Sunday, December 21, 2014

POSTED: Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 1:13 PM

Read the US Senate report on CIA torture here.  The Senate review finds that torture proved, as in the past, to be  "ineffective" at getting useful information from accused terrorists: "The CIA Conducts No Research on Effective Interrogations, Relies on Contractors with No Relevant Experience."

NBC story identifies the former Air Force psychologists who formed a company the CIA paid $81 million to teach torture techniques here. 

POSTED: Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 12:54 PM

Direct-mailer Com-Pak Services today said it has completed a 50,000 sq ft addition to its Moorestown plant (now totals 175,000 sq ft), boosting capacity to 600 million letters a year, from 400 million. Higher U.S. Postal Service prices are driving more corporate mailers to Com-Pak presses, says Clif McDougall, boss of the private-equity-owned firm: “Postal rates have been going up each year faster than inflation,” and his company makes it easier to do mass mailings for less, he says, (More on Com-Pak at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/inq-phillydeals/Private-mailer-Com-Pak-expands-hires.html).

Thank the national bulk-rate mailing structure, which means you pay less per item when you send a lot more items. “Alone, they could only achieve a certain amount of discount,” McDougall says of his corporate customers (he declines to confirm that Comcast, Verizon or AARP use Com-Pak, but adds that he works “with the lrgest companies in each of those industries.”) “When we bring all the equipment together, we gain economies of scale and achieve a large discount from the Postal Service, which gives us a lower price.”

Com-Pak offers a one-stop shop for direct mailings: You email them the text and maling list information, Com-Pak prints the order and brings it to the post office. The company says it employs more than 100 in Moorestown and about 300 at its recently acquired Maryland plant. “Direct mail is primarily a domestic industry. Thes are good jobs,” he says, with competitive pay, rising to above $20 an hour for experienced and skilled operators, though with lower medical and retirement benefits than the Post Office or big unionized companies.

POSTED: Tuesday, December 9, 2014, 11:58 AM

Shares of Pep Boys fell around 9% in trading this morning after the Philadelphia-based, $2 billion (yearly sales) auto-service and parts-store chain last night reported a small loss on slightly higher sales. Earnings report here.

CFO/EVP David Ross Stern and acting CEO/director John Sweetwood updated investors on the company's search for a new CEO to replace Mike Odell, who stepped down in September after disappointing profits. "We view this as a pretty plum job, actually," Stern said in the quarterly conference call: Auto parts and service "has a tremendous amount of potential," Pep Boys has about 1% of a national $200 billion market, and it's deep into a national auto-service market that is "very very fragmented."

Investors at the moment aren't acting as if they see Pep Boys in a position to gain market share. The company's stores and other real estate "has a fair market value just north of $720 million," Stern said. That's more than the company's stock market value this morning, which totalled only around $454 million. Added Stern: "Over the next few quarters, you'll probably see some asset sales."

POSTED: Monday, December 8, 2014, 4:51 PM

Philadelphia City Planning Commission will do its monthly meeting, 1 pm Tuesday, open to the public, upstairs at 15th and Arch, to review these questions, among others:

- A 300-space "accessory parking structure" at 145 W. Wildey St., north of the Piazza at Schmdt's apartment development near 2nd and Girard, under a deal between developer Kushner Associates and neighbors. Has been through Civic Design Review, needs a few variances. Zoning board item 23916.

- A "home occupations" rule that could make it tougher to conduct home businesses in residential neighborhoods, by requiring operators to get a variance. Zoning bill 140831 

POSTED: Monday, December 8, 2014, 3:29 PM

Will Pennsylvania Democratic Gov.-elect Tom Wolf and the Republicans who run the General Assembly in Harrisburg trade oil for liquor? That's one of the stories the lawyers, business fundraisers and others who seek to profit from political change are trading in the run-up to the yearly Pennsylvania Society conclave in New York this weekend.

The suggestion: Wolf will sign some kind of State Store liquor privatization bill, which Republicans have long wanted and labor-union Democrats resisted ferociously, in exchange for legislators agreeing to back a tax on gas and oil wells, which were uniquely tax free under Govs. Corbett and Rendell. Extraction revenue looks popular and could ease the state's strained budget. Too bad that plunging fuel prices on top of a tax could drive drillers away.

POSTED: Monday, December 8, 2014, 2:28 PM

New York investor Morris Bailey's JEMB Realty Inc. has sold 1700 Chestnut St., home to a new Nordstrom Rack store, to a unit of James R. Pearlstein's Philadelphia-based Pearl Properties, for an as-yet unrecorded price, says James M. Galbally, executive vice president for Jones Lang LaSalle Capital Markets, which represented JEMB.

JEMB bought the nine-story, masonry, 109,000 sq ft building two years ago when it was a vacant former Daffy's store, paying $16.5 million, according to city records. The city currently values the property at $20.6 million. 


POSTED: Monday, December 8, 2014, 1:45 PM
A Wells Fargo & Co. sign sits on display outside the company's office building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 27, 2010. Wells Fargo & Co., the fourth-largest U.S. bank by assets and deposits, may raise its dividend once capital levels satisfy regulators and if the economic recovery continues, said Chief Executive Officer John Stumpf. Photographer: David Paul Morris (Bloomberg)

Wells Fargo & Co. has told 120 workers at its Philadelphia legal order processing unit, in the Plaza office building at 5th and Market Sts. (on Independence Mall), that the company is moving their work to Charlotte, North Carolina, in 2015, according to people familiar with the move. Wells Fargo is based in San Francisco (corrected); Charlotte was home of one of its predecessor banks, Wachovia (First Union). 

Spokesman Jim Baum confirmed to me that the unit, which responds to IRS, state and federal government, and private lawyer requests for bank customer records, is leaving town; he said the workers can apply for other Wells Fargo jobs; some who leave will be given separation packages.

Wells Fargo and its predecessors, Wachovia and First Union, have operated the Philadelphia region's dominant branch banking network since First Union bought the former Philadelphia National Bank in 1998 and began shutting down many of its headquarters functions or moving them out of the region to save money. 

POSTED: Monday, December 8, 2014, 1:29 PM

Amazon.com employs more than 100,000 humans -- and 15,000 robots, more than 10X as many robots as the company deployed in mid-2013, and 50% more than CEO Jeff Bezos predicted six months ago, notes analyst Shawn Milne at Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia in a report to clients today.

The company has added robots at its new warehouse in Robbinsville, Mercer County, N.J.; and others in Tracy and San Bernardino, Calif.; Ruskin, Fla.; Fort Worth; and Sumner, Washington, and a few other sites among its scores of U.S. plants. Amazon's been using robots at least sincde its  2010 purchase of Qdisi/Diapers.com (founded by Bucknell grad Mark Lore) and especially since its 2012 purchase of robot-maker Kiva

Robots cost around $20,000 each. Compared to $14 an hour humans, Milne says Amazon claims its robots "pick 2 to 3 times faster," improve productivity by 20%, enable Amazon to do 50% more work in a given warehouse area (because robots can work in "narrower aisles"), and cut packing time "from 19 mintues to 15 minutes per order," for total savings of up to 40% per order. 

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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