Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Comcast Left Bitter Taste

Comcast,the cable TV and broadband titan,alienated several customers on its way to the top.The company,which recently acquired a majority stake in NBC Universal from General Electric and Vivendi SA,consistently whittled away at its expanded basic tier of cable TV channels.It cut the NASA TV channel from the expanded basic lineup.Then it axed Retirement Living TV from the package.It also sheared off EWTN,the Catholic channel.Most recently,Comcast eliminated Maryland Public Television from expanded basic.
All the while it was depriving thousands of viewers of stimulating options,Comcast raised prices.The subscribers got less than what they originally signed up for,at a higher price.The taste of Comcast will not be on their favorite flavors list.Presumably the only reason Comcast hasn't eliminated expanded basic entirely is the political heat it would feel from local franchising authorities,should they dare to do so.No wonder these marginalized customers,many of them seniors,aren't cheering Comcast's recent success.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Foreclosure Plan Botched Up

John Geanokoplos,a Yale professor and partner at Ellington Capital Management,thinks we really botched the foreclosure relief plan.One of the remedies would have been to write down the principal.It takes a long time to evict people from their homes.During that time,the house gets partly destroyed and takes an awful lot of money to repair.We haven't seen the full effect of it yet.The mortgage servicers are keeping people in their houses longer and longer,collecting their fees.
Mortgage servicers can change or modify the mortgage.They have no interest in writing down mortgages,as they would lose their fees.They own second mortgages on the properties and want to keep the first loans.Most of the homeowners are subprime or Alt A.Together,their outstanding balance is 700 billion dollars.Almost all of them will end up being thrown out of their homes,Mr.Geanokoplos pointed out.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Danaher To Acquire Genetix

Washington,D.C.-based Danaher is continuing to augment its medical holdings.Now the firm is planning to acquire British lab equipment maker Genetix Group,PLC for 102 million dollars.Genetix has a specialty in imagery products that support drug,biologics and diagnostics development.The acquisition should be completed in Q1 of 2010,pending routine approvals.
Danaher also has extensive interests in dental imaging and instruments.Its board of directors has just appointed Dr.Elias A. Zerhouni,M.D. to the board.Dr.Zerhouni is an expert in medical research,radiology and bioengineering.The board feels that Dr.Zerhouni,who has been associated with Johns Hopkins University and the National Institutes of Health,will be an insightful and valuable contributor,especially given Danaher's growing presence in medical technologies.He is a graduate of the University of Algiers.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Boeing's Beautiful Moment

The attractive,two-tone airliner taxied on a dreary day last week after two years of exasperation.Not especially big,its swept-up wing tips rolling down the tarmac marked an instant of pride for American industry.After many delays,the white and blue Boeing 787 Dreamliner was finally ready for its maiden flight.Powered by two Rolls Royce engines,the replacement for the 767 had been in demand for its fuel economy.Constructed of composite materials instead of aluminum,it uses 20% less fuel than older models and,over its lifetime,will result in millions of dollars in savings.
The 787 showed a certain majestic grace as it taxied on the wet runway,taking a long time.It stopped for five minutes,as if contemplating its future,then resumed its trip.It had taken on a persona.Pausing again,it finally went with real speed,causing spray with its wheels.The takeoff was totally smooth,and its flight was indeed dreamlike,light on the wing over forested hills around Everett,Washington's Paine Field.It was flying to Boeing Field in Seattle,beginning the basic tests and system checks in quest of FAA certification.Boeing worker Kevin Hendricks said he was pretty excited;it was a pretty epic moment.He had been working on the 787 for two years.Other 787s were in production behind this one-the first of some 840 planes on order worldwide.Ten 787s have been assembled so far.Eventually,Boeing plans to produce 10 787s a month by 2012.
Boeing's suppliers have been ramping up in anticipation of full production.For them,this was an emotional day,bringing much hope to their factories.The second test flight is scheduled for December 22.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bill Gross Raises Cash

Bill Gross,"the bond king,"has rebalanced the industry-leading bond fund,the PIMCO Total Return Fund.He raised cash to 7% of the fund in November from -7% in October.Mr.Gross also cut government securities to 51% from 63% in October,which was a five-year high.He sliced mortgage securities from 16% to 12%,the lowest on record.The Total Return Fund is up about 17% year over year,better than 55% of comparable funds.
Mr.Gross feels that the bonds will decline in value when the Federal Reserve,reacting to an improving U.S. economy,raises interest rates in 2010.He is co-CEO and co-Chief Investment Officer at PIMCO,along with Mohamed El-Erian.They have been adding exchange-traded funds to PIMCO's offerings recently.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advances in Oncology

Our knowledge of cancer grows with each passing month,moving us to an ever greater understanding of the processes and origins of these complex diseases.British researchers have been cataloging the abnormalities which cause cancer across the human genome.There are 23,000 mutations in every cancer cell.Specifically,the scientists have mapped the genetic code for two common cancers:lung cancer and malignant melanoma.This had never been done before.Over time,such detailed knowledge should enable the development of new screening tests and treatments.The research was published in the science journal Nature.
One cause of genetic mutations is exposure to radiation.For instance,CT scans have now been found to cause more cancers than was previously thought.This important diagnostic procedure peers deep inside the body,resulting in radiation exposure worse than that caused by conventional x-rays.A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine says that,of all the patients that had CT scans in 2007,27,000 will develop cancers as a result of the scans,and 15,000 of them will die.The lead researcher commented that it is clear that many CTs are unnecessary.
While some oncology research leads to new treatments or screening techniques,other studies cause testing guidelines to be revised or reinforced,and may be just as important to patient welfare.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Energy Industry's Perspective

All of the United States' 140 million jobs depend on energy,in the view of Exxon Mobil.The World Energy Council says energy is the backbone of every economy,Exxon points out.That being the case,our energy portfolio must be expanded,not restricted.Despite a fall in demand,energy companies such as Exxon are continuing to invest billions of dollars in exploration and production.Exxon is averaging 25-30 billion a year in worldwide projects.These oil and gas activities support more than nine million U.S. jobs.More access to U.S. resources would add even more positions.The total value contributed to the U.S. economy by oil and gas in 2007 alone exceeded one trillion dollars,or about 7.5% of the Gross Domestic Product.
Developing all possible energy sources,including oil,natural gas,coal,nuclear and alternatives will keep energy costs down,create new jobs and improve consumer choices,Exxon believes.
The World Energy Council holds that sustainable development is not only about the environment.Policies which fail to contribute to economic and social development will themselves prove unsustainable.In order to support U.S. economic recovery and global competitiveness,the oil and gas industry is calling for sound and stable regulatory,legal and tax policies to encourage energy investments.
Exxon successfully led a consortium to access to an Iraqi oil field last week.As well,Exxon is purchasing XTO Energy for 31 billion dollars,seeking XTO's shale oil and gas holdings and expertise.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Geithner Exercises His Authority

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner invoked his statutory authority last week in a letter to the U.S. Congress.Mr.Geithner notified Capitol Hill that he has extended the Troubled Asset Relief Program,or TARP,until October 3,2010.He does not expect to deploy more than 550 of the 700 billion dollar war chest,and is looking for up to 175 billion in repayments by the end of 2010.Reduced commitments will allow significant resources to pay down the national debt.
Mr.Geithner said the extension will allow continued implementation of housing and small business support programs.He anticipates recovering all but 42 billion of the 364 billion in TARP funds deployed this year.Several banks,such as Bank of America and Goldman Sachs,have already repaid their TARP allotments.Citigroup is planning the repayment of its 20 billion dollar loan from TARP.At 9%,Citi's Tier One capital ratio is the highest in the industry,indicating its ability to repay the debt,in the company's opinion.Citi will sell 17 billion in common shares,plus 3.5 billion in tangible equity units.By 2010,Citi will emerge from the pay restriction regime.

Friday, December 11, 2009

USC's Medical Mecca

The University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine is a vast,world class system of institutions involved in education,research and patient care.It is a beehive of medical activity of all kinds.The underserved are cared for along with private patients.Research activities range from cancer studies to stem cell research.The latter is funded by noted businessman and philanthropist Eli Broad and his wife Edythe.
Keck's sprawling domain encompasses two private hospitals and a network of outpatient clinics staffed by USC doctors.Keck also partners with a number of other entities on medical facilities and programs.The range of its activity is so extensive,it's difficult to get your arms around at first.
USC is the largest private employer in Los Angeles.It brings more cash flow into the city than any other private institution or corporation.A magnet for foreign students,it is a co-founder of the Association of Pacific Rim Universities,a consortium of 42 leading research universities.USC employs about 3,000 full-time faculty and trains more than 900 medical residents.It has been recognized for its service to the surrounding communities by Time Magazine and the Princeton Review.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Commercial Real Estate Outlook

The recovery of the commercial real estate market is years away,according to magnate Sam Zell,Chairman of Equity Group Investments.We haven't had a major commercial real estate asset committed since July of 2007,Mr.Zell says,and it will be another 12-36 months before that happens again.I don't think normalization will provide equity to the current owners.The bottom line is,there's more debt than value.You're not gonna get anything if you do sell,Mr.Zell pointed out.
In his own case,Mr.Zell sold Equity Office for 39 billion dollars in 2007,at the top of the market.Somebody made him a Godfather offer,he jokes,and when you're not buying,you're selling.
I don't believe commercial real estate is the next leg down,Mr.Zell stated.The kind of real estate that regional banks loaned against was smaller,local-not institutional.Condominiums do not qualify as institutional real estate,Sam Zell indicated.Some observers have been warning that commercial real estate will likely cause a double dip recession when owners fail to get the refinancing they need as their loans come due.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Special Access:White House Jobs Summit

Christina Romer,Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors,related what she noted at the White House Jobs Summit last week.It was energetic and creative,she said.I heard some very positive things.Export creation came up,and a lot of interest in green initiatives like cash for clunkers.The one I heard a lot is credit.I heard a fair amount about tax incentives;a hiring credit;an R&D tax credit.The President wants to bring the private sector back in from the sidelines.There are gonna be fundamentally targeted measures,trying to get the private sector involved,Ms.Romer added.
For his part,President Barack Obama,speaking at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building across from the White House,said he heard some exciting ideas and proposals.There was agreement we have enormous infrastructure investments to make.We have to do this more effectively,with more coordination among federal,state and local governments.We also heard in the clean energy session how weatherization and clean energy have immediate benefits,the prospect they will pay for themselves by energy savings.There was consensus that if we can focus on the business opportunities of clean energy,America will be able to compete in the next round of global growth.
This is just the start,Mr.Obama said.The input from business leaders is gonna be continuous,the President promised.Ron Saxton,Executive Vice-President of Jeld-Wen,said energy efficient doors and windows could put people back to work immediately.Even a modest effort would create 10,000 jobs.An aggressive effort would create 100,000 jobs,Mr.Saxton believes.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dentists and Overall Health

The mouth is truly a portal to the rest of the body.That is why dentists are able to detect more than 120 diseases in the course of their regular oral exams.Clearly they should be regarded as integral members of the health care team.Some of the conditions they can spot are diabetes,osteoporosis,kidney disease,tuberculosis and high blood pressure.Their oral cancer screening is often a lifesaver.
If you have dental checkups every six months,your dentist may be the health professional who examines you most often.Their careful evaluation can be extremely beneficial to your quest for wellness.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Citimortgage Faces the Headwinds

It looks like home prices are gonna be under pressure for the next couple of quarters,says Sanjiv Das of Citimortgage,but he's cautiously optimistic with all the government programs aiding homeowners.We've really been out there trying to help,but face headwinds such as unemployment and homeowners owing more than their homes are worth,Mr.Das explained.We are massively increasing the number of modifications;we are reducing rates and extending the terms.
For Q3,we did substantially better than the industry,Mr.Das held.I can't fight the headwind of unemployment,he admitted.The thing here is to keep aggressively modifying as many loans as we can to keep people in their homes.In Q3,we processed 175,000 mortgages.The modifications are tailored to individual circumstances,Rajiv Das pointed out.The U.S. government is scrutinizing whether the banks are helping enough homeowners with its aid.