Drugmakers boost spending on consumer ads 2 percent

Pharmaceutical firms boosted their spending on ads directly targeting consumers by barely 2 percent last year, according to Nielsen Co. data.

Drugmakers spent $4.51 billion on ads for prescription medicines aimed at consumers. Two-thirds of that, or $3 billion, went for TV ads, and another $1.19 billion was spent on magazine ads in 2009, with both levels nearly the same as in 2008.

Nielsen’s research found the top spender was Pfizer Inc., the New York maker of the blockbuster cholesterol fighter Lipitor, pain relievers Lyrica and Celebrex, and impotence pill Viagra. Pfizer, the world’s biggest drugmaker by revenue, spent $1.1 billion on consumer drug ads last year, up 37 percent from 2008.

Meanwhile, the most heavily advertised drug was Lipitor, which has been the world’s top-selling prescription medicine for several years.

It loses patent protection after November 2011, and its annual sales, now nearly $13 billion, are expected to plunge as much-cheaper generic versions quickly become available.

 

Tomato prices up as Florida crop crippled by deep freeze

A frigid Florida winter is taking its toll on your sandwich. The Sunshine State is the main U.S. source for fresh winter tomatoes, and its growers lost some 70 percent of their crop during January’s prolonged cold snap.

An unusually cold January destroyed entire fields of tomatoes.

The average wholesale price for a 25-pound box of tomatoes is now $30, up from $6.50 a year ago. Florida’s growers would normally ship about 25 million pounds of tomatoes a week; right now, they’re shipping less than a quarter of that, according to Reggie Brown of the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange, a tomato farmer cooperative in Maitland.

Industry estimates suggest that about two-thirds of the tomato crop in the major southwestern production region was destroyed, according to a Feb. 25 U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

Florida is the only place where tomatoes are grown on a large scale in the U.S. during winter.

 

Frank comments on Fannie, Freddie rattle investors

The Treasury Department was forced Friday to reiterate its financial support for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after a key lawmaker rattled investors by pointing out that their debt does not enjoy the explicit guarantee of the federal government.

Speaking at a housing conference, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., noted that debt issued by the two mortgage finance companies is different from bonds issued by the Treasury Department. He also raised the risk that investors in the companies’ debt may not be paid back.

“I’ve always said to people, even when I was not too worried about Fannie and Freddie, please do not think this is federally guaranteed,” Frank said.

To calm worried investors, he later issued a statement adding that this status does “not prevent the Treasury from treating the debt of Fannie and Freddie in the manner that it believes best supports the important goal of stabilizing the financial system.”

The impact of Frank’s comments on mortgage rates should be negligible, said Greg McBride, senior financial analyst with Bankrate.com. “This is noise compared with more significant economic data,” he said.

The two mortgage finance companies were seized by federal regulators in September 2008. Had they gone broke, millions of people would have been unable to get home loans.

 

Regulators close four banks, bringing 2010 total to 26

Regulators Friday shuttered banks in Florida, Illinois, Maryland and Utah, boosting to 26 the number of bank failures in the U.S. so far this year, following the 140 brought down in 2009.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. took over Sun American Bank, based in Boca Raton, Fla. Also seized were Bank of Illinois of Normal; Waterfield Bank in Germantown, Md; and Centennial Bank in Ogden, Utah.

The failure of Sun American Bank is expected to cost the federal deposit insurance fund $103.8 million. The cost of resolving Bank of Illinois is estimated at $53.7 million; that of Waterfield Bank is $51 million; and Centennial Bank is $96.3 million.