Monday, August 31, 2009

A Moment of Limelight

Saturday evening hundreds of U.S. Senate staff and colleagues gathered on the Capitol steps to honor the late Senator Edward Kennedy.The senators' flag-draped coffin was brought by for a brief ceremony led by House Chaplain Rev.Daniel Coughlin,who described the senator as exhibiting true contemplative leadership.Across the street from the Capitol,members of the public assembled.The U.S. Capitol Police estimated the crowd to be about 1,000 people.As the police paced,the crowd chattered and sometimes laughed,lively despite the tropical heat of Washington in August.
Many of the staffers carried small American flags,or stuck them in their pockets.Several of them wore business suits in spite of the oppressive conditions.At least one staffer sported a Boston Red Sox cap-the late senators' favorite team.It was a rare glimpse of just how many people it takes to run the daily operations of the U.S. Senate.Representative Patrick Kennedy(D-Rhode Island),Senator Kennedy's son,told the staffers his father would be very proud to see you all out here today,and I thank you on behalf of my family.After a few prayers and patriotic songs,the cortege moved on to Arlington National Cemetery for a twilight interment,sent off by applause and cheers from the steadfast hard workers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Health Uncle:Hand Washing Works

A study in the Journal of Clinical Outcomes Management shows the importance of hand washing by health care workers.Conducted at a medical center near Baltimore,the study tracked an effort by the hospital to reduce the spread of the deadly MRSA infection,caused by an antibiotic-resistant staph bacterium.Certain staff members acted as enforcers of the hand washing regimen,reminding offenders of their responsibility.In consequence,during a three year time frame,hand washing increased from about 40% to more than 90%,and the number of hospital-transmitted MRSA infections went down by 49%,in spite of MRSA admissions going up.The unnecessary usage of antibiotics contributes to the resistance shown by MRSA bacteria in recent years.
The study also serves to remind everyone of the necessity of hygiene for good health.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fund Manager Sees Overextension

Barbara Marcin,fund manager of the PIMCO Blue Chip Value Fund,thinks we're about 6-9 months ahead of ourselves.You should be a little more defensive,buying high quality companies with global exposure that pay a dividend,such as PepsiCo,Kraft Foods or Johnson and Johnson.They have good balance sheets with strong cash flow.Their relative performance is what's gonna stand out in the next year or two,Ms.Marcin believes.Her colleague at PIMCO,Mohamed El-Erian,says that the market and economics are not reconciled right now.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Early Edition:Manufacturing Picks Up

The Empire State Manufacturing Index showed a big jump in new orders and shipments for July.The index rose 13% to a reading of 12.1.It is the first time the Empire State showed regional growth since February 2007.At the same time,the Philly Fed index showed a reading of 4.2 for July,versus -7.5 for June.A reading above 0 indicates expansion in Mid-Atlantic manufacturing.These positive readings are probably due to inventory replenishment,rather than a spike in consumer demand.As such,they may be only a temporary improvement.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Uncle:Businesses Asked to Prepare

The U.S. government is asking the business community to prepare now for what could be an autumn resurgence of the H1N1 virus,or swine flu.Businesses are being urged to administer the regular flu shot early this year,and to encourage vaccination of those at risk with the swine flu vaccine as soon as possible.At risk groups include pregnant women,younger workers and those with weakened immune systems.Businesses should also ask those with flu symptoms to stay home.Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said let's not play wait-and-see.We are asking the business community to be proactive.Should numerous workers fall ill,the economic impact would be substantial.Each business should develop unique contingency plans.
The government expects 45 million doses of swine flu vaccine,produced by GlaxoSmithKline,Novartis and others,to be available by mid-October.The vaccine is currently in clinical trials,some of them for children.One father remarked that his child might as well get the free trial shot now,rather than have to pay for it later.Two injections may be required,in addition to the regular flu vaccine.The pediatric trials are being held at 11 sites in 9 states.Each child gets a 40 dollar gift card for participating.
The World Health Organization is warning that the number of swine flu cases worldwide could double every three days for several months.The total could reach two billion cases.So far,more than 14,000 deaths from swine flu have been reported.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NASA Budget Won't Fly

Norm Augustine,former Lockheed Martin CEO,says that NASA's current human spaceflight program isn't executable with the resources we have.Mr.Augustine is leading a panel evaluating the program for NASA and President Barack Obama,the Review of Human Spaceflight Plans Committee.We are short four billion dollars;plus there are formidable technical challenges to consider.One of them is cosmic rays,which may be dangerous to the astronauts.The lengthy missions ahead would involve exposure to the rays for long periods of time,and the result of that is unknown.As well,the astronauts would be weightless for extended periods,and that is known to be harmful.
Going to Mars is an even greater challenge than returning to the Moon.It takes radio signals 20 minutes to travel from Mars back to earth.The astronauts would really be on their own out there.We spent a lot of money on the Apollo Moon missions.Going to Mars would be much more expensive.
Mr.Augustine's panel started out with over 3,000 options.They have narrowed them down to four-plus the basic program.One of the options is to delay the new Aries program,extending the shuttle program to fill in the gap.The routine transport of goods and people should be commercialized while the astronauts focus on scientific work.A 20% increase in NASA's budget would get us to Mars,the asteroids,and back to the Moon.
Today we are partnered with our former space rivals the Russians,Mr.Augustine observed.Many of our spacecraft use Russian engines.Space is one of the few areas where America still leads.If we don't lead,someone else will,he warned.
The committee met with NASA and White House officials on 14 August.The final report of the committee is being prepared.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Early Edition:Ivanka Trump Assesses Situation

Ivanka Trump of The Trump Organization says she isn't totally sure the recent stock market gains are based on fundamentals.I just don't know how to believe this is a V-shaped recovery,as opposed to a W.Commercial real estate hasn't really entered the system yet.I have a feeling that we're going to be coming out of this very slowly.Our consumers are still coming,but people are much more tentative in real estate and jewelry.We launched our jewelry line two years ago,Ms.Trump noted,wearing some costume earrings from the collection.
A massive deleveraging has to occur in commercial real estate,Ms.Trump believes.There has to somehow be a rationalization of that system.When people aren't hiring,they don't need office space.There's much more vacancy in the New York midtown core.Bankers are starting to call again to solicit business,but nobody's making substantial or reasonable loans,Ivanka Trump observed.A willowy blond,Ms.Trump has appeared with her father Donald on The Apprentice reality T.V. show.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Health Uncle:Whole Grain Helps

Typically,an American eats 12 grams of fiber a day,but 25-38 grams are recommended to lower cholesterol,control weight,and prevent conditions such as diabetes and heart disease.Researchers at the University of Minnesota followed 14,000 American adults for 13 years.Their study showed that the participants who ate one extra serving of whole grains a day were seven percent less likely to experience heart failure.

Whole grain foods include oatmeal,cereal and wheat bread.Developing a taste for dark bread may help you considerably.Many oat cereals are available,including inexpensive private label cereals.The same holds true for wheat bread.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

AmEx Better,But Challenged

Ken Chenault,CEO of American Express,saw improvement in his cardholders' credit metrics for the first time in 18 months,but,while his rates were better than expected,they still remain high by historical standards.The external challenges are not going to go away anytime soon,Mr.Chenault told investors.Bankruptcies will rise in Q3-4,and,as the yield on 10-year Treasuries rise because of increased issuance to pay for federal programs,mortgage and other rates will go up as well.
The largest decline in spending,Ken Chenault observed,is by the wealthiest clients.The economy,not housing,is driving the decline in spending.Still,the easing of credit card write-offs is allowing AmEx to resume investing in important areas such as marketing,promotions and customer acquisition programs.Mr.Chenault believes that Q3 Gross Domestic Product will rise 1%.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Early Edition:Inside the Employment Report

Friday's employment report showed a loss of 247,000 jobs in July,versus an estimate of 275,000.There were 14.5 million jobless,for a rate of 9.4%,versus June's rate of 9.5%.Average hourly wages rose 0.2%,while July's average workweek was 33.1,versus 33.0 for June.Non-farm payrolls showed the smallest decline since August of 2008,and the May-June losses were revived downward.Every measurement showed an economy in a slowing descent.
Hilda Solis,U.S. Labor Secretary,said as long as we see job loss,it's gonna be a problem.I wouldn't say the recession is over,she remarked.We're certainly on track to stabilizing the patient.The patient is still sick.The patient still has a fever.We know that we still have to be vigilant.We're gonna be very cautious.We want to move forward with our recovery plan.
The president has made an investment in renewable energy,health care and IT,such as two billion dollars for weatherization efforts,Ms.Solis noted.You're going to see a big change over the next few years in job creation in renewable energy.Tax breaks are going to come along.It's gonna take a while,but I have a lot of optimism that there's gonna be a change in direction,Secretary Solis stated.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Health Uncle:MedImmune's Building Binge

MedImmune,a subsidiary of British Pharmaceutical holding company Astra Zeneca,is embarked on a substantial building program.Best known for its nasal vaccine FluMist,the firm,which employs 3100 people,has broken ground for a 300,000 square foot research facility at its Gaithersburg,Maryland headquarters.At the same time,it bought a second building with 56,000 square feet nearby,and is erecting a 355,000 square foot manufacturing plant in Frederick,Maryland,where it plans to make its pediatric respiratory drug,Synagis.MedImmune comprises 25% of Astra Zeneca's biotech business.
MedImmune is developing a nasal vaccine for the H1N1 virus,or swine flu.The contractor that makes its nasal delivery systems,however,was caught off guard by the new program,and is having trouble meeting the demand for H1N1 devices.The U.S. government has ordered at least 90 miilion dollars' worth of the H1N1 mist,in addition to normal FluMist,which MedImmune has already begun shipping.This year,regular FluMist will be administered as early as August,when many school check-ups are given.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Exxon Mobil's Biotech Connection

Exxon Mobil isn't developing alternative fuels on its own.The Irving,Texas company has partnered with Synthetic Genomics,which was founded by Dr.Craig J. Ventner,a pioneer in the field of genomic research.SGI,which is privately held, acquires knowledge of organisms for energy and environmental applications.Exxon says that their goal is to produce a commercially scalable,renewable fuel that is compatible with gasoline and diesel.
Algae fuels would fit into existing infrastructure such as transportation networks and refineries,which would save untold amounts of capital.Their production wouldn't require arable land and fresh water,and could be accomplished on far fewer acres than other biofuels.As well,algae not only do not emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide;they actually absorb it.
Despite its promise,algae biofuel would be a supplement to hydrocarbons for the foreseeable future.Moving algae biofuel from the lab to the pump could require decades of work by a multidisciplinary scientific team,Exxon says.Enthusiasm for turning one-celled organisms into clean energy wells is tempered by the sobriety of a petrochemical titan.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Early Edition:Real Estate Check-up

Real estate and media magnate Sam Zell,Chairman of Equity Group Investments,says that basically we're moving to a position where single family home prices stop going down.It's the key to everything.That's where consumption comes from.Once housing stabilizes,it will stabilize the rest of the consumer sector.They must have confidence in their biggest asset.There will be a slow improvement in residential real estate this fall,Mr.Zell predicted.
Sam Zell described the commercial real estate sector as being underwater.He doesn't think we'll see any foreclosures of institutional assets until 2-3 years from now,when they can no longer cover.Every day you don't sell,you buy,Mr.Zell observed.Companies are,to a large extent,in pretty good shape.
Mr.Zell,a diminutive man with a goatee,also owns Tribune Company,parent of The Chicago Tribune and The Los Angeles Times,as well as Newsday and 23 T.V. stations.I don't have emotional attachment to assets,Mr.Zell stated-just to my family.