Increase in cigarette prices may reduce smoking in elderly

Raising cigarette prices by a dollar can increase the possibility of older people quitting smoking by 20 per cent, researchers say.

“Older smokers have been smoking for a long time and tend to have lower rates of smoking cessation compared to younger populations, suggesting deeply entrenched behaviour that is difficult to change,” said lead author Stephanie Mayne, a doctoral student at the Northwestern University at Evanston, Illinois.

“Our finding that increase in cigarette prices were associated with quitting smoking in the older population suggests cigarette taxes may be a particularly effective lever for behaviour change,” Mayne added.

The researchers looked at included smokers ranging in age from 44 to 84 and stretched across six different places. In addition to finding that current smokers were 20 per cent more likely to quit smoking when pack prices went up by a dollar, researchers’ team showed there was a three per cent overall reduction in smoking risk. However, when the data was narrowed to heavy smokers, there was a seven per cent reduction in risk.

When prices increased by a dollar, heavy smokers also showed a 35 per cent reduction in the average number of cigarettes they smoked per day, compared to 19 per cent less in the overall smoking population.

“Since heavy smokers smoke more cigarettes per day initially, they may feel the impact of a price increase to a greater degree and be more likely to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke on a daily basis,” Mayne explained.

According to the senior author on the study, the local relationship between smoking habits and cigarette prices is an understudied but important area to look at. “Results on this topic primarily have come from population surveillance. But we had neighborhood tobacco price data and could link that to a cohort of individuals who were followed for about 10 years,” said Amy Auchincloss, PhD, Associate Professor, Dornsife School of Public Health.

Based on results from this study published in the journal Epidemiology, raising cigarette prices appears to be a better strategy for encouraging smoking cessation across all ages.

Breast milk may ward off bacterial infections in babies

Protective sugars found in breast milk can help protect babies against bacterial infections, researchers have found.

Group B strep bacteria, whose common host are pregnant women, remain the leading cause of severe infections in newborns worldwide, which often leads to sepsis or pneumonia, and in severe cases death, because they do not have fully developed defence mechanisms.

The study showed that sugars can act as anti-biofilm agents, which is the first example of carbohydrates in human milk having this function. “This is the first example of generalised, antimicrobial activity on the part of the carbohydrates in human milk,” said Steven Townsend, assistant professor at the Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, US. “One of the remarkable properties of these compounds is that they are clearly non-toxic, unlike most antibiotics,” Townsend added.

Nearly 10 years ago, researchers had found that pregnant women play host to group B strep bacteria and the pathogen can be transmitted to infants through breastfeeding. But because most babies do not become infected with group B strep, they wanted to see if some women’s breast milk contained protective compounds that specifically fight that bacteria.

In the new study, the team members are testing more than a dozen additional milk samples to see if breast milk sugars are effective. So far, two samples have shown activity against both bacteria and biofilms; two just worked against bacteria but not biofilms; and four helped fight biofilm formation but not bacteria. Six were relatively inactive against both.

The results, presented at the 254th National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Washington, showed that these sugars, sensitise the target bacteria and then they kill them. Preliminary data also suggests that some mothers produce milk sugars that make the bacteria more susceptible to common antibiotics, including penicillin and erythromycin.

If these results bear out through future studies, these sugars could potentially become a part of an antibacterial treatment for infants or adults. They could also help reduce our dependence on some common antibiotics, Townsend added.

US builders increase home construction in April

Builders ramped up construction of new homes in April, suggesting that the market remains solid despite sluggish economic growth at the beginning of the year.

Housing starts climbed 6.6 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.17 million units, the Commerce Department said Tuesday. The increase makes up for much of March’s 9.4 percent drop in starts, a decline that partially reflected the volatile swings in residential construction on a monthly basis.

Ground breakings are running ahead of last year’s pace, largely because of a dramatic increase in the construction of single-family houses, especially in the Midwest and South. Relatively few existing homes are listed for sale, creating an incentive for developers to expand supplies through building during a period of low mortgage rates.

But a slow economy and turbulent stock market has overlapped with construction slipping so far this year in the West, where housing is generally more expensive.

“This was a decent report and shows that housing will continue to be one of the stronger pillars of the U.S. economy, as long as rates stay relatively low and job growth continues,” said Jennifer Lee, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets.

Starts rose 22.2 percent in the Midwest and 14.1 percent in the South last month but dropped 10 percent in the West and 7.6 percent in the Northeast.

During the first four months of the year, home construction has advanced 10.2 percent. Single-family houses account for much of that gain. Apartment construction_a major driver of growth in recent years as more Americans shifted to rentals_has dipped slightly so far this year, although the sector drove much of the gains in April.

Applications for permits to build new homes, an indicator of future activity, rose 3.6 percent in April to an annual rate of 1.12 million.

Image result for Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU voteThe residential market has yet to fully recover from the dramatic crash brought about by a flood of subprime mortgages nearly a decade ago. Home construction remains well below its annual pace of roughly 1.5 million during the 1990s, a reflection of both higher housing costs and the damaged financial credit that remains more than 6 years after the recession officially ended.

But builders expect customers to come back into the market as home values rebound.

The National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo builder sentiment index released Monday held at 58 in May for the fourth straight month.

Readings above 50 indicate more builders view sales conditions as good, rather than poor. The index had been in the low 60s for eight months until February. Builders’ outlook for sales over the next six months increased to the highest level since December.

Obamas’ next home: 9-bedroom mansion 3km from White House

 President Barack Obama will lease a 9 bedroom mansion in Washington, DC’s wealthy Kalorama neighborhood after he leaves the White House next year, US media reported on Thursday.

The real estate is reportedly owned by Joe Lockhart, who served as White House press secretary under former President Bill Clinton.

obamas-800The house was built in 1928 and has nine bedrooms and eight-and-a-half bathrooms. It was sold in 2014 for more than $5 million, CNN reported.

Obama, 54, has said he and his family will remain in Washington home after he departs 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January 2017, a change from most former presidents.

“We’re going to have to stay a couple of years in D.C. probably so Sasha can finish,” he said in March about his youngest daughter. “Transferring someone in the middle of high school? Tough.”

Obama, the 44th US President, will demit office on January 20, 2017 after serving two terms.

US existing home sales slip on tight supply

US sales of existing homes slowed in July with economists saying tight supplies have hit turnover in a strong market, pushing buyers to the also-strained new-homes market.

The National Association of Realtors reported Wednesday that used home sales across the United States fell 3.2 percent in July from June to an annual pace of 5.39 million units.

That was also 1.6 percent below a year ago, ending a four-month streak of gains, but reflects more an issue of availability than demand, according to Lawrence Yun, NAR chief economist.

Showing the tightness of the market, the median existing-home price in July, including single-family homes and multiple-home units, was $244,100, compared with the 2015 average of $222,400.

“Severely restrained inventory and the tightening grip it’s putting on affordability is the primary culprit for the considerable sales slump throughout much of the country last month,” Yun said in a statement.

That situation contributed to new-home sales hitting their highest pace in nearly nine years in July, as the Commerce Department reported on Tuesday.

Image result for Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU voteThe strength of the market is putting more pressure on builders to pick up the pace of construction, but also to build smaller, more affordable residences.

Yun noted that there was too little construction of new condominiums, a small portion of the market but a key option for more budget-constrained families.

Kristin Reynolds, US economist at IHS Global Insight, said the US used housing market remains on track for its best year since 2006, when the market bubble peaked and began to collapse.

“The fundamentals for housing remain encouraging, with employment and incomes steady and very low borrowing costs,” she said in a client note.

“We expect moderate price appreciation to encourage inventory expansion and sustain the pace of existing-home sales.”

Mortgage Rates Remain Flat in U.S. in Early August

According to Freddie Mac’s latest Primary Mortgage Market Survey (PMMS), the average fixed mortgage rate changed little from the previous week and remaining near historic lows.

Sean Becketti, chief economist of Freddie Mac, “A surprisingly strong July jobs report showed 255,000 jobs added and 0.3 percent wage growth from last month, exceeding many experts’ expectations. In response, the 10-Year Treasury yield rose to its highest level since June and the 30-year fixed-rate mortgage increased 2 basis points to 3.45 percent.”

Image result for Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU voteFreddie Mac News Facts

  • 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 3.45 percent with an average 0.5 point for the week ending August 11, 2016, up from last week when it averaged 3.43 percent. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.94 percent.
  • 15-year FRM this week averaged 2.76 percent with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.74 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 3.17 percent.
  • 5-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) averaged 2.74 percent this week with an average 0.5 point, up from last week when it averaged 2.73 percent. A year ago, the 5-year ARM averaged 2.93 percent.

Real estate company Mid-America Apartment to buy rival Post Properties

Mid-America Apartment Communities Inc is buying rival real estate investment trust Post Properties in a deal worth about $3.9 billion.

The deal brings together two companies that owns or operates rental communities in several southern cities, including Atlanta, Dallas and Charlotte, North Carolina.

corporate-officeThe combined company will have nearly 320 properties with about 105,000 units.

As part of the deal, Post Properties investors will receive 0.71 share of MAA stock. Using MAA’s Friday closing price of $102.15, that would mean Post Properties shareholders would receive about $72.53 for each share they own.

Shares of MAA, which is based in Memphis, Tennessee, fell more than 3 percent to $98.95 before the marketopened Monday. Shares of Atlanta-based Post Properties Inc. jumped more than 12 percent to $69.84 in premarket trading.

UK house price growth hits five-month high in March: RICS

British house prices grew at their fastest pace in five months in March, fuelled by a shortage of properties, a survey showed on Thursday, adding to other signs that a cooling of the market may be ending.

The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors’ (RICS) monthly house price balance rose to +21 in March, above all forecasts in a Reuters poll, from +15 in February.

There were signs that uncertainty about the May 7 election was causing sellers to hold off from putting properties on the market, RICS said.

“But underlying the trends visible in the latest survey is a very real housing crisis which will urgently need to be addressed by the next government,” said Simon Rubinsohn, RICS’ chief economist.

Housing has become a big issue in the election with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party and the main Labour opposition running neck and neck in opinion polls.

Image result for Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU voteEarlier this week, Cameron said he would expand a “right-to-buy” programme to allow families to buy new homes cheaply, including social housing owned by non-profit organisations. The move was dismissed by Labour as a “bribe” to voters.

Rubinsohn said there were tentative signs that the momentum of house prices could pick up again as the supply of stock to the market continues to fall.

The net balance of surveyors expecting prices to rise in the next 12 months hit a 10-month high of 70 percent.

The RICS survey is the latest to suggest the housing market might be picking up again after moderating through much of 2014. when tougher mortgage lending rules took effect.

Bank of England data last month showed British mortgage approvals hit a six-month high in February, while house prices rose more strongly than expected last month, according to mortgage lender Halifax.

British house price growth to ease, but will still outstrip pay

British home prices will rise more slowly next year than in 2015 despite a lack of newly-built properties coming on to the market and record low interest rates for at least another several months, a Reuters poll of housing analysts found.

However, as in all recent polls, those house price rises will easily outstrip almost nonexistent consumer price inflation by a considerable margin – rising 5.0 percent this year, 4.3 percent next and 3.9 percent in 2017.

Those expected house price rises will also outpace wage increases, forecast at 3.3 percent next year and 3.7 percent in 2017, according to the latest Reuters poll.

Yet despite all of the debate on the lack of affordable housing in Britain and what to do about it, around two-thirds of property market specialists polled in the last few weeks said the average home was affordable.

“Historically low interest rates mean that for those that can raise a deposit, housing is cheaper to own in most parts of the country relative to disposable income,” said Johnny Morris, research director at Countrywide.

The average asking price for a home was 292,572 pounds ($441,520) in November, according to property website Rightmove. In greater London the average price was 619,866 pounds, around 23 times the average British wage.

So it is by no means easy for just about anyone to raise that deposit – usually a minimum of around 10 percent – without outside help or having sold a property that has already gone up in price.

London homes were overwhelmingly rated as expensive, with a median of 9.0 on a scale of one to 10, ranging from very cheap to very expensive. Nationally, house prices were rated 6.5.

That compares with a rating of 5 given by property market analysts on the U.S. housing market, which went through a much more serious correction during the financial crisis.


The Bank of England cut interest rates to a record low 0.5 percent in early 2009, making mortgage borrowing much cheaper.

It is not expected to start raising them until at least April – and even then, any increases will be gradual.

Those ultra-low rates have encouraged housing market speculation for many years, particularly in the capital, where wealthy foreigners have also been snapping up property – often in cash. Many Britons have purchased additional properties to let out as a way to generate income and build a nest egg.

In London, for these reasons as well as immigration and where demand has long outstripped supply, prices are set to rise 5.0 percent in 2016 and 4.0 percent in 2017. All 19 analysts who answered the question therefore said homes were unaffordable or very unaffordable.

“Even with record low rates it has never been more expensive,” said Countrywide’s Morris.

To meet demand, Britain needs to build around 200,000 new homes a year and its failure to construct much more than half that has caused prices to rocket, Andy Haldane, the BoE’s chief economist said last month.

Related image“The UK housing market is broken,” said Haldane. “There is a chronic and accumulated imbalance between demand and supply, and it is that which is sending skyward – and has sent skyward – house prices.”

Fourteen of 20 analysts in the poll – even though a majority still say the national market isn’t unaffordable – said they agreed with Haldane on this fundamental imbalance.

“There is now unfortunately a vicious circle of undersupply and in-built cyclicality risk being built into a housebuilding market virtually completely reliant on the private sector,” said Mark Farmer at Arcadis, a consultancy.

“The business models employed by housebuilders will never inject more supply into the market if it negatively impacts prices.”

Shares in British housebuilders such as Taylor Wimpey and Persimmon have had a year of sharp growth as the demand-supply imbalance has helped them reach higher values.

The Thomson Reuters UK Homebuilding Index has risen around 30 percent since the start of 2015, outperforming a 3 percent fall on the blue-chip FTSE 100 index over the same period.

Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU vote

Half of Chinese investors are holding back from buying property in Britain until after the country’s referendum on EU membership, a survey showed on Wednesday, though a quarter say they are more eager to complete purchases before the vote.

A total of 51 percent of the 411 Chinese property professionals and investors surveyed by, the largest real estate portal that targets Chinese buyers looking abroad, said the June 23 vote had made them hold back from deals.

Britons vote in just over a week on whether to remain part of the world’s biggest trading bloc with several recent polls indicating an increase in support for the leave, or Brexit, campaign, stoking fears of marketinstability.

Image result for Half of Chinese property buyers delay UK deals until after EU voteTransactions in commercial property fell by 40 percent in the first quarter, according to the Bank of England, with many buyers and sellers waiting to see the outcome in case an exit vote hurts property prices.

However, 46 percent of Chinese investors said demand would rise if Britain left the EU, almost as many as the 52 percent who responded that remaining in the EU would boost interest, according to the research carried out between June 2 and 5.

Chinese investors are among the biggest foreign buyers of UK property, especially in London and Manchester.

Of the 42 British property professionals – including estate agents and consultants – surveyed by, 50 percent said there was decreasing demand from international buyers in British property.

“The overall picture here is one of uncertainty,” said the site’s UK head Bernie Morris.

“The fact that few feel they know what the true impact of Brexit would be is holding buyers back.”