The current war between the rival on demand streaming service for building the customer base with enticing content has been done without inking any deal among the studios and the streamers. Earlier this week, LOVEFiLM has cracked a deal with NBC Universal for the coverage of hundreds of TV shows like US version of The Office and the 30 Rock. Yet it will be quite noisy to figure out that how substantial these catalogues will be from the rivalry services.Thanks to Oric, a UK based company which has provided data about online content and has made it easier for viewers to determine what they want to see online. The Oric has complied data about the Netflix UK streaming services (costing about 5.99 monthly) and about Amazon’s LOVEFiLM Instant (costing about 5.89 monthly with DVD rental services). Data about LOVEFiLM Instant has been complied by establishing customer crawler, specifying all the available titles on the present services. In case of Netflix UK data is require to boast more as it is about TV listing, however data about LOVEFLiM is more sizeable and having rich movie offerings.
Oric will require to beat more legs for collecting the data about Netflix UK. They have to manually access each genre page and extract HTML. However things are not s simple as it seems. Netflix UK having 40 plus titles requires more painful efforts to manually pull all the names along with URL. After compiling this data, the company will require to do custom crawling of extracted HTML. They have to manually correct all the season numbers of the TV shows from their date of release. Also they have to de-duplicate the titles, as one title can be available in multiple genres.
Oric said that it was the mission of the company to compile the data and it is also doubtless to explain that how much it is difficult to measure good and sizeable service catalogue data.
- According to a research the Smartphone penetration in U.K is 58% while shoppers spend over 1000 on online shopping through smartphones
- Will Google buy the Instant Street View Search App
- Amazon is planning to roll out AmazonCare to increase its sales revenue
New head confronted at board meeting over interview in which he said Co-op’s reputation for being democratic was a myth Continue reading…
Federal grand jury indictment alleges that SAC maintained elite group that has traded on insider information since 1999
A federal grand jury has indicted SAC Capital, the embattled hedge fund that has been pursued by financial authorities for years, for insider trading after regulators failed to charge its powerful founder, Steven A Cohen.
The US attorney who brought the charges, Preet Bharara, also hit the firm with civil money-laundering charges that would require the firm to forfeit potentially billions of dollars in assets.
A 41-page indictment alleges that SAC, founded in 1992, maintained an elite group that has traded on insider information since 1999.
SAC is also alleged to have hired portfolio managers specifically for their insider contact in the industries in which they traded, and failed to raise red flags when insider information was suggested as the basis for a trade.
The indictment marks the culmination of a six-year investigation by Bharara. The government pursued an investigation against Cohen but apparently dropped its attempt to bring charges last month.
“SAC became, over time, a veritable magnet for market cheaters,” Bharara said at a news conference in Manhattan. “That’s why the institution, and not individuals, stand accused of insider trading.” He said that the charges were “a predictable product of pervasive institutional failure”, and added: “A company reaps what it sows. SAC seeded itself with corrupt traders.”
Cohen was not mentioned by name in the indictment but referred to obliquely as “the SAC owner” and an “individual residing in Greenwich, Connecticut.”
“The SAC owner failed to question candidates who implied that their ‘edge’ was based on sources of inside information,” the indictment says. Later, it notes: “The SAC owner fostered a culture that focused on not discussing inside information too openly, rather than not seeking or trading on such information in the first place.”
The government’s case centers on SAC’s culture. It alleges that employees at SAC “engaged in a pattern of obtaining inside information from dozens of publicly-traded companies across multiple industry sectors. Employees …traded on inside information themselves and, at times, recommended trades to the SAC owner based on inside information.”
Under US securities laws, fund managers may only trade on company information that has been publicly disclosed.
The indictment mentions several other SAC employees as well as employees of affiliate investment firms. One portfolio manager for Cohen-controlled Sigma Capital, Wes Wang, is cited in connection with insider trading in eight technology stocks including Taiwan Semiconductor, Cisco, and eBay. In 2012, Wang pleaded guilty to two counts of conspiracy to commit securities fraud.
Other alleged insider trading by SAC Capital mentioned in the indictment includes some of the biggest North American companies, such as Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, BlackBerry maker RIM, and Yahoo.
SAC denied the allegations. It said in a statement: “SAC has never encouraged, promoted or tolerated insider trading and takes its compliance and management obligations seriously. The handful of men who admit they broke the law does not reflect the honesty, integrity and character of the thousands of men and women who have worked at SAC over the past 21 years. SAC will continue to operate as we work through these matters.”
The chief target of the US attorney’s legal strategy, according to experts, is to foil Cohen himself by attacking his deputies and the trading culture of the firm he created. Cohen controls 60% of the money in SAC Capital and has a net worth of roughly $9bn, according to Bloomberg.
The indictment holds that SAC’s trading culture was heavily centralized, with dozens of portfolio managers answering directly to Cohen without knowledge of what their peers in the firm were doing.
Cohen, until his legal troubles, was a towering figure on Wall Street, a billionaire unknown to much of the public but famous in the finance community for his enviable investment profits and casual style. While maintaining an intense work regimen – working at over seven computer screens in his office – he was habitually seen around the firm’s Connecticut trading floor in a blue fleece vest that became almost iconic.
He was known for quirks such as his disdain of ringing phones, which created a silent trading floor, and maintaining the firm’s temperature at a breezy 69F so traders would not be too comfortable.
For investors, he held a notable mystique: SAC was so sought-after by clients that they paid the firm a fee of 3% of the money under management and allowed the firm to take up to 50% of their investment profits, according to the indictment.
SAC seemed to have a green thumb for stocks, watching them gain up to 10% in value in a single day after buying shares, and up to 15% in a month, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis in March.
The swirl of legal issues around insider trading have already temporarily claimed the careers of two of Cohen’s top lieutenants, Michael Steinberg and Mathew Martoma, both of whom were arrested at their homes and subsequently indicted. The government’s case against Martoma accuses him of making a profit of $276m by trading on nonpublic information related to healthcare companies Wyeth and Elan.
Martoma has maintained his innocence. His trial is set for November.
The indictment is the latest in a series of investigations of SAC by regulators such as the Securities and Exchange Commission as well as federal prosecutors.
Most recently, last week the SEC filed civil administrative charges against Cohen, arguing that he “failed reasonably to supervise” Steinberg and Martoma.
In response to the SEC’s charges, Cohen’s lawyers argued, in 46-page white paper to staff, that he was too busy to read his email, and estimated he opened only 11% of his messages. As a result, they held, he could not have acted on insider tips contained in those emails.
Previously, SAC and its affiliates paid a $617.5m fine to settle SEC charges on insider trading, even though a judge grew irritated that the firm would be able to pay money to absolve itself of charges without admitting or denying wrongdoing.
Former IMF chief charged with aggravated pimping in connection with alleged prostitution ring at Carlton hotel in Lille
Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, is to go on trial on charges of pimping in connection with an alleged prostitution ring at a luxury hotel in the northern French city of Lille
Magistrates in France decided on Fridayto press ahead with charging the former Socialist minister in spite of calls by the state prosecutor for the case to be dropped.
Strauss-Kahn, 64, a former French presidential candidate, has admitted attending the “libertine” parties and having sex with a number of women. However, he has always insisted he did not know that some of them were prostitutes.
The case, known as the Carlton affair after the luxury hotel where the orgies were said to have taken place, centres around allegations that businessmen and police officials in Lille operated a vice ring supplying women for sex parties.
This affair, which came to light in late 2011, is the last of a series of inquiries into Strauss-Kahn since his arrest in New York in May 2011 where he was accused of trying to rape a hotel maid.
The charges in the US were eventually dropped because of doubts over maid Nafissatou Diallo’s credibility after she was found to have lied on her immigration claim, but Strauss-Kahn was later forced to pay her substantial damages reported to be in the region of $6m( 3.9m).
Two subsequent cases against the former French finance minister have also been dropped. An allegation of sexual assault against writer Tristane Banon in Paris in 2003 did not result in criminal charges because it had passed the legal time limit. In October last year, French prosecutors decided to drop an inquiry into allegations of gang rape at a hotel in Washington after one of the women involved who had made the claim retracted her evidence.
The state prosecutor had recommended that the Carlton affair charges against Strauss-Kahn be dropped on the grounds of a lack of evidence.
Magistrates decided otherwise; they put aside a charge of “aggravated pimping as part of an organised gang”, but maintained the lesser charge of “aggravated pimping as part of a group”. He is facing trial along with 12 other defendants.
In France pimping can cover a wide range of crimes including aiding or encouraging prostitution. A trial is expected to take place next year. If convicted, Strauss-Kahn could face up to 10 years in prison and a 1.5m ( 860,000) fine.
The former IMF chief has vehemently denied all allegations against him and described them as “dangerous and malicious insinuations and extrapolations”.
“It will all come out publicly before the tribunal and everyone will realise that there is nothing in this case,” Henri Leclerc, one of Strauss Kahn’s lawyers said on Friday.
Leclerc said the legal team was “under no illusions” about the “relentlessness shown by the investigating magistrates” and claimed Strauss-Kahn was being targeted because of his high profile.
“This decision is based on an ideological and moral analysis, but certainly not on any legal grounds. We’re sending someone to court for nothing,” said the lawyer.
After an earlier hearing into the Carlton affair, Leclerc told the French radio station Europe 1 that Strauss-Kahn could not have known whether the women at the parties were prostitutes.
“As you can imagine, at these kinds of parties you’re not always dressed, and I challenge you to distinguish a naked prostitute from any other naked woman,” Leclerc said.
Strauss-Kahn had been a frontrunner as the Socialist party’s candidate to become French president in last year’s election before his arrest in New York. He was forced to resign from his job as IMF chief and his third wife Anne Sinclair, a wealthy heiress and former television presenter, divorced him.
At the Cannes film festival in May, Strauss-Kahn was pictured with a new girlfriend, Moroccan-born Myriam L’Aouffir, 45, who works in the internet and social media department at France Television.
The iPad is a fantastic device to run a presentation on. Electric Slide is a superb iPad (and iPhone) app that lets you share your presentation wirelessly to just about anywhere from the iPad – with no need for cables or AirPlay Mirroring.
If you’re presenting in a room full of people, Electric Slide should take your setup time from 5,10, or 15 minutes down to one minute or less. Here’s a little slice of the App Store intro for the app and some of its key features:
Electric Slide is the easiest way to wirelessly present PowerPoint slides, Office documents, PDFs and videos with your iPhone or iPad. Your device is a remote control that works anywhere with any screen. Since viewers just need your simple URL to follow along, setup is a cinch. You can also connect your device directly to a TV or projector via HDMI or VGA.
With Electric Slide:
Type your simple URL into any browser and present wirelessly from your iPhone or iPad
View PowerPoint, Office documents and videos on your iPad or iPhone. Unlike other apps, PowerPoint animations and formatting are preserved.
Present to small groups or remote viewers – anyone with a web browser can join
Optionally, connect your iPad or iPhone to a projector or TV using a VGA or HDMI adapter or AirPlay
Content is auto-synced to your device and can be presented with no Internet connection
Even with no Internet connection you can control your iPad with your iPhone via Bluetooth
View slide notes, thumbnails and who’s viewing while your audience sees just your content
No need to set up complicated web conference meetings
Take photos and broadcast them live to share the whole meeting experience – with Electric Slide you can snap a quick photo of the whiteboard with your device and instantly share it with your web viewers
I’ve been trying the app out for several weeks now and I’m hugely impressed with it.
You need to sign up for a free account with Electric Slide to get going with it. The free account gives you 50MB of storage at Electric Slide, up to five simultaneous live viewers, videos up to 60 seconds in length, and a meeting length limited to 90 minutes. Details for this account also state that your documents are uploaded at fast speeds, but paid accounts get priority. I’ve found upload speeds to be more than good enough with my free account.
Once you’ve created an account, you create a ‘room name’ that will form part of your custom URL used when you present. Mine, for example, is just ipadinsight.
I think the Pro account prices seem quite reasonable too – with 3 months for $27, 6 months for $49, and a year for $80. You can see more info on these at the Electric Slide site.
The app uses the iOS ‘Open In’ feature to open a Powerpoint or PDF document in Electric Slide. Once the file uploads to and gets processed by Electric Slide you can broadcast it to your custom URL right away.
Here are a few other noteworthy points about the app:
– Right now, Keynote files are not supported – though support for them is planned for a future update. It would be very good to see this added, as Keynote is by far the best presentation app right now for the iPad.
– I found some pretty major formatting issues when exporting a Keynote presentation in Powerpoint format and then bringing it into Electric Slide. The easy workaround for this is to export as PDF from Keynote – this gave me perfect results every time.
– There’s no editing capability in the app. You need to do you editing and polishing in Keynote or Powerpoint on a desktop or whatever works for you – and then bring the presentation into Electric Slide.
I’ll try to do a quick screencast demo of using Electric Slide soon, but the short story is this app makes presenting from the iPad quick and easy – whether it’s in a conference room or to a remote audience or a mixture of both. I love the fact that you’re completely ‘unchained’ when using Electric Slide – it’s the best presentation tool I’ve seen for the iPad.
Here’s an App Store link for Electric Slide; it’s a free app with free and paid account options as mentioned above.
Bitcoin, the digital coin with a questionable past, is gaining ground as a legitimate currency, trading at $32 a share last week
Dale doesn’t exactly look like an international crypto-criminal. He’s soft-spoken, baby-faced, and a senior at an Ivy League college. But every couple of weeks the political science major logs onto the Silk Road, an online black market that has been described as an “amazon.com of drugs” to buy wholesale quantities of “molly” (also known as MDMA, a particularly “pure” form of ecstasy), LSD and magic mushrooms. Some of these will be for his personal use, and the rest he’ll flog to less tech-savvy classmates at a mark-up of up to 300%. On a good weekend, he can net a profit of around $2,500. It’s a more lucrative sideline than waiting tables.
While Dale prices his party favours in dollars, he pays for them the only way you can pay for anything on the Silk Road: by using Bitcoins, an untraceable digital currency founded in 2008 by the pseudonymous “Satoshi Nakomoto”. Despite persistent efforts to uncover his identity, little is known about Nakamoto: he’s the Banksy of the internet. Or, rather, he was. Nakomoto disappeared without a trace in 2011, after telling a developer “he’d moved on to other things”. Bitcoin itself, however, shows no signs of vanishing: in the past two months it more than doubled its value against the dollar and after reaching an all-time high last Wednesday, it has been trading at above $32 a share.
Unless you’re a major tech geek or a regular patron of the shadowy computer underworld known as the dark web, you’ve probably never heard of – let alone used – Bitcoins. But below the “real” economy of legal tender and federal reserves, Bitcoins fuel a shadow economy that connects students, drug dealers, gamblers, dictators and anyone else who wants to pay for something without being traced. It has found a niche as the currency of internet vice, digital “pieces of eight” for modern-day pirates.
Despite these unsavoury associations, Bitcoin is increasingly winning a place on the internet as a legitimate currency, albeit one that will probably never quite shake off its dodgy past. Bitcoin is part of a gradual, technological shift in the way we think about money. It poses a tangible threat to centralised banking and the guardians of fiat money. Bitcoin won’t knock off the dollar any time soon; the euro can sleep easy. But it is clearly a force to be reckoned with. Bitcoin has become the world’s best performing currency, with its value spiking 130% just this year.
Bitcoins, unlike the cash you have in your pocket, are finite. There are currently 10.8m Bitcoins in the system, and this will cap out at 21m coins by the year 2140, according to market research firm ConvergEx. Limiting supply has been a major plus for Bitcoins, and a major reason why prices have gone up.
If you want to buy Bitcoins you simply go to an online exchange service such as Bitinstant and convert your local currency into the virtual money. These are then stored in a “wallet”, which functions as a sort of online bank account. You can then go and spend these anywhere that takes Bitcoins to buy anything from socks to drugs.
The Bitcoin network is structured like a guerilla movement: it is decentralised, controlled by its users rather than governments. This means it is (theoretically, at least) anonymous, and that, unlike credit cards and PayPal, which block payments from a number of countries, it enables instant payments to anyone, from anywhere in the world. That’s why criminals love it and why some online retailers do, too. It’s money without any kind of safety net below it. There’s no legislation to protect your investment and you can’t protest fraud.
It’s worth bearing in mind that while Bitcoin operates outside the parameters of governmental control and is often used to dubious ends, so too is a lot of the money we see around us. The US Treasury printed 3bn $100 bills in the 2012 fiscal year and, 80% of them go overseas, according to Federal Reserve estimates. As Nicholas Colas, ConvergEx Group chief market strategist, notes, “many of them simply facilitate the global drug and arms trade, not to mention tax evasion and human trafficking”. Bitcoins fit into the world of real currency more than anyone would like to think.
While governments and legislators have long been waging wars on traditional funny money, they are only just starting to wake up to the effects alternative currencies may have on the financial landscape. In 2011, two Democratic senators, alerted to the thrills of the Silk Road by a Gawker article, wrote to the US attorney general demanding that something be done about Bitcoin. And in October last year, the European Central Bank published a paper that recommended that developments in virtual currencies be regularly examined to reassess the risks.
The association between Bitcoins and drugs is clearest on Silk Road, where the currency is the only method of payment that is accepted. But Dale, the Ivy League student, uses the currency with care – not least because of its volatility. “I try to purchase only as many as I will need for a specific transaction, because they have historically had pretty wild inflation and deflation.”
Dale sees Bitcoins as the glue that binds a certain type of digital trade: “It seems to me like Bitcoins are essential for the currently thriving digital underground economy, but they also represent the beginning of an extra-governmenta, international digital economy.”
Bitcoin isn’t just for petty criminals, however: it has also made its debut in geopolitics. Last year, Iran was cut off from the European and US currency systems. High inflation caused the native currency, the rial, to plummet in value. With no dollars or euros available, Iranians used Bitcoin as a way to gain access to the international currency markets: they bought Bitcoins and later swapped them for dollars through an exchange site like Mt.Gox.
While Bitcoin has so far operated at the margins of the economy, there is some evidence that it is slowly entering the mainstream. WordPress, Reddit, and Megaupload have just started to accept Bitcoins and you can now even buy pizza with them. In December, the currency took its biggest step towards legitimacy yet, after partnering with a payments service provider in France. They also had a booth at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which featured a picture of a wholesome looking woman holding an iPhone running a Bitcoin app.
Edward Castronova, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, who has who pioneered the economic study of virtual worlds, doubts that Bitcoins will ever become a mainstream currency, however. Castronova’s scepticism stems from the way that Bitcoin is structured as a currency with a fixed size. “It just isn’t very fun. We’ve learned from game currencies that people like a little inflation in their economies. But Bitcoin is built to deflate. And we’ve just seen, culturally, people don’t like deflation.”
While it seems unlikely that Bitcoins will ever represent a full-scale challenge to regular money, they point to the rise of virtual currencies and changing definition of currency. Alternative currencies continue to slowly creep in around the edges of the economy: in February, Amazon announced that it is introducing its own custom currency called, rather imaginatively, Coins.
Starting in May, US customers will be able to use Coins to buy apps, games and in-app items on the Kindle Fire, with Amazon giving out “tens of millions of dollars worth of Coins” as a preliminary stimulus package.
And calculations by the Economist in January 2005 suggested that the total stock of unredeemed frequent flyer miles was worth more than all the dollar bills in circulation.
Castronova notes that among young people, the mental accounting on different sorts of “money” is already very fuzzy. “Twenty-year-olds don’t see any difference at all between dollars, gold coins, GPAs,” said Castronova. “They’re all just digital score sheets”.
The future of money may or may not include a Federal Reserve Bank of Amazon, but it probably does involve the gradual decentralisation and democratisation of currency. Virtual currencies aren’t just a new-fangled sort of Monopoly money. Rather, they may just be the thing that ends the monopoly on money.
Economists say slight growth in final months of last year is encouraging as US prepares for $89bn in government cuts
Growth in the US economy inched up in the final months of 2012, wiping away an earlier estimate that the recovery had gone into reverse, the Commerce Department said on Thursday.
Gross domestic product, a measure of all goods and services produced in the economy, increased at a 0.1% annual rate between October and December. The figure was revised up from an initially estimated 0.1% downturn as trade figures proved stronger than first reported. The figure had been widely expected to rise but was lower than the 0.5% economists surveyed by Dow Jones Newswires had forecast.
Paul Ashworth, chief US economist at Capital Economics said: “Headline is weak but the details are encouraging.” He said that home building was clearly on the mend and private domestic sales – “stuff that went off the shelves” – were strong. Massive defence cuts, the largest since after the Vietnam war, had held back growth along with a fall in inventories, goods produced but not sold.
Last quarter’s GDP positive figure means the economy has now grown for 14 consecutive quarters. GDP advanced 2.2% over 2012. The latest figure was equal to the weakest quarterly report since the recovery began in the second half of 2009.
Growth in business investment drove the GDP figures up, increasing by 11.2% in the fourth quarter, better than the already strong initial estimate of 9.7%. Consumer spending rose 2.1%, down from an initial estimate of 2.2%. Residential investment grew at a 17.5%, another signal of recovery in the housing market.
The latest GDP figures come as the US prepares for $89bn in government cuts known as a sequester that are set to start Friday. The cuts will hit government across the board. So far they have not spooked US investors. The Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a 52-week high yesterday and was rising in early trading Thursday.
Polina Vlasenko, a research fellow at the American Institute For Economic Research, said: “The slowdown in GDP growth in the fourth quarter resulted from a decrease in government spending, as well as disruptions related to hurricane Sandy. While the effects of Sandy are transitory, a decline in government spending will continue to hold back the GDP growth, especially if the spending cuts scheduled to begin tomorrow go into effect. But it is not likely to be large enough to pull economy into a recession.”
Pharmaceutical companies accused of cutting supplies because of low profits and unpaid bills
Greece is facing a serious shortage of medicines amid claims that pharmaceutical multinationals have halted shipments to the country because of the economic crisis and concerns that the drugs will be exported by middlemen because prices are higher in other European countries.
Hundreds of drugs are in short supply and the situation is getting worse, according to the Greek drug regulator. The government has drawn up a list of more than 50 pharmaceutical companies it accuses of halting or planning to halt supplies because of low prices in the country.
More than 200 medicinal products are affected, including treatments for arthritis, hepatitis C and hypertension, cholesterol-lowering agents, antipsychotics, antibiotics, anaesthetics and immunomodulators used to treat bowel disease.
Separately, it was announced on Tuesday that the Swiss Red Cross was slashing its supply of donor blood to Greece because it had not paid its bills on time.
Chemists in Athens describe chaotic scenes with desperate customers going from pharmacy to pharmacy to look for prescription drugs that hospitals could no longer dispense.
The government list includes some of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer, Roche, Sanofi, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca. Pfizer, Roche and Sanofi all said a few products had been withheld. GSK and AstraZeneca denied the claims.
“Companies are ceasing these supplies because Greece is not profitable for them and they are worried that their products will be exported by traders to other richer countries through parallel trade as Greece has the lowest medicine prices in Europe,” said Professor Yannis Tountas, the president of the Greek drug regulator, the National Organisation for Medicines.
The regulator has investigated 13 pharmaceutical companies that have reduced supplies and has handed the names of eight to the ministry of health so they can be fined. Tountas did not disclose the names of the companies, saying this was the responsibility of the ministry of health, but added that they were “big multinational companies”.
The body representing pharmacists, the Panhellenic Pharmaceutical Association, confirmed the shortages. “I would say supplies are down by 90%,” said Dimitris Karageorgiou, its secretary general. “The companies are ensuring that they come in dribs and drabs to avoid prosecution. Everyone is really frightened. Customers tell me they are afraid [about] losing access to medication altogether.” He said many also worried insurance coverage would dry up.
“Around 300 drugs are in very short supply and they include innovative drugs, medications for cancer patients and people suffering from clinical depression,” said Karageorgiou. “It’s a disgrace. The government is panic-stricken and the multinationals only think about themselves and the issue of parallel trade because wholesalers can legally sell them to other European nations at a higher price.”
The Hellenic Association of Pharmaceutical Companies said the picture was more nuanced. Its president, Frouzis Konstantinos, said there were “probably a very few companies” that were not supplying the Greek market, and only for very specific products – “the reasons being a combination of Greece’s low medicine prices and unpaid debt by the state”, he said.
In Athens and Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city, chemists say they are often overwhelmed by people desperately trying to find life-saving drugs. Oscillating between fury and despair, the customers beseech pharmacists to hand over medications that they frequently do not have in stock.
“Lines will form in the early morning or late at night when you’re on duty,” said Karageorgiou, who is based in Thessaloniki. “And when the drugs aren’t available, which is often the case, people get very aggressive. I’m on duty tonight and know there will be screaming and shouting but in the circumstances I also understand. We have reached a tragic point.”
Greece’s social insurance funds and hospitals owe pharmaceutical companies about 1.9bn ( 1.6bn), a debt going back to 2011, with companies expecting payments of 500m this month.
Some companies admitted they were not supplying some medicines. According to the government list, Pfizer had not supplied or would not be supplying 16 medicines. A company spokesperson disagreed with the total but confirmed four medicines had been withdrawn “because alternatives were available and because of the parallel trade [reselling] situation in the country”. The products are the two leukaemia treatments Zavedos and Aracytin, which were withdrawn last year, and the analgesic Neurontin and the epilepsy therapy Epanutin, which were withdrawn last month.
Roche stressed it had not halted supplies of medicines to Greece, but said it had withheld supplies to public hospitals that owed the company 200m. Daniel Grotsky, a spokesman, said: “We are insisting that they [the public hospitals] fulfil their contracts and this is something we do in any country … We are withholding [medicines] until they meet their obligations.”
Roche could not say how many hospitals were affected but said it was still supplying public hospitals with “critical medicines”, which included treatments for HIV and transplantation. Grotsky said patients could still get their medicines through pharmacies.
Angeliki Angeli, spokeswoman for Sanofi Greece, said it was supplying public hospitals with medicines considered life-saving, unique or irreplaceable. “Non-unique products are supplied based on hospitals’ outstanding obligations and overdue status,” she said. Non-unique products are medicines for which either a generic exists or a therapeutic alternative option is recommended by treatment guidelines.
She said most Sanofi medicines on the government list remained available on the market with the “exception of a couple of dosages/forms where alternatives exist”.
GSK Greece said it had never halted the supply of any product in the Greek market. “This is a joint decision taken not only at local level but also at corporate level. Equally, GSK has maintained the uninterrupted supply [to] Greek public hospitals with all its products irrespective of the accumulated debts,” the company said.
Vanessa Rhodes, of AstraZeneca, said the company had not halted the supply of any of its medicines to Greece. “Our priority is to ensure patients have access to the medicines they need. Furthermore, we have an emergency ‘direct-to-pharmacy’ supply system in place should pharmacies find themselves out of stock of any of our products.”
Zeta Chatziantoniou, of Boehringer Ingelheim in Greece, stressed it “has not halted any of its medicine supplies in Greece in the retail sector and in the public sector”. Novartis said it was not halting supplies to Greece.
The pharmaceutical industry says many shortages are because of products being exported through parallel trade, and has urged the government to address set drug prices. Under EU trade rules, the free movement of goods is allowed. So for example, while a pharmaceutical company may sell a medicine to a wholesaler or pharmacist in Greece, the wholesaler or pharmacist can sell these medicines on to wholesalers in other countries. Parallel traders do this to make money on the price differences between countries.
“The government needs to correct these wrong prices to avoid a surge of exportation. Greece’s drug prices are 20% or more lower than the lowest prices in Europe,” said Konstantinos, who is also the general manager of Novartis in Greece.
The industry wants the health ministry to bring in a new pricing system so that Greece uses a basket of eurozone countries to calculate prices. At present, medicines are priced at below the average of the three lowest prices in 22 EU countries.
The regulator has introduced export bans for nearly 60 medicines to try to tackle the problem and is looking at 300 more products. It is also investigating 10 wholesalers and 260 pharmacists who it believes have broken the export ban. The ministry of health will decide any punishment, which is likely to be fines ranging from 2,000 to 20,000, said Tountas.
This month will be crucial as Greek officials and Greece’s creditors – the European commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank – must agree the 2013 public pharmaceutical budget, which has fallen in recent years. More cuts would put patients at a “critical level”, said Tountas, who will be one of the key players at the negotiating table. The budget was 3.7bn in 2011 and fell to 2.44bn last year. Tountas is concerned creditors may cut it to 2bn for 2013.