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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Salmonella Sickness Toll Climbs to 1,148 - washingtonpost.com

TUESDAY, July 15 (HealthDay News) -- The salmonella toll continues to mount in what has become the largest foodborne outbreak in the United States in more than a decade.

With the latest cases reported as of July 4, the nationwide toll fromSalmonellaSaintpaul now stands at 1,148 people in 42 states, the District of Columbia and Canada, according to the latest figures posted on the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 220 people have been hospitalized.

Statistically speaking, the patients range in age from under 1 to 99 years old; 50 percent are female. The rate of illness is highest among those 20 to 29 years old; it is lowest among adolescents 10 to 19 years old and people over 80.


Officials, meanwhile, appear no closer to zeroing in on the cause. Last week, they broadened the search, which had focused on certain types of tomatoes, to include jalapeno and serrano peppers and fresh cilantro.

While health investigators are hard at work, the CDC said on its Web site, "people often have difficulty remembering exactly what foods they ate, and remembering specific ingredients in those foods is even more difficult.

"When food items are mixed together and consumed in the same dish, all the items may be statistically linked to illness. In that case, determining by statistical means which item caused the illness can be difficult or impossible. Tracing suspect produce items back to processors and growers is an integral part of the effort to identify a single source and a possible means of contamination," the agency added.

Meanwhile, a team of Mexican health and agriculture officials is scheduled to meet with U.S. Food and Drug Administration officials in Washington to demand that Mexican tomatoes be cleared of any suspicion in the outbreak, according to theAssociated Press.

Mexico said last week that its own tests found no salmonella in Mexican tomatoes. The FDA has not released the results of tests it conducted in Mexico, theAPreported.

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Calif. to get $23 million from Bristol-Myers - San Jose Mercury News

LOS ANGELES—The state attorney general's office says California will receive a $23 million settlement from Bristol-Myers Squib Co. to resolve allegations of Medicaid fraud and illegal drug marketing.

Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. says the settlement followed a drug price investigation launched by California, federal regulators and other states. The shares of each state were announced Tuesday.

The investigation found evidence the drug developer grossly inflated prescription drug prices to get more money out of Medicaid programs, illegally paid doctors to use its products, and pushed the unapproved use of the anti-psychotic drug Abilify to treat children.

Bristol-Myers says the total $515 million settlement announced last September will be distributed about 20 states.

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Bloomberg.com: Australia & New Zealand

July 16 (Bloomberg) -- Crude oil was little changed below $139 a barrel in New York after tumbling more than $6 yesterday because of concern a slower U.S. economy will curtail demand.

Prices dropped as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said risks to growth and inflation have risen, in testimony to the Senate Banking Committee. He abandoned a June assessment that the threat of an economic slowdown had diminished.

``We're getting to the point where the market's looking at an increasing likelihood of a deep recession,'' said James Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates in Galena, Illinois.

Crude oil for August delivery rose 2 cents to $138.76 a barrel at 8:33 a.m. Sydney time in after-hours electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures reached a record $147.27 a barrel on July 11 and have risen 87 percent in the past year.

Oil fell $6.44, or 4.4 percent, to settle at $138.74 a barrel yesterday. It was the biggest percentage drop since March and the largest dollar decline since Jan. 17, 1991, when futures closed at $21.44. Oil fell as much as $9.26 to $135.92 a barrel.

``When it traded below $140, a big wave of selling hit,'' said Addison Armstrong, director of market research at TFS Energy LLS in Stamford, Connecticut. ``The market was trading a little bit above $140, and when it traded below, it fell something like $2 in a minute. Nothing seemed to hold it.''

Gasoline Demand

U.S. gasoline demand dropped 5.2 percent last week, the 12th consecutive weekly decline, a sign record pump prices are changing driving habits, a MasterCard Inc. report showed yesterday. Gasoline futures fell 17.29 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $3.3848 a gallon yesterday in New York. They were unchanged at 8:07 a.m. in Sydney.

The profit margin, or crack spread, for making three barrels of crude into one of heating oil and two of gasoline, reached its lowest since March 19 yesterday, based on futures prices. The crack spread fell 40.32 cents to $10.9410 a barrel.

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, supplier of about 40 percent of the world's oil, said it expects demand for its members' crude will fall in 2009 as the global economy slows. Demand for OPEC crude next year will average 31.2 million barrels a day, a drop of 710,000 barrels a day from the forecast for 2008, the group said in its monthly oil market report yesterday.

``The whole U.S. economic scene is sort of being questioned and obviously that would say something about the demand for oil,'' said Paul Tossetti, director of oil market analysis at PFC Energy in Washington.

Brazilian Strike

Also pressuring prices, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, Brazil's state-controlled oil company known as Petrobras, said it resumed normal crude production at the Campos Basin after a strike that began July 14.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Europe's biggest oil company, ended a force majeure on exports of Nigerian Bonny Light crude. Force majeure is a legal clause that allows producers to miss deliveries because of circumstances beyond their control. The clause was imposed after attacks on a crude-oil installation in May. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, claimed responsibility.

Brent crude oil for August settlement fell $5.17, or 3.6 percent, yesterday to $138.75 a barrel on London's ICE Futures Europe exchange, after touching $134.96 a barrel. The August contract, which expires today, reached a record $147.50 on July 11. The more widely held September contract dropped $5.47, or 3.8 percent, yesterday to $139.86 a barrel. It touched $136.20.

Lower Inventories

``It's time for everyone to reassess where this market is headed and whether the try for $150 is worth the risk,'' Tim Evans, an energy analyst for Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said in an e-mail yesterday. ``Today's answer is no!''

U.S. oil supplies probably fell last week as record prices discouraged buying by refiners. Supplies probably declined 2.2 million barrels in the week ended July 11 from 293.9 million the week before, according to the median of 10 responses by analysts surveyed before an Energy Department report at 10:35 a.m. Washington time today.

Gasoline stockpiles probably lost 100,000 barrels from 211.8 million barrels the week before, the survey showed. Distillate fuel, including heating oil and diesel, probably rose 2 million barrels from 122.5 million barrels the week before.

To contact the reporter on this story: Margot Habiby in Dallas at mhabiby@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: July 15, 2008 18:35 EDT
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3rd UPDATE: SEC's Cox: Limits On Shorting Fannie, Freddie

(Updated to note rule takes effect on Monday, and comment from US Chamber of Commerce.)

By Judith Burns


WASHINGTON -(Dow Jones)- U.S. securities regulators are putting new restrictions in place to prevent short-selling abuses involving shares of Wall Street's primary dealers and Fannie Mae (FNM) and Freddie Mac (FRE), the federally backed housing-finance giants.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox told the Senate Banking Committee on Tuesday that the SEC will require short-sellers to pre- borrow shares before engaging in short sales of Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.

The same restrictions - which will be required under a 30-day emergency order to be issued later Tuesday - will apply to other significant financial entities such as primary dealers, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS), Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. (LEH), Merrill Lynch & Co. (MER) and Morgan Stanley (MS). SEC officials said the restrictions could be extended for a longer period, or to other stocks as well.

The restrictions will take effect starting at 12:01 a.m. Eastern time on Monday.

Short sellers borrow shares for sale in hopes of replacing the shares later at a lower price. The practice is legal and produces profits when stock prices decline. "Naked" short sellers don't borrow shares in advance of short sales, a practice that critics say can have punishing effects on a stock's price.

The SEC has taken a number of steps recently to loosen some short-selling restrictions while imposing new rules to combat abusive "naked" short selling. It eliminated Depression-era limits on short sales in mid-2007 and required exchanges to do the same, scrapping the "tick test" approach that barred short sales as a stock price ticked down. The move came after a multi-year experiment that lifted short-sale restrictions on selected stocks.

Some critics think the SEC erred. Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a prominent New York law firm with large corporate clients, recently urged the SEC to revisit the matter and consider reinstating the tick test.

Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke, testifying to the Senate panel along with Cox, told lawmakers that "some limits on short-selling are probably appropriate." Cox said the SEC is "very open" to using some type of price test, other than a tick test, "for circumstances like those that we find ourselves now in."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Thomas Donohue applauded the SEC's action in a letter to Cox late Tuesday.

"While legitimate short selling plays a critical role in our capital markets, we must crack down on fraudulent actors who give this important tool a bad name, " Donohue wrote. He urged the SEC to move forward with rules to counter abusive naked short selling.

The emergency order surprised some. Regulation SHO, a package of SEC rules to crack down on naked short selling, requires locating shares for borrowing before short sales. Under Regulation SHO, the extra step of actually borrowing the shares in advance of short sales - as the emergency order is expected to require - is limited to certain hard-to-borrow stocks with persistent delivery failures.

"It's kind of surprising to me," said Larry Bergmann, a former SEC official, now special counsel with the law firm of Willkie, Farr & Gallagher, in Washington, D.C. "It seems to suggest Regulation SHO doesn't work."

Limiting the emergency order to shares of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and Wall Street firms makes it appear as if regulators are "protecting these securities from being battered" by short selling, Bergmann added.

Bergmann warned that a requirement to pre-borrow shares could "greatly complicate or interfere with the efficiency of short selling," and, if it is extended to all stocks, "it would be a very different market from what we have now."

Susan Grafton, an attorney at the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, said people are trying to understand what stocks would be covered by the emergency order and how quickly it will kick in.

"The devil's in the details," said Grafton. "We need to see the order."

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Bloomberg.com: Canada

July 15 (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Corp., buffeted by a U.S. sales collapse and three years of losses, will suspend its dividend for the first time since 1922, cut the management payroll by 20 percent and sell assets to raise at least $15 billion in the next 18 months.

Eliminating the 25-cent quarterly dividend and an unspecified number of salaried jobs will help save $10 billion a year, the biggest U.S. automaker said today. GM plans to generate $4 billion to $7 billion by selling as yet unidentified assets, borrowing from banks and paring benefits to retirees.

The spending reductions accelerate Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner's efforts to conserve cash and avert bankruptcy as a slowing economy and record gasoline prices push U.S. industry sales to a 15-year low. Merrill Lynch & Co. said July 2 that GM needed to raise $15 billion and a Chapter 11 filing is ``not impossible'' should sales continue to deteriorate.

``At first blush, these would be positive steps for liquidity, but we would view them as absolute necessities given the current market conditions,'' said Gregg Lemos Stein, a credit analyst at Standard & Poor's in New York.

GM said it is trying to raise $2 billion to $4 billion in additional liquidity with asset sales and $2 billion to $3 billion of new financing secured by assets such as foreign subsidiaries, brands and its remaining stake in GMAC LLC.


Among the assets GM may consider selling are its OnStar communication system division or the GM Asset Management investment company, said Citigroup analyst Itay Michaeli in a research note today.

The company didn't identify what assets might be sold. ``We have gone through a pretty exhaustive analysis,'' Chief Operating Officer Fritz Henderson told reporters, without elaborating.

GM gained 46 cents, or 4.9 percent, to $9.84 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. Its U.S. sales are heading for their ninth straight annual fall after a 16 percent plunge through June. The overall market was down 10 percent.

The increased cash means the automaker will have enough to operate should U.S. sales fall to 14 million cars and trucks this year and next, lower than analysts expect, Wagoner, 55, said in a broadcast to employees. Detroit-based GM also figures on oil costing $130 to $150 a barrel, compared with $138 currently.

``The cost cutting is ahead of market expectations -- and relatively credible, while the fundraising provides less up-front cash than we and the market had been looking for,'' Lehman Brothers analyst Brian Johnson wrote in a report today.

Moody's Caution

Moody's Investors Service said it may cut its credit ratings on GM, saying raising $15 billion may not be enough to offset its losses.

``Despite the very constructive nature of the initiatives announced by GM, the company will continue to face the significant challenge of building enough profitability in its car and crossover portfolio to make up for the earnings that will no longer be generated on the truck and SUV side,'' Bruce Clark, a Moody's analyst in New York, said in a report.

The dividend cut is the second for GM since February 2006, when it was reduced by half following the automaker's first annual loss in 13 years. That same year, Wagoner fended off former shareholder Kirk Kerkorian's push for an alliance with Renault SA and Nissan Motor Co. He also raised $7.4 billion by selling a majority of the finance unit known now as GMAC .

UAW Contract

Last year, Wagoner won a contract with the United Auto Workers union that reduced wages and permits GM to transfer retiree health-care obligations for U.S. factory workers to a union fund. The stock rose above $42, a three-year high, when the accord was signed.

Since then, the shares have sunk to 54-year lows as Wagoner battles what he has called a permanent shift in consumer behavior prompted by gasoline that has soared to $4-a-gallon. On June 3, he announced plans to close four truck plants and make more cars.

Today, GM said it will have a ``significant'' second-quarter loss because of weak U.S. auto sales and a strike at two of its own factories as well as parts-supplier American Axle & Manufacturing Holdings Inc..

``We do have the ability to take actions to generate cash,'' Wagoner said in a Bloomberg Television interview. Bankruptcy, he said, is ``a bad idea.''

More Factory Cuts

GM may also cut thousands of additional factory jobs as it further trims production capacity, Henderson said, declining to be more specific. ``We're not talking about 100 or 200,'' he said.

The Detroit-based automaker will reduce capital spending by $1.5 billion to about $7 billion next year, and will boost working capital by about $2 billion in North America and Europe by reducing raw-material use and its inventory of unused parts. GM won't cut back on capital spending in China, Wagoner said.

The company also will cut health care for U.S. salaried employees older than 65 as of Jan. 1, 2009, with offsetting increases to pensions. Cash bonuses for executives will be eliminated. The reductions in benefits and salaried headcount will save about $1.5 billion in 2009, GM said.

The automaker will also delay $1.7 billion in payments to the union retiree health-care fund, Wagoner said.

Losing Streaks

GM, turning 100 this year, reported its largest annual loss in 2007, $38.7 billion, after a tax accounting change, and hasn't posted a profit since 2004. The carmaker's U.S. market share hovers at the lowest level since 1925.

Since Wagoner became CEO in June 2000, GM has cut its U.S. salaried workforce to 32,000 from 44,000. GM shares through yesterday have lost 87 percent during Wagoner's tenure, and the stock is the worst-performing member of the 30-company Dow Jones Industrial Average over the past 12 months.

Some of the truck-plant reductions announced June 3 will be accelerated, he said today, without giving details.

Before today, Wagoner had already identified structural cost cuts of $15 billion from the end of 2005 through 2010.

He said last week he isn't considering bankruptcy and doesn't plan to eliminate vehicle brands beyond a possible sale or shutdown of the Hummer line of sport-utility vehicles.

GM's sales of pickups, SUVs and vans -- the vehicles most affected by record gasoline prices -- are down 21 percent through June. The company relies on light trucks for about 60 percent of its U.S. volume.

GM said it will bring five new products to the U.S. by the third quarter of 2010. The automaker is adding a Chevrolet small car, the Buick Invicta sedan and a sports wagon and coupe version of the Cadillac CTS sedan. The company will also begin producing a 4-cylinder version of its Chevrolet Equinox SUV in May 2009.

Industrywide sales of large trucks may fall by about 36 percent to 1.8 million units this year, said Chief Financial Officer Ray Young on a conference call. GM is planning for a 21 percent share of the U.S. market, down from 23.5 percent in 2007.

15-Year Lows

At the current pace, U.S. auto sales may decline to 14.5 million units for 2008, the lowest in 15 years, according to Deutsche Bank AG. The industry average this decade through last year was 16.8 million.

GM has said it is delaying plans to design future large pickups and SUVs and is studying whether to bring a car to its home market that is smaller than any currently sold. GM reiterated that 18 of its next 19 product debuts will be cars or car-based SUVs.

Besides the minicar, GM is weighing a list of options for refocusing its auto lineup on fuel efficiency rather than performance, people familiar with those plans said this month.

GM's 8.375 percent note due July 2033 fell 3.75 cent to 51.5 cents on the dollar, yielding 16.56 percent, according to Trace, the bond-price reporting service of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.

Credit-default swaps on GM debt rose 84 basis points to 2,177 basis points, according to CMA Datavision in London. The contracts are designed to protect bondholders against default. A gain in the price indicates a decline in the perception of a company's credit quality.

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Intel announces second quarter earnings - Jul. 15, 2008

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Intel Corp., the world's largest semiconductor manufacturer, said that profits rose more than expected in the second quarter on strong international sales bolstered by a weak dollar.

The company also issued a sales forecast for the third quarter that what was better than what analysts were predicting. Intel said sales will be between $10.0 billion and $10.6 billion. Analysts' estimates were for sales of $10.07 billion.

Intel's stock was up 1.3% in after hours trading, after closing up 1.2% at $20.71 in regular trading Tuesday.

Intel's net income in the second quarter rose 25% to $1.6 billion, or 28 cents per share, from $1.3 billion in the second quarter of last year. Earnings topped consensus estimates of 25 cents per share, according to analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

One analyst said the results are better than they first appear, however. Doug Freedman, an analyst with American Technology Research, said profits were helped by a lower tax rate and a larger than expected stock buyback in the second quarter.

Sales for the Dow component came in at $9.5 billion, up 9% from a year ago and ahead of analysts' forecasts of $9.32 billion.

Global demand. "Demand remains strong for our microprocessor and chipset products in all segments and all parts of the globe," said Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO, in a written statement.

According to the earnings report, nearly 80% of the company's sales come from outside of the Americas.

Intel (INTC, Fortune 500) reported record first-quarter sales of $9.7 billion in April. But the stock has fallen about 20% this year on fears about how the slowing global economy may affect technology sales.

Intel makes processors used in personal computers and servers and some of its key customers are Dell (DELL, Fortune 500), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ, Fortune 500) and Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500). As such, the company is seen as a bellwether for the technology sector.

And the weak economy may have hurt one key measure for Intel. The company reported gross profit margins of 55.4% for the second quarter, a bit lower than the 56% that the company predicted when it released its first quarter earnings report in April.

Gross margins represent how much money a company makes after subtracting the cost of sales and is closely watched by semiconductor analysts as a key measure of efficiency.

Intel blamed the lower-than-expected gross margin on higher demand for cheaper notebook personal computers. The increased demand for less expensive computers "resulted in a lower than expected microprocessor average selling price" the company said.

On the conference call after the earnings release, Otellini highlighted growing demand for laptop computers. "What has happened is that the consumer market on a worldwide market is shifting to notebooks," he said.

To accomodate the growing demand for cheap notebook computers, Intel has been developing new tiny Atom processor which is going to be used in smaller, less powerful notebooks used for surfing the web, targeted primarily at emerging markets. Intel is expecting to profit from this new market going forward.

Otellini said, "We will see more Atom based notebooks in coming quarters."

In fact, demand for the new Atom chip has been so great, that there is concern whether Intel can keep up with the demand. "We have been increasing our planned production of the Atom every 40 days," said Otellini on the conference call.

Investors are also worried about how a long-running price war with rival chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices will impact profits.

But one analyst said that Intel is doing better than its rival AMD.

"On an overall basis, I am pretty sure that Intel is significantly outperforming AMD," said Brian Piccioni, analyst at BMO Capital Markets.

AMD (AMD, Fortune 500) will report its second quarter results on Thursday. Analysts expect AMD to report a 5% increase in sales to $1.45 billion but they also are predicting that the company will report a loss of 52 cents per share.
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