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Drug deal


Drug deal

Drug stocks have dipped 5.2 percent this year based largely on concerns about Democratic hopeful John Kerry's prescription-drug platform

The presidential campaign has Wall Street worried about the future earnings potential of pharmaceutical companies, causing drug stock prices to fall slightly in advance of the election.

A fund that tracks the value of about 20 drug stocks has dipped 5.2 percent this year based largely on concerns about Democratic hopeful John Kerry's prescription-drug platform.

The biggest concern appears to be Sen. Kerry's plan to have the government negotiate drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries directly. Current federal law forbids the government from negotiating price discounts with drug makers, but if Congress dropped that restriction, Medicare would have direct purchasing power over 50 percent of the market.

Proponents say this would save enormous amounts of money, but critics say one-size-fits-all bulk buying would sharply limit the quality and variety of drugs available to seniors.

Such a change could lower earnings for pharmaceutical companies and stifle innovation. "If Kerry were to win, and do what the drug companies are afraid he'll do-authorize the secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate prices-I think that would change the nature of that investment forever," said pharmaceutical analyst Richard Evans.

Profit squeeze

In addition to taking their toll on homes and property, hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Ivan have destroyed billions of dollars in fresh produce. In Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, many farmers lost entire citrus groves as well as this year's harvest of peanuts, pecans, and cotton.

Agricultural officials in Florida estimate losses from hurricanes Charley and Frances to exceed $2 billion-or more than 30 percent of Florida's $6.4 billion annual orange crop. More than two-thirds of the state's $205 million grapefruit crop was destroyed.

In Georgia, hurricanes Frances and Ivan are thought to have wiped out up to 30 percent of the state's $619 million cotton crop.

In Alabama, Agriculture Commissioner Ron Sparks said his state's $9 million pecan crop appears "mostly wiped out," while the state's $200 million cotton crop suffered "substantial damage."

While Southeast farmers assess the damages, growers in other parts of the country are experiencing a surge in demand.

"Everybody's got to try to get their fruit somewhere," said John Hausman of Healds Valley Farms in Edinburg, Texas. "It's just unfortunate that something bad has to happen somewhere for something good to happen somewhere else."

Balance sheet

  • Consumer prices barely budged in August, suggesting that inflation isn't currently a problem for the economy and Federal Reserve policy makers can stick with a gradual approach to raising interest rates. Falling prices for clothes, cars, and airfares helped to temper rising prices for medical care, education, and some food items.
  • International Truck and Engine Corp. is producing what it calls the world's biggest production pickup, a 14,500-pound monster capable of towing 20 tons. The new 5-passenger CXT is nine feet tall, eight feet wide, and gets about seven miles on a gallon of diesel.

  • In an effort to capture more readers and advertising dollars, The Wall Street Journal will begin publishing a Saturday edition next fall. The new "Weekend Edition" is part of a broader effort to bring more consumer and lifestyle stories to the paper in order to reduce the Journal's heavy reliance on financial and technology advertising, which tends to fluctuate widely.

  • Mexico is hoping that the free-trade agreement it signed with Japan last week will open up a new market for Mexican fruits and vegetables and ease the country's reliance on the United States. Of Mexico's $165.4 billion in exports last year, 90 percent of them went to the United States.