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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Mosquitoes collected near Antioch test positive for West Nile - San Jose Mercury News

A group of mosquitoes collected last week near Antioch's Contra Loma Reservoir tested positive for West Nile virus — the second infected group documented in the county this year.

A dead Western scrub jay found last week in Antioch also tested positive for West Nile virus. Based on the number of dead bird reports, the area east of Somersville Road, west of Deer Valley Road, south of Highway 4 and north of Empire Mine Road in Antioch is at highest risk for West Nile in Contra Costa County, said Deborah Bass, public affairs manager with the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District.

The current heat wave is expected to increase the risk of West Nile because higher temperatures speed the rate at which the virus replicates in mosquitoes' salivary glands, according to Vector Control.

Property owners are encouraged to routinely check yards and dispose of mosquito water sources, Bass said. They should also maintain water features around their homes.

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Fathers Age Is Also a Factor in Fertility - Well - Tara Parker-Pope - Health - New York Times Blog

When it comes to age and fertility, women fear a “biological clock” and are urged to have children early. But men are rarely given the same advice and often don’t worry about fertility when postponing marriage and children.

But a growing body of research now shows the age of the potential father matters too. French researchers have collected data from more than 21,000 artificial inseminations involving 12,200 infertile couples. The data, presented yesterday at the 24th annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Barcelona, found that pregnancy rates decrease and miscarriages increase when a father is over 35 years of age.

Dr. Stephanie Belloc, of the Eylau Centre for Assisted Reproduction in Paris, said this is the first time that such a strong paternal effect on reproductive outcomes has been shown.

In most of the cases studied, the couples were being treated because of the husband’s infertility, but the researchers analyzed the results in a way to separate out the male and female factors related to each pregnancy. The sperm of each partner was examined for a number of characteristics, including sperm count, motility and morphology. Clinical pregnancy, miscarriage and delivery rates were also recorded.

As expected, maternal age was a strong predictor of success. Intrauterine insemination, or IUI, led to pregnancy in 14.5 percent of women under 35, but just 8.9 percent in women over 35. Miscarriage rates were also typically affected by maternal age.

But notably, a similar effect was shown for men over 35, in both pregnancy rates and miscarriage rates.

“This research has important implications for couples wanting to start a family,” Dr. Belloc said. “Our research proves for the first time that there is a strong paternal age-related effect on IUI outcomes, and this information should be considered by both doctors and patients in assisted reproduction programs.”

Because the data are based on men with known fertility problems, it’s not clear whether the results apply to all men as they age. However, previous studies have also suggested that the biological clock ticks for men too. To learn more, read this 2007 story from The Times.

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AirTran will cut 480 jobs to blunt rising fuel costs - Wichita Business Journal:

AirTran Airways has announced that it plans to shed 480 jobs -- 180 pilot and 300 flight attendant positions -- by Sept. 6 as part of program to reduce its costs, which have been soaring because of escalating fuel prices.

AirTran is offering employees who have at least five years of service a voluntary "early exit" program under which they will be entitled to certain medical benefits and flight privileges for up to a year, according to published reports.

The Orlando-based low fare carrier, a subsidiary of AirTran Holdings Inc. (NYSE: AAI), expects to save about $16 million with the cuts. It currently employs about 8,900 people, including more than 1,400 pilots and 2,000 flight attendants.

The airline had projected to grow some 10 percent this year, but because of high fuel costs it is reducing capacity by 5 percent -- a 15-point swing. The job cuts mirror the capacity cuts.

Last week, AirTran reported plans to slash employee pay by 5 to 15 percent in an attempt to save about $30 million.

The airline had a net loss of $34.8 million on $596.4 million in revenue in the first quarter, compared with net income of $2.2 million on $504.1 million in revenue in the first quarter of 2007.

AirTran has three daily flights out of Wichita's Mid-Continent Airport and is subsidized by the state of Kansas.

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Office Depot sees qtrly sales decline; shares sag - Forbes.com

United States -

(Adds analyst, Staples CFO comment; previously datelined NEW YORK)

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Office supplies retailer Office Depot Inc (nyse: ODP - news - people ) said Tuesday its North American same-store sales fell nearly 10 percent in the second quarter and warned operating margins would fall more than expected, sending its shares down more than 30 percent to a new low.

In a preliminary forecast, the retailer also said total company sales declined in the quarter and it was "disappointed" with the results.

The office supply sector has been hit hard by the weakening U.S. economy as consumers and businesses have cut back on spending in the face of falling home values and the credit crunch. Rivals Staples (nasdaq: SPLS - news - people ) Inc and OfficeMax Inc (nyse: OMX - news - people ) have also posted weaker same-store sales for North America.

"There's no question about the fact that consumers had a little boost with the rebate checks that they got, but overall they are very fearful as a result of gas prices, interest rates, their real estate coming down in value," Staples Chief Financial Officer John Mahoney told the CNBC network Tuesday.

"It's a time when consumers are really pulling in their horns," Mahoney added.

In April, Office Depot reported a 55 percent drop in first-quarter profit and said it expected sales would continue to be challenged in the second quarter.

Credit Suisse analyst Gary Balter cut his price target on Office Depot shares to $13 to $8 Tuesday and slashed his 2008 earnings per share estimate from 95 cents to 43 cents per share.

"Our Q1 earnings note title at the time, 'Self Delusional?', reflected our concern that the company seems not only to be headed on a downward spiral but also refuses to admit it," Balter wrote in a note. "That, as we have seen at too many retailers over the years, is a dangerous combination, and today's press release is an outcome of that."

Office Depot also warned that its second-quarter earnings before income tax (EBIT) margin -- or operating margin -- is expected to decline 2 percentage points more than the 2 percent to 2.5 percentage point decline it previously expected on a year-over-year basis, as sales trends worsened late in the quarter.

"While the company anticipates the economic environment to be difficult over the balance of the year, it expects its profit margins to improve sequentially in the third and fourth quarters," Office Depot said in a statement.


Sanford Bernstein analyst Colin McGranahan raised the possibility that the weaker second quarter results could spur management changes. Office Depot earlier this year survived a proxy challenge from a shareholder group which sought to oust Chief Executive Steve Odland and former CEO David Fuente from the board.

"Given this weak performance and lack of traction in turnaround strategies, we believe that the probability of additional changes in management this year has increased," McGranahan said in a research note.

Shares of Office Depot, which have fallen about 66 percent over the last 12 months, were down $3.34, or 32 percent, to $7.07 in late morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange, dipping to levels not seen since late 2000.

OfficeMax also reached a new year low, falling $2.66, or 19.3 percent, to $11.17. Staples was down 74 cents, or 3.1 percent, to $22.40 on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Karen Jacobs in Atlanta, Shivani Singh in Bangalore and Nicole Maestri in New York; Editing by Derek Caney and Tim Dobbyn)

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IndyMac sinks on capital shortage, $0 price target | Industries | Financial Services | Reuters

NEW YORK, July 8 (Reuters) - IndyMac Bancorp Inc (IMB.N: Quote, Profile, Research) shares fell by more than 40 percent on Tuesday, a day after the large California mortgage specialist said it doesn't have enough capital and will stop offering most home loans, and an analyst said shareholders may be wiped out.

Paul Miller, a Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co analyst, cut his price target for Pasadena, California-based IndyMac to zero per share from $1.00.

"Given continued home price declines, management's higher loss estimates, recent ratings agency downgrades on the company's mortgage-backed securities and the company's decision to stop new mortgage originations, we do not believe that there is any value left for common shareholders," Miller wrote.

"We are not predicting IndyMac's failure, but we expect that the value of the common equity left after (Monday's) announced actions will be immaterial," he added.

IndyMac, the largest independent, publicly-traded U.S. mortgage lender, said on Monday it will slash 3,800 jobs, or 53 percent, and stop accepting most mortgage loan applications. It plans to keep offering "reverse" mortgages to older borrowers, and operate 33 retail branches in southern California.

The company also said it has been unable to raise new capital, and expects a larger loss in the second quarter than the $184.2 million loss it posted from January to March.

Regulators also increased their scrutiny after concluding IndyMac was no longer well-capitalized. IndyMac has about $1.7 billion of operating liquidity, a regulatory filing shows.

IndyMac is one of the largest U.S. lenders to curb or halt its main business as a result of the nation's housing slump and credit crisis. 
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Microsoft sets pricing, fee sharing for services | Deals | Regulatory News | Reuters

By Daisuke Wakabayashi

SEATTLE (Reuters) - Microsoft Corp introduced on Wednesday pricing for its suite of online services targeted at corporate customers and a revenue-sharing plan to encourage other companies to sell the software company's products.

The company plans to charge corporate customers a monthly subscription of $15 per user for a suite of "hosted" software, which includes e-mail, Web meeting, collaboration and messaging applications running on Microsoft's computers.

Microsoft Online Services is part of the software maker's effort to capitalize on the shift by corporate customers to abandon their own in-house computer systems for "cloud computing," a less expensive alternative.

The company built its business selling software to run on individual machines, both computer servers that power entire businesses and personal computers. But, in recent years, it has invested billion of dollars in massive data centers, which are the basic infrastructure for a wide range of Web services.

It has started offering corporate customers the option of having Microsoft run their e-mail, collaboration or sales programs on the software giant's computers and delivering those applications over the Web as a monthly subscription service.

"We're seeing customers, partners and even competitors embrace this flexible approach to the cloud," Stephen Elop, president of Microsoft's business division, said in a news release.

Microsoft said it signed a number of new online services customers including Nokia and Danish shipping and oil group AP Moeller Maersk.

The company's software suite is priced at $180 a year for each subscriber while rival Google Inc's competing product, Google Apps, which comes with e-mail, messaging and document sharing, costs around $50 a year per user.
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Bloomberg.com: Worldwide

July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, whose shares have tumbled more than 60 percent this year, have enough capital to survive a slump in the housing market and meet new accounting rules, their regulator said.

The two largest U.S. mortgage-finance companies, are adequately capitalized and ``should ride out'' the mortgage crisis, James Lockhart, the director of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, told CNBC.

``An accounting principle should not drive a capital decision by a regulator,'' Lockhart later told reporters at a mortgage conference in Arlington, Virginia, today sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Fannie Mae of Washington and McLean, Virginia-based Freddie Mac, which reported combined losses of more than $11 billion, are stumbling just as the government is leaning on them to pull the economy out of the worst housing slump since the Great Depression. Concern that Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae don't have enough capital to weather losses was exacerbated yesterday after Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. released a report saying a new accounting rule may require them to raise more money.

Freddie Mac plunged 18 percent and Fannie Mae slumped 16 percent in New York Stock Exchange composite trading yesterday, their steepest one-day declines since November, as speculation increased that they may need to raise cash. Freddie Mac fell 9 cents to $11.82 at 11 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Fannie Mae fell 33 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $15.41.

`Works on Faith'

``Things got scary yesterday, said Paul Miller, an analyst with Friedman, Billings, Ramsey in Arlington, Virginia. Lockhart ``has to stabilize the markets. All this works on faith, there's so much leverage in the system that if the faith breaks down in Fannie and Freddie, the whole system collapses.''

The government-chartered companies own $1.5 trillion in home-loan investments and guarantee $4.1 trillion in mortgage securities that are kept off their balance sheets.

Fannie Mae so far has raised about $14.4 billion since November to offset writedowns on mortgages it owns or guarantees. Freddie Mac has raised $6 billion since December and said last week that plans to add $5.5 billion probably won't be fulfilled until late next month.

The cost to protect the companies' debt from default fell from the highest in more than three months.

Credit-default swaps tied to their subordinated debt dropped 8 basis points to 192 basis points, according to broker Phoenix Partners Group.

Capital Decisions

Credit-default swaps are financial instruments based on bonds and loans that are used to speculate on a company's ability to repay debt. They pay the buyer face value in exchange for the underlying securities or the cash equivalent should a borrower fail to adhere to its debt agreements. A rise indicates deterioration in the perception of credit quality; a decline, the opposite.

The proposed FAS 140 rule that seeks to stop companies from keeping assets in off-balance sheet entities may force Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to bring mortgages back onto their books, requiring them to put up capital, Lehman analysts led by Bruce Harting wrote in a note to clients yesterday.

Fannie Mae would need to add $46 billion of capital and Freddie Mac would need about $29 billion, the Lehman analysts wrote.

The companies will probably get an exemption from the rule because it would be ``very difficult'' for them to raise that amount of capital, the analysts said.


A majority of the off-balance sheet assets are held in qualifying special purpose entities, which would be eliminated as part of the Financial Accounting Standards Board rule change. The companies are required to hold more than five times the amount of capital for off-balance sheet assets than for investments held in portfolio.

The reaction to Lehman's report was surprising, Lockhart said.

``It concerns me that people sort of extrapolate well beyond what the facts are,'' Lockhart said. ``Fannie and Freddie are continuing to do their job in the marketplace. They were created for just this type of marketplace and they are continuing to fulfill their function.''

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Bloomberg.com: Canada

July 8 (Bloomberg) -- Southwest Airlines Co., the largest U.S. discounter, and Canada's WestJet Airlines Ltd. agreed to form an alliance by late 2009, giving the carriers access to routes outside their home markets.

Southwest, which only flies in the lower 48 states, would be able to book customers on WestJet flights to Hawaii, Mexico and the Caribbean and for ski trips in Canada through Calgary or Vancouver. The deal also advances WestJet's goal of expanding in the U.S. WestJet jumped the most since 2005 in Toronto trading.

``This gives WestJet exactly what they need in terms of growing their trans-border flights,'' said Chris Murray, an analyst at CIBC World Markets in Toronto, who rates WestJet ``market outperform.'' ``The deal would make sense for Southwest to build its service into Canada, too.''

WestJet rose 91 cents, or 7.2 percent, to C$13.60 at 11:06 a.m. in Toronto Stock Exchange trading. It touched C$13.80 earlier, for the biggest gain since May 2005. Southwest gained 38 cents to $13.53 in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

The airlines aren't yet ready to announce routes, schedules or fares, Dallas-based Southwest said. Certain details of the agreement must be approved by the U.S. and Canadian governments, the airlines said.

Travelers will be able to purchase seats on WestJet flights through Southwest's Web site before the codeshare agreement takes effect.

Updating Computers

Southwest has said it should finish updating its computer systems next year to allow for international travel. The company has been searching for an alliance partner to replace the defunct ATA Airlines Inc., which had given Southwest passengers access to Hawaii.

``We are quickly moving forward with our plans to enter the international markets with WestJet,'' Southwest Chief Executive Officer Gary Kelly said in the statement.

WestJet flies to holiday destinations in the Bahamas, Barbados, Dominican Republic, Hawaii, Jamaica, Mexico and St. Lucia. Its continental U.S. routes include Newark, New Jersey, and vacation cities such as Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando, Florida.

``This is a defining moment for WestJet,'' CEO Sean Durfy said in the company's statement ``We are delivering on our strategic plan with this announcement today.''

WestJet, which began flying in 1996 and was founded on Southwest's no-frills model, offers a single economy-class cabin on all its flights.

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Siemens Slashes Workforce - Forbes.com


Siemens's Tuesday announcement of 16,750 sales and administrative job cuts worldwide, including 5,250 in Germany, was meant to ease investors with a clear restructuring plan. Instead the firm, struggling to improve its profitability and efficiency, saw its share drops and it now faces a looming strike as the job cuts represent 4.1% of the firm's global workforce.

Siemens (nyse: SIE - news - people ) Chief Executive Peter Loscher said, “the speed at which business is changing worldwide has increased considerably, and we’re orienting Siemens accordingly. Against the backdrop of a slowing economy, we have to become more efficient."

Shares in Siemens closed down 1.6%, or 1.14 euros ($1.78), to 69.97 euros ($109.46), in trading in Frankfurt, after having risen as high as 3.4%, on Monday, ahead of the news.

"The plan is not clear," Jochen Klusmann, an analyst with BHF Bank in Frankfurt, told Forbes.com. "This seems to me as a premature statement as a result of public pressure. We don't know how much this restructuring plan will cost and job cuts doesn't necessarily mean getting rid of people."

In fact, Siemens, which employs approximately 136,000 workers in Germany, is now facing a strike threat from German unions. But Werner Neugebauer, an industrial workers leader, said after a crucial meeting to decide their response to Siemens announcement that the job cuts were "unacceptable" and "completely exaggerated."

"If needed, we will pursue various forms of protest and resistance," Neugebauer said. But a spokesman for Siemens told Forbes.com that the firm is open to take part in negotiations "in the near future." "We are exploring all possibilities: early retirements, natural leaves or promotions inside the company."

Bolstered by earlier restructuring moves, the company's shares had advanced from about 60 euros ($70.21 at the time), in late 2005, to around 110 euros ($150.50), late last year, before retreating this year. A profit warning in March accelerated the decline. (See "Siemens's Nasty Surprise")

Siemens, which employs 400,000 people around the world, has said it aims to cut administrative costs by 1.2 billion euros ($1.9 billion), within two years.

The management at Siemens has been trying for the last few years to figure out how to make its lumbering engineering giant more efficient, and less bloated. Last October there was muted applause for Chief Executive Peter Loescher's plan to divide the company into three divisions. (See "Cosmetic Changes At Siemens.") At that time, there was no talk of job cuts or spin-offs.

More concrete in February was the company's announcement that it was divesting its enterprise communications division.

The job cuts announcement comes as new statistics on Monday showed shockingly low manufacturing output in Germany.

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Bernanke seeks new regulatory powers for Fed - MarketWatch

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- The Federal Reserve should have a much larger role in supervising investment banks to prevent and limit financial market turmoil, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Tuesday, endorsing an expansion of the central bank's authority into new territory.
"Holding the Fed more formally accountable for promoting financial stability makes sense only if the institution's powers are consistent with its responsibilities," Bernanke said.
Congress should consider giving the Fed power to set standards for capital liquidity holdings and risk management for investment banks, as it now does for commercial banks, Bernanke said. Already, the Fed has offered to be the lender of last resort for the investment banks. Read his prepared remarks.
In the past, the Securities and Exchange Commission has been the primary regulator of broker-dealers.
Bernanke's remarks come two days before he and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson testify at the House Financial Services Committee on suggestions for shoring up the weaknesses of the federal financial regulatory structure that have been exposed in the meltdown of the housing and credit markets.
Bernanke said the Fed is considering extending its emergency loans to broker-dealers beyond 2008.
"We are currently monitoring developments in financial markets closely and considering several options, including extending the duration of our facilities for primary dealers beyond year-end," he said.
In March, as market conditions worsened, the Fed established two lending facilities for primary dealers of government debt. One allows them to swap a range of illiquid assets for Treasury securities. The other facility provides cash to these broker-dealers in a system that is similar to its discount window for banks.
Bernanke said Congress might give the Fed broad power to promote financial market stability.
If Congress makes this choice, "I do not think the Fed could fully meet these objectives without the authority to directly examine banks and other financial institutions that are subject to prudential regulation," Bernanke said.
Bernanke spoke at a conference on lending to low- and middle-income borrowers, sponsored by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. He didn't discuss the economic outlook in his remarks.
Turf battle
Increased power for one agency typically comes at the expense of other agencies that have their own strong alliances with powerful members of Congress.
Although Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has said that he would like to see Congress give the Fed more power to ease the fallout of financial market turmoil on the economy, it is another matter for an agency to be seen as seeking power for itself.
As a result, Bernanke bent over backwards to suggest, rather than demand, that the Fed get the broad new regulatory responsibilities he seeks, though his desire for the new powers was apparent.
"This is the first time I ever recall the Fed coming out and arguing that it needs to have expanded oversight and responsibilities," said former Fed official Robert Eisenbeis in comments to Bloomberg television.
"The Fed is seeking broad oversight responsibilities that have been rejected in the past," Eisenbeis said.
It is a wide-open question what Congress will ultimately decide to do about the glaring inadequacies of the regulatory system that have come to light in the financial market crisis that began last summer.
Lobbyists for the financial market industries have made careers provoking, easing and maneuvering around battles over regulatory turf.
Under previous chief Alan Greenspan, the Fed was an aggressive agency in terms of regulatory authority, perfectly willing to use sharp elbows against other regulators. As a result, some ill feelings linger.
The Fed would like greater authority to get detailed information about money markets and the activities of borrowers and lenders in those markets, Bernanke said.
The surprising freeze-up of money markets last August was one of the first signs of trouble for financial markets.
Bernanke said that "a strong case" could be made for granting the Fed explicit oversight authority over systemically important payment and settlement systems. End of Story
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