Sunday, April 27, 2008

Anti-abortion group pushes for amendment

Associated Press
Friday, April 25, 2008 (Mexico City)
Anti- and pro-abortion groups marked the first anniversary since lawmakers voted to legalise abortion in Mexico City.

A year ago, lawmakers approved the proposal by a vote of 46-19, with one abstention, requiring city hospitals to provide the procedure in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

Girls under 18 would have to get their parents' consent.

The bill was ground breaking for this predominantly Roman Catholic country and set a milestone for the discussion of abortion laws in other Catholic countries in Latin America.

Elsewhere in Mexico, abortion is allowed only in cases of rape, severe birth defects or if the woman's life is at risk, and doctors sometimes even deny the procedure under those circumstances.

The bill's approval stirred a bitter and emotional debate in the country that has continued one year later.

An anti-abortion group, Pro-Vida (Pro-Life), held a demonstration on Thursday morning in front of Mexico City's Assembly.

The group lit 7,200 candles on the steps of the building, representing what it said was the number of abortions practiced in Mexico City's hospitals during the past twelve months.

The demonstration began at 5 am and lasted for an hour.

On Wednesday, officials from the city government celebrated the first anniversary of the bill's approval.

''I hope nobody has ever next to him an adolescent that has to stop a pregnancy, and cannot do it due to moral issues or because of family principles and can't make valid their right to decide, so here we are celebrating a whole year of been able to exercise our right to decide,'' said Marta Lucia Micher, the director of the Women's Institute in the capital.

At the time the bill was published into law, the city's health secretary Manuel Mondragon said that except in cases of medical emergency, women would have to prove residency in the capital.

Mondragon was addressing the widespread belief that the law would make the capital a magnet for women across Mexico seeking abortions.

Mexico City has a population of almost 20 (m) million people.

The city and its suburbs are home to about one-fifth of the country's population, and many Mexicans travel to the capital for medical treatment.

The procedure is almost free for poor or for city residents without health insurance.

The only countries in Latin America and the Caribbean with legalised abortion for all women are Cuba and Guyana.

Most others allow it only in cases of rape or when the woman's life is at risk.

Nicaragua, El Salvador and Chile ban it completely.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Coventry Health Care Earnings Match Lowered Guidance [CVH]

4/25/2008 8:23:21 AM Coventry Health Care (CVH) announced a profit for the first quarter on Friday that rose from last year and matched the lowered forecast the company released in March.

The operator of health plans and insurance companies reported first-quarter net earnings of $125.03 million, or $0.81 per share. This compared to $121.74 million, or $0.76 per share, in the same period last year.

Total operating revenues increased to $2.94 billion from $2.24 billion a year ago.

Analysts polled by First Call/Thomson Financial had expected earnings of $0.81 per share on revenues of $2.98 billion.

In mid-March, the company slashed its first-quarter earnings forecast, blaming higher influenza-related medical costs and lower net investment income. At that time, the company said it expected a first-quarter profit of $0.81 per share, below its previous forecast of $0.85-$0.87 per share.

In Friday's release, the company predicted earnings in the range of $1.03 - $1.04 per share on revenues of $2.95 billion - $3.10 billion. Analysts are looking for earnings of $1.10 per share on revenue of $3.07 billion for the second quarter.

For the full-year 2008, the company still expects earnings in the range of $4.39 - $4.50 per share on revenue of $11.99 billion - $12.49 billion. Analysts expect earnings of $4.43 per share on revenue of $12.37 billion.

Dale Wolf, chief executive officer of Coventry, said in a press release, "We are on track for another year of industry leading revenue growth and remain very confident about our strategic positioning and growth prospects for the future."

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Falling pensions

Nearly one in three IFAs expects investors to be saving less into their pensions this year as stock market volatility and the credit crunch hit home, according to new research from global insurance and financial services organisation MetLife Europe.

The research also revealed that the average predicted reduction in pension investment is a substantial 21 per cent.

The analysis shows that the FTSE 100 has lost around 7.6 per cent since the start of 2008 and at one point in mid-March was more than 16 per cent lower than its 2008 starting level of 6,456.9.

Dominic Grinstead, strategic development and marketing director at MetLife, says, ‘Stock market volatility has been one of the biggest concerns in the past year, with the impact of the credit crunch beginning in 2007 adding to the pressure on people’s finances.

‘Market volatility looks set to continue throughout 2008, and this appears to be making some pension savers reconsider their decision to invest. However, if they reduce investment in pensions because of stock market volatility, they will see retirement income fall.’

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Coronation Street - Paul threatens Leanne

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Leanne (Jane Danson) is delighted to discover that the insurance company are issuing a cheque for nearly the full amount they requested and Dan (Matthew Crompton) suggests the sooner she gives Paul (Tom Hudson) his share the better so they can all move on and start afresh.

However, Paul's still bitter about how she duped him and when she hands over the cheque he asserts it's no consolation for her manipulating and using him.

Angered and hurt, Paul suggests if she really wants to make amends with him she should give him her share of the money.

After all, he committed the crime so he deserves the money. Leanne's shocked but Paul gives her an ultimatum - if he doesn't get all the money, he'll go to the police. What will Leanne do?

An upbeat Kirk (Andrew Whyment) arrives back from Cyprus and as Fiz (Jennie McAlpine) awkwardly accepts an affectionate hug, he reveals he has something important he needs to talk to her about.

Fiz is worried he's going to suggest they get back together and puts off the chat until later. She arrives home from work and bites the bullet, telling him she doesn't want to get back with him.

Bemused, Kirk explains he wanted to tell her that he's met someone on holiday and he's in love. Fiz is amazed and relieved as he tells her all about his holiday romance, Julie, who lives in Manchester!

Audrey (Sue Nicholls) has been distracted since hearing about Ted's phone call and lies to an unconvinced Bill that she's just worried about David.

Later, in the café, she gives Rita (Barbara Knox) the full history of her relationship with Ted. It was a very turbulent time of her life and she used him, getting pregnant with Gail (Helen Worth) to force him into marriage and then changing her mind.

She never loved him even though he was besotted with her. Audrey doesn't know if she can open such an old can of worms, especially given Gail's situation at present, but she is curious as to what he wants? Will she drag up the past?

Elsewhere, Jason (Ryan Thomas) and Becky (Katherine Kelly) both had a good time last night and arrange to go out again.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Insurance worry for health tourists

Going abroad for dentistry and cosmetic or minor surgery is increasingly popular, but your travel insurance won't help if it all goes wrong.

The health tourism industry is growing by 30% each year, as breast implants, heart surgery and hip replacements cost between 20% and 50% less overseas than private treatment in the UK.
But if you go abroad for medical treatment, then you may not be covered for a claim under your travel policy.

Any complications arising from the surgery, the cost of a new flight because you were hospitalised for longer than expected or missing your appointment because of flight delays are not covered under standard travel policies.

But it is not just claims arising from your treatment that can be turned down. Most travellers do not realise that they might not be able to claim for lost luggage, theft or an accident if they did not reveal that the purpose of their trip is to have treatment. Some insurers won't issue travel policies for these trips.

Insurance broker Marcus Hearn has brought out a special travel insurance policy that will provide cover for health tourists. A week's single-trip policy to Europe costs £17.90, rising with your age. It is unavailable for the over-70s.

But even this policy will extend only to the non-medical elements of your insurance: any claim in connection with the medical condition for which you are travelling will be excluded.

Marcus Hearn managing director Jeffrey Klipp says: 'It simply doesn't occur to people that they may not be covered under their existing travel policy. And the consequences could be very costly.'

Research by the Post Office, the largest independent travel insurer, reveals that over a third of those who had travelled abroad for cosmetic or elective surgery failed to check if their insurance policy covered them.

The findings highlight the growing trend of people looking for lower cost treatments abroad - 126,000 Britons are expected to travel overseas for medical procedures this year. India is currently the top destination, closely followed by Hungary, Turkey, Malaysia and Spain.

The Post Office and Saga would pay out for lost baggage or delayed flights and cancellations, but not for claims relating to the medical treatment.

All travel policies are invalidated if you do not declare pre-existing medical conditions - though you can find policies that will cover existing illnesses for a premium.

You should always check the position with your travel insurer before going abroad for treatment.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cashing in on growth in Asian consumer demand

In Asia, a growing middle class, changing consumption patterns arising from the new Asian wealth, and changing social behaviour enlarging disposable income have combined to boost consumer spending and create many investment opportunities.

While the rest of the world either stagnates or contracts, growth in Asia continues to accelerate. Invesco’s Asian Consumer Demand Fund, launched on March 25, aims to tap into this increased Asian consumer activity, and at its helm is William Yuen. Excerpts from an interview:

Invesco already has nine funds investing in Asia. Why another?

We would like to offer our investors the “choice” of participating in the exciting growth outlook of the Asia region depending on their investment objective and risk tolerance levels. Within the product offering there are broad-based regional funds, sub-regional funds, country-specific funds, thematic funds and more conservative balanced funds. Each of the Asia-related products will be different to each other and will offer exposure to the fast growing Asia region through very different channels. So, in a way, the choice is there for our many investors.

We have been offering new products that are tied specifically to investible Asian themes such as Asian infrastructure and now Asian consumer demand, as we firmly believe we are only at the beginning of each of these unique secular trends.

What is different about this fund?

The Invesco Asia Consumer Demand Fund specifically targets the dramatic rise of the three billion Asian consumers living in the Asia (excluding Japan) region and how such Asian companies can benefit from this fast moving reality.

The difference of this fund is that we look to invest in Asian companies that directly deal with the end consumers through either goods or services. We invest in Asian consumer demand related companies that don’t depend on global growth conditions, which are weakening fast, and the financially stretched global consumers.

Instead, we are riding on a fast growing Asian economic region, where not only are government finances strong (which can provide more stimulus to the already strong consumer spending trends), but Asian corporate and Asian consumers are equally powerful and strong. Asian consumers have been saving too much and borrowing too little relative to their income earning capabilities. Even at such an early stage of the uptrend, we expect the Asian consumers will be contributing close to $3 trillion (Dh11trn) to the Asian economies.

What exactly are the investment themes of the consumer demand fund?

We take a broad definition in what is considered stocks that will benefit from the booming Asia consumer demand trend. We take the view that any consumers, such as you and I, with direct access to either through goods or services on a regular basis are investment candidates. This will stretch from the day-to-day necessities such as food, to discretionary spending such as cars, fashion, electronics and all the way up to lifestyle needs such as healthcare and leisure.

In addition, we will focus on financial services companies that will enhance, protect and prolong not only current spending of Asian consumers, but future spending as well. The selection is there, as we join the rise in purchasing power from the three billion Asian consumers. We are looking at three distinct themes.

First is the rise of the China consumer. Consumer spending in China is growing alongside rising income levels from better job prospects from the sustainable economic growth. The middle-income group is on the rise and the shift away from necessity spending to discretionary lifestyle spending is propelling a new wave of consumer spending. Equally, the current generation is spending on things that the previous generation has only dreamed of.

Second is the Indian wireless services. Penetration is still low at around 20 per cent – or 200 million subscribers – as at the end of 2007 relative to the world and China. Assuming India can reach the level we are seeing in China as at the end of 2007 – around 40 per cent penetration – there will be an addition of more than 200 million subscribers.

The third is financial services in Asia. Similar to many products and services targeting Asian consumers, the adoption rate of financial services is generally low relative to the developed world. Asian consumers are saving too much and borrowing too little relative to their income earning capabilities – potential will be there for a consumer to enhance consumer spending through credit. Also, insurance services are a new concept to the majority of Asian consumers – the potential to protect their assets. Finally, the introduction to wealth management services and brokerage services will prolong their spending well into the future.

Other themes that can be applied across Asia are: travel and leisure, healthcare services and specific educational services.

What is your approach to selecting companies? Do you rely on local expertise or does your team make visits to selected companies?

The portfolio will be constructed by applying a rigorous bottom-up stock selection process. We don’t have country constraints or sector constraints; we don’t aim to replicate any benchmarks – although we have a reference benchmark, the MSCI AC Asia-Pacific ex Japan index, for monitoring and risk management purposes.

Top-down outlook will also be observed, but as a way of complementing our focus on bottom-up stock selection. We will typically look for firms that exhibit characteristics such as EPS growth that is higher than the reference benchmark, strong balance sheet, industry-leading business franchise and superior management. In selecting Asian consumer demand related companies, we will use the investment professionals based in our Hong Kong office to complement the two fund managers of the Asia Consumer Demand Fund.

Each of the investment professionals will have specific Asia country coverage that we can tap into and analyse industry trends and specific fundamentals of the companies. Ultimately, the lead fund manager, me, and co-manager Samantha Ho, will find the best consumer demand stocks for the fund.

A strong part of our investment process is our strong belief in visiting and meeting companies on a regular basis.

Through the 13-plus investment professionals, we will make regular visits to our targeted companies to get an in-depth understanding of what is happening to the company on the ground.

We will also make visits to the markets and end-points that these companies target within the Asia region.

We want to ensure the end-customers these consumer demand companies are targeting are a worthwhile in an investment sense. Finally, we believe strong fundamentals will drive share price performances.

What is the outlook for Asia, and which sectors of the economy will continue to grow irrespective of the economic slowdown in the United States?

Despite negative headwinds arising from the US economy, we feel Asia is relatively more resilient and will continue to offer growth higher than many developed countries. Asian economies are generally fast growing, government finances are in good shape; together with healthy Asian corporate and consumers, the outlook remains bright.

We feel sectors that are driven by domestic demand, and not global economic conditions, are the best way to mitigate the impact of a US economic slowdown. Asia Infrastructure and Asia Consumer Demand sectors are the most obvious choices that are predominantly driven by the strong domestic economic conditions.

How will the slide in the US dollar affect earnings and growth?

The general slide in the US dollar is more of a function of the weakening fundamentals of the US economy and the expectation of easing of US monetary policy. Against this backdrop it is generally perceived to be mildly positive for the Asia region, as the easing environment and weakening dollar will add liquidity to the region, at a time when Asian fundamentals are strong.

There will be a different impact to Asian earnings as a result of the weakening of the dollar, but we don’t see it as any major driver, either way. A strengthening Asian currency against the dollar will have a positive impact on a consumer.

What is your take on the recent gyrations in the Asian stock markets? If the US sneezes will Asian markets catch a cold?

Unfortunately, Asian stock markets still take clues from the direction of the US stock markets, despite the very clear positive trend that Asian economies, corporate and consumers are all in far better shape than their counterparts in the United States.

The recent correction seen in the Asian markets have meant that, while fundamentals remain firm, Asian stocks are trading at much more attractive levels on a valuation basis. In particular, the consumer demand related companies continue to exhibit strong earnings growth potentials that are more than two times the average of the Asia-Pacific region.

Most of these companies depend on our own three billion Asian consumers.

PROFILE: William Yuen, Head of Invesco’s Asian Consumer Demand Fund

Yuen has an overall investment expertise of eight years. He is on the Asian investment team of Invesco.

Yuen is based in Hong Kong and has bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Sydney, Australia. He also holds a Master of Commerce degree from the same university and is a Chartered Financial Analyst.