U.S. pensions inch higher in August

U.S. pensions inch higher in August As global stock markets have rallied in recent weeks, the funding status of the typical U.S. corporate pension plan has increased, according to an asset management company.

The estimates from The Bank of New York Mellon Asset Management suggest that the funding of the typical plan improved by 0.5 percentage points to 79.7 percent at end of August, up from 79.2 percent at the end of July.

"Six straight months of improving stock markets have bolstered the assets of these plans, which is good news given the corresponding decline in Aa corporate bond yields," says Peter Austin, executive director of BNY Mellon Pension Services.

He further added that the stabilization of the markets combined with attractive corporate bond nominal yields have resulted in greater demand for high quality bonds, much of it generated by corporate pension plan sponsors seeking to better manage risk and reduce volatility.

The report also found that assets for the typical moderate risk portfolio increased 2.7 percent during the month, while the liabilities rose by only 2.1 percent. For the year through August 31, the funding ratio for the typical plan was up 5.8 percentage points.

The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation is a financial services company operating in 34 countries. It has $20.2 trillion in assets under custody and administration, $928 billion in assets under management, services more than $11 trillion in outstanding debt and processes global payments averaging $1.8 trillion per day.

In speech to Congress Obama touts ‘cost saving’ public option

In speech to Congress Obama touts 'cost saving' public option In an eagerly awaited speech delivered before Congress on Wednesday, President Obama failed to rule out a government-run health insurance option as part of healthcare reform.

With the public growing increasingly skeptical about his plans to overhaul the ailing healthcare system, the President appeared in front of lawmakers to restate his case and reconfirm his administration’s commitment to ensuring that Americans will no longer have to fear bankruptcy caused by medical bills.

Stressing the U.S. is the only wealthy democracy that "allows such hardships for millions of its people," Obama sought to convince his listeners that his proposals would reduce costs, expand coverage, improve care and regulate the insurance market so that sick people are no longer denied coverage.

At the same time, he pledged he will not sign any bill that would increase the deficit, saying his proposal would cost $900 billion over 10 years.

Obama further warned special interests that he will not tolerate "the same old tactics," designed to block the reform.

"If you misrepresent what’s in the plan, we will call you out," he stressed, adding, "I will not accept the status quo as a solution. Not this time. Not now."

The Republican response to the speech came from Representative Charles Boustany of Louisiana who criticized Obama for pushing an expansive package that fails to benefit families and small businesses. He also expressed his party’s disappointment with the President’s unwillingness to drop the public option idea, according to Politico.com.


Study stresses benefits of repealing estate tax

Study stresses benefits of repealing estate taxOpponents of estate tax may have received new ammunition with the publication of a study which says the provision’s repeal will contribute to economic growth and enhance government revenue.

The work is detailed in the report published jointly by the Family Research Council (FRC) and the American Family Business Foundation and suggests eliminating the tax could create more than 1.5 million jobs.

"[Estate tax] kills jobs, family prosperity and necessary federal revenues," says FRC president Tony Perkins.

"It is regressive, punitive taxation at its worst, and shows how Washington’s impulse to redistribute wealth only produces less growth and greater economic inequity," he adds.

The study stresses the tax affects mainly small businesses, which it calls America’s "main economic engine," responsible for creating 60 to 80 percent of new jobs in the last decade. It estimates that raising the rate to 55 percent with only a $1 million exemption would eliminate 500,000 jobs.

The estate tax is imposed on the transfer of the taxable estate of a deceased person, and according to the Economic Growth and Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2001, the applicable exemption increases to $3.5 million in 2009, the tax will be repealed in 2010, but in 2011 it is scheduled to return with the exemption of only $1 million.

FAIR insists Obama misleading public on healthcare

FAIR insists Obama misleading public on healthcare Despite the fallout from Representative Joe Wilson’s outburst, in which he accused President Obama of lying on the healthcare issue, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) says there is evidence the government is not truthful about publicly-funded healthcare for illegal immigrants.

The organization says the proposed House bill known as America’s Affordable Health Care Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200) would allow illegal aliens to be covered by a government-run public option and would include no verification provisions to prevent them from receiving subsidies to purchase private insurance.

To support its claims, FAIR cites the study conducted by non-partisan Congressional Research Service entitled Treatment of Noncitizens in H.R. 3200 which concluded that the bill does not contain restrictions on noncitizens participating in the health insurance exchange, a scheme which would allow participants to enroll in a government-run program.

"There is no reason why the controversy over whether illegal aliens will be eligible for massive health care subsidies should persist," says Dan Stein, president of FAIR.

"[Its] authors can easily remove the ambiguities from the House bill, and Senate leaders can include specific language barring illegal aliens from all nonemergency benefits in the bill that is being written in that chamber," he adds.

Obama advisor resigns after alleging conspiracy

Obama advisor resigns after alleging conspiracy President Obama’s key environmental advisor has resigned after a petition he signed that suggested the 9/11 attacks were conducted with the knowledge of the previous administration was revealed online by bloggers.

At the heart of the controversy is a 2004 petition Van Jones signed which called for an investigation into whether government officials deliberately allowed the attacks to occur as a pretext of war. The petition can still be found on the internet, and Jones has distanced himself from it.

Jones, a close Obama aide and friend, was a member of the Council on Environmental Quality whose job it is to help implement the government’s agenda of creating millions of green jobs. His resignation was announced over the weekend, with the administration insisting Jones was not fired, but made the decision himself.

However, Jones appeared to lay the blame squarely on the Republicans saying in a statement that "on the eve of historic fights for healthcare and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me," adding, "they are using lies and distortions to distract and divide."

Meanwhile, his departure was welcomed by Republicans with Representative Mike Pence of Indiana saying, "[such] extremist views and coarse rhetoric have no place in this administration."

The development has also prompted critics to call for more careful vetting of the people appointed to the so-called "czar" positions within the administration.

Allergies threaten overweight kids more, researchers say

Allergies threaten overweight kids more, researchers say The list of reasons why parents may want to turn off the computer and send their kids outdoors has just grown longer, as a new study found obese youngsters are at a greater risk for developing allergies than their leaner peers.

The research conducted by experts from the National Institutes of Health examined data on more than 4,000 children aged 2 to 19 and analyzed their allergen-specific immunoglobulin E (IgE) or antibody levels developed in response to a range of indoor, outdoor and food allergens.

Overweight children, they found, were about 26 percent more likely to have high IgE levels and therefore develop allergies than those with normal weight.

Dr. Linda Birnbaum, NIEHS director, says the possible link between obesity and allergies should provide additional motivation for parents and teachers to undertake the challenge of reducing childhood obesity.

There are many natural approaches to losing weight, including physical exercise and a diet low in refined sugars and rich in fish, fresh fruit and vegetables as well as nutritional supplements with vitamin D that has been shown to help prevent obesity.

Study analyzes retirement fund’s response to financial crisis

Study analyzes retirement fund's response to financial crisis A new survey has looked at how corporate pension funds have adjusted their investment programs in response to the economic downturn, including reducing their equity allocations and replacing fund managers.

The work was conducted by the consultancy Watson Wyatt, and found that 67 percent of companies have made or are planning to make changes to their defined benefit plan asset allocations in 2009 and 2010.

The senior-level financial executives from the organizations included in the poll estimate their average target equity allocations will decrease to 47.8 percent, which represents a drop of almost 10 percent from last year. The survey also found that nearly 73 percent of companies have hired or fired managers since June 2008.

"Given the current market, finding solutions to reduce exposure to risk and improve overall investment performance is critical," says Carl Hess, global director of investment consulting at Watson Wyatt.

"While some employers may be limited by the steps they can take, most should be able to find ways to better manage their risks, optimize returns and improve their overall governance strategies," he adds.

The survey also found that employers have made significant changes to their defined contribution plans, with 45 percent planning to add new U.S. equity funds to their lineup, and 62 percent dropping an existing U.S. equity fund this year or next.


Study says citrus fruit ingredient may prevent metabolic syndrome

Study says citrus fruit ingredient may prevent metabolic syndrome According to new research, a compound called naringenin, which is a flavonoid found in citrus fruit, may become a valuable tool in the fight to prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome.

The condition is a combination of medical disorders, such as insulin resistance, that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Researchers at the Robarts Research Institute at the University of Western Ontario studied the impact of naringenin supplements and found that they lowered triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and normalized glucose metabolism in animal models.

Murray Huff, director of the Vascular Biology Research Group at Robarts, says the research is unique in that the mice in the supplementation group and in the control group ate exactly the same amount of food and the same amount of fat.

"There was no suppression of appetite or decreased food intake, which are often the basis of strategies to reduce weight gain," he adds.

While grapefruits are a good source of naringenin, the researchers say the amount of the citrus-derived flavonoid needed to produce the desired results is higher than what can be obtained from dietary sources and additional supplementation may be necessary.

The findings were published online in the journal Diabetes.

Experts offer heart health tips for hunters

Experts offer heart health tips for hunters With the hunting season approaching in some parts of the country, University of Michigan Cardiovascular Center has recently held an event to highlight the heart risks associated with the activity.

Doctors say hunters die every year from strenuous exercise and bursts of activity that hunting often requires. According to University of Michigan cardiologist Dr. Eric Good the combination of sitting for long periods and sudden rushes of adrenaline when prey is spotted can result in a heart attack.

The Heart of the Hunter Health Fair was therefore organized in response to the growing need to educate the public about the risks and preventive measures, and doctors and nurses were on hand to advise participants on safe outdoor practices.

Good stresses that hunters should treat the season as if they were training for a major sporting event like a marathon because the physical exertion can be intense.

"Even a 30-minute fast walk several times a week can help – anything that gets your heart pumping at 60 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is calculated by subtracting your age from 220," he suggests.

Supplements with vitamin B or omega-3 fatty acids are also recommended by health practitioners to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

NIA warns Bernanke’s second term will bring ‘disaster’

NIA warns Bernanke's second term will bring 'disaster'President Obama has nominated Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke for the second term, but the National Inflation Association (NIA) is not happy with that decision.

In announcing the nomination two weeks ago, Obama praised Bernanke’s performance during the most acute phase of the financial crisis saying he acted with "calm and wisdom."

"[His] bold action and out-of-the-box thinking has helped put the brakes on our economic freefall," Obama said.

However, NIA believes Bernanke’s recent actions – in particular taking the worthless mortgage -backed securities, auto loans and student loans onto the Fed’s balance sheet – are giving the economy what they call "an artificial high" and will lead to an even bigger crash later.

"It’s unfortunate how forgetful Washington is and how the media fails to talk about how Bernanke has simply taken Alan Greenspan’s mistakes and made them bigger," says NIA, referring to the fact that in 2001 the former Fed chairman lowered interest rates to 1 percent, which is widely credited with creating the real estate bubble at the heart of the current crisis.

NIA has long sought to warn Americans about impending hyperinflation due to the government’s level of spending which has led to a massive federal budget deficit. The White House Office of Management and Budget has estimated the deficit to reach $9 trillion over the next 10 years.

As opposition to healthcare reform mounts, Obama prepares address

As opposition to healthcare reform mounts, Obama prepares address President Obama has come under fire from all sides for some of the provisions of the proposed healthcare reform, and he will appear before Congress to restate his case.

One of the critical voices has been raised by Americans for Tax Reform which says there are tax hikes in the House Democrat bill that would violate the President’s promise made during the electoral campaign not to raise taxes on families making less than $250,000 a year.

For example, page 167 of the proposed legislation talks about imposing a 2.5 percent tax on individuals who are not enrolled in health insurance.

Similarly, certain businesses that do not offer insurance would be compelled to pay a new payroll tax of 8 percent.

The organization may soon get an answer, as Obama is set to address lawmakers tonight in an effort to lay out his plan to overhaul healthcare and provide details many feel have been missing thus far. In fact, a new CBS News poll found that 66 percent of Americans are confused by the reform proposals.

However, most polls also show a majority agree the nation’s healthcare system needs major change.

Obama is widely expected to reveal whether the administration will push for including a public option in the final draft of the bill. He is also likely to highlight the elements most lawmakers agree on, including preventing insurance companies from denying coverage for preexisting conditions or dropping coverage when a person gets sick as well as capping out-of-pocket expenses and eliminating caps on lifetime coverage, according to the Christian Science Monitor.