Thursday, April 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014, 1:39 PM

Republic First Bancorp Inc., the Philadelphia bank run by Harry Madonna along the customer-friendly lines pioneered by his finanical backer Vernon Hill of Marlton (ex boss of the former Commerce Bank and currently of Britain's Metro Bank), eked out a 3 cents-a-share profit last quarter and isn't likely to make much more anytime soon, warns Frank Schiraldi, bank analyst at Sandler O'Neill + Partners, in a report to investors today: "Republic First is in a build-out phase, and we expect earnings per share to continue to be minimal as the company invests in future growth." Schiraldi has rated the stock "Sell" but is reviewing his projections in light of the bank's aggressive new branch plans.

The real news, as Schiraldi notes, is Republic's bank's $45 million private share sale, priced April 22 at $3.80 a share, an apparent discount to the $4-and-change where it's been trading lately; and the news the bank plans to expand its mostly Philadelphia-area branch network with new glass-walled "stores" in Marlton, Moorestown, Mount Holly, Medford, Glassboro, Washington Township, and a second new Cherry Hill store, after opening one in Voorhees on May 10. In a statement, Madonna promised "world-class service and convenience." 

Hill's Metro Bank, in England, has similarly raised hundreds of millions from investors without turning a profit as it continues building branches and market share -- even though Hill's former partner, Anthony Thomson, says he's changed his mind about branches and is now promoting a "branchless" Internet lender, Atom Bank.

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014, 12:31 PM

"Value for speed": As a group, cable TV companies tend to sell faster Internet cheaper than phone companies, reports Wall St. Journal here, citing data from Ookla's Speedtest.net.

Among wire-based services available in the Philadelphia area, RCN (available in parts of Delaware County) is the best value, with typical charges equivalent to $2.12 per megabit per second. Comcast charges $2.39, and Verizon charges $2.62, according to that data.  Comcast proposed merger partner Time Warner Cable charges $3.13. 

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014, 12:19 PM

RJMetrics, the Philadelphia-based online-analytics firm, offers a crude but intriguing test for flagging the busiest tech-startup hotbeds: Founder Robert J. Moore has posted this report (link fixed) ranking local utilization of Meetup, which calls itself "the world's largest network of local groups" (and which Moore says has become a "geek elite" online super-community, with 3.7 million members in more than 16,000 tech-themed Meetup groups) as a proxy to estimate the number and vigor of local tech startups-in-progress.

The report joins data from Meetup's application-programming interface (API) to list U.S. and foreign cities by four combined measures of Meetup use: local membership; market penetration; number of local groups using the service; growth rate.

The top U.S. cities are the usual tech and investor hotbeds: San Francisco, New York, Seattle, Washington DC, Austin, Boston. But Philadelphia punches way below its weight: the 5th-largest U.S. city ranks only 19th on the combined Meetup scale. Smaller places like Atlanta, Minneapolis, Boulder and (separately) Denver, Colo., and Portland, Ore., rank higher. Even Pittsburgh isn't far behind (#23). (Foreign cities including London, Toronto, Tel Aviv are also big concentrations of Meetup users, as are European capitals; India's and Singapore's English-friendly tech centers; and Australia's cities.)

POSTED: Thursday, April 24, 2014, 10:32 AM

"Delaware has its first in-state affiliate of one of the top four broadcast networks, as WRDE-TV in Rehoboth Beach is relaunching as an NBC station branding itself 'Coast TV,' " reports Multichannel News here.

Coast President Bob Backman "obtained the NBC affiliation some two years after first approaching Comcast-owned NBCUniversal about the idea. He then obtained retransmission-consent agreements with Comcast, the biggest multichannel video programming distributor in the Delmarva area, and with Dish Network, according to Matthew Davidge, who has been working with WRDE.

"WRDE, a low-powered digital station, in June will convert from being a retro-programmed MyNetwork TV and COZI TV affiliate and create local news, weather and sports programming for 6 and 11 p.m. on Coast TV."

POSTED: Thursday, April 17, 2014, 10:28 AM

Linode, the Galloway, Atlantic County, NJ-based cloud-hosting computer-services pioneer, says it has invested $45 million, from internally-generated cash, in upgrading its server and networking hardware to native solid state drives (SSDs), boosted network throughput to 40 gigabytes/second from 2 gigabytes/second, and doubled random-access memory, to "up to 96 gigabytes of available RAM," founder Christopher Aker said in a statement.  

In a statement, the company says it "already offers the most cost-competitive solution among rivals IBM, AWS and Rackspace," and has added "several larger plans built specifically for its enterprise customers." Upgrades also include "no more spinning disks," provisioning times cut to "well under a minute," new Intel Xeon E5 2680v2 Ivy Bridge processors, and "higher core counts and better performance than any other cloud hosting provider." Also, "each Lynode host server now has 40 Gbits of network connectivity" and inbound throughput, with outbound up to 10 Gbit/second.

Linode has also addded Cisco Nexus 700 and 500 -series switches and Nexus 2000 fabric expenders to improve load-balancing and redundancies. Linode claims 250,000 customers. More about Linode here. 

POSTED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 6:43 PM

Wahlburgers, the "fast casual burger restuarant" started by actor Mark Wahlburg, his singing brother Donnie, and their less-celebrity brother Paul, who (I am assured by their publicist Jillian Watts) are the subject of a new cable TV series called "Wahlburgers" on Disney's and Hearst's A&E Network, says its business partner, Hingham Associates LLC, is scouting five Philadelphia-area franchise locations to open "over the next several years."

Meanwhile, the mini-chain says it's finalizing leases in the brothers' native Massachusetts: in Boston's Fenway neighborhood and suburban Lynnfield. A Toronto franchise is planned for this summer. In a statement, Mark Wahlburg promises "a great and enduring worldwide brand." They have hired an outside CEO, former Panera executive Rick Vanzura. 

POSTED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 3:28 PM

Klein Group, Florham Park, NJ, has paid $9.5 million ($50.13/sq ft) for Fairless Hills Shopping Center, 500 Lincoln Highway, Falls Township, Bucks County, says broker Brad Nathanson of CBRE. His firm represented seller Earle W. Kazis Associates Inc., the New York firm that developed the nearly 190,000 sq ft center in 1971. Current tenants include Pathmark Super Center, Big Lots, Retro Fitness, Tuesday Morning, Family Dollar.

The mall "re-developers" who upgraded other local centers in recent years had "missed" Fairless Hills, giving new owner Klein the opportunity to upgrade, said Nathanson in a statement. 

POSTED: Wednesday, April 16, 2014, 1:55 PM
FILE- In this July 17, 2013, file aerial photo the city of Detroit is seen. Mediators announced Wednesday, April 9, 2014, that the city of Detorit reached a deal in bankruptcy over $388 million in bonds. It is a significant agreement that could influence other creditors to try to get a settlement. The deal still needs the blessing of Judge Steven Rhodes and is only a small part of the $18 billion bankruptcy case, the largest by a local government in U.S. history. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya, File)

Reports the Bond Buyer: "Detroit bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes' decision to hire a municipal finance expert to review the city's bankruptcy plan attracted responses from five professionals," two of whom work for Philadelphia-area firms that have grown by advising this region's much-indebted public agencies over the years.

"The applicants are: Dean Kaplan, a managing director at Public Financial Management Inc., who would lead a team of PFM colleagues; Richard Ravitch, a former New York lieutenant governor who was part of New York City's high-profile restructuring in the late 1970s; Peter Hammer, a Wayne State University law professor; William Brandt, a Chicago-based turnaround consultant and chairman of the Illinois Finance Authority; and Martha Kopacz, from turnaround and investment banking advisory firm Phoenix Management Services LLC, whose team would include Bob Childree, the longtime controller of the state of Alabama." PFM and Phoenix are local firms:

PFM,  the largest muni advisory firm in the US with 500 staff, was founded by Ed DeSeve, the late Mayor Frank Rizzo's finance director, and partners including Jim White and Sam Katz; it has acquired other muni advisors around the U.S. Kaplan, an ex-Philadelphia city budget director who heads PFM's "turnaround" team, "worked on the restructuring of cities (including) Pittsburgh, Washington, Cleveland, Miami and Baltimore," and Detroit's schools, and would head the Detroit municipal review team, the Buyer reports. He's asking for $550 an hour, with lower rates to team members.

About this blog

PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

Joseph N. DiStefano
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected