Reuters blog archive

from Breakingviews:

Pfizer yet to land knockout blow on Astra

By Neil Unmack 

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Pfizer’s courtship of AstraZeneca looks like a hate-hate relationship. In January, UK pharmaceuticals group AstraZeneca viewed its U.S. larger rival’s proposal of 46.61 pounds a share as too low on cash, too risky, and too cheap to even talk about. Pfizer’s latest proposal, an attempt to get Astra to begin friendly talks, hasn’t moved the needle much.

The U.S. company is now offering 50 pounds per share, 32 percent of which is in cash. Pfizer needs to find the right mix of cash and shares that allows it to preserve the tax benefits of relocating to the UK - which would require a minimum of 20 percent UK ownership of the combined group - whilst not diluting itself too heavily with the share component of the bid. The latest proposal would leave the UK ownership at 27 percent of the combined company, so there’s still room to up the cash.

The new price represents a mere 7 percent increase on the original offer – not a significant bump. True, it values Astra at a whopping 20 times forward earnings estimates, double the multiple it traded at a year ago. Yet it looks cheap to those shareholders who see Astra’s turnaround as well advanced, and its potential cancer immunotherapy pipeline as a blockbuster in waiting. Citigroup estimates that Astra could be worth 49 pounds per share on a standalone basis. Pfizer’s share of the synergies and tax benefits could be worth nearly 12 pounds a share, according to Berenberg. Some investors, who piled into the stock for its high income, will see 50 pounds as an unexpected windfall. But others will be antagonised. Astra’s board seems to be listening to them, and has rejected the offer.

from Counterparties:

Trends with benefits

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Yesterday, the Obama administration announced it would delay a part of the Affordable Care Act’s employer mandate, giving companies with more than 50 employees at least another year, and as much as two years, to make sure they cover all of their employees. At a press conference today, reporters asked the President whether the delays mean that the administration “is in part trying to push Americans toward the individual health insurance market and decouple insurance from employment”.

from Data Dive:

Where Obamacare enrollment stands in each state

As enrollment starts to increase, the government has started using manual work-arounds for the various software errors that plague About 365,000 people have signed up for private insurance in the last two months, and 5 million visited the site in the first week of December, according to Reuters.

Here's what enrollment looks like compared to the state-run exchanges:

Here's more on what's still missing from the site:

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius described the manual procedure as a temporary measure for software applications that have not yet been built, tested and incorporated into the massive system behind the website.

from Counterparties:

Affordable Care Ack

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The rollout of has been a disaster. But what about the rest of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act? There are a couple of sticking points, many of them related to the way in which the individual insurance market has been overhauled.

from Jack Shafer:

The flimflam of this week’s Obamacare numbers

At midweek, the Department of Health and Human Services released its report on the health plan choices and insurance premiums available under the Affordable Care Act, which opens for enrollment on Oct. 1 in 36 states.

The HHS press release accompanying the report glistened with the positivity of a group hug, starting with its headline, "Significant choice and lower than expected premiums available in the new Health Insurance Marketplace." The press release's feel-good theme of "lower than expected premiums" ricocheted up and down many news columns the next day.

from The Great Debate:

Why Obama must prevail for a ‘grand bargain’

President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (R) in Washington, Mar. 19, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron

It's been a while since we've had good news about our economy, so the recent upbeat reports are welcome. The deficit picture for 2013 has brightened a bit, along with an upturn in the housing market. Yet those developments don't tell the full story. Our economic horizon remains cloudy due to serious structural challenges.

from Stories I’d like to see:

A New York Times home run, piggyback journalism, and hospital TV ads

1.   The Times hits a home run in the Bronx:

This item comes under the category of stories I loved seeing. On Sunday the New York Times did a front pager (continued on two full pages inside) by veteran reporter William Glaberson on the collapse of the criminal courts in the Bronx that was about as close to perfection in execution and impact as journalism can get.

Glaberson’s chronicle of epic incompetence and sheer laziness among the judges, prosecutors and just about everyone else mixed mountains of impressive data (endless delays, startlingly low conviction rates) with the kind of personal stories that give the data indelible meaning: A murder defendant who was held in jail for nearly four years before being acquitted recounts how court officers, lawyers and prosecutors would be “laughing and giggling” while they scheduled postponement after postponement, ignoring him so completely that he “felt almost invisible inside the courtroom.” There’s a running narrative, artfully sprinkled in italics throughout the piece, of the agony of the family of a murdered bodega proprietor that is forced to wait five years for the accused killer to come to trial, only to have to face a new trial later this year because stale evidence and the witnesses’ foggy memories resulted in a hung jury.

from Reihan Salam:

Should Congress create a national health-care exchange?

One of the core ideas behind the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Obama’s ambitious and very controversial effort to expand access to medical insurance, is that state governments will work with the federal government to make high-quality care more accessible and affordable by creating subsidized state-based insurance exchanges. For those who aren’t covered by employer-sponsored insurance or Medicare or Medicaid, the exchanges are meant to offer a range of affordable insurance plans, with subsidies varying by household income.

The architects of the ACA believed the exchanges would be one of the more politically attractive aspects of the law, as they were designed to give states considerable latitude and to harness the power of market competition. But 34 states, representing two-thirds of the U.S. population, have thus far refused to establish their own exchanges, and the federal government is scrambling to create its own exchanges in the states that have refused to play ball.

from MuniLand:

Do doctor shortages affect a state’s decision to opt out of Obamacare?

The media have focused on the recent Affordable Care Act (ACA) deadline for states to decide whether they will create health insurance exchanges. It’s an important issue, but if a state does not agree to build an exchange, the federal government will step in and create one. So either way, all 50 states will end up having health insurance exchanges.

But the other ACA choice that states have to make is whether to expand Medicaid in their states to include more beneficiaries. According to the ACA law, states will not have pay for the expansion until later years:

from The Great Debate:

Can Obama fire up younger voters?


As national attention focuses on the devastation inflicted on Atlantic states by megastorm Sandy, polls show the same basic electoral reality that has prevailed throughout the presidential campaign: Without a strong turnout among young voters, President Barack Obama loses on Nov. 6.

So, Obama may need more than fiery “go vote!” entreaties to students to overcome his presidency’s disorganized, mixed record on youth issues.