Wealth manager EFG to contest increase in Transamerica premiums

* EFG says will take Transamerica dispute to U.S. courts* Further premium hikes could lead to impairment on life portfolio* Reports "disappointing" net asset generationZURICH, April 29 Swiss wealth manager EFG International plans to contest what it called "unjustified" premium increases on its holdings of life insurance policies from Aegon NV's Transamerica unit, it said ahead of its annual general meeting on Friday.The company, which also described new net asset generation in the first quarter as disappointing, said it had recently been told of premium increases on 12 of its 48 Transamerica policies, which form part of EFG's held-to-maturity life insurance portfolio.More such increases could mean that EFG might face a significant impairment on its life policy holdings, the company said in Friday's statement. "EFG International intends to challenge the implementation of these increases in the U.S. courts," EFG said.A spokesman for Aegon did not respond immediately to an emailed request for comment.An analyst in Zurich suggested that EFG would also be grappling with higher legal costs. "Today's update confirms our view that significant risks exist," Bank Vontobel analyst Andreas Venditti said in a note to investors.EFG shares fell 2.5 percent in Zurich, extending their decline this year to 43 percent.The Zurich-based company's "disappointing" generation of net new assets -- fresh money from clients minus outflows from its existing assets -- stemmed from what EFG called tough conditions in Latin America and its exit from an investment product in Asia. EFG did not give specific figures for new net assets, though it did say that its Asia business increased profitability substantially compared with the first quarter of 2015.It will report more detailed numbers when it publishes half-year results on July 27.EFG has been bulking up its wealth-management activities including with a planned takeover of Grupo BTG Pactual SA's Swiss private banking unit BSI, as well as UBI Banca International's private banking activities in Luxembourg.Friday's annual meeting will include a shareholder vote to approve the rights offering of 81.6 million new shares as part of plans to raise 500 million Swiss francs ($518.89 million) to finance the BSI acquisition.Shareholders will also vote EFG's plan to create nearly 76 million registered shares to be issued to BTG Pactual once the BSI transaction closes. ($1 = 0.9636 Swiss francs) (Reporting by John Miller; Editing by David Goodman) Read more

Newborn disease outbreaks push South Korea to stiffen care center oversight

SEOUL Like more than half of South Korean mothers, Kim Ju-yeon spent two weeks recuperating and relaxing in a health care center with her newborn after she gave birth last June.But her baby boy caught latent tuberculosis during their stay, one of 30 infants who was infected by a nursing assistant."I never thought my baby could get sick," said Kim, 36, who sued the center's owner, seeking compensation, along with the families of 79 other babies similarly infected or treated to prevent infection.Growing concern over infection risks in such facilities has prompted South Korea to propose tighter regulation of the sometimes luxurious centers, which usually put babies in nurseries with other newborns, separate from their mothers.The care centers have caught on so dramatically, since emerging in the late 1990s, that entrepreneurs are taking the business model overseas, an effort backed by the government.The center where Kim stayed is run by YK Dongrami, South Korea's biggest postnatal care brand, which has 16 domestic centers and five in China.Following the incident involving Kim's baby, the company is working to create a safer, cleaner environment, it told Reuters. In August, it apologized on its website for the incident. South Korea had 610 for-profit postnatal facilities last year, up from 377 in 2007.But the health ministry says the centers are vulnerable to infection and hamper mother-child bonding.The government says 265 babies caught infections, from respiratory to diarrheal diseases, in the first half of 2015, the latest data available. That figure compares with just 88 in all of 2014. Another center suspended operations this year after 15 babies caught rota virus, which can cause diarrhea.No deaths have been traced to South Korea's post-natal centers in recent years.APART AND TOGETHERTwo weeks' stay at a center typically costs $2,000 - with the plushest rising to $20,000 - and includes massages for the mothers, and sometimes yoga, along with baby care lessons.At feeding time, nurses bring babies to their mothers or put them together in special rooms. Most of the time, nurses look after the babies grouped about 10 or 20 in a room, though the World Health Organization advises that mother and child share a room, to promote bonding. Clustering newborns together heightens infection risks, say experts and officials."Newborns have a weaker immune system, so post-partum care centers are even more vulnerable," said Chey Myoung-jae, a pediatrics professor at the private Inje University Sanggye Paik Hospital in Seoul. The industry acknowledges shortcomings, but points to the expense of additional care givers."If a mother stays with her baby all the time, and an individual caretaker is attached to each mother, then it makes services too expensive," said Kim Jeong-uk, director of the Korea Postpartum Care Centers Association. MODERN TRADITION The centers have evolved from South Korea's tradition of "sanhujori," in which experienced mothers or mothers-in-law help new mothers care for their infants.The government's new rules will encourage shared rooms for mothers and babies, and mandate tuberculosis tests for new hires."We are supplementing current laws to send a strong message for the safety of the postpartum care centers from infections," health ministry official Woo Hyang-jae told Reuters.Postnatal care company Dongrami says requiring mothers and babies to share a room might "restrict customers' right to choose" services.Some mothers said the centers are the only affordable, accessible choice for postnatal care nowadays.“We don’t have any family living nearby. Realistically our only option was to go to a care center," said Jeong Bo-mi, 37, who is among the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Her baby was treated as a preventive measure, and eventually tested negative for latent tuberculosis. (Editing by Tony Munroe and Clarence Fernandez) Read more

Brazil says Zika-linked microcephaly cases stable at 4,908

BRASILIA The number of confirmed and suspected cases of microcephaly in Brazil associated with the Zika virus remained stable at 4,908 in the week through April 23, just one case more than a week earlier, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday.Of these, the number of confirmed cases climbed to 1,198 from 1,168 a week earlier, but suspected ones under investigation continued to decline to 3,710 from 3,741 a week ago.Cases that have been ruled out rose to 2,320 in the week through April 23, from 2,241 a week earlier, the ministry said. Brazil considered most of the cases of babies born with abnormally small heads to be related to Zika, though the link between the virus and the birth defects has not been scientifically established. Brazil has registered 91,387 likely cases of the Zika virus from February until April 2, the health ministry said earlier on Tuesday, in its first national report on the epidemic. The country's populous southeast, which includes Olympic city Rio de Janeiro, registered the most diagnoses of any region, with 35,505 likely cases. (Reporting by Brad Haynes and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Bernard Orr) Read more

Battle over N.C. transgender law intensifies as lawmakers reconvene

RALEIGH, N.C. Thousands of people flocked to North Carolina's capital on Monday to show both support and disdain for a law that has thrust the state into the international spotlight over its restrictions on transgender bathroom access and gay rights.Lawmakers returned to Raleigh to begin a short session designed to address the state budget. But controversy over the new law, which has drawn reaction from U.S. presidential candidates, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron among others, is expected to dominate.The measure puts the state at the center of a debate over equality, privacy and religious freedom as states propose legislation seen as discriminatory against gay and transgender people in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court last year ruling that legalized same-sex marriage.North Carolina became the first U.S. state to require transgender people to use restrooms in public buildings and schools that match the sex on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity. Fifty-four people were arrested at the Legislative Building as they protested against the law on Monday, General Assembly police Officer Scott Cameron said. "Our state is a state of crisis," Chris Sgro, executive director of the Equality North Carolina advocacy group, said earlier in the day before activists delivered petitions to Republican Governor Pat McCrory's office demanding the law's repeal.A group of Democratic representatives filed a bill seeking a repeal. But leading Republican lawmakers in the state have shown little willingness to back down, and they were greeted at a rally on Monday by thousands of people who came on church buses and held signs thanking them for the measure.Business leaders, entertainers and politicians including Obama and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump have come out against the law. Opponents contend it demonizes transgender people and limits government protections against discrimination for gays and lesbians. Supporters including social conservatives and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz say it is needed to protect women and children from sexual predators in bathrooms.On Monday, singers Demi Lovato and Nick Jonas joined a growing list of entertainers who have canceled shows in the state. Lovato wrote on Twitter that she and Jonas were protesting "this hateful law." As part of the backlash, companies and associations have relocated conventions and halted job-creating investment projects initially slated for North Carolina. Republican State Representative Paul Stam criticized companies, including PayPal Holdings (PYPL.O), that have pulled jobs out of North Carolina over the measure."They have offices in countries where homosexuals are executed," he said. "The hypocrisy of those who oppose this bill is amazing." (Additional reporting and writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Cynthia Osterman) Read more

Teens most drawn to e-cigarettes by online ads

(Reuters Health) - While many forms of e-cigarette advertising increase the odds that teens will try the devices, a new U.S. study suggests that this generation of digital natives is most enticed by promotions they see online.Big U.S. tobacco companies are all developing e-cigarettes. The battery-powered gadgets feature a glowing tip and a heating element that turns liquid nicotine and other flavorings into a cloud of vapor that users inhale. To see which e-cigarette ad formats were most persuasive to teens, researchers analyzed data from a recent nationwide survey of about 22,000 middle school and high school students from grades 6 through 12, when youth are typically about 12 to 18 years old. When middle school kids said they routinely viewed e-cigarette ads online, they were almost three times more likely to use the devices than their peers who never saw ads. High schoolers who frequently watched online ads were about two times more likely to use e-cigarettes. “E-cigarette ads use many of the same themes used to sell cigarettes and other conventional tobacco products, such as independence, rebellion and sex,” said lead study author Dr. Tushar Singh of the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. “The situation is compounded by the fact that e-cigarette online vendors are using social network services to market their products – and many online vendor websites are very easy for youth to enter and make purchases,” Singh added by email. Three million middle and high school students said they were current users of e-cigarettes in a CDC survey last year, up from about 2.5 million in 2014, according to a report released this month. Adolescents who try e-cigarettes may be more than twice as likely to move on to smoking conventional cigarettes than teens who have never tried the devices, previous research has found.For the current study, Singh and colleagues analyzed data from the 2014 National Youth Tobacco Survey, which asked teens about how often they used different types of tobacco products as well as how frequently they encountered ads for these items.Compared with youth who never viewed ads, middle school students who said they saw newspaper ads for e-cigarettes “most of the time” or “always” were 87 percent more likely to use e-cigarettes. High school students that routinely saw newspaper ads were 71 percent more likely to use the devices. Always seeing e-cigarette promotions on television shows and movies was associated with 80 percent greater odds that middle school students used e-cigarettes and 54 percent higher likelihood for high school students, when compared with teens who never saw these ads.Advertisements in retail settings were more effective than print or movie promotions.When middle school students saw ads in stores, they were more than twice as likely to try e-cigarettes as their peers who reported rarely or never seeing these ads. High school students were 91 percent more likely to use e-cigarettes when they regularly saw ads in stores.Since students were surveyed at a single point in time, the study can’t prove that seeing e-cigarette advertising preceded, and therefore might have caused, kids to take up e-cigarettes. Another limitation of the study, the authors note in the journal Pediatrics, is its reliance on teens to accurately recall and report how often they viewed ads and used e-cigarettes. Even so, the findings from this e-cigarette study mirror previous research showing how ads for traditional cigarettes encourage smoking, said William Shadel, a senior behavioral scientist at RAND in Pittsburgh, who wasn’t involved in the study.“Advertising is thought to make product use seem more normative and acceptable, and to convey the impression that positive outcomes like having fun or feeling attractive will result from use,” Shadel said by email. “It’s possible, then, that exposure to e-cigarette ads promote thoughts that use is more prevalent and that using the product will result in positive outcomes,” Shadel added. SOURCE: bit.ly/1qyV1oi Pediatrics, online April 25, 2016. Read more

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