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from Counterparties:

MORNING BID – I was dreaming when I wrote this…

The move by Roche to buy biotech company Intermune for $8.3 billion at a 38 percent premium isn’t going to make Janet Yellen happy, given her thoughts on the valuation of certain biotechnology and Internet retailing names. Still, with the Fed chair on board for low rates for some time given the slack situation in the labor market that the Fedsters keep talking about (basically, the unemployment rate, like the old grey mare, ain’t what she used to be), the long march to 2,000 on the S&P looks like it’s probably going to be over before long (it's been done on an intraday basis, and now we're just waiting on a close above that level), representing a tripling in that average in a bit more than five years and raising again all those questions about whether this all makes sense and if anyone cares anyway.

On the first point, well, nobody knows anything – earnings were generally strong in this most recent quarter, particularly when one expands the universe to the Russell 1000, where Credit Suisse points out more companies that are beating analyst expectations are growing sales, a sign of improved demand.

About 70 percent of the Russell 2000 beat on earnings estimates (about 62-65 percent if you exclude the ones that only beat due to reducing share counts through buybacks), and of that group, 84 percent did so while growing sales, pointing at least to some hope on improved demand. But there’s always weakness out there somewhere, and it appears to be among the true small-caps – the Russell 2000, which has been trailing the S&P and yet still looks overvalued based on a number of measures and has been seeing more negative revisions even as the stocks struggle.

The weakness in those names, along with some lackluster stock performance out of consumer discretionary stocks, explains in part why hedge funds are once again struggling, up less than 1 percent for the year compared with about an 8 percent gain in the S&P 500 for the year (after 2013’s ridiculous rise, of course, when hedge funds wouldn’t have been expected to keep up in the first place).

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.

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 HealthCare.gov. 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 HealthCare.gov website.

from Counterparties:

Affordable Care Ack

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The rollout of healthcare.gov 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:

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