Off the Wires

New U.S. tax rules throw $160 billion merger into doubt

April 5th, 2016  |  Source: CNN

Allergan shares are on track to open sharply lower Tuesday after the U.S. Treasury announced new policies that threaten Pfizer's takeover of the Ireland-based Botox maker.

The pending $160 billion merger between Pfizer (PFE) and Allergan (AGN) is the second-biggest takeover deal of all time, according to Dealogic.

The massive deal, announced in November, would see New York-based Pfizer shift its headquarters to Ireland, a move that could reduce its tax bill. The structure is emblematic of the "tax inversion" deals that have become popular in recent years.

Treasury rules announced Monday will clamp down on companies that try to reduce their tax bills by merging with foreign firms.

Pfizer and Allergan issued a joint statement on Monday saying they were reviewing the Treasury's announcement and wouldn't "speculate on any potential impact."

But worried investors pushed Allergan shares down by about 20% in premarket trading. If the stock opens at the reduced price, roughly $22.5 billion will be wiped from Allergan's market capitalization.

Pfizer shares edged higher by about 2.5% before the open.

Pfizer has been openly critical of the U.S. corporate tax system.

In 2014, it tried unsuccessfully to acquire British drug maker AstraZeneca (AZN) and it didn't hide the fact that tax savings were one of the main drivers.

Treasury Secretary Jack Lew did not mince words when he talked about the problems of corporate inversions on Monday.

"Many of these companies continue to take advantage of the benefits of being based in the United States -- including our rule of law, skilled workforce, infrastructure, and research and development capabilities -- all while shifting a greater tax burden to other businesses and American families," he said.

World figures deny wrongdoing as 'Panama Papers' turn spotlight on tax evasion

April 4th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Governments across the world began investigating possible financial wrongdoing by the rich and powerful on Monday following a leak of documents from a Panamanian law firm which allegedly showed how clients avoided tax or laundered money.

The documents detailed schemes involving an array of figures from friends of Russian President Vladimir Putin to relatives of the prime ministers of Britain, Iceland and Pakistan and as well as the president of Ukraine, journalists who received them said.

While the "Panama Papers" detail complex financial arrangements benefiting the world's elite, they do not necessarily mean the schemes were all illegal.

The Kremlin said the documents contained "nothing concrete and nothing new" while a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said his late father's reported links to an offshore company were a "private matter".

Iceland's Prime Minister Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson could not immediately be reached for comment on the naming of his wife in connection with a secretive company in an offshore haven which brought opposition calls for him to resign.

Pakistan denied any wrongdoing by the family of Prime Minister Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif after his daughter and son were linked to offshore companies. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has not commented on his reported offshore links.

Australia, Austria, Brazil, France and Sweden were among countries which said they had begun investigating the allegations, based on more than 11.5 million documents from law firm Mossack Fonseca, located in the tax haven of Panama. Banks as well as individual clients came under the spotlight.

The documents were leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and more than 100 other news organizations. Mossack Fonseca has denied any wrongdoing.

"I think the leak will prove to be probably the biggest blow the offshore world has ever taken because of the extent of the documents," ICJC director Gerard Ryle said.


The material covers a period over almost 40 years, from 1977 until last December, and allegedly show that some companies domiciled in tax havens were being used for suspected money laundering, arms and drug deals, and tax evasion.

Britain's Guardian newspaper said the documents showed a network of secret offshore deals and loans worth $2 billion led to close friends of Putin, including concert cellist Sergei Roldugin. Reuters could not confirm those details.

Putin's spokesman dismissed the reports, saying they aimed to discredit him ahead of upcoming elections.

"This Putinophobia abroad has reached such a point that it is in fact taboo to say something good about Russia, or about any actions by Russia or any Russian achievements. But it's a must to say bad things, a lot of bad things, and when there's nothing to say, it must be concocted. This is evident to us."

The British government asked for a copy of the leaked data, which could be embarrassing for Prime Minister Cameron, who has spoken out against tax evasion and tax avoidance.

Trading in eight stocks suspended for rest of trading day: NYSE ARCA

April 1st, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

NYSE Arca has suspended trading in eight symbols for the balance of the trading day due to a technical issue, including and both classes of Alphabet Inc shares, according to an alert from the exchange.

The alert stated all orders have been canceled back to customers and a spokeswoman for the exchange confirmed it was not an April Fool's Day prank.

The NYSE recently rolled out a new trading platform, called "Pillar" on Feb. 1, but it was not known if issues with the new platform had spurred the trading suspension.

Other affected stocks included AutoZone Inc and Intuitive Surgical.

Joe Christinat, a spokesman for Nasdaq, said "all our systems are operating normally" and the stocks could be traded at Nasdaq regardless of issues at another exchange.

Takata puts worst-case recall costs at $24 billion

March 30th, 2016  |  Source:

Takata Corp., the supplier behind the auto industry's biggest recall ever, estimated that a comprehensive callback of its airbag inflators would cost about 2.7 trillion yen ($24 billion), according to a person familiar with the matter.

The worst-case recall scenario would involve 287.5 million airbag inflators, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the company's deliberations are private. Takata and the automakers still have to determine how the costs are shared, the person said.

A representative for Takata declined to comment.

The projection by Takata exceeds a February estimate by a Jefferies Group LLC analyst by about $7 billion and reinforces concerns about the company's viability. The worst-case cost figure is almost four times more than the revenue Takata has forecast for the fiscal year ending this month. It also amounts to almost six-times more than the total assets on its balance sheet as of the end of 2015.

Splitting costs

"Even if this is the worst-case simulation, it shows the company has seen some possibility," Ken Miyao, an analyst with Tokyo-based market researcher Carnorama, said. "The question is how much the carmakers want to split the costs. But even if Takata only bears half of the cost, this would still be beyond their scope."

Takata shares plunged by about 20 percent to 414 yen, hitting the lower daily limit in Tokyo trading.

Obama Administration Offers Desperately Needed Help For People Addicted To Opioids

March 29th, 2016  |  Source: HuffPo

HHS lays out its plan to raise the patient cap for doctors prescribing addiction medication.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a proposed rule on Tuesday to double the number of patients a doctor can treat with an opioid addiction medication that public health officials consider essential. The change could help alleviate the long waiting lists in places hard hit by the opioid epidemic and tilt the U.S. drug treatment system toward a more evidence-based approach.

“This is an important step and I think it’s a very public signal of how we think about it and what we believe,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell in an interview with The Huffington Post. She said she expects the rule to go into effect before President Barack Obama leaves office.

Read on here:

Sanders says party leaders may 'rethink' after wins

March 28th, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

Fresh from Democratic presidential primary wins over the weekend in three U.S. states, Bernie Sanders said on Sunday he had political momentum that could help him win the backing of Democratic power brokers in his race against Hillary Clinton.

Sanders easily won nominating contests in Alaska, Washington and Hawaii on Saturday. His latest remarks reflect his plan to chip away at Clinton's commanding lead in the number of delegates needed to win the party's nomination for the November election.

Interviewed on Sunday by U.S. broadcasters, Sanders said Democratic "super-delegates," who can change their allegiance, might face pressure to rally behind him because most polls suggest he has a better chance than Clinton of beating a Republican candidate.

"Momentum is with us," Sanders, a senator from Vermont, said on CNN'S State of the Union news program. "A lot of these super-delegates may rethink their position with Hillary Clinton."

Sanders also criticized Clinton's reliance on wealthy donors to fund her campaign. He cited a fundraising dinner being hosted next month by actor George Clooney, where supporters will have to donate at least $33,400 to attend, or $353,400, nearly seven times the annual median income, if they want "premium" seating.

"It is obscene that Secretary Clinton keeps going to big money people to fund her campaign," Sanders told CNN. "Our events, we charge $15 or $50 for people to come. So, it's not a criticism of Clooney. It's a criticism of a corrupt finance system."

About 85 percent of the votes at the July 25-28 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, where a party nominee will be chosen to face the Republicans in the Nov. 8 election, are being determined by state nominating contests.

The other 15 percent is held by party power brokers who are free to vote as they like, meaning they could hold the key in a tight contest. Super-delegates include party leaders and elected senators, members of the U.S. Congress and governors.

After Saturday's contests, the former secretary of state led Sanders by just under 300 pledged delegates in the race for the 2,382 needed to be nominated.

Adding in the support of super-delegates, which the party created in the early 1980s to give leaders more control over the nominating process, Clinton had 1,712 delegates to 1,004 for Sanders, according to a tally by

The U.S. senator from Vermont needs to win up to two-thirds of the remaining delegates to catch Clinton, who will keep piling up delegates even when she loses under a Democratic Party system that awards them proportionally in all states.

Sanders is turning his attention to his native New York, where Democratic voters will divide up 247 delegates on April 19th. His campaign manager on Sunday wrote a letter to Clinton's manager insisting that a planned televised debate between the candidates in April be held in the state, which Clinton represented as a U.S. senator for eight years. Jeff Weaver said in the letter that the Clinton campaign had resisted holding the debate in New York.

"Is the Secretary concerned about debating before the people who twice elected her to the U.S. Senate?" Weaver wrote.

Spokesmen for Clinton did not respond to requests for comment.

Crucifixion re-enactment in the Philippines

March 25th, 2016  |  Source:

For approximately 73 million Catholic Filipinos, this is a special time of year when penance and sacrifices are made prior to the resurrection of their Lord Jesus. They say Filipino faith can move mountains, and in some cases it can even influence them to nail their hands to a cross or be cut by whips in order to endure the suffering of Jesus. It may sound a bit weird, but Filipinos take the word sacrifice very seriously. 

Every Good Friday, thousands of locals and tourists flock to small towns throughout the Philippines, such as Pampanga or Jordan, to witness the crucifixion acted out in what is known as "Pagtaltal sa Guimaras." This re-enactment of Christ's Passion includes the last supper, scourging at the pillar, carrying of the cross, the seven last words and the crucifixion. Leading up to the crucifixion re-enactment, thousands of penitents will whip themselves in this voluntary ritual. The practice of crucifixion itself is controversial and not encouraged by the church—willing participants have their palms nailed into a cross. For over thirty-three years the crucifixion re-enactment has been taking place every Good Friday and ends at 3 p.m. when the person portraying the role of Jesus is nailed on the cross. According to Catholics, this is also the exact time when Jesus died. 

The people who portray the role of Jesus during the crucifixion re-enactment say they do it for sacrifice, personal penance, good will and blessings. Over the years, different people have portrayed the role of Jesus, including females and even visiting tourists. Whether you're Catholic or not, the crucifixion re-enactment is a shockingly bold introduction to the Filipino faith.

Radovan Karadžić sentenced to 40 years for genocide at Srebrenica

March 24th, 2016  |  Source: The Guardian

The former Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadžić has been found guilty of genocide over the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica and sentenced to 40 years in jail.

The key verdict from a United Nations tribunal in The Hague was delivered 18 months after a five-year trial of Karadžić, who was accused of being one of the chief architects of atrocities during the 1992-95 Balkans war.

The 70-year-old, who insisted his actions were aimed at protecting Serbs during the Bosnian conflict, was found guilty of 10 out of the 11 charges he faced at the international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).

This gun looks exactly like a smartphone

March 23rd, 2016  |  Source:

Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you just... carrying an iPhone?

The Ideal Conceal handgun has made waves for what its maker calls an “ingenious” design that looks exactly like a smartphone when in the “locked” position.

Ideal Conceal says on its website that, indeed, hardly anybody will notice it: “Smartphones are EVERYWHERE, so your new pistol will easily blend in with today’s environment. In its locked position it will be virtually undetectable because it hides in plain sight.”

The Ideal Conceal weapon is a .380-caliber derringer. Two bullets in two barrels. While the gun is still patent-pending, It’s expected to be available by mid-2016 for $395 each.

“From soccer moms to professionals of every type, this gun allows you the option of not being a victim,” the company says. “Most threats will occur in less than a 30’ range. Ease and speed of deployment will mean the difference in the outcome. With the Ideal Conceal pistol you can be quick on the draw stopping a threat effectively and immediately.”

Ideal Conceal looks to be tapping into the gun market at an opportune time. Earlier this month, firearms giant Smith & Wesson SWHC, +0.57%  rode a groundswell of demand to surprisingly strong quarterly results. The stock has more than doubled in the past year, as uncertainty over gun laws and the rising threat of terrorism have caused customers to load up.

U.S. airlines cancel Brussels flights after blasts

March 22nd, 2016  |  Source: Reuters

U.S. airlines including Delta, United and American canceled flights on Tuesday after two deadly blasts in a packed departure area of the Brussels Airport at Zaventem.

A suicide bomber blew himself up in one of the Tuesday morning airport explosions, which public broadcaster VRT said killed 14 people. Another 20 were killed when a blast tore through a rush-hour metro train in the European capital shortly afterward, VRT said.

Video at the airport, which was shut down, showed devastation, with ceiling tiles and glass scattered across the floor. Some passengers emerged from the terminal with blood spattered over their clothes.

While there were no credible threats to U.S. airports or transportation hubs, police presence was beefed up as a precaution in the nation's major cities, including New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

Delta Air Lines Inc said its flight DL42 from New York to Brussels was diverted to Amsterdam. Another flight, DL80 from Atlanta, had landed safely at the Zaventem airport and was parked remotely while the airline's local staff helped passengers exit safely.

News of the multiple blasts, which have Brussels on lockdown and have snarled some cross-border traffic, sent shares of U.S. airlines and travel-related companies lower. Delta was down 2.1 percent at $49.04 in morning New York Stock Exchange trading, while United Continental Holdings Inc fell 1.4 percent to $69.34.

United Airlines, which had two flights due in Brussels on Tuesday morning, said both landed there safely.

The company said it was suspending all remaining flights to and from Brussels.

American Airlines Group Inc said it had canceled flight 751 from Brussels to Philadelphia and would accommodate its passengers when the airport reopens.

The explosions did not occur where American's check-in operates, the company said, so all of its airport employees are safe and accounted for.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Inc said all of its hotels in Brussels were on lockdown, along with the rest of the city.

Facebook Inc said it had activated its "safety check" feature, which allows its users to check on friends who were in the area of the blasts.

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