Sunday, August 31, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Tuesday, August 19, 2014, 9:52 AM
The Comcast Center looms large in Center City. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer)

TheVerge reporter Adrianne Jeffries has posted the final installment of her "Comcast Confessions" seriesPrevious segments explored Comcast's admittedly needs-to-improve customer service from interviews with 150 current or former Comcast installers, phone service workers and supervisors. The finale, The Worst Company in America, contains some new reporting (and briefly cites my 2005 book Comcasted and my ex-Inquirer colleague David Cay Johnson's 2012 The Fine Print) but mostly summarizes concerns about Comcast's planned TimeWarner Cable acquisition, and some Comcast responses. Excerpts:

Comcast’s corporate headquarters, Comcast Center, is the tallest building in Philadelphia. It’s covered in mirrors, which makes it the perfect metaphor for the company, one former employee says; no matter where you go, the glare is in your eyes...

Comcast earned Consumerist’s “Worst Company in America” title twice, first in 2010 and again this year, 2014. It ranks at the very bottom of the American Consumer Satisfaction Index, underperforming even the rest of the cable industry, where “high prices, poor reliability, and declining customer service” are endemic...

POSTED: Monday, August 18, 2014, 2:22 PM

Bill Glazer's Keystone Property Group, best known before now as a buyer and renovator of aging office buildings in Philadelphia and its suburbs, has unveiled a new plan for One Conshohocken, a redevelopment scheme including a public plaza, a 300,000 sq. ft. office building, a 200-room hotel, and shops and restaurant space, including conversion of the 136-year-old firehouse as a bar.

No tenants or hotel have been signed to date, Glazer's spokesman told me. Conshohocken plans to review the proposal at a borough meeting Wednesday night.

One Conshohocken is also designed to include 300 free parking spaces. The project is close to Conshocken's Septa station (Philadelphia-Norristown train line) and the crowded Schuylkill Expressway (I-76). The borough and the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority picked Glazer's company to redevelop the site last year. The town, formerly an industrial center, has attracted offices and apartments over the past 20 years as a suburban alternative to Center City Philadelphia.

POSTED: Monday, August 18, 2014, 2:05 PM
((istock photo))

"Food industry input costs" fell almost 1% last week, "the 7th decline in the last 8 weeks," 12th of the last 16, writes veteran food-industry analyslt Jonathan P. Feeney, now of of Atlhos Research, Wayne. More hogs on the market, record soybean crops and low summer natural-gas prices outweighed stronger dairy, grain and coffee demand to drive down overall costs.

His Feeney's Food Cost Factor index has fallen to around 130 (on a scale of 1/1/2006 = 100), down from 140 last fall and over 160 in the spring of 2011, when rising demand from China and elsewhere pushed prices higher in American supermarkets, too.

Recent commodity price movements translate to higher prices at specialty-commodiy-dependent companies like Green Mountain Coffee and Hershey, but lower prices for products sold by grain- and sugar-dependent Lance snacks, Coca-Cola and Flowers Foods (they own Tastykake), vs. a year ago. 

POSTED: Friday, August 15, 2014, 9:19 AM
Beneficial Bank sign at 12th and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia. (Reid Kanaley / Staff)

The owner of Beneficial Bank, the largest and oldest lender still based in Philadelphia, said Thursday night it plans to scrap what's left of its old depositor-owned mutual-banking scheme and sell shares to stock market investors, raising over $600 million. Statement here. (Link updated)

Beneficial Mutual Bancorp, the publicly-traded company which owns Beneficial Bank and its 58 Pa. and South Jersey regional branches and $4 billion in loans and investments, plans to sell the 60% of its shares still owned by its Beneficial Savings Bank Mutual Holding Company affiliate to the public. It will reorganize as a new entity, Beneficial Bancorp, which will be publicly traded on the stock market and owned by investors.

At Beneficial Mutual Bancorp's recent Nasdaq trading price of around $14 a share, that will raise about $640 million, of which the company plans to donate up to $1 million to its charitable foundation. In his statement, chief executive Gerard Cuddy said the deal would "provide us with additional capital to pursue our strategic and growth objectives."

POSTED: Thursday, August 14, 2014, 4:03 PM

Eight and a half years after the judge sent him upstate, Pennsylvania's parole board signed David Downey's card and sent him home from Waymart State Corrections Institution -- where the state had moved him after Graterford and Camp Hill – back to suburban Philadelphia, and his business plan.

He had been convicted of drug delivery resulting in the 2005 death of teenaged escort service worker Ashley Burg, killed by a cocaine overdose at his home.

A government intelligence veteran turned business consultant, Downey had been a source of mine, a salty voice on corporate security, federal contracting and mismanagement. I remembered his gravel voice, his walrus mustache, his insistence that coarsening American manners were fueling the rise in corporate misbehavior. And his own wildman edge.

POSTED: Thursday, August 14, 2014, 10:26 AM
Scene from the Aker Shipbuilding complex: Ship #18, with the Aker trademark smiley face on its bow, under construction in dry dock. (File photo: Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

The Aker Philadelphia shipyard, awarded at least half a billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies under Pa. Govs. Ridge and Rendell in hopes of creating-preserving a few hundred trade union jobs at the former Navy Yard, is now looking to borrow $100 million through "international capital markets", according to a stock exchange filing in Norway, the parent company's home. More from Bloomberg and Tradewinds (subscription). 

This is a good sign for Aker, writes Tradewinds' Aaron Kelley: "The search for new sources of financing and other initiatives involving the yard, which is one of two that are active in the construction of Jones Act tankers (which steam between U.S. ports), serve as a testament to the underlying strength of the group and its core markets."

He notes Aker has also "unveiled plans to invest in Philly Tankers, a start-up that recently firmed up an order for a pair of product tankers at its parent’s Philadelphia, Pennsylvania-based shipbuilding facility." The company last week offered to buy back up to 5% of its shares at a price Arctic Securities broker Erik Nikolai Stavseth told Tradewinds was "a steep discount" to Aker Philly's higher real value, another bullish marker. 

POSTED: Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 3:07 PM

Writes the Wilmington News Journal: "Delaware has signed a two-year contract with a company led by a lobbyist and former aide to U.S. Sen. Tom Carper to operate the state's first medical marijuana dispensary, which should begin serving patients early next year." Read the story here.  More on legal pot for Delaware here.

"Mark Lally, president of First State Compassion Center, which won the Department of Health and Social Services contract, also is a former state trooper." Lally was Carper's staff guy for Sussex County, best known as the state's Shore, retirement and chicken-farming center.

"The dispensary will be located at 37 Germany Drive inside an industrial park just west of Wilmington... Delaware's law allows dispensaries to cultivate no more than 150 plants and keep no more than 1,500 ounces of medical marijuana on site at any time. Access to the marijuana is limited to qualified patients and registered caregivers."

POSTED: Wednesday, August 13, 2014, 1:07 PM
Toll Brothers' proposed purchase of 52 acres from the Philmont Country Club won't happen. (Photo credit: Curt Hudson)

Toll Bros.' proposed purchase of 52 acres at Philmont Country Club, on the Pine Road side of the Huntingdon Valley golf and tennis center, has been cancelled. "It is no longer under contract, we are not moving forward," Toll chief marketing officer Kira Sterling confirmed to me this morning. She wouldn't say why. Philmont general manager Ed Rubin didn't return a call seeking comment. 

As I reported in January, homebuilder Toll had agreed to buy the property, a few minutes from its offices, enabling the club to retain 27 holes and its clubhouse, pending a final sale agreement. Toll has been ramping up suburban construction as the high-end housing market strengthens. (Neither side would confirm a source's claim that the Philmont price approached $12 million.)

The recession was tough on country clubs: Toll is moving ahead with other golf-course-turned-home redevelopments, including the Barbin family's former Horsham Valley Golf Club in Montgomery County and the former Hercules Inc. country club near Greenville, Del. Developers have also purchased the Woodcrest (Cherry Hill, NJ) and Brandywine (Wilmington, Del.) country clubs, founded like Philmont by Jewish families during the old days of social segregation on the links.  

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
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