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The Nikkei gains nearly another 3%. Tokyo tacked a 1.5% gain overnight onto Tuesday's 1.4% advance as Shinzo Abe was formally approved as the new Prime Minister. Abe has vowed to increase inflation and devalue the yen, and has told the Bank of Japan to play along or face legislation forcing it to do so. Now buying ¥85.36, the dollar has risen to its highest level against the yen since April 2011. The Nikkei is ahead 21% YTD, with nearly all the gain coming in the weeks since Abe's return to power became clear.

The Administration eyes expansion of refi program. The Obama administration is considering expanding its mortgage-refinance program to include loans not backed by the GSEs, according to sources. Currently only borrowers on loans held by Fannie Mae (OTCQB:FNMA) or Freddie Mac (OTCQB:FMCC) can qualify for the HAMP, leaving about 50% of the nation's 10.8M underwater mortgages locked out of the program. The mechanics of actually accomplishing this expansion would likely leave the GSEs (and taxpayers) on the hook for a far greater amount of the nation's mortgage debt.

Holiday sales season looking weak. The early results suggest it's been a weak holiday season for retailers, with MasterCard's SpendingPulse reporting sales just 0.7% higher than last year. "It's a lost season," says the group's Michael McNamera. Notable among the major late-season discounts is a 50% markdown in Target's (NYSE:TGT) much-touted Neiman Marcus line.

Outage at Netflix blamed on Amazon. Netflix's (NASDAQ:NFLX) streaming service was back up and running on Tuesday after a Christmas Eve outage that affected a number of devices. Netflix blames technical problems at Amazon Web Services (NASDAQ:AMZN) for the glitch - the third major AWS outage this year.

Showdown coming in NYC for taxi-hailing apps. A European taxi-hailing app - Hailo - raised $30M at a $140M valuation as it prepares to make a splash into the New York market once e-hailing becomes legal there (expected early next year). Hailo will fight it out with competitors Uber, Flywheel, and GetTaxi, among others.

Automakers move into Russia. Scaling back elsewhere in Europe, automakers are expanding in Russia, where sales rose 40% Y/Y through the first half of 2012. GM, Ford (NYSE:F), Volkswagen (OTCQX:VLKAY), and Nissan (OTCPK:NSANF) are among the firms either recently opening new plants or planning to do so. "I would put Russia in the same breath as China," says GM's Timothy Lee. "I'm glad they're gone," says a young Russian of homegrown brands like the Lada and the Volga.

Samsung and Ericsson can't get along nicely. Samsung (OTC:SSNLF) has filed a complaint with the ITC accusing Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) of breaching seven of its patents and seeking a U.S. ban on imports of some of the Swedish telecom equipment maker's products. The move comes after Ericsson requested the ITC put a ban on the U.S. import of some of Samsung's products.

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Today's Markets:
In Asia, Japan +1.5% to 10230. Hong Kong +0.2% to 22541. China +0.2% to 2219. India +0.8% at 19417.
In Europe, at midday, London closed. Paris closed. Frankfurt closed.
Futures at 7:00: Dow +0.2%. S&P +0.2%. Nasdaq +0.1%. Crude +0.6% to $89.19. Gold flat at $1660.

Wednesday's economic calendar:
7:00 MBA Mortgage Applications
7:45 ICSC Retail Store Sales
8:55 Redbook Chain Store Sales
9:00 S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index
10:00 Richmond Fed Mfg.
10:00 State Street Investor Confidence Index

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Source: Wall Street Breakfast: Must-Know News