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Morning Market Roundup: EU Recession Getting Worse, Oil Down, DOJ Goes After Taiwanese 'Price Fixers


Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:

EU Recession: Europe appears headed for a deepening economic recession despite a recent easing in market concerns over the three-year debt crisis, a closely-watched survey found Thursday.

Financial data company Markit said its purchasing managers' index - a gauge of business activity - for the 17-country eurozone fell to 45.9 in September from 46.3 the previous month. Anything below 50 indicates a contraction in economic activity.

September's rate was the lowest in over three years and came despite an easing in the rate of economic contraction in Germany, the eurozone's largest economy.

Department of Justice: The U.S. Department of Justice is demanding that a "remorseless" Taiwanese company AU Optronics pay a $1 billion fine and two former top executives each serve 10 years in prison for their roles as central figures in what prosecutors called the most serious price-fixing cartel ever prosecuted by the U.S.

The DOJ argues the sentences are necessary to punish a company that unfairly forced U.S. consumers to pay billions more than they should have for electronics and to deter others from engaging in price fixing.

The DOJ lawyers made the demands, which include $1 million fines for each of the executives, in court filings Tuesday. They are wrapping up a years-long investigation of a global price-fixing scheme that artificially increased the price of LCD screens used in televisions, computers and other electronic products made by Apple Inc., Dell Computers and many of the largest high-tech companies in the United States.

U.S. District Judge Susan Illston is expected to sentence AU Optronics and its two top executives. Seven other Asian manufacturers and 22 of their executives have previously pleaded guilty and agreed to pay a combined $890 million in fines. The 10 executives who have been sentenced so far received prison terms ranging from six months to a little more than year in prison.

U.S. Futures: New economic data from the feds drove markets down this morning. The Dow Jones industrial average is down 40 points to 13,540 shortly after the opening bell. The broader Standard & Poor's 500 index is down seven points to 1,454, and the Nasdaq composite index is down 15 points to 3,167.

Weak economic figures also weighed on markets in Europe and Asia. A gauge of European Union business activity slipped to its lowest level in more than three years.

Oil Down: Oil prices fell closer to $91 a barrel on Thursday, sagging for a fourth straight day as high U.S. inventories and weak economic data from Europe, China and Japan reinforced fears of a deeper global downturn.

By early afternoon in Europe, benchmark oil for October delivery was down 45 cents to $91.53 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract finished at $91.98 on Wednesday, dropping $3.31, or 3.5 percent.

In London, Brent crude traded on the ICE Futures exchange was down 54 cents to $107.65 a barrel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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