* Jan jobless rate 4.9 pct, matching forecast * Job-to-applications ratio rises to 0.61 vs forecast 0.58 * Household spending down 1.0 pct in Jan vs forecast -1.4 pct (Adds economist’s quote, details) By Rie Ishiguro TOKYO, March 1 (Reuters) – Japan’s jobless rate held steady in January and the availability of jobs improved to a two-year high, adding to growing signs the economy is gradually recovering from stagnation. Household spending marked its fourth straight month of annual declines in January but the pace of the fall slowed from December, suggesting that improvements in the job market may nudge consumers to loosen their purse strings

By Michael Erman and Sweta Singh NEW YORK/BANGALORE (Reuters) – Two U.S. healthcare-focused real estate investment trusts struck multibillion-dollar deals on Monday, taking advantage of relatively high stock prices to pick up new properties

(For more stories on the Japanese economy, click [ID:nECONJP]) TOKYO, March 1 (Reuters) – Japanese household spending fell 1.0 percent in January from a year earlier in price-adjusted real terms, government data showed on Tuesday, a smaller fall than the median market forecast for a 1.4 percent drop. [JPALLS=ECI] It was the fourth straight month of declines in household spending but the pace slowed from a 3.3 percent drop in December as the economy gradually picks up.

(For more stories on the Japanese economy, click [ID:nECONJP]) TOKYO, March 1 (Reuters) – Japan’s jobless rate stayed flat in January but the availability of jobs improved to a two-year high, government data showed, in a sign the economy is gradually recovering from stagnation. The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.9 percent, matching economists’ median forecasts, data from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications showed on Tuesday

By Euan Rocha and Michael Smith TORONTO/SYDNEY (Reuters) – Equinox Minerals has offered to buy Lundin Mining for C$4.8 billion ($5 billion) to expand production in Africa while copper hovers near record highs, a move that may trigger a bidding war with Canadian rival Inmet. Equinox, which owns one of Africa’s largest copper mines, said on Monday its C$8.10-a-share cash and stock bid is far superior to Inmet’s rival offer, which would pay no premium to Lundin shareholders.

TOKYO (Reuters) -Japan’s Nikkei average is expected to rise on Tuesday encouraged by gains on Wall Street, but it may stay in a narrow range due to uncertainty about oil prices as investors worry about developments in the Middle East. Analysts said some investors may stay on the sidelines on Tuesday before key economic events in the United States.

By Grant McCool NEW YORK (Reuters) – Michael Lewis, best-selling author of “The Big Short” about the mortgage meltdown, has been sued for defamation by an asset manager featured in the book. Other targets in the lawsuit are Lewis’ publisher W.W

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The dollar struggled to regain its footing in Asia on Tuesday after a steep decline, while the euro held firm as investors bet the Federal Reserve will stick to its easing course even as the ECB talks of tightening. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is expected to remain cautious about the economy at his semi-annual testimony before the Senate Banking Committee starting at 1500 GMT. In the words of New York Federal Reserve Bank President William Dudley: “We’re still very far from achieving our dual mandate of maximum sustainable employment and price stability.” This puts the Fed at odds with other major central banks, which are starting to worry about rising price pressure, and reinforces the view that the European Central Bank will probably hike rates before the Fed.

By Carole Vaporean NEW YORK (Reuters) – Commodity investors remained concerned about protests in the Middle East on Monday but Saudi Arabia’s reassurance that it would pump more oil unwound gains in crude and gold, while U.S. cocoa futures rocketed to a 32-year peak after gun battles erupted in Ivory Coast. For February, most commodities showed monthly gains