Saturday, July 4, 2015

POSTED: Friday, June 19, 2015, 12:10 PM
Stonebridge Bank's web site, stonebridgebank.com, remains online and operating as its parent company reorganizes under bankruptcy laws.

(UPDATED, with comments from bank president Machon) Stonebridge Financial Corp., the holding company that controls money-losing Stonebridge Bank of West Chester and its branch office in Warminster, Bucks County, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Philadelphia. 

"Nothing changes at the bank. It's business as usual," Stonebridge president Dan Machon told me. "There will probably be a new owner," the president, hired in 2012 to address the company's problems, added. "The new owners will continue as at any company. The goal of the holding-company bankrupcty is to put the bank in a better position and move forward." 

The bank has shrunk to less than one-third its former size since the 2008 financial crisis stalled the real estate developments that are frequent clients for small banks like Stonebridge.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 12:10 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, June 18, 2015, 11:52 AM
Honeygrow's location in Ellisburg Shopping Center in Cherry Hill.

Honeygrow, a three-year-old chain of 4 "fast-casual" meat-and-veg stir-fry/salad/fruit-plate restaurants targeting affluent and college neighborhoods for $8-15 lunches, says it has raised $20 million in new investment money from Scott Miller's $1.6 billion-asset Conshohocken investment firm, Miller Investment Management, and from previous investors including Brook Lenfest (a son of Inquirer owner Gerry Lenfest). 

The new round of investors spent another $5 million buying shares from friends and family who funded the first stores. The $20 million will pay for new managers, labor-reducing technology (ordering is already digital), and new stores, Honeygrow says. The chain, founded by Justin Rosenberg and David Robkin, is in Center City, Bala Cynwyd, Radnor and Cherry Hill, and plans sites in Hoboken, Wilmington, and at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware this year.

At that price, Honeygrow investors are betting on acceleration. Compare, for example, to the lower price a larger Conshohocken-based, vegetable-focused chain, SaladWorks, fetched just last Friday: New York buyout investor Centre Lane Partners agreed to pay $16.9 million for the 108-store SaladWorks chain, buying out founder John Scardapane, investor Vernon Hill (of Commerce, Metro and First Republic banks), and other creditors; and pledged close to $2 million, to help update and grow SaladWorks stores and products. 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:52 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, June 18, 2015, 8:47 AM

Lincoln Investment Planning Inc., a Wyncote-based broker-dealer that claims $9 billion in managed assets and a total of $24 billion in advisory and managed funds, says that investor Lovell Minnick Partners, which has offices in Radnor and in El Segundo, Calif., has bought a 20% stake. With Lovell Minnick's backing, "we're large enough now that we can buy larger practices," Ed Forst, Lincoln's President and CEO, told me. 

"We have a very strong balance sheet; we have no need for an investment of this kind. But we need to accelerate: There is going to be way more opportunities to do more transactions" buying other advisory firms, as regulatory and tech and security costs rise, Forst added. "Those who can move quickly will do much better than those not capable of moving quickly," he said. "So many people need advice to save for retiirement, for college, for financial security. There aren't enough professionals providing it. That's what we do."

Lincoln, which has 300 staff supporting a network of 800 financial advisors in 35 states, wouldn't say how much Lovell Minnick invested. Lovell Minnick says it invests at least $20 million in each of its target financial-services companies. It's an investor in TriState Capital Bank, a business lender with offices in Pittsburgh, Villanova and Lawrenceville, along with other lenders and broker-dealers.   

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 8:47 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2015, 11:44 AM
While charitable giving in America has recovered from the damage done by the Great Recession, many corporations, like Comcast, now lay claim to philanthropy that technically comes from others. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Stock prices are high, employment is up, and investment bankers are frantically whispering blockbuster deals, in hopes they could still score a few fat paydays before the Fed boosts interest rates and acquisitions start to get a bit more expensive, after so many years of cheap money:

1) MOBILE -- Today's German financial news rumor that Comcast has talked to Deutsche Telecom about buying T-Mobile --  which Comcast people have been quick to discount, noting they can more easily resell Verizon mobile service -- follows yesterday's speculative Trefis report that Comcast might buy Sprint. 

Sounds familiar to Kevin Smithen, telecom analyst at Macquarie, which owns Philadelphia-based Delaware Investments: "Comcast (is) the best strategic partner for T-Mo, long term," since Comcast could give T-Mobile the mobile-video streaming it will need to make its wifi competive. "We think a deal with Comcast in the low to mid $40s (a share)" works for Deutsche. But Smithen's also skeptic this will close just now, "given Comcast's focus on its wifi rollout and the recent FCC defeat on TWC." Comcast could still move soon -- if it's worried about  "the risk of falling behind in the convergence game" -- and if Deutsche sees Comcast as a fitting partner.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:44 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 4:46 PM

(SEC has approved DuPont's Chemours spin-off. More in my column in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 22, here.) Earlier: Pollution-related liabilities from DuPont Co. operations in West Virginia, New Jersey and other states, may require more money than the assets DuPont has set aside to cover possible costs as these "performance-chemical" manufacturing facilities are spun off into a new company, Chemours, according to this letter sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission by Keep Your Promises DuPont, a community activist group that monitors DuPont contamination and remediation in Parkersburg, W. Va.

Keep Your Promises focuses particularly on toxic chemicals left over from the production of Teflon, DuPont's flexible, tough material, at plants in the Ohio River Valley near Parkersburg. Teflon was invented at DuPont's Chambers Works in Salem County, a more-than-two-square-mile complex at the east end of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, with long-documented air, ground and water contamination issues, see EPA summary here. EPA fine for Deepwater air pollution last winter here. DuPont's Edge Moor, Delaware, titanium-dioxide plant is among the other local facilities moving to Chemours. EPA summary report for Edge Moor here.  

SEC filing on Chemours spinoff here: wherein DuPont ackowledges but does not detail environmental liabilities, and references additional info in other DuPont filings. -- Asked about Keep Your Promise's concerns, and whether Chemours will have the money to fix damages from former DuPont sites, DuPont spokesman Daniel A. Turner sent me this statement: “DuPont and Chemours remain committed to continuing to fulfill all of their environmental and legal obligations in accordance with existing local, state and federal regulatory guidelines."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 4:46 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 2:02 PM

Pennsylvania today closed its three-weeks-long sale of bonds worth $1.242425 billion. That borrowed money will be used for capital projects and to repay old debt. Borrowers charged the state an effective interest rate of 3.113217%, through underwriter BofA Merrill Lynch, which underbid Barclays, Citi, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley for the sale.

Is that a good rate? It's a savings, if you compare it to the 4.25% to 5% rates the Commowealth was paying on old bonds the sale partly refinanced, notes Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Wolf. That saving works out to $7.4 million a year, over the expected 12 year life of the issue; or $73.4 million in all, if you discount the total to present value.

On the other hand, the 3.11% investors demanded Pennsylvania pay is 0.83% more expensive than the benchmark AAA rate paid by high-credit-rating states like neighboring Delaware. And it's a jump from the 0.49% premium on Pennsylvania debt earlier this year, and 0.3% last year; which means bond buyers' perceptions of Pennsylvania's financial future are moving in the wrong direction. The sale cost taxpayers $5.5 million more a year, compared to the spread investors demanded just last winter -- or $10.3 million more a year, vs. what Pennsylvania would pay if its credit was as good as Delaware's, or other top-rated states.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 2:02 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 12:27 PM
Nicholas DeBenedictis is succeeded by executive vice president Christopher Franklin, his protege. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

"At some point, you got to step aside," Wells Fargo analyst Jonathan G. Reeder told Aqua America CEO Nicholas DeBenedictis at the company's May 6 shareholder meeting, after the company's final delay naming a a successor to 23-year CEO Nick DeBenedictis, who, at 69, is older than each of his board members (including retired CEOs of other Philly companies). DeBenedictis said the search took longer because so many utility experts applied for his job.

Last week the company named the new boss -- and it was the guy in the next office: Aqua tapped executive vice president Christopher Franklin, a longtime DeBenedictis protege. Like DeBenedictis, Franklin worked in government and Chamber of Commerce jobs before joining Aqua. 

"You had said you were going external, and now you filled it internal?" shareholder Robert Costello, head of Costello Asset Management, Huntingdon Valley, asked in the investor call after the news. "We were looking at internal and external candidates," DeBenedictis said. "Sorry for any misunderstanding you may have had."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 12:27 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, June 16, 2015, 9:06 AM

Turnover at Janney Montgomery Scott's investment banking unit, culminating with the departure of capital markets chief Jordie Maine and yesterday's firing of 40 stock analysts, traders and institutional salespeople and the bank's retreat from some non-East Coast offices, has bank-watchers wondering whether owner Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. is clearing the decks and dressing Janney's remaining businesses, which employ 1,800 -- including 500 at its Philadelphia headquarters -- for a possible sale or merger of the capital-markets group and/or the firm's money-maker, its network of 800 financial advisers in offices along the East Coast.

Latest departure: Tom Kozlik, a Janney municipal bond analyst named to Institutional Investor's 2014 All-America Fixed-Income Research Team for Municipal Strategy, has left to join PNC. The recent streamlining followed investment bank turnover and cuts earlier this year, frustrating Pennsylvania's hope that an $11 million grant to help Janney move across Market St. in 2011 would spark financial job growth in Center City Philadelphia. 

Who would buy Janney, if Penn Mutual would sell? Stifel & Co. (which has acquired the former Keefe Bruyette & Woods, Stern Agee, Thomas Weisel, and other regional or specialized brokerages in the last couple years) "has approached Penn Mutual (to buy Janney), and I believe that offer still stands," a former Janney executive told me. "Stifel has been on a buying binge," an ex-Janney stock analyst agreed. "Stifel is the aggregator of regional financial advisory firms," says another departed Janney manager.  

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:06 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
About this blog

PhillyDeals posts drafts, transcripts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area business, which he's been writing since 1989.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn and taught writing at St. Joseph's. He has written thousands of columns and articles for the Inquirer, Bloomberg and other media, wrote the book Comcasted, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com, distefano251@gmail.com, 215.854.5194 or 302.652.2004.

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

Joseph N. DiStefano
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