Saturday, April 18, 2015

POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2015, 3:41 PM
Comcast shares fell 2.4 percent to $58.26 at 3 p.m. in New York. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

"Staff attorneys at the Justice Department’s antitrust division are nearing a recommendation to block Comcast Corp.’s bid to buy Time Warner Cable Inc., according to people familiar with the matter," Bloomberg's David McLaughlin and Todd Shields report here. 

Also: "Attorneys who are investigating Comcast’s $45.2 billion proposal to create a nationwide cable giant are leaning against the merger out of concerns that consumers would be harmed and could submit their review as soon as next week, said the people. The final decision about the deal will be made by the division’s senior officials.

"Comcast shares fell 2.4 percent to $58.26 at 3 p.m. in New York, while Time Warner Cable fell 4.9 percent to $150.41."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 3:41 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2015, 9:44 AM
A commuter emerging from a Septa station with Philadelphia City Hall in the background. The transit system offers up a poetic rhythm all its own. (Megan Ritchie Jooste)

A reader (my son the engineer) who takes Septa subway-surface trolleys to work most days asks: "Why do all the trolleys have their own [password-protected] WiFi networks named VSSEPTA****, where **** is the 4 digit trolley number?

"There are parts of the underground where they have no cell service, and if the radio communication doesn't work (which it didn't last night) they could use that WiFi to communicate with the command center," he added. Asked the operator -- and found he "didn't know what I was talking about. If they at least told the drivers the network passwords they could maybe get some use out of them. Why are the networks there? Why aren't they used? Will they ever be used?"

Septa spokesperson Jerri Williams looked into it, and found: "VSSEPTA**** is for internal Septa use only and it does not connect to the Internet. It’s being installed in advance of the Septa Key new payment technology system and will be used for internal Septa operational functions to capture data related to the vehicle." No plans to extend this to the public:"We don’t have WiFi at the trolley stations," Williams noted.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:44 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Friday, April 17, 2015, 9:28 AM

Analysts at Moody's Investors Service have again downgraded New Jersey's general obligation bonds, this time to A1, from A2, and have threatened to cut the rating yet again ("negative outlook"). The state was already rated second-worst in the nation; only Illinois had a lower rating. Both states face large pension obligations they have relentlessly failed to fund. Unless New Jersey cuts pension spending or boosts pension funding, Moody's expects the state pension system will run out of money in the next 9-12 years.

Lower ratings are supposed to reflect higher likelihood that a borrower won't pay what it owes; debt issuers with lower ratings are often forced to pay higher interest rates to get investors to buy their bonds.

"The downgrade to A2 was driven by the lack of improvement in the state's weak financial position and large structural imbalance, primarily related to continued pension contribution shortfalls," Moody's analysts told clients in a report. "We expect liquidity and structural balance to remain very weak through fiscal 2016," and won't improve without "economic growth and further pension reforms," which Moody's considers "uncertain."  

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:28 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2015, 2:12 PM

The day after Tax Day, I got this from a Montgomery County Republican activist: "Our government has a spending addiction.  Tax Freedom Day in Pennsylvania is Saturday, April 25.  Until then, we are all working for the government.  It is in debt by $18 trillion.  If millions, billions and trillions are incomprehensible, consider that the share for each man, woman and child is nearly $60,000 and growing every minute."

I wrote back, quoting Oscar Wilde: "A cynic is 'a man who knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing.' To give your statement meaning, I need a sense of what we are getting for our taxes (and our debt) and why (or by how much) it’s not worth it (or mostly worth it).

"Federal taxes, last I checked, go roughly one-quarter for Social Security, more than one-quarter for health care (mostly for old people), one-quarter for national defense, and less than one-quarter for everything else together (highways, FBI, national parks, federal prisons, food inspections, etc.) State and local taxes support your local police, local roads, schools, jails, programs for the poor and mentally ill." (Highlights of Obama's 2015-16 U.S. budget here.)

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 2:12 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2015, 11:32 AM

EU Services (stands for Envelopes Unlimited), a Moorestown full-service direct-mail company, has acquired Sisk Mailing Service Inc., Stevensville, Md. EU shut Sisk's plant and moved the work to existing EU locations in Moorestown and in Rockville, Md., CEO Clif McDougall said in a statement. (Revised)

EU is one of a small number of commercial printing related businesses to expand -- as many print clients move to digital services -- by taking over accounts from regional firms that have gone out of business. More on EU affiliate Com-Pak (commingled mailing) and its growth under EU and Com-Pak owner, the Connecticut-based buyout firm Maidstone Capital, here. See also IBS Direct, King of Prussia; Nick Maiale's Inserts East, Pennsauken; the GaLitho/SED combination, Philadelphia.

EU also says it has added three Muller Martini roll-to-roll forms presses to handle the new work, and plans to hire more than 50 additional staff to work the presses for former Sisk accounts and other new business. "The Muller Martini presses are proven workhorses that fit our needs well," said Russ Stewart, chief operating officer.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:32 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, April 16, 2015, 10:45 AM

DuPont today sent shareholders the latest in a string of letters claiming strong results and promising better to come, read it here.

It's the latest in DuPont CEO Ellen Kullman's campaign to boost her 12-member DuPont board slate, against 4 insurgents nominated by billionaire activist Nelson Peltz's Trian Funds Management. Trian says DuPont should go further in cutting administrative costs, reconsidering R&D and weighing additional spinoffs/asset sales, in light of what Peltz says is DuPont's consistent failure to reach financial targets under Kullman.

A former DuPont engineer told me this morning he's gotten three phone calls from DuPont urging him to vote his shares in favor of the Kullman slate before next month's annual meeting. He hasn't been called by the Trian insurgents, so far. Read dozens of recent DEFA14A notes from both sides here. The Trian letters are labeled "non-management."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 10:45 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 1:16 PM

Pennsylvania's underfunded Public School Employees’ Retirement System (PSERS) has offered its top job, executive director, to State Rep. Glen R. Grell, R-Cumberland.

Grell earned $86,000 a year as a state rep. He is "still negotiating" a salary with PSERS, said spokeswoman Evelyn T. Williams. But his predecessor, Jeffrey Clay, who retired in April, was paid $237,000 -- nearly triple Grell's annual earnings as a legislator.

As a state rep, Grell called for pension funding and payout reforms that were opposed by both: fellow Republicans who felt he didn't go far enough in transferring the risk of poor investment performance, from state and school district property taxpayers, to retirees; but also by some teacher advocates who feared it would cut their retirement pay. Under current law, long-serving school employees can retire with payments that are close to their former pay. More on Grell's 2013 pension reform plan, which failed to win enactment, here and here.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:16 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, April 15, 2015, 10:50 AM

Unisys, the Blue Bell-based IT systems builder government contractor, has hired a top U.S. General Services Administration officer and a 28-year Accenture veteran to beef up its management team.

Casey Coleman, ex-Chief Information Officer at GSA, is the new Group Vice President for Civilian Agencies at Unisys Federal, CEO Peter Altabef said in a statement. She earlier worked at Lockheed Martin and Kana Software.

"Her expertise in areas like cloud mobility, security and IT consolidation fits perfectly," Venkatapathi "PV" Puvvada, president of Unisys Federal, said in a statement. Her Washington contacts and procurement knowledge are no doubt useful to Unisys, too. Coleman called herself a person "with a passion for helping federal govenrment agencies use technology to advance their missions" and "have a significant impact."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 10:50 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
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.

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