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April 18, 2014

Defend ‘Obamacare’ unabashedly, some Democrats say

Filed under: economics, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:36 am

WASHINGTON • With enrollments higher than expected, and costs lower, some Democrats say it’s time to stop hiding from the president’s health care overhaul, even in this year’s toughest Senate elections.

Republicans practically dare Democrats to embrace “Obamacare,” the GOP’s favorite target in most congressional campaigns. Yet pro-Democratic activists in Alaska are doing just that, and a number of strategists elsewhere hope it will spread.

President Barack Obama recently announced that first-year sign-ups for subsidized private health insurance topped 7 million, exceeding expectations. And the Congressional Budget Office — the government’s fiscal scorekeeper — said it expects only a minimal increase in customers’ costs for 2015. Over the next decade, the CBO said the new law will cost taxpayers $100 billion less than previously estimated.

Republicans already were pushing their luck by vowing to “repeal and replace” the health care law without having a viable replacement in mind, said Thomas Mills, a Democratic consultant and blogger in North Carolina. Now, he said, Democrats have even more reasons to rise from their defensive crouch on this topic.

“Democrats need to start making the case for Obamacare,” Mills said. “They all voted for it, they all own it, so they can’t get away from it. So they’d better start defending it.”

Even some professionals who have criticized the health care law say the political climate has changed.

“I think Democrats have the ability to steal the health care issue back from Republicans,” health care industry consultant said Bob Laszewski said. “The Democratic Party can become the party of fixing Obamacare.”

In truth, some Democratic lawmakers often talk of “fixing” the 2010 health care law arrest records. But it’s usually in response to critics or in a manner meant to show their willingness to challenge Obama.

For instance, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., who faces a tough re-election bid, used her first TV ad of the campaign to highlight her demand that Obama let people keep insurance policies they like.

But Landrieu and other hard-pressed Democrats have not gone as far as a pro-Democratic group in Alaska that is unabashedly highlighting the health law’s strongest points.

The independent group Put Alaska First is airing a TV ad that praises Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for helping people obtain insurance even if they have “pre-existing conditions,” such as cancer. The ad doesn’t mention Obama or his health care law by name, but it focuses on one of the law’s most popular features.

Other Democrats should consider such tactics, political consultant David DiMartino said.

“There is still time to tell the story of Obamacare to voters,” he said. Democratic candidates don’t want to be defined entirely by the health law, he said, “but now they can point to its successes to fend off the inevitable distortions.”

GOP strategists don’t agree. The recent upbeat reports might help Democrats temporarily, but “the negative opinion of Americans toward Obamacare is baked in,” Texas-based Republican consultant Matt Mackowiak said. “If Obamacare was truly trending positively,” he said, “Sebelius would have stayed, and Democrats in tough races would be picking a fight on Obamacare, instead of mostly hiding from it.”

Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary closely associated with the health care law, is stepping down. Democrats say it’s a sign that the biggest problems are past, but Senate Republicans vow to use her successor’s confirmation hearings as another forum for criticizing the law.

Democrats hardest hit by anti-Obamacare ads — including Sens. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas — continue to defend the health law when asked, but they generally focus on other topics, campaign aides say.

Polls don’t suggest public sentiment is shifting toward Democrats, said Robert Blendon, a professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. But with at least 7.5 million people enrolled despite last fall’s disastrous rollout of insurance markets, Blendon said, Democrats have some strong new material to use.

“Each of the Democratic candidates is going to have to make a calculation on whether or not they can motivate Democrats,” Blendon said. “For Democrats to get an advantage out of the law, they have to convince people they have something to lose if the Senate changes hands.”

Republicans need to gain six seats to control the 100-member Senate.

New political problems might arise for the health care law before the Nov. 4 election. For instance, the individual requirement to carry health insurance remains generally unpopular, and now penalties may apply to millions of people who remain uninsured.

So far, Republicans have had an edge in public opinion, particularly when those with strong sentiments about the law are considered. A recent AP-GfK poll found that strong opponents outnumber strong supporters, 31 percent to 13 percent. And motivated voters often make the difference in low-turnout nonpresidential elections criminal search. But the poll also found that most Americans expect the health law to be changed, not repealed.

That puts Republicans in a tricky situation: GOP primary voters demand repeal, but general election voters in November are looking for fixes.

“It’s not a cheap and easy political target anymore,” Laszewski said. “Republicans are going to have to tell us what they would do different.”

Democrats deride GOP proposals to “replace” the 2010 health care law, saying they collapse under close scrutiny. Since they generally contemplate a smaller federal government role, many of the GOP ideas are likely to leave more people uninsured. Some approaches do not completely prohibit insurers from turning away people with pre-existing medical conditions.

Economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who advises many top Republicans, said the emerging GOP plans aren’t tied to the ups and downs of Obama’s law but look ahead to the 2016 presidential election, when the party will need alternatives.

Ultimately, he said, “there can’t be a Republican ‘replace.’ … There needs to be a bipartisan reform.” That doesn’t seem likely, but Holtz-Eakin said it was the only kind of change that will prove durable.

Democrats can cheer the latest statistics, “but they are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “They have waived and deferred a million things they knew were unpopular, and those are still out there.”

AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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October 15, 2012

Softbank could play Sprint’s savior

Filed under: legal, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:56 am

Sprint Nextel’s seven-year nightmare may soon be over. The nation’s third-largest wireless carrier confirmed Thursday that it is in talks with Japanese technology giant Softbank to sell at least part of the company.

, Fortune 500) has struggled to keep up with stronger competitors , Fortune 500) and , Fortune 500) ever since its disastrous 2005 merger with Nextel. The company is up to its eyeballs in debt, undergoing an expensive — and late — transition to 4G-LTE, and losing contracted customers in the wake of its decision to ditch the Nextel brand. With smaller rival T-Mobile entering into an agreement to buy , Fortune 500) earlier this month, Sprint is feeling the heat of stronger competition from all sides.

Forced to go it alone, the company has been working on a major upgrade intended to modernize its network. It’s also toying with backup plans: Sprint’s shares rose last week on a Bloomberg report that said the company was considering making a counter-offer to MetroPCS.

But then, seemingly out of the blue, Softbank arrived dangling a new rescue plan. It’s the kind of white knight with deep pockets that Sprint desperately needs. Softbank had roughly $13 billion in cash at the end of last year. Sprint, by comparison, has $21 billion in debt and just $7 billion in cash and short-term investments.

Shares of Sprint jumped by as much as 19% Thursday on the news.

Japan’s third-largest carrier, led by colorful and outspoken CEO Masayoshi Son (he devised a 300-year plan in 2010, which involved brain-computer symbiosis and machines that know how to love), isn’t shy about dealmaking. It owns a stake in ), had a chunk of ) until last year, and orchestrated a blockbuster deal to buy Vodafone’s Japan unit that gave the company a huge presence in the burgeoning wireless space no fax payday loan. Softbank was the first Japanese wireless company to carry the , Fortune 500) iPhone.

Softbank’s flair and assertiveness could give Sprint a needed jolt. The company lost its brief marketing edge — billing itself as the only nationwide network with unlimited data — when T-Mobile recently reverted to its unlimited data plans as well. Despite a network technology transition that appears to be on schedule and promises cost savings and improved coverage, Sprint’s management has been criticized for lacking the chutzpah to do something bolder. The company seems locked in a losing battle with its two much-larger competitors.

“If Softbank does acquire Sprint Nextel, it is not a forgone conclusion that the company will do well,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecommunications analyst. “However, the chances it can do well are there if the company can understand the U.S. marketplace.”

Terms of the deal that is being negotiated were not disclosed, and Softbank declined to comment. A Wall Street Journal report said the deal, worth roughly $13 billion, would give Softbank a controling stake in Sprint.

Regulators would likely cheer the deal, which would ensure that four strong, nationwide wireless competitors remain in the U.S. market. In AT&T’s scuttled $36 billion buyout offer for T-Mobile last year, regulators said they opposed the deal because it would bring the number of national wireless choices down from four to three.

Source

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September 7, 2012

ECB outlines bond-buying program

Filed under: canada, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:28 am

European Central Bank president Mario Draghi outlined the details of a plan to buy euro area government bonds, reiterating his pledge to do “whatever it takes” to preserve the euro.

Following a meeting of top ECB officials in Frankfurt on Thursday, Draghi said the ECB is prepared to make “outright monetary transactions,” or OMTs, in the secondary bond market.

The goal is to “address severe distortions in government bond markets,” which he said stem from “unfounded fears on the part of investors of the reversibility of the euro.”

He said the OMTs will be subject to conditions, including the activation of the two eurozone rescue funds — European Financial Stability Facility or European Stability Mechanism. In other words, governments that want the ECB to buy its bonds must agree to a program of reforms and oversight by the bailout funds and possibly the International Monetary Fund.

The move is aimed mainly at Spain and Italy, which struggled with unsustainable borrowing costs earlier this year, although Draghi said the offer is open to all euro area governments. So far, neither Madrid or Rome has officially requested support from the bailout funds.

There will be no “ex ante limits on the size” of the purchases, said Draghi, calling the plan a “fully effective back stop that removes tail risks from the euro area.”

The purchases will focus on bonds with a duration of between 1 and 3 years. And Draghi said the ECB will not be considered a preferred creditor under the new program.

Investors welcomed the comments, with stock markets rallying in Europe and the United States. In the bond market, yields on Spanish and Italian bonds fell sharply.

“This is a very significant step for the ECB,” said Marie Diron, senior economic adviser to the Ernst & Young. “The ECB did not disappoint on the very high expectations in the market.”

Diron praised the ECB for being proactive, but she added that the new program alone “is not enough for the eurozone economy to turn itself around.”

“The program certainly improves the financial market environment and will create some room for governments to hold up their part of the bargain,” she said.

During his press conference, Draghi said “conditionality” is the most important difference between the OMTs and past interventions in the bond market under the ECB’s Securities Market Program.

The ECB president stressed that intervening in the bond market is not effective without “concurrent” policy actions by government policy makers. “You need two legs,” he said.

Guy LeBas, chief fixed income analyst at Janney Capital Markets, called the emphasis on conditionality “a sacrifice to the German financial gods.”

“Essentially, if a bailed out country doesn’t meet its fiscal target, the ECB stops buying, and borrowing rates go through the roof,” LeBas wrote in a note to clients. “It also allows the ECB an ‘out,’ which reduces the effectiveness of the purchase program.”

The decision was backed by all members of the ECB’s governing council, with one exception. Jens Weidmann, president of the German Bundesbank, has made his opposition to bond buying publicly known.

Draghi reiterated his argument that bond buying is not a violation of the ECB’s mandate because dysfunctional financial markets are impeding the “transmission” of monetary policy.

However, he downplayed reports that ECB leaders are divided along geographic lines, with more hawkish Northerners opposed to more dovish Southerners.

“There is a mistaken caricature, particularly in this country (Germany) about how the governing council works,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ECB said its main refinancing rate will remain at a record low of 0.75%. Some analysts had expected a rate cut to 0.5%.

The ECB also lowered its outlook for economic growth this year to a range between a decline of 0.6% and 0.2%.

Source

August 14, 2012

How YouTube escaped Google’s anti-piracy search crackdown

Filed under: management, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 5:56 pm

In a new campaign that started Monday, Google is cracking down on copyright violators that show up in its search results. But at least one site that hosts a mother lode of pirated material won’t see much of a change: Google’s own YouTube.

As part of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, copyright holders can request that Google take down search links to URLs that point to pirated material. , Fortune 500) is adjusting its search algorithm to factor in the number of take-down requests it receives.

“Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results,” Amit Singhal, Google’s head of engineering, said in a blog post. “This ranking change should help users find legitimate, quality sources of content more easily.”

The websites most likely to be ranked lower in Google’s search are sites like FilesTube and torrentHound, which topped Google’s take-down request list last month. Both sites give users ways to download copyrighted material for free. They’re pretty blatant — torrentHound even advertises pirated copies of in-theaters movies like The Dark Knight Rises and The Amazing Spider-Man.

YouTube also hosts a huge amount of pirated material and receives numerous take-down requests; Google wouldn’t discuss the exact number. However, YouTube is expected to emerge unscathed from Google’s search change.

Google insists there’s nothing nefarious going on. The company puts each website it crawls through about 200 different filters, and both YouTube and torrentHound are subjected to the same exact screening. YouTube’s heft — and the fact that millions rely on it for completely legal video-swapping — will keep it from sinking in the search rankings.

Google wouldn’t detail how its various ranking tests work, but a company spokesman said the intent is to promote the sites that users want to go to, including YouTube and other popular, user-generated content sites like ), Tumblr and , Fortune 500)’s IMDB.

Google is being especially cautious about this subject, since the company is the target of ongoing antitrust investigations in both the United States and Europe. Those probes are looking at whether Google unfairly promotes its own content above its rivals.

That may be one reason why Google is holding its own sites, including YouTube and Blogger, to extra-strict standards.

When tallying up the number of take-down requests for its own sites, Google is counting both the search-related take-down requests it receives as well as YouTube and Blogger’s own, separate copyright-related take-down requests. That’s something Google can’t do for sites like Facebook or Tumblr, since it doesn’t have access to take-down requests sent to those companies.

Even with that exaggerated number, Google said YouTube’s search results rankings shouldn’t appear much different than they have in the past.

“It’s not because we’re hand-picking anything,” a Google spokesman said. “Generally speaking, we’re about promoting what’s relevant to our users.”

Source

July 19, 2012

U.K. Retail Sales Rise Less Than Forecast as Weather Hits Food - Bloomberg

Filed under: management, news — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 4:04 am

U.K. retail sales rose less than economists forecast last month as the wettest June for a century curbed food sales and the extra public holiday for the queen

July 16, 2012

Business Inventories in U.S. Increased More Than Forecast - Bloomberg

Filed under: legal, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 8:12 pm

Inventories in the U.S. rose more than forecast in May as sales declined for a second month, indicating companies may limit factory orders.

The 0.3 percent increase in stockpiles followed a revised 0.3 percent gain in April that was smaller than initially estimated, Commerce Department data showed today in Washington. The median forecast in a Bloomberg News survey projected a 0.2 percent gain. Sales fell 0.1 percent in May for a second month.

Companies may reduce orders placed with manufacturers as they attempt to keep stockpiles in line with sales and gauge whether spending and the economy will keep slowing. Another report today showed retail sales fell in June for a third month.

July 11, 2012

Stocks end sharply lower

Filed under: management, mortgage — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 12:16 pm

U.S. stocks closed sharply lower on Tuesday as worries about corporate earnings falling short of expectations unnerved investors.

Energy, utilities and tech stocks added pressure to already-down markets after Applied Materials (, Fortune 500) and Advanced Micro Devices (, Fortune 500) both warned their revenue would fall short of forecasts.

Disappointing expectations from Cummins (, Fortune 500) also dragged on markets, as the engine maker’s stock fell 9% after it slashed its sales forecast for the year.

Alcoa (, Fortune 500) was the first Dow component to report this week. The aluminum producer reported results after the close Monday that were roughly in line with analysts’ expectations, but the stock still slid as investors had hoped for more.

Results are due later in the week from JPMorgan Chase (, Fortune 500) and Wells Fargo (, Fortune 500).

Overall, analysts are expecting underwhelming corporate results, with earnings dropping off compared to the first quarter. But some analysts say that with the bar set so low, stocks may benefit from companies beating expectations.

"Even though the expectations for earnings are pretty dour, the next couple of weeks should be good for markets," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank. "In a market that really is a manifestation of reality beating anticipation, it’s great to have very low expectations."

The Dow Jones industrial average () slid 83 points, or 0.7%, the S&P 500 () fell 11 points, or 0.8%, and the Nasdaq () shed 29 points, or 1%.

Analysts say that trading volume is also light, which can add to market volatility.

"There’s not a lot of money moving in and out of the market," said Douglas Cote, chief market strategist at ING Investment Management. "There’s simply a lot of churning."

Stocks had opened with solid gains after eurozone finance ministers agreed late Monday to offer Spain an initial €30 billion by the end of the month to help bail out its troubled banks.

Europe’s stability mechanism remains elusive

"The agreement shows that the European leaders are committed to doing whatever is necessary to make sure there won’t be another euro crisis," said Cote. "The market just loves that kind of certainty."

But worries remain, said Bob Phillips, co-founder of investment advisory firm Spectrum Management Group in Indianapolis.

"The fundamental issue is that Spain’s spending more a year than they’re taking in," Phillips said. "They can print money and buy time, but they keep spending money that can’t be paid for."

Yields for the 10-year Spanish bond slid to 6.83% following the eurozone announcement. Yields have been bouncing above the 7% mark, which heightens bailout worries.

U.S. stocks ended lower Monday, as investors remained wary ahead of quarterly corporate results.

World markets: European stocks closed up for the day. Britain’s FTSE 100 () added 0.7%, the DAX () in Germany gained 0.8% and France’s CAC 40 () rose 0.6%.

Meanwhile, China reported worsening year-over-year import growth early Tuesday. June growth came in at 6.3%, half of May’s 12.7%, pointing to weak demand.

Asian markets closed lower. The Shanghai Composite () fell 0.3%, the Hang Seng () in Hong Kong shed 0.2% and Japan’s Nikkei () lost 0.4%.

N.Y. Fed asked Barclays about Libor in ‘08

Companies: Shares of Barclays () were higher Tuesday, after the British bank reached a deal with outgoing CEO Bob Diamond, who quit as the bank faces criticism for its role in the Libor scandal.

Although Diamond continues to receive salary and some benefits for a year or so, he declined his deferred bonus worth up to £20 million ($31 million).

Shares of Advanced Micro Devices plummeted after the company warned late Monday that it expects second-quarter revenue will drop 11% from the previous quarter because of weaker sales in China and Europe.

Applied Materials cut its outlook early Tuesday, revising third-quarter and full-year earnings and sales forecasts, citing a slowdown in demand for semiconductor manufacturing equipment.

Troubled BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion () held its annual shareholder meeting Tuesday. Late last month, the company announced 5,000 layoffs, a giant quarterly loss and another delay to its next BlackBerry operating system. Shares were down Tuesday.

Intel (, Fortune 500) has agreed to acquire a 15% stake in Dutch semiconductor equipment maker ASML Holdings () for up to $4.1 billion. Intel said the companies will work together to develop technologies that will cut costs and improve productivity.

Economy: Last year, 18.6% of youth across 34 countries were neither employed nor in school or training programs, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Employment Outlook 2012 report released on Tuesday. In the United States, that percentage was 14.8%.

A lack of jobs for workers ages 15 to 24 could create a "scarring effect" on their long-term career paths and future earnings prospects, the OECD said.

The OECD also predicts the unemployment rate across the United States, Europe, Japan and Mexico will stay above 7.7% by the end of 2013 — barely better than its current 7.9%.

Goldman Sachs: Stock picking isn’t paying off

Currencies and commodities: The dollar rose against the euro and British pound but fell versus the Japanese yen.

Oil for August delivery settled down $2.08 to $83.91 a barrel.

Gold futures for August delivery lost $9.30 to $1,579.80 an ounce.

Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury fell, pushing the yield up to 1.52% from 1.51% late Monday.  

Source

June 5, 2012

More Twist, Mortgage Buying Likely From Fed, Jersey Says - Bloomberg

Filed under: finance, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 1:52 am

The Federal Reserve is likely to provide added monetary stimulus when its current effort winds down, with an emphasis on extension of Operation Twist and further mortgage buying, according to Credit Suisse Group AG.

The probability of more central bank policy action reached 80 percent, up from 60 percent, the company said, after the Labor Department reported June 1 that U.S. employers added 69,000 jobs in May, the fewest in a year after an increase of 77,000 the previous month. The median forecast of 85 economists in a Bloomberg News survey before the jobs report was for an increase of 150,000 jobs.

June 2, 2012

Draghi says euro is ‘unsustainable’ without action

Filed under: management, term — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 4:32 am

The head of the European Central Bank said Thursday that the configuration of Europe’s common currency will become "unsustainable" if policymakers do not take action.

ECB President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament that European Union leaders need to "clarify the vision" for the future of the troubled euro currency union.

Draghi stressed that the ECB, which is tasked with maintaining price stability, cannot make up for a lack of decisive action by government policymakers.

"Can the ECB fill the vacuum left by the lack of euro area governance?" he asked. "The answer is no."

The crisis of the last few years has shattered assumptions about the sustainability of bank capital and government debt, said Draghi. Now, he said the same thing is happening with the underlying structure of the euro currency.

"That configuration we had for 10 years, which was basically considered sustainable — I should add in perhaps a myopic way — is being shown now to be unsustainable unless further steps are undertaken," said Draghi.

The best way to resolve the crisis is for eurozone policymakers is to present a clear path forward and eliminate uncertainty in the financial markets, according to Draghi.

Goldman says it can profit from Europe’s bust

"Dispel this fog," he said. "The headwinds will stay strong, but at least you will see the horizon."

Draghi supported the idea of forming a banking union in Europe, which the European Commission proposed earlier this week payday loan lenders in states. EU heads of state will discuss the banking proposal and other economic reforms at a summit next month.

The banking union would sit on three pillars, including a European-wide deposit guarantee mechanism, a resolution fund and centralized banking supervision, said Draghi.

In response to a question about what role non-euro area governments would play in the banking union, Draghi said "these are problems of the monetary union — of the euro — not problems of the EU."

The central bank chief criticized the way euro area officials have responded to problems in the banking sector.

Spain should let its small banks fail

In particular, he said Spanish authorities underestimated the needs of Bankia, one of the nation’s largest banks, as it struggles with losses tied to the collapse of the housing market.

"There is a first assessment, then a second, a third, a fourth," Draghi said. "This is the worst possible way of doing things. Everyone ends up doing the right thing, but at the highest cost."

However, Draghi said the ECB will continue to support banks that are solvent. For example, he said a number of Greek banks, which had been temporarily blocked from ECB funding, have been "readmitted."  

Source

May 28, 2012

CP Rail strike: We need to get the trains running, Labour Minister Lisa Raitt says

Filed under: Uncategorized, management — Tags: , , , — Snowman @ 7:24 pm

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