Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Thursday, October 16, 2014, 9:37 AM

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, in a page-length ad targeted to readers, say unknown operators are targeting subscribers with "fraudulent renewal and new order notices for their subscriptions."

These junk-mail offers, sent through the U.S. mail, are arriving "under different company names, such as Readers Payment Service, Associated Publishers Network, Publisherpayment.com, Unitedpubex.com, Orbital Publishing Group, Publishers Billing Exchange, United Publisher Service, and Magazine Billing network, and others. We have no relationship with any of these companies," wrote circulation vice president Ed Delfin and customer service manager Lori Dowling in the papers' notice to subscribers.

The papers say they have reported this fraud to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office and other law enforcement. But apparently they are still in business: A visit to the Web site the offers are using, www.publisherspayment.com, accepted the early stages of my application to pay for the Inquirer and only balked when I didn't supply a credit card number.

POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 4:45 PM

The Bond King is dead; long live the Bond King, writes Daniel P. Wiener, publisher of the Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors newsletter.

He's talking about Pacific Investment Management Co. (PIMCO) boss Bill Gross leaving the company he founded, followed by more than $20 billion in PIMCO Total Return customer assets reportedly leaving what was the world's largest mutual fund. PIMCO is no longer tops; Wiener notes that Vanguard's Total Bond Market Index fund, and its various related funds, as of the end of summer totalled over $222 billion. "It's safe to say" that Vanguard bond manager Joshua Barrickman now manages "the most money in the bond universe," Wiener concludes. 

Which is a piece of a bigger story: Vanguard now manages more than $2.7 billion in the U.S., which is 18% of the mutual fund business, according to data founder John C. Bogle sent Vanguard managers and posted on his Web site for the company's 40th birthday last month. Worldwide assets top $3 trillion. Vanguard has more than doubled since 2009, which was a record year for Vanguard despite the stock market collapse, as investors snapped up its bond funds; the group has added more than $1 trillion more just since 2011.

POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 2:44 PM

Michael M. Carter says his company, BizEquity, of Devon, has built the "first and largest database" of millions of U.S. firms and the factors that enable owners, buyers, sellers and lenders to value them -- and it's just raised $5 million from investment bankers Miles Frost and Peter Brooks and their group to expand the business; U.S. media investor Herb Siegel and ex-Safeguard Scientifics boss Pete Musser are also aboard, Carter says.

BizEquity counts MasterCard, Metro Bank, Experian and Bryn Mawr Trust among its clients and partners. Fox Chase Bank and Metro Bank (Pa.) have private-labeled the service and put it online. Carter tells me he's lined up industry heavies like Michael Stefanick, svp-business intelligence/big data/commercial analytics at Equifax, to join BizEquity shortly.

Carter's idea is to put the small firms that dominate small-business appraisals out of business by offering so much data -- and regular valuation reports, and factor analysis, smartly presented, developing in realtime -- that dealmakers, banks, owners and investors will have little need to look elsewhere.

POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2014, 1:18 PM

"Business as usual is over" for U.S. retailers, even at Wal-Mart, which is finally putting the brakes on new-store construction as shoppers stay home and order over mobile phones and other devices, writes analyst David Strasser in a report today to clients of Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia.

At the same time, Wal-Mart is building more big warehouses to ship goods straight to consumers -- and the Lehigh Valley warehouse district, on the free Interstates linking East Coast ports and markets, has emerged as one of the company's favorite shipping points. On Wednesday Wal-Mart said it would hire 300 workers for a second 1.2 million ft2  "e-commerce fulfillment center" in Bethlehem, in a state "Special Development Zone" (ex Beth Steel mill), which gives the company a $2,100/worker tax break for each of the next 10 years, said state spokesman Steve Kratz. Last year the company announced its "largest ever" warehouse (also 1.2M ft2) and 350 jobs nearby. Total cost: $96 million.

Wal-Mart is playing catch-up with Amazon, which already uses east-central Pennsylvania and nearby Delaware as a warehouse and shipping base. For Wal-Mart, more warehouses = fewer new stores: Wal-Mart store construction has slowed "from about 120 Supercenters this year, to about 60-70 next year," plus just "200 Neighborhood Market store openings... well below our 500 estimate," and "nil" for the dollar-store-sized Wal-Mart Express initiative, Strasser noted.

POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 3:32 PM
Jean Tirole, winner of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. (AP)

"U.S. consumers might be paying less than they are for cable and Internet access if regulators had followed the guidance of [this year's Nobel Prize for Economics winner] Jean Tirole in promoting industry competition," argues the Associated Press here. 

“He has given us an instruction manual for what tool to use in what market,” Torstetin Persson of the Nobel prize committee said of Tirole, a French economist who studied at MIT. “Politicians would be stupid not to take his policy advice.” 

But they didn't, says a scholar AP talked to: "Joshua Gans, management professor at the University of Toronto, says U.S. regulators didn’t follow Tirole’s advice to require cable and phone companies to sell competitors access to 'the last mile' of cable connecting homes to telecommunications networks. Instead, giants such as Comcast and Time Warner now control the last mile." 



POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 3:13 PM

As clients move from in-house computer servers and enterprise software to remote cloud-based servers and smartphone-compatible applications, which have so far proved less lucrative, two Philadelphia-area business computing giants have cut a deal to cooperate on a new offering.

Unisys, the Blue Bell computer, software and services company, will bundle realtime analytics based on SAP's HANA database software into its Forward by Unisys server systems, Unisys chief executive Ed Coleman told clients at its Universe 2014 trade show in Dallas today. SAP, based in Germany, has its U.S. headquarters in Newtown Square, where CEO Bill McDermott is also based.

The Unisys deal is "proof of SAP's success as a platform company at the forefront of industry trends," SAP spokeswoman Cindy McKendry told me. SAP has announced a separate HANA distribution deal with IBM's SoftLayer unit. 

POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 1:01 PM

Buyers of U.S. companies worth $10 million to $250 million are borrowing more money and coming across with less of their own cash investment, says Philadelphia investment banker Andy Greenberg, a partner in GF Data, which tracks deals by more than 200 midmarket investment banks.

It's not that banks, which cut back on deal finance in the 2008 financial meltdown, are back again making more and cheaper loans -- it's that business-development companies (BDCs) and other private lenders are willing to take on more risk and bidding up prices, Greenberg tells me.

The "void" left by banks "has been filled by non-bank financial institutions with greater risk appetites and fewer regulatory restrictions," Greenberg says. Pressured by BDC competition, mezzanine funds and other lenders that once offered high-interest-rate debt "subordinated" to cheaper "senior" bank loans have instead been offering one-size-fits-all "uni-tranche" financing at or below 10% interest rates.

POSTED: Tuesday, October 14, 2014, 12:42 PM

Anthony Weagley, new chief executive of Malvern Federal Savings Bank, said he's going to tour the bank's seven branches to listen to customers, starting with a noon visit to the Exton branch on Oct. 23.  Weagley says his goal is to improve services and make Malvern "the bank of choice on the Main Line." 

Weagley's predecessor, Ronald Anderson, left last winter after activist investors including Joseph Stilwell complained about Malvern's weak financial performance. The bank, formerly a depositor-owned mutual company that first sold shares to the public in 2012, wrote down $20 million in bad loans last year.

Weagley was hired by bank owner Malvern Bancorp with a mandate to grow, chairman F. Claire Hughes Jr. said in this statement last month. Shares have traded above $11 recently, up from a May 19 low of $10.15 but still below the recent high of $12.94 on Oct. 1. 

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
Business Videos:
Also on Philly.com:
Stay Connected