BPA linked to behavior problems in girls: study

AFP
October 24, 2011

Girls who were exposed to the industrial chemical bisphenol A while in the womb showed more behavioral problems at age three than those whose moms had lower BPA levels, said a study released Monday.

Anxiety, depression and hyperactivity were seen more often in toddler girls whose mothers had high levels of the chemical in their urine while pregnant, said the research led by the Harvard School of Public Health.

“This pattern was more pronounced for girls, which suggests that they might be more vulnerable to gestational BPA exposure than boys,” said the study in the October 24 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

BPA is used in the manufacture of plastics and adhesives, and can be found in the lining of canned foods, some plastic bottles and containers, cashier receipts and dental fillings.

The analysis was done using data from 244 mothers and their children up to age three in the Cincinnati, Ohio area. The mothers’ urine samples were tested while pregnant at 16 and 26 weeks, and again at birth.

The children’s urine was tested at age one, two and three. BPA was found in 85 percent of the mothers’ urine and in 96 percent of the samples from the children.

The higher the BPA levels were while the mother was pregnant, the more likely the daughters were to experience behavioral problems by age three.

The same correlation was not seen in boys, nor was there any apparent link between behavior and levels of BPA in the children’s urine, said the data derived from questionnaires on child behavior filled out by the parents.

“None of the children had clinically abnormal behavior, but some children had more behavior problems than others,” said lead author Joe Braun, research fellow in environmental health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

The study reported that “increasing gestational BPA concentrations were associated with more hyperactive, aggressive, anxious, and depressed behavior and poorer emotional control and inhibition in the girls.”

The research appeared to support previous studies that have suggested a link between BPA exposure in the womb and child behavior, but is the first to show that in utero exposure is the critical window when altering effects may occur.

However, due to the small size of the sample, the study authors — who also included scientists at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia — said more research is needed.

“There is considerable debate regarding the toxicity of low-level BPA exposure, and the findings presented here warrant additional research,” said the study.

Funding for the study came from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the US Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences training.

Banker-Founded Moody’s Downgrades 12 British Banks

AFP
October 7, 2011

Moody’s on Friday downgraded its credit ratings for a dozen British lenders, including state-rescued Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds TSB, due to the removal and curtailment of government financial support.

Moody’s said it chose to downgrade five large banks and seven small ones as government action had “significantly reduced the predictability of support over the medium to long-term.”

The downgrades did not concern major lenders HSBC, Barclays or Standard Chartered, the agency said in a statement. But it added that it believed Britain’s government was now more likely to allow small lenders to fail if necessary.

The announcement comes as the European Union seeks swift recapitalisation of the region’s banks to avert the eurozone debt crisis spreading across borders.

Moody’s had warned in May that it could downgrade British banks.

Its decision to follow up that warning could now result in banks facing higher rates of interest when looking to borrow money on markets, further hindering their attempts to return to better health.

Affected lenders’ share prices slumped in London trade after the downgrades, with Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) down 3.53 percent at 23.5 pence and Lloyds Banking Group, the parent of Lloyds TSB, losing 3.64 percent to 34.56 pence.

At the same time, in midday trade, London’s benchmark FTSE 100 index was down 0.41 percent at 5,269.74 points.

RBS said it was “disappointed” that Moody’s had “not acknowledged the (bank’s) progress… in strengthening” its credit profile.

“We do, however, see the removal of implicit government support for the UK banking sector as being a necessary and important step forward as the sector returns to standalone strength,” it added in a statement.

The Financial Times newspaper meanwhile reported on Friday that the British government feared the prospect of injecting RBS with fresh capital under Europe-wide recapitalisation plans.

RBS received billions of pounds of taxpayers money under one of the world’s biggest-ever bank bailouts in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, leaving it currently 83-percent owned by the British government.

Moody’s stressed on Friday that its financial sector downgrades did “not reflect a deterioration in the financial strength of the banking system or that of the government.”

Britain’s finance minister George Osborne said that despite the downgrades, he was confident that British banks were not facing the same problems as their eurozone peers.

“I am confident that British banks are well capitalised, they are liquid, they are not experiencing the kinds of problems that some of the banks in the eurozone are experiencing at the moment,” he told BBC radio.

Chancellor of the Exchequer Osborne said the downgrades were in fact evidence that Britain’s coalition government was taking the correct action in removing support from the banks.

“As I understand it, one of the reasons they (Moody’s) are doing this is because they think the British government is actually moving in the direction of trying to get away from guaranteeing all the largest banks in Britain,” he added.

Moody’s said it had downgraded RBS and Nationwide Building Society each by two notches to A2 from Aa3; Lloyds TSB Bank and Santander UK were cut by one grade to A1 from Aa3; the Co-Operative Bank was downgraded one level to A3 from A2.

“Moody’s Investors Service has today downgraded the senior debt and deposit ratings of 12 UK financial institutions and confirmed the ratings of one institution,” the agency said in a statement.

“The downgrades have been caused by Moody’s reassessment of the support environment in the UK which has resulted in the removal of systemic support for seven smaller institutions and the reduction of systemic support… for five larger, more systemically important financial institutions.”

Moody’s said it “believes that the government is likely to continue to provide some level of support to systemically important financial institutions… However, it is more likely now to allow smaller institutions to fail if they become financially troubled.”

The agency added that it had downgraded seven smaller lenders by between one and five notches.

Greece must default, dump euro

by Peter Morici
UPI
September 13, 2011

European efforts at economic integration haven’t delivered sustainable prosperity in poorer nations like Greece and Portugal. Instead, these have left Mediterranean governments teetering on bankruptcy and at the mercy of Germany and other rich states that exploit European unity to live well at the expense of their poorer brethren.

The 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which considerably harmonized product and safety regulations and methods of taxation across Europe, was supposed to remove untold barriers to growth. It didn’t, because it didn’t moderate European labor laws and social programs that discourage individual ambition and investment.

The euro, created in 1999, floats against the dollar and yen and its value reflects an average of the competitiveness of its entire membership. This leaves higher productivity economies like Germany with an undervalued currency and trade surpluses and lower productivity economies like Greece with an overvalued currency and in constant need to borrow from foreign investors.

With Maastricht and the euro, German manufactures and technology became more valuable in a more integrated European market. However, Greece, Portugal and others aren’t able to use their lower labor costs to capture assembly plants to the degree, for example, that the U.S. South attracts automotive and high-end electronics manufacturing.

Moreover, Germany and other rich states continue subtle forms of protection that discourage outsourcing even to other EU member states and this frustrates the EU single market promise to more effectively equalize employment opportunities and prosperity between the prosperous core and southern Europe.

Affluent Germany, unburdened by an obligation to share tax revenues with poorer EU states, provides generous pensions, gold-plated employment security and jobless benefits and the shortest workweek on the planet. Meanwhile, governments in Greece and other poorer EU states struggled to keep up and borrowed extensively from banks in Germany and France and other rich countries to keep up.

Now unable borrow anymore in private markets, Greece and other poorer governments are forced to seek emergency loans and concessions from richer states and private creditors. They are being compelled by Germany and others to slash government spending and social benefits, dramatically raise taxes and sell off public assets.

None of this will work, because the private sectors of these economies are so dependent on government spending to maintain employment that austerity will only cause more layoffs among both private businesses and public agencies, thrust their economies into deep recessions and significantly reduce, rather than enhance, their governments’ capacity to tax and pay interest on their debts.

Moreover, to service their restructured debts, poorer governments must pay richer governments and foreign creditors in euros and this will require their economies to accomplish significant trade surpluses by developing new export industries. This would require Germany and the rich countries to let manufacturing activities and jobs migrate south that they heretofore have blocked from moving to lower-wage economies.

With a single currency, building new export industries would require rather substantial cuts in Greek and other poorer country wages and for the Germans and others to relinquish subtle forms of protection that guarantee them higher wages and favorable trade balances.

It is doubtful Greeks are willing to let their economy sink to Third World status to perpetuate the myth of European unity. As important, the Germans too much like lecturing the world about the virtues of Teutonic thrift and efficiency to let go of mercantilism, and to let debtor nations accomplish trade surpluses and obtain the euro needed to repay their debts.

If Greece had its own currency, it would still have had to reduce government spending, increase taxes and cut wages but not by nearly as much as richer EU states and the ECB now demand because Greece could also devalue its currency against those of richer EU economies to make its exports more competitive, accelerate growth and increase debt servicing capacity.

In the end, necessity will trump pan-Europeanism. The Greeks will default on their debt and, if they are smart, eventually dump the euro.

Peter Morici is a professor at the Smith School of Business, University of Maryland School, and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.

Sleep Deprived? Avoid Using Nuvigil

Pricey Nuvigil competes with coffee—and has a lot more side effects. Nuvigil “may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence…” Cephalon also reports plenty of side effects ranging from headache, nausea, skin rashes, hallucinations and depression.

By
Bloomberg
August 14, 2011

Roger Greer, a 45-year-old water treatment plant worker from Coatesville, Pa., was surfing the Internet when he discovered that his constant fatigue had a medical name: shift work sleep disorder. The starting time of Greer’s job rotates weekly, leaving him sleepy on the job and ornery at home. The website had an ad suggesting he ask his doctor if an alertness pill made by Cephalon (CEPH), called Nuvigil, is right for him. A year later, “I don’t have those sleepy moments,” says Greer. “Now at 3 in the morning, the absolute worst time for anybody, I no longer have the fear of missing something here at work.”

Workers like Greer are prime targets for a Cephalon marketing campaign—on the Internet and radio, in doctors’ offices, and at community meetings—that aims to educate America’s 15 million shift workers about the disorder. For the drug maker, it’s a way to build brand recognition and sales for Nuvigil, a newer version of its blockbuster narcolepsy drug, Provigil, which loses patent protection next year. But the campaign has sparked concern by some doctors about whether a pharmaceutical solution is the best way to stay alert on the job. Nuvigil hasn’t been proved more effective than coffee, is classified as possibly addictive, and carries side effects that can be fatal, according to the drug’s label.

“We as a society rely too much on pills and medication,” says Robert Basner, director of Columbia University’s Cardiopulmonary Sleep and Ventilatory Disorders Center. “That’s not always the best approach. Caffeine is a very good wake-promoting agent, and it’s a lot cheaper.”

Cephalon is spending $3.6 million on radio ads pitching Nuvigil, plus about $490,000 annually on the Internet effort and informational booths at community events. That’s a small percentage of the $1.1 billion in annual sales that will be at risk after Provigil goes off-patent. Israel’s Teva Pharmaceutical Industries (TEVA) agreed in May to buy Cephalon for $6.2 billion in part because of Nuvigil’s prospects. The drug’s sales are growing at a 50 percent annual rate.

Bethany Young, a 27-year-old Teas Valley (W. Va.) medical technologist, was given free samples of Nuvigil after complaining to her new doctor that she couldn’t focus during her 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. hospital shifts. During six years of night work, she struggled to get out of bed, gained 60 pounds, and developed hypothyroidism. At first the drug made her feel euphoric. Soon that effect began to melt away after an hour, replaced by feelings of anxiety and stress, she says, and when she tried to stop using it after a few months, she initially couldn’t. “I was getting hooked on it. I couldn’t quit. This drug is the devil. It was for me, anyway.”

Cephalon says that because medications like Nuvigil “may lead to limited physical or psychological dependence, we encourage physicians to follow patients closely.” The company also reports plenty of side effects that can accompany Nuvigil use, ranging from headache, nausea, and skin rashes to hallucinations and depression.

Cephalon’s media campaign is its first to widely trumpet alertness pills by stressing the recognition of shift work disorder by doctors and sleep experts, who estimate the malady may affect one in four shift workers. Although Cephalon doesn’t claim Nuvigil works better than other approaches, the company says that between 2007 and 2009 it studied 359 shift workers for six weeks and found 77 percent of those who took Nuvigil said they were more alert for the last part of their shift and the drive home, compared with 57 percent given a placebo.

“What we are doing is educating doctors and the public about this disorder,” says Charles Altman, Cephalon’s senior medical director. “Doctors often don’t ask patients what hours they work. In our 24/7 society, it doesn’t matter if you are a nurse or an information technology worker or in finance, we are called upon more and more to work odd hours that are against the grain of the way our internal clock works.”

Critics, however, say the diagnosis of shift work sleep disorder is so broad that people with irregular hours who have trouble staying awake at night can get the pills even without trying non-drug strategies first. “It’s not a diagnosis that is crisp and determined by clear-cut, objective data, which opens it up to criticism,” says Lois Krahn, chair of psychiatry at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. “When [patients] have done everything they can to get more sleep, and they still have trouble staying awake, that’s when drug therapy comes in.”

Besides the ad push, Cephalon is using pricing to lure users. At $12 a pill, Nuvigil sells for $5 less than its older sibling. Cephalon also is providing consumers with coupons for free trials and help with insurance co-pays to spur use of the newer drug. The strategy is paying off, with the number of Nuvigil prescriptions written in late June almost equaling those for Provigil. “It’s growing very nicely,” says Cephlon’s Altman.

Provigil was first approved for sale in 1998 as a treatment for narcolepsy, a rare condition in which patients unexpectedly fall asleep in the middle of the day. Provigil kept them awake, without the dangers of stimulants. Sales, which surged as people without the condition also used it, topped $500 million annually after the pill won clearance for shift work disorder in 2004. Nuvigil was introduced in 2009, two years after it was approved for narcolepsy, shift work disorder, and sleep apnea. It had sales of $186 million in 2010, and analysts say it could hit $577 million in 2015.

Sleep experts say Cephalon’s radio ads in 21 big U.S. cities may educate patients with symptoms that employers and family members often don’t understand. Still, doctors say simply handing struggling shift workers a prescription would be a mistake without trying lifestyle changes, such as strategic naps or wearing sunglasses on the drive home to limit exposure to light. Explains Douglas Moul, staff physician at the Cleveland Clinic Sleep Center: “We want to treat the real condition, rather than just papering over the symptoms with a medication that can just keep people awake longer.”

The bottom line: Sales of Cephalon’s shift work disorder drug, Nuvigil, are growing 50 percent annually. Critics say the pills may be overprescribed.

One third of Americans living on Government Handouts

CNBC
March 8, 2011

Government payouts—including Social Security, Medicare and unemployment insurance—make up more than a third of total wages and salaries of the U.S. population, a record figure that will only increase if action isn’t taken before the majority of Baby Boomers enter retirement.

Even as the economy has recovered, social welfare benefits make up 35 percent of wages and salaries this year, up from 21 percent in 2000 and 10 percent in 1960, according to TrimTabs Investment Research using Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

“The U.S. economy has become alarmingly dependent on government stimulus,” said Madeline Schnapp, director of Macroeconomic Research at TrimTabs, in a note to clients. “Consumption supported by wages and salaries is a much stronger foundation for economic growth than consumption based on social welfare benefits.”

The economist gives the country two stark choices. In order to get welfare back to its pre-recession ratio of 26 percent of pay, “either wages and salaries would have to increase $2.3 trillion, or 35 percent, to $8.8 trillion, or social welfare benefits would have to decline $500 billion, or 23 percent, to $1.7 trillion,” she said.

Last month, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed a $61 billion federal spending cut, but Senate Democratic leaders and the White House made it clear that had no chance of becoming law. Short-term resolutions passed have averted a government shutdown that could have occurred this month, as Vice President Biden leads negotiations with Republican leaders on some sort of long-term compromise.

“You’ve got to cut back government spending and the Republicans will run on this platform leading up to next year’s election,” said Joe Terranova, Chief Market Strategist for Virtus Investment Partners and a “Fast Money” trader.

Terranova noted some sort of opt out for social security or even raising the retirement age.

But the country may not be ready for these tough choices, even though economists like Schnapp say something will have to be done to avoid a significant economic crisis.

A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week showed that  less than a quarter of Americans supported making cuts to Social Security or Medicare in order to reign in the mounting budget deficit.

Those poll numbers may be skewed by a demographic shift the likes of which the nation has never seen. Only this year has the first round of baby boomers begun collecting Medicare benefits—and here comes 78 million more.

Social welfare benefits have increased by $514 billion over the last two years, according to TrimTabs figures, in part because of measures implemented to fight the financial crisis. Government spending normally takes on a larger part of the spending pie during economic calamities but how can the country change this make-up with the root of the crisis (housing) still on shaky ground, benchmark interest rates already cut to zero, and a demographic shift that calls for an increase in subsidies?

At the very least, we can take solace in the fact that we’re not quite at the state welfare levels of Europe. In the U.K., social welfare benefits make up 44 percent of wages and salaries, according to TrimTabs’ Schnapp.

“No matter how bad the situation is in the US, we stand far better on these issues (debt, demographics, entrepreneurship) than other countries,” said Steve Cortes of Veracruz Research. “On a relative basis, America remains the world leader and, as such, will also remain the world’s reserve currency.”