more for green peppers, lettuce and other vegetables,” MSNBC reports. “But meat and dairy prices surged, too.”

BANKING: $5 ATM fees coming our way?

Chase is the first bank testing $5 ATM fees for non-customers using their money machines. Currently, it’s just an experiment in Illinois, although it’s also testing $5 fees in Texas, CNN Money reports.

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