Vet Device Tax Loophole Could Help Some Diagnostic Companies: Kalorama

NEW YORK, NY–(Marketwire – Jan 9, 2013) – While some IVD products will see a new tax on U.S. sales of their products this year, suppliers who make veterinary diagnostic testing products will benefit from the IRS interpretation of the Affordable Care Act, according to Kalorama Information. The healthcare market research publisher conducted a full study of the animal testing market last year and noted the trend of IVD companies using animal health testing to grow profits and innovate products with less regulation. Kalorama suggests that the new tax provision could also make this sector attractive.

The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act enacted in 2010 contains a 2.3 percent excise tax on the sale of taxable medical devices. Despite the efforts of industries and efforts to delay or repeal the tax, the law didn’t define what a device is, but deferred to previous statutes. Those statues generally include veterinary devices in a medical device definition, but in its 2012 guidelines, the IRS read the ACA as relating to devices for human use and said devices not regulated by and listed with the FDA are tax exempt. To be exempted, a rapid test or other animal testing product has to be for exclusive veterinary use.

“We think it adds one more positive to a market sector that is already seeing growth,” said Bruce Carlson, Publisher of Kalorama information. ”More lenient regulation already reduces development cost versus human products. Now there is an additional post-development factor that sales won’t be subject to taxes that other IVD products will.”

According to Kalorama’s full study of the animal testing market last year, the veterinary diagnostics market exceeded $ 1.5 billion in 2011. Major diagnostic methods in mainstream healthcare — immunodiagnostics, molecular testing (including nucleic acid testing), hematology and clinical chemistry — now have standard applications in the veterinary care of companion animals. Common veterinary diagnostics products for companion animals include analyzer instruments used at clinics, immunodiagnostic assays based on lateral flow design, and more sophisticated laboratory immunoassays completed on plates with microwells and slides. Food animal diagnostics assist in livestock and production animal preventive care and complement other measures such as vaccination and selective breeding. Immunodiagnostic and molecular diagnostic products are used to monitor, manage and eradicate infectious diseases found in prevalent, highly dense food animal populations. Forecasts for both sectors are provided in the report.

Kalorama Information’s report, World Market for Veterinary Diagnostics, authored by analyst Emil Salazar, provides more information including breakouts for various segments of veterinary diagnostics, and discussions of trends in the industry. Profiles of key competitors are also included. The report can be found at:

About Kalorama Information
Kalorama Information, a division of, supplies the latest in independent medical market research in diagnostics, biotech, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and healthcare; as well as a full range of custom research services. We routinely assist the media with healthcare topics. Follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn and our blog.

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Wall Street edges up after Alcoa beats revenue estimates

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks edged higher on Wednesday after Alcoa got the earnings season under way with better-than-expected revenue and an encouraging outlook for the year.

The market's rise came after two-days of declines as there were few catalysts to give direction and investors fretted about the start of earnings season after the prior quarter's lackluster performance.

Alcoa Inc said late on Tuesday it expects global demand for aluminum to grow in 2013, though the company expressed concern about the impact on business from a confrontation in Washington over the U.S. budget. Shares of Alcoa, the largest U.S. aluminum producer, rose 0.5 percent to $9.15.

Profits were expected to beat the previous quarter's meager 0.1 percent rise. Both earnings and revenues in the fourth quarter were expected to grow by 1.9 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

But the lowered expectations leave room for companies to surprise investors even if their results aren't particularly strong, analysts said.

The current quarter was shaping up like the one before, with companies lowering expectations in recent weeks, James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said.

"So the big question and focus is on revenue, and Alcoa had better-than-expected revenue," calming the market a little, Dailey said.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 73.35 points, or 0.55 percent, at 13,402.20. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.16 points, or 0.35 percent, at 1,462.31. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 14.83 points, or 0.48 percent, at 3,106.64.

Among other earnings, Constellation Brands , whose labels include Robert Mondavi and Ravenswood wines, reported higher profit and raised its earnings forecast. The stock was down 0.8 percent at $35.74.

Apollo Group Inc slid more than 11 percent after it reported lower student sign-ups for the third straight quarter and cut its operating profit outlook for 2013. Apollo's shares were last at $18.63.

Dish Network Corp late Tuesday announced a bid for Clearwire Corp that trumped Sprint Nextel Corp's $2.2 billion offer, setting the stage for a battle over the wireless service provider.

Dish Network shares were up 2.1 percent at $36.73. Clearwire was up 7.5 percent at $3.14, while Sprint lost 2 percent to $5.85.

Hard drive maker Seagate Technology rose 4.2 percent to $32.70 after it raised its second-quarter revenue forecast.

(Reporting By Angela Moon; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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AP Source: Surgery reveals damage to RG3's ACL

WASHINGTON (AP) — A person familiar with the situation says the surgery on Robert Griffin III's knee revealed damage to the ACL.

The Washington Redskins quarterback had surgery Wednesday morning to repair a torn lateral collateral ligament in his right knee. The procedure also examined Griffin's ACL, which he tore while playing for Baylor in 2009. Another torn ACL would complicate Griffin's chances of returning by the start of next season.

The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Redskins had not made an announcement about the latest details surrounding the rookie quarterback's injury.

Griffin sprained the LCL last month and reinjured the knee in Sunday's playoff loss to the Seattle Seahawks.


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Karzai's U.S. visit a time for tough talk

The last time Presidents Obama and Karzai met was in May in Kabul, when they signed a pact regarding U.S. troop withdrawal.


  • Afghan President Karzai meeting with President Obama in Washington this week

  • Felbab-Brown: Afghan politics are corrupt; army not ready for 2014 troop pullout

  • She says Taliban, insurgents, splintered army, corrupt officials are all jockeying for power

  • U.S. needs to commit to helping Afghan security, she says, and insist corruption be wiped out

Editor's note: Vanda Felbab-Brown is a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. Her latest book is "Aspiration and Ambivalence: Strategies and Realities of Counterinsurgency and State-Building in Afghanistan."

(CNN) -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai is meeting this week with President Obama in Washington amid increasing ambivalence in the United States about what to do about the war in Afghanistan.

Americans are tired of the war. Too much blood and treasure has been spent. The White House is grappling with troop numbers for 2013 and with the nature and scope of any U.S. mission after 2014. With the persisting corruption and poor governance of the Afghan government and Karzai's fear that the United States is preparing to abandon him, the relationship between Kabul and Washington has steadily deteriorated.

As the United States radically reduces its mission in Afghanistan, it will leave behind a stalled and perilous security situation and a likely severe economic downturn. Many Afghans expect a collapse into civil war, and few see their political system as legitimate.

Karzai and Obama face thorny issues such as the stalled negotiations with the Taliban. Recently, Kabul has persuaded Pakistan to release some Taliban prisoners to jump-start the negotiations, relegating the United States to the back seat. Much to the displeasure of the International Security Assistance Force, the Afghan government also plans to release several hundred Taliban-linked prisoners, although any real momentum in the negotiations is yet to take place.

U.S. may remove all triips from Afghanistan after 2014

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Vanda Felbab-Brown

Washington needs to be careful that negotiations are structured in a way that enhances Afghanistan's stability and is not merely a fig leaf for U.S. and NATO troop departure. Countering terrorism will be an important U.S. interest after 2014. The Taliban may have soured on al Qaeda, but fully breaking with the terror group is not in the Taliban's best interest. If negotiations give the insurgents de facto control of parts of the country, the Taliban will at best play it both ways: with the jihadists and with the United States.

Negotiations of a status-of-forces agreement after 2014 will also be on the table between Karzai and Obama. Immunity of U.S. soldiers from Afghan prosecution and control over detainees previously have been major sticking points, and any Afghan release of Taliban-linked prisoners will complicate that discussion.

Karzai has seemed determined to secure commitments from Washington to deliver military enablers until Afghan support forces have built up. The Afghan National Security Forces have improved but cannot function without international enablers -- in areas such as air support, medevac, intelligence and logistical assets and maintenance -- for several years to come. But Washington has signaled that it is contemplating very small troop levels after 2014, as low as 3,000. CNN reports that withdrawing all troops might even be considered.

Everyone is hedging their bets in light of the transition uncertainties and the real possibility of a major security meltdown after 2014. Afghan army commanders are leaking intelligence and weapons to insurgents; Afghan families are sending one son to join the army, one to the Taliban and one to the local warlord's militia.

With Afghan president's visit, nations' post-2014 future takes shape

Patronage networks pervade the Afghan forces, and a crucial question is whether they can avoid splintering along ethnic and patronage lines after 2014. If security forces do fall apart, the chances of Taliban control of large portions of the country and a civil war are much greater. Obama can use the summit to announce concrete measures -- such as providing enablers -- to demonstrate U.S. commitment to heading off a security meltdown. The United States and international security forces also need to strongly focus on countering the rifts within the Afghan army.

Assisting the Afghan army after 2014 is important. But even with better security, it is doubtful that Afghanistan can be stable without improvements in its government.

Afghanistan's political system is preoccupied with the 2014 elections. Corruption, serious crime, land theft and other usurpation of resources, nepotism, a lack of rule of law and exclusionary patronage networks afflict governance. Afghans crave accountability and justice and resent the current mafia-like rule. Whether the 2014 elections will usher in better leaders or trigger violent conflict is another huge question mark.

Emphasizing good governance, not sacrificing it to short-term military expediencies by embracing thuggish government officials, is as important as leaving Afghanistan in a measured and unrushed way -- one that doesn't jeopardize the fledgling institutional and security capacity that the country has managed to build up.

U.S. likely to keep thousands of troops in Afghanistan after NATO forces leave

Karzai has been deaf and blind to the reality that reducing corruption, improving governance and allowing for a more pluralistic political system are essential for Afghanistan's stability. His visit provides an opportunity to deliver the message again -- and strongly.

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The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Vanda Felbab-Brown.

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Oprah to interview Armstrong for Jan. 17 show

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lance Armstrong has agreed to an interview with Oprah Winfrey in which he is to address allegations he used performance-enhancing drugs during a career in which he won seven Tour de France titles.

According to Winfrey’s website on Tuesday, this will be a “no holds-barred interview.” It will be the first with Armstrong since his cycling career crumbled under the weight of a massive report by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The report detailed accusations of drug use by Armstrong and teammates on his U.S. Postal Service teams.

It’s unclear if the interview at Armstrong’s home in Austin, Texas, has already been taped. Nicole Nichols, a spokeswoman for Oprah Winfrey Network & Harpo Studios, declined comment.

The show will be broadcast Jan. 17 at 9 p.m. EST on OWN and

Armstrong has strongly denied the doping charges that led to him being stripped of his Tour de France titles, but The New York Times reported Friday he has told associates he is considering acknowledging the use of performance enhancers.

The newspaper report cited anonymous sources, and Armstrong lawyer Tim Herman told The Associated Press that night he had no knowledge of Armstrong considering a confession.

Earlier Tuesday, “60 Minutes Sports” reported the head of USADA told the show a representative for Armstrong offered the agency a “donation” in excess of $ 150,000 several years before an investigation by the organization led to the loss of Armstrong’s Tour de France titles.

In an interview for the premiere on Showtime on Wednesday night, USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said he was “stunned” when he received the offer in 2004.

“It was a clear conflict of interest for USADA,” Tygart said. “We had no hesitation in rejecting that offer.”

Herman denied such an offer was made.

“No truth to that story,” Herman wrote Tuesday in an email to the AP. “First Lance heard of it was today. He never made any such contribution or suggestion.”

Tygart was traveling and did not respond to requests from the AP for comment. USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner said Tygart’s comments from the interview were accurate. In it, he reiterates what he told the AP last fall: He was surprised when federal investigators abruptly closed their two-year investigation into Armstrong and his business dealings, then refused to share any evidence they gathered.

“You’ll have to ask the feds why they shut down,” Tygart told the AP. “They enforce federal criminal laws. We enforce sports anti-doping violations. They’re totally separate. We’ve done our job.”

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Will the White House Kill ‘Trillion-Dollar Coin’ Talk?

The White House has remained silent so far on the miraculous debt-ceiling-evading trillion-dollar platinum commemorative coin. But that’s because no one has asked. But that could change today if someone in the White House press pool finally pops the question.

The best bet is that the White House will spoil the blogosphere’s fun by saying it has no intention of having Treasury issue a coin and “selling” it to the Federal Reserve as a way to raise money and avoid hitting the debt ceiling. That would track what happened in 2011, when Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner denied any intention of using the Fourteenth Amendment to avoid the debt ceiling.

In a way, an official denial from the West Wing would be a shame, because the online frothing and fuming over the trillion-dollar platinum coin has been great fun. Washington will be drearier if the pundits and bloggers are forced to go back to arguing over more prosaic matters like the long-term entitlements crisis.

What has juiced the debate is that there really does seem to be a loophole in the law that might theoretically allow Treasury to fund itself in a way that would not count against the debt ceiling. The loophole is large enough that Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has vowed to plug it with legislation banning such a move. The coin gambit wouldn’t necessarily cause short-term economic damage, either, since it wouldn’t inflate the money supply if it didn’t result in more lending and spending in the economy. The downside? Most likely a constitutional crisis.

Josh Barro, the lead writer for Bloomberg’s Ticker blog, insists that Geithner should be prepared to mint the coin and call the Republicans’ bluff on the debt ceiling. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman even suggested putting the face of House Speaker John Boehner on the coin, “Because without him and his colleagues, this wouldn’t be necessary.” But over at Reuters, blogger Felix Salmon says, “As any poker player knows, when you’re up against a very stupid opponent, you should never try to bluff.”

Pure comic relief. — Top News

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Four Tax Breaks Every College Student Should Know About

A recent report by the New York Federal Reserve Bank shed a sobering light on how much debt Americans will carry with them into the new year. 

Though they managed to end the third quarter of 2012 with a $ 74 billion lighter debt load overall, consumers upped their non-mortgage credit debt by another $ 2 billion and took on $ 42 billion in new student loans. 

Heading into tax season, it’s the student loan figure that is possibly most troubling. It was only last spring that the U.S. Government Accountability Office found Americans managed to leave behind nearly $ 800 million worth of college tuition tax benefits in 2009 –– an average of $ 466 per person. 

With the national student debt already past the $ 1 trillion-dollar mark, we figure now is a good time to revisit some of the most lucrative tax breaks out there for college students. 

American Opportunity Credit. Students are eligible to claim up to $ 2,500 for the first four years of post-secondary education. And since 40 percent of the credit is refundable, that means students can get back up to $ 1,000 on their refund –– even if they don’t owe any taxes, according to the IRS. What qualifies: Tuition and fees, course related books, supplies and equipment. Income: Couples filing jointly who earn less than $ 160,000; single-filers who earn less than $ 80,000.

Lifetime Learning Credit.  For students earning less than $ 60,000 (single-filers) or $ 120,000 (married, filing jointly), they can claim up to $ 2,000 education-related expenses.

Tuition and fees deductions. Like the American Opportunity Credit, students earning less than $ 80,000 (single) or $ 160,000 (married, filing jointly) can deduct up to $ 4,000 in tuition and fees on their annual tax returns. Use it while you can –– this tax break is set to expire at the end of 2013, unless lawmakers extend it. 

Student loan interest deduction. If you’ve taken out a federal or private student loan, you’re eligible to deduct up to $ 2,500 worth of interest paid on the loan as an “above-the-line” exclusion from your income. You don’t have to itemize your deductions in order to claim ir. 

Note:  College students can only claim one of the above tax credits per year, but parents supporting more than one child in college can claim tax credits on a per-student basis. 

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Wall Street loses ground as earnings season starts

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks fell on Tuesday as the market consolidated from last week's rally on the "fiscal cliff" deal in Congress and investors awaited the start of the earnings season with lowered expectations.

Profits in the fourth quarter are seen above the previous quarter's lackluster results, but analysts' current estimates are down sharply from where they were in October. Quarterly earnings are expected to grow by 2.7 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The benchmark S&P index has fallen 0.7 percent in the wake of the 4.3 percent jump in the two days surrounding the conclusion of the fiscal cliff debate, and investors have found few catalysts to extend the brief rally.

"The path of least resistance at the moment is lower just because we had that explosion to the upside after (the debate) in Washington," said Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

"People are concerned about earnings," Polcari said, adding that other worries include raising the federal debt ceiling and automatic spending cuts set to take effect in weeks unless Congress acts.

"You are going to get this kind of apathetic market until we start to see what earnings look like," he said.

In Tuesday's results, Monsanto Co shares rose 2.6 percent to $98.46 after hitting a more than four-year high at $99.99. The world's largest seed company raised its earnings outlook for fiscal 2013 and posted strong first-quarter results.

Education provider Apollo Group and Dow component Alcoa Inc , the largest U.S. aluminum producer, round out the start of earnings season after the closing bell.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> dropped 66.38 points, or 0.50 percent, to 13,317.91. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> lost 7.88 points, or 0.54 percent, to 1,454.01. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> shed 17.31 points, or 0.56 percent, to 3,081.51.

AT&T Inc , which fell 1.8 percent to $34.30, was the biggest drag on the S&P 500 after the company said it had sold more than 10 million smartphones in the quarter, topping the same quarter in 2011 but also increasing costs for the wireless service provider.

Providers like AT&T pay hefty subsidies to handset makers so that they can offer device discounts to customers who commit to two-year contracts. Rival Verizon Wireless said on Monday it had its strongest fourth quarter ever.

The S&P telecom services index <.gspl>, down 2.8 percent, was the worst performing of the 10 major S&P sectors.

Shares of restaurant-chain operator Yum Brands Inc fell 4.5 percent to $64.82 a day after the KFC parent warned sales in China, its largest market, shrank more than expected in the fourth quarter.

Sears Holdings shares slumped 5.4 percent to $40.59 a day after the company said Chairman Edward Lampert would take over as CEO from Louis D'Ambrosio, who is stepping down due to a family member's health issue. The U.S. retailer also reported a 1.8 percent decline in quarter-to-date sales at stores open at least a year.

GameStop shares dropped 4.8 percent to $23.57 as the worst performer on the S&P 500 after the video game retailer reported sales for the holiday season and cut its guidance.

(Reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Saban quickly turns to challenges of 2013 season

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — It didn't take long for Alabama coach Nick Saban to turn his thoughts to next season.

Maybe he let the Gatorade dry from the celebratory drenching first. Maybe.

"The team next year is 0-0," Saban said Tuesday morning. "Even though I really appreciate what this team accomplished and am very, very proud of what they accomplished, we need to prepare for the challenges of the new season very quickly with the team we have coming back. "

Apparently, the coach's 24-hour celebration rule applies mostly to players. He didn't take nearly that long to refocus after a 42-14 demolition of Notre Dame that secured a second straight BCS title and the Crimson Tide's third in four seasons. Shortly after the game, he was already talking about getting back to the office by Wednesday morning.

The 2013 team will almost certainly be regarded among the preseason favorites for a three-peat, even though three Tide stars — tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker — could decide to skip this senior seasons and turn pro.

Saban also emphatically tried to end speculation that he might return to the NFL, where he spent two years with the Miami Dolphins before returning to the Southeastern Conference.

It was a question that really made him bristle in the 30-plus minute news conference.

"How many times do you think I've been asked to put it to rest?" Saban said. "And I've put it to rest, and you continue to ask it. So I'm going to say it today, that — you know, I think somewhere along the line you've got to choose. You learn a lot from the experiences of what you've done in the past. I came to the Miami Dolphins, what, eight years ago for the best owner, the best person that I've ever had the opportunity to work for. And in the two years that I was here, had a very, very difficult time thinking that I could impact the organization in the way that I wanted to or the way that I was able to in college, and it was very difficult for me."

He said that experience taught him that the college ranks "is where I belong, and I'm really happy and at peace with all that."

As for the players, All-America linebacker C.J. Mosley has already said he'll return. So has quarterback AJ McCarron, who will have a talented group of receivers led by freshman Amari Cooper.

"We certainly have to build the team around him," Saban said, adding that a late-game spat with center Barrett Jones showed the quarterback's competitive fire. "I've talked a lot about it's difficult to play quarterback when you don't have good players around you. I think we should have, God willing and everybody staying healthy, a pretty good receiver corps. We'll have to do some rebuilding in the offensive line. Regardless of what Eddie decides to do, we'll probably still have some pretty decent runners. But I think AJ can be a really good player, maybe the best quarterback in the country next year."

The biggest question mark is replacing three, maybe four, starters on an offensive line that paved the way.

Saban emphasized the difficulty of repeating and said he showed the players a video of NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan saying that the first title isn't the hardest — it's the ones after that.

That's because, Saban said, "you have to have the will to fight against yourself."

Now, the 'Bama coach has four titles, including one during his stop at LSU. Saban doesn't wear the championship rings but uses them for a different purpose.

"I just put them on the coffee table for the recruits to look at," he said, cracking up the room.

Saban has already lined up another highly rated recruiting class and already has the next wave of young talents waiting in the wings.

After all, he talked about the sign mentor Bill Belichick hung in the football building during their NFL days together: "Do your job."

Saban jokingly acknowledged that while he prepares for everything, the one thing he has never been able to anticipate is the Gatorade bath. He drew heat for a scowl after the first one, following the title game win over Texas when he got dinged in the head. Monday night's dousing went better.

"It's cold, it's sticky, but I appreciated not getting hit in the head with the bucket," Saban said. "That was an improvement."

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Iran faces oil revenue problem

By John Defterios, CNN

January 8, 2013 -- Updated 1535 GMT (2335 HKT)

With elections in June, it remains unclear how energy policy will evolve after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's era


  • The IEA has suggested Iraq surpassed Iran in output for the first time in over 20 years

  • The Iranian people are faced with spiralling inflation and job layoffs within the state sector

  • Iranian oil revenues in the country plummeted 40 percent, while gas export revenues fell by 45%

Editor's note: John Defterios is CNN's Emerging Markets Editor and anchor of Global Exchange, CNN's prime time business show focused on the emerging and BRIC markets. You can watch it on CNN International at 1600 GMT, Sunday to Thursday.

Abu Dhabi (CNN) -- All indications are that sanctions against Iran are really starting to bite and this time it is coming from the oil ministry in Tehran, which for months has denied that oil production was suffering due to international pressure.

In an interview with the Iranian Student News Agency (ISNA), Gholam Reza Kateb a member of the national planning and budget committee in Parliament referenced a report from Iran's oil minister Rostam Qasemi. In that report, the minister suggested that oil revenues in the country plummeted 40 percent, while gas and gas products' export revenues fell by 45% compared to the same period last year.

Read more: Official: Iran, nuclear watchdog group deal close

This is a hot button issue in Iran, where the currency due to sanctions has dropped 80 percent from its peak in 2011. The Iranian people are faced with spiralling inflation and job layoffs within the state sector.

I spoke with a source in Iran's representative office to OPEC who declined to comment and referred all matters to the Oil Ministry. A spokesman at the state oil company Iran Petroleum would only say "in this political climate it is difficult to confirm these statements."

Read more: Iran steps up uranium enrichment, U.N. report says

Hours later, a spokesman from the Ministry told another Iranian news agency, Mehr, that the numbers quoted about revenue and production drops are not true, although he offered no specific numbers.

Until this report to the Iranian Parliament, Minister Qasemi has maintained that Iran's production was hovering around four million barrels a day, where it was two years ago.

Read more: Opinion: Time to defuse Iranian nuclear issue

Back at the OPEC Seminar in June 2012, the minister told me that sanctions would not have any influence on plans to expand production and investment, shrugging off questions that suggested otherwise. This despite analysis to the contrary from the Paris based International Energy Agency and Vienna based OPEC of which Iran is a member.

The IEA back in July suggested that Iraq surpassed Iran in production for the first time in over two decades and production in Iran dipped to 2.9 million barrels a day. OPEC in its October 2012 survey said it slipped to 2.72 million at the time Minister Qasemi said output remained at 4 million barrels.

Minister Qasemi was recently quoted at a conference in Tehran that Iran needs to invest $400 billion over the next five years to maintain production targets and to play catch up after years of under investment.

Iran is a land full of potential. According to the annual BP Statistical Review, Iran sits on nearly 10 percent of the world's proven reserves at 137 billion barrels. The South Pars field which it shares with Qatar is one of the largest natural gas fields in the world -- but Iran, due to sanctions, cannot expand development.

This is a highly charged period. With elections in mid-June, it remains unclear how energy policy will evolve after the era of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad passes. It has been eight years of his tough line against Washington, Brussels and other governments that put forth sanctions against Iran. It is not clear if a new President will usher in a new nuclear development policy to ease the pressure on Iran's energy sector and the country's people.

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