Mid-Market CFOs See Expansion Opportunities

   NORWALK, Conn. - (BUSINESS WIRE) - 9/27/2012 - U.S. chief financial officers (CFOs) of middle-market companies surveyed this summer remain generally positive about the state of their own industries and continue to see measured growth over the next three years, according to the latest GE Capital Mid-Market CFO Survey.
  CFOs’ sentiment on the state of the U.S. economy and their respective industries declined slightly since the first quarter survey but remained above the levels of a year ago. Their view on the current health of the world economy continued to deteriorate.
  A majority of CFOs expect to grow their revenues in 2012, and nearly two-thirds of CFOs still plan to hire in the next 12 months, although both figures fell from six months ago.
   The survey, which was conducted during the third quarter of 2012, included responses from 500 CFOs of companies with average revenues of $124 million operating across seven distinct industries including: food, beverage and agribusiness; general manufacturing; healthcare; metals, mining and metals fabrication; retail; technology and business services; and transportation.
   “Middle-market CFOs still see expansion opportunities over the next three years, but remain cautious as concerns about the business environment and uncertainties in areas such as tax and healthcare policy persist,” said Dan Henson, president and CEO of GE Capital, Americas. “From our perspective as a provider of capital, we see positive year over year growth in both lending and leasing. Economic sentiment, while still positive, is slightly more guarded than we saw in the last survey. In the meantime, the credit markets are very healthy, providing extremely attractive terms for borrowers as credit facilities come up for renewal and as acquisition or other investment opportunities develop.”
2012 Growth and Profit Expectations
   CFOs’ expectations for their industries shifted from an expansion phase to a more stable outlook. Moving forward, CFOs continue to project moderate growth for their companies, even amid a more measured sentiment for the U.S. economy.
   Eighty-five percent expect the U.S. economy to grow or be stable in the next 12 months, down 11 percentage points since the first quarter, but higher than a year ago.
Eighty-eight percent expect their industry to grow or be stable during the same time period.
   Revenue expectations for 2012 remain positive but have diminished, with 54 percent projecting increases, down 13 percentage points since the last survey.
   Seventy percent expect profits to remain the same or increase this year compared to last, down 11 percentage points.
   Healthcare and raw materials costs continue to be cited as the top threats to business performance in the next 12 months.
   “This data reinforces what we have heard from our clients. Over the last several years, middle-market companies have focused on right-sizing to manage through a lower growth environment and have maintained disciplined approaches to growth — and they now have cash on hand that they are looking to use wisely, including purchasing new equipment and making strategic hires,” said Henson.
   Confidence Indicators: Hiring, Cost Structure and Capital Expenditures
   Forty-six percent of CFOs plan on increasing their cost structure in 2012. Eighteen percent expect to decrease their cost structure in 2012, up from 15 percentage points since the last survey.
Sixty-two percent of CFOs plan to hire in the next 12 months, down 12 percentage points from the last survey. Transportation companies are the most bullish in their hiring plans, with 79 percent expecting to hire.
   Layoffs continue to decline, down to 24 percent from 27 percent a year ago.
   Expectations for greater capital expenditure spending increased slightly to 28 percent. Retail companies are the most likely to increase their cap-ex spending.
Other Top Findings
   Top threats to health of the economy – Domestic unemployment numbers and global fiscal concerns continued to weigh heaviest on CFOs.
   Pricing outlook – For the first time since the third quarter of 2010, less than half (44 percent) of CFOs expect to raise prices on their company’s products or services this year, down from 51 percent in the first quarter of 2012.
   Credit availability/cost – Sixty-five percent of CFOs state that credit availability from their current lender has stayed the same, an increase of eight points from a year ago. Seventy-two percent believe the cost of capital will remain the same in the next 12 months, with only 18 percent predicting an increase.
Internal challenges – Reducing employee benefit costs and implementing service process improvements were cited as the most common internal challenges faced by middle market CFOs today.
   For an executive summary including industry highlights, visit www.gecapital.com/cfosurvey

Hedge Fund Managers Sentenced to Prison Terms

   NEW YORK – 9/19/2012 - Michael Katz and Christopher Fardella, two former hedge fund managers, were each sentenced on Sept. 19 to three years in prison for their roles in defrauding investors out of nearly $1 million, announced Preet Bharara, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York. Katz and Fardella each pleaded guilty in October 2011 to one count of conspiracy to commit securities fraud and mail fraud and one count of securities fraud before U.S. District Judge Laura T. Swain, who also imposed today’s sentences.
   “In order to lure investors, Michael Katz and Christopher Fardella created resumes and marketing materials for their phony investment fund out of whole cloth. Their sentences demonstrate to those who may consider similar schemes that smoke and mirrors will not fool law enforcement, and you will be held accountable for such fraudulent activity,” Bharara said.
   According to the information filed in Manhattan federal court, as well as statements made in court proceedings: From April 2005 through November 2006, Katz, Fardella and two other co-conspirators were partners in KMFG International LLC, a hedge fund located primarily in Florida with ties to New York. Katz was KMFG’s Portfolio Manager, and Fardella was KMFG’s Treasurer.
    Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators used “cold calls” to solicit approximately $1.03 million from investors across the country. Investors were misled about KMFG’s principals and about the firm’s financial performance. For example, KMFG’s marketing materials falsely claimed that KMFG was operated by “a management team consisting of hedge fund managers, traders and top level executives from independent oil and gas companies” with a track record of generating substantial trading profits for KMFG’s investors. In fact, Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators had no genuine experience running a hedge fund and were never top level executives in the oil and gas industry. KMFG’s marketing materials also falsely claimed that KMFG had generated “cumulative returns for 30 months of over 165 percent.” In truth, KMFG had no prior financial track record, and never made a profit for any of its investors.
    The defendants used investor funds for their own personal benefit without investor knowledge. Specifically, Katz and Fardella used investors’ funds to finance a lavish lifestyle by making personal cash withdrawals and using the funds for expensive meals and trips to Las Vegas.
    To conceal the fact that Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators were misappropriating investor funds and the fact that KMFG was never profitable, the defendants submitted false financial statements to their clients that indicated their investments were making profits when they were not. KMFG clients continued to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars with KMFG after receiving the false financial statements. In total, Katz, Fardella and their co-conspirators either lost or spent $981,000 out of the $1,031,086 collected in investor funds.
    In addition to their prison terms, Katz, 33, of Brooklyn, N.Y., and Fardella , 34, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., were each sentenced to three years of supervised release and ordered to forfeit $981,000.
    Co-conspirator Kristian Murphy-Fuhse, who was charged in a separate information for his role in the same scheme, pleaded guilty in January 2012 and is awaiting sentencing before U.S. District Judge Thomas P. Griesa.
    Bharara praised the work of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
    These cases were brought in coordination with President Barack Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, on which U.S. Attorney Bharara serves as a Co-Chair of the Securities and Commodities Fraud Working Group.
    This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s Securities and Commodities Fraud Task Force. Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason P. Hernandez is in charge of the prosecution.
   Source: National Fraud Enforcement Task Force

Organic Produce Lowers Pesticide Exposure

   Washington, D.C. – 9/8/2012 - Consumers can markedly reduce their intake of pesticide residues and their exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria by choosing organic produce and meat, according to researchers at Stanford University who reviewed a massive body of scientific studies on the much-debated issue.
   The Stanford team analyzed more than 230 field studies and 17 human studies conducted in the United States and Europe to compare pesticide residues, antibiotic resistance and vitamin and nutrient levels in organic and conventionally produced foods.
    “The study confirms the message that EWG and scores of public health experts have been sending for years, that consumers who eat organic fruits and vegetables can significantly reduce pesticide concentrations in their bodies,” Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at Environmental Working Group, said. “This is a particularly important finding for expectant mothers and kids, because the risks of dietary exposures to synthetic pesticides, especially organophosphate and pyrethroid insecticides, are greatest during pregnancy and childhood, when the brain and nervous system are most vulnerable. These are two groups that should really avoid eating foods with high levels of pesticide residues.”
   Based on its review of the available research, the Stanford team also concluded that conventionally raised meat harbors more antibiotic resistant bacteria. It found that consumers of non-organic chicken or pork are 33 percent more likely to ingest three or more strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria than those who eat organic meat.
   “What jumped out at us in this study is that conventionally-raised meat treated heavily with antibiotics is much more likely to carry drug-resistant bacteria than meat produced on organic farms,” said EWG Senior Analyst Kari Hamerschlag, who focuses on organic and conventional agriculture. “Antibiotics, which are banned in organic production, promote the development of resistant super-bugs that are a serious risk to human health.”
   The researchers did not find “significant” or “robust” differences in nutritional content between organic and conventional foods. But Charles Benbrook, a professor of agriculture at Washington State University and former chief scientist at The Organic Center who reviewed the Stanford study and most of the underlying literature, had this to say in response:
   "This study draws a markedly different conclusion than I do about the nutritional benefits of organic crops. Several well-designed US studies show that organic crops have higher concentrations of antioxidants and vitamins than conventional crops. For crops like apples, strawberries, grapes, tomatoes, milk, carrots, and grains organic produce has 10 to 30 percent higher levels of several nutrients, including vitamin C, antioxidants and phenolic acids in most studies."
   The Stanford study also contradicts the findings of what many consider the most definitive analysis in the scientific literature of the nutrient content of organic versus conventional food.
   In that 2011 study, a team led by Dr. Kirsten Brandt of the Human Nutrition Research Center of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom analyzed most of the same research and concluded that organic crops had approximately 12 to 16 percent more nutrients than conventional crops.
   EWG noted that the Stanford study also did not directly address the important environmental and public health benefits that result from reduced pesticide and antibiotic use. Synthetic pesticides can kill insect pollinators, harm wildlife and farm workers, and often end up in the air and water. Tests conducted in 2011 by the US Geological Survey found that glyphosate (commonly sold as Roundup), one of the most widely used herbicides, was a ubiquitous contaminant in air, water and rainfall in two Midwest states.
   “Organic produce and meat products live up to their promise,” EWG President Ken Cook said. “Consumers selecting organic produce ingest fewer pesticides. They also eat meats that harbor fewer deadly bacteria. While you still need to take responsibility for eating a varied and healthy diet, you can rest assured that organic food provides a healthier choice for people and the planet.”
   While the Stanford study briefly mentioned previous research on the effects of organic foods on children’s health, it did not focus on the growing body of studies published in the last decade that have demonstrated children’s higher sensitivity to the effects of neurotoxic pesticides. Last year, Cook, along with several of the world’s most respected authorities in environmental health, sent a letter to the Obama Administration requesting that the federal government expand the testing it conducts on crop chemical residues in foods “to give Americans a full accounting of risks faced by children who consume pesticides on produce.”
   “Studies that have come out in the last two years have linked exposures to organophosphate pesticides with increased risks of ADHD and lower IQ in children, and to low birth weight and early gestation among newborns,” Cook said. “The authors of this study, for whatever reason, decided not to focus on this new and troubling research showing that a diet of food high in certain pesticides could pose such serious and lasting health impacts in children. That’s a glaring omission, in my opinion.”
   Source: EWG 

Protein Linked to Increased Heart Failure Risk

   (NIH) - 9/3/2012 - A protein known as galectin-3 can identify people at higher risk of heart failure, according to new research supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health. This research is based on work from the NHLBI's Framingham Heart Study, which began in 1948 and has been the leading source of research findings about heart disease risk factors.      
    "Galectin-3, a Marker of Cardiac Fibrosis, Predicts Incident Heart Failure in the Community," was published online on August 29 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology and will be published in the October 2 print issue.
   Heart failure occurs when the heart cannot fill with enough blood and/or pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Galactin-3 has recently been associated with cardiac fibrosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces heart muscle, and cardiac fibrosis plays an important role in the development of heart failure.
   Heart failure carries enormous risk for death or a lifetime of disability and often there are few warning signs of impending heart failure. Measuring levels of galectin-3 in the blood may offer a way to identify high-risk individuals who could benefit from treatments to prevent debilitating heart failure and death. Early identification of predisposed individuals would allow treatment to begin long before heart failure develops and could help people at high risk for heart failure to live longer, more active lives.
   Galectin-3 levels were measured in 1996-1998 as part of a routine examination of 3,353 participants enrolled in the Offspring Cohort of the Framingham Heart Study. At the time of measurement the average age of the participants was 59 years old. During an average follow-up of 11 years, 166 participants (5.1 percent) had a first heart failure event. Among the 25 percent of people with the highest galectin-3 levels (ranging from 15.4 to 52.1 nanograms per milliliter) the annual rate of heart failure was 12 per 1,000 people compared with 3 per 1,000 people for the 25 percent of participants with the lowest galectin-3 levels (ranging from 3.9 to 12 nanograms per milliliter). Fifty-three percent of participants were women.
   Spironolactone and other related drugs believed to counteract cardiac fibrosis have been shown to improve outcomes in heart failure patients. Future research will be needed to determine whether treatment with these or other drugs can benefit healthy patients with elevated galectin-3 levels.
   Source: National Institutes of Health