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Sole U.S. producer of lethal injection drug quits market Add to ...

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Hospira quits sodium thiopental market Hospira Inc. , the only U.S. manufacturer of one of the drugs used in lethal injections, is halting production of a drug over a controversy in Europe about its use in capital punishment.

Many U.S. states have already run out of sodium thiopental, and today's decision by Hospira could see further delays in executions.

Hospira had suspended production in 2009 but planned to start up again early this year at its facility in Liscate, Italy. Italy's government, though, ordered the company to make certain that the drug manufactured in Italy wouldn't be used for executions.

"In the last month, we've had ongoing dialogue with the Italian authorities concerning the use of Pentothal in capital punishment procedures in the United States – a use Hospira has never condoned," the Illinois-based company said in a statement today.

"Italy's intent is that we control the product all the way to the ultimate end user to prevent use in capital punishment. These discussions and internal deliberation, as well as conversations with wholesalers - the primary distributors of the product to customers - led us to believe we could not prevent the drug from being diverted to departments of corrections for use in capital punishment procedures."

Sodium thiopental is one of three used in such executions, a painkiller that first renders death-row inmates unconscious.

There has also been a running case in Britain, where there the drug is available, involving human rights group using an argument over export controls to try to stop exports.

For its part, Hospira lamented the fact that its decision to quit the market for sodium thiopental will deprive hospitals of its use.

"We cannot take the risk that we will be held liable by the Italian authorities if the product is diverted for use in capital punishment," Hospira said in its statement.

"Exposing our employees or facilities to liability is not a risk we are prepared to take. Given the issues surrounding the product, including the government's requirements and challenges bringing the drug back to market, Hospira has decided to exit the market. We regret that issues outside of our control forced Hospira's decision to exit the market, and that our many hospital customers who use the drug for its well-established medical benefits will not be able to obtain the product from Hospira."

Behind the EI data There are troubling signs behind the latest data on jobless benefits.

Canada has regained all of the jobs lost during the recession, and the number of new and renewal claims for Employment Insurance benefits has been declining to almost normal levels. Not to detract from that - it’s a strong bounce from the depths of the recession - but the number of jobless workers still receiving regular benefits remains stubbornly high.

“It tells us the labour market is not creating jobs fast enough to dramatically reduce the number of jobless,” Sal Guatieri, an economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns who tracked the Statistics Canada data on new and regular claims, said in an interview. “... There are still a lot of jobless workers collecting Employment Insurance because they just haven’t found a job yet.”

Statistics Canada reported yesterday that the number of initial and renewal claims fell 3.3 per cent in November from October to 248,100. The number of people on continuing claims, though, edged down 0.8 per cent to almost 674,000.

“The number of regular beneficiaries has been relatively stable since March 2010,” Statistics Canada said.

Read “relatively stable” as meaning that there are desperate people out there who can’t find jobs.

“Canada’s improving labour market has restored the number of new (and renewing) EI claims to nearly normal levels,” Mr. Guatieri added in a research note. “But the decline in the number of regular claimants (674,000) has stalled well above the past decade average (557,000), though it’s down from the recession peak (829,000).”

Employment rebounded last year, climbing 2.2 per cent, and the jobless rate fell to 7.6 per cent from 8.4 per cent in late 2009. But, as Mr. Guatieri noted, most of the jobs growth was in the first half of the year, and then it slowed.

But the so-called participation rate - those counted in the labour force - fell 0.5 of a percentage point in the last half of 2010, meaning some people stopped looking. “That’s unusual during an expansion, but might just be temporary,” Mr. Guatieri said.

CSA names new chief Alberta Securities Commission chairman Bill Rice has been named the new head of the Canadian Securities Administrators, the umbrella group of Canada’s 13 provincial and territorial securities commissions.

Mr. Rice will head the CSA during a tumultuous period as the federal government moves toward the creation of a national securities regulator, The Globe and Mail's Janet McFarland writes. At least three provinces - notably Alberta - have declared they will not join the national securities commission, and several others have expressed reservations.

GE profit surges The chief executive officer of General Electric Co. said today he's "optimistic" about the future as he reported a hefty jump in fourth-quarter profit.

The conglomerate, a bellwether for the economy, earned $5.54-billion (U.S.) or 42 cents a share, compared to $3.01-billion or 28 cents a year earlier. Revenue rose, though by less than 1 per cent, to $41.5-billion.

"GE exits 2010 with significant momentum,” said CEO Jeff Immelt said. “... Our framework for 2011 is quite achievable and we are optimistic about the future.”

The results came at the same time as President Barack Obama named Mr. Immelt to head up his economic advisory panel.

Bank of America loss widens Bank of America Corp. , the biggest bank in the United States when ranked by assets, today posted a wider fourth-quarter loss of $1.24-billion (U.S.) or 16 cents a share, compared to a loss of $194-million or 60 cents a year earlier.

The bank is taking hefty writedowns, including a $2-billion hit on its mortgage business.

Spain to act on banks Spain plans to partially nationalize some ailing savings banks, according to reports today, as part of a broder effort to shore up the institutions known as cajax.

Reuters today quotes sources as saying that the Spanish government will force the cajas to list publicly. Those that can't get traction would be partly taken over.

Boyd Erman's Morning Meeting Warner Music, which has been a profitable venture for its private equity owner, has hired bankers for an unusual play - buy or be bought, Streetwise columnist Boyd Erman writes today.

In Economy Lab today

A fun version of the map of Canada shows Quebec's economy is comparable to Denmark, while Saskatchewan's GDP is roughly the equivalent of Oman's, The Globe and Mail's Tavia Grant writes today.

In Personal Finance today

Ottawa’s efforts to clamp down could put a damper on your retirement goals.

The next generation of young professionals is taking an ethical approach to Canada’s financial district.

Learn when it's a good idea to close a credit card, and how to make sure you do it right.

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