Saturday, May 23, 2015

POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 1:34 PM
File photo: Allstate. (Tim Boyle (Getty Images)

Allstate, the largest investor-owned U.S. retail insurer, says it plans to boost its total agency staff (agency owners, staff, and exclusive reps selling Allstate life, car, home, retirement and other products) across Pennsylvania by 260 this year, to 1,783. The expansion will include 63 new agency owners (30 in the Philly area).  The company is also targeting New England, Julia Reusch, a spokeswoman in Allstate's Malvern office, told me.

Allstate is targeting both Pennsylvania's aging population, and local markets where the economy is expanding. As agency owners, the company is looking for "mid-career, mid-level managers" with $50,000 to invest or a current sales license, who would own their own agencies to sell Allstate insurance and investment products, Ed Norcia, an Allstate manager in charge of "strategic deployment," said in a statement.

Allstate offers a $5,000 bounty for referrals of qualified agency owners or exclusives, payable on hire. “A property and casualty insurance background is not required," Norcia added. The company will train and provide some support. "They do need a strong entrepreneurial drive and passion to help others.”

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:34 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 1:17 PM

(Update, with comments from Coatesville finance director John Maccarelli.) A early-retirement package for 8 Coatesville police officers in 2012-13, passed without reviewing how much it would cost (in apparent disregard of state law), has tripled total retirement costs for that cash-strapped Chester County city, to nearly $700,000 this year, state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale says. Read the Coatesville police pension audit here.

The program to let officers retire with just 15 years of service, at up to 70 percent of their final salary, violates state law and constitutes "excessive benefits," DePasquale added. Coatesville, home to Arcelor Mittal's former Lukens Steel plant, which employs a fraction of the thousands who once worked in the complex, is pushing for a new train station and commerical and retail development, DePasquale noted. But it also has to keep its pension costs from running away with the budget "so that their economic initiatives can thrive."

The small city's problems aren't unusual, unfortunately. Coatesville's total pension shortfall is less than $4 million. By contrast, Radnor, Haverford and Upper Darby townships and Chester city, all in Delaware County, and Cheltenham township, Montgomery County, each have unfunded pension obligations of $19 million or more, while Falls township and Norristown aren't far below, according to a report by the auditor general's office, citing data from the Pennsylvania Public Employee Retirement commission.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:17 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 12:42 PM

"Trian actually won," despite billionaire investor Nelson Peltz's failure to place himself or three allies backed by his Trian Fund Management on DuPont Co.'s board in contested elections last week, insurgent-shareholder adviser Michael R. Levin writes on his site, The Activist Investor.

His point: Trian's two-year-old DuPont stake (nearly three percent of the company) is up 15%, even after traders dumped shares following Peltz's defeat. -- Of course, Peltz says DuPont should be worth a lot more -- $125/share by 2017, from today's $70. -- More substantially: bond and credit analysts note DuPont has speeded up cost and job cuts and agreed to pay $4 billion from the pending Chemtura spin-off to shareholders (instead of paying down debt) under Trian pressure. Peltz "already won," Gimme Credit's Carol Levenson said last winter.

"I thought for sure Peltz would win at least one seat," Phila.-based activist adviser Damien J. Park told me. What made DuPont different? Levin collated advice to activists and other would-be corporate insurgents, based on the DuPont vote, news accounts, conventional wisdom:
- Tell a simple story. "The endless SEC filings, letters, white papers, presentations and news releases only led shareholders deeper into the weeds" and made even sophisticated institutional investors "more skeptical" while confusing small shareholders. DuPont beat the S&P 500; Peltz had a tough job arguing he could do a lot better.
- Cut a deal: "Trian could have accepted a couple of board positions," but Peltz insisted one had to be his. Any seats would be better than no seats or the voting-day 6% decline in DuPont share values.
- "Avoid situations with large individual investor holdings." DuPont says retirees, du Pont family members and other individuals own more than 30% of DuPont Co. shares. Individual shareholders tend to identify with management, which has the inside track in reaching them.
- Avoid companies held by the very largest insitutional investors, which also tend to back management. As I noted last Sunday, the two largest U.S. (and DuPont) stock investors, BlackRock and Vanguard Group, both hold trillions in indexed accounts that don't much care who's on a company board as long as S&P likes it (despite claims like this.) And they tend to back management. CalPERS, the largest state pension investor, declared for DuPont, too.
- Don't expect shareholder advisers like Institutional Shareholder Service, Glass Lewis or Egan-Jones will win your war for you. Despite their reputation, Park notes, while active and hedge investors may have backed Peltz, indexed and small investors seem to have largely ignored shareholder advisers.
- It's good to be big: DuPont could afford more lawyers, ads and mailings.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 12:42 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, May 19, 2015, 11:30 AM

"Taco Bell plans its first outlet in the world with alcoholic beverages," in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood, reports Mark Kalinowski, fast-food analyst at Janney Capital Markets in Philadelphia.

Besides burritos, there'll be beer and frozen margarita-style drinks, based on tequila and other hard liquor. Perhaps an admission that Chicago's well-established Mexican-style restaurants are tough competition among a chile-literate (and thirsty) clientele. No word on when the Yum Brands chain that owns Taco Bell plans to take alkie national (or can afford a few hundred Pa. liquor licenses). 

Elsewhere at Yum: "Colonel Sanders is back," Kalinowski tells us. He scanned YouTube and reports the dead founder's corporate reincarnation is Saturday Night Live comedian Darrell Hammond, in a white goatee and white suit and horn-rim-topped specs, telling lame jokes and pitching the product critics call "chicken-flavored doughnuts." 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:30 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2015, 1:19 PM

Lawyers for Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, who campaigned for competitive bidding and lower fees in state legal contracts, told one of the state’s biggest employers last month to hire three Philadelphia law firms -- not just the one it wanted -- as a condition for routine state and federal tax breaks.

Back in March, the University of Pennsylvania Health System wanted to borrow up to $400 million to expand its West Philadelphia trauma center, Chester County Hospital and Radnor outpatient offices and demolish the old Penn Tower Hotel, among other projects. Penn Health brought its plan to the Pennsylvania Higher Educational Facilities Authority, one of several state-backed agencies that help issue income-tax-exempt bonds.

Penn Health asked to hire well-connected Ballard Spahr LLP as its bond lawyer. The authority’s board, with representatives from state agencies, legislators and the elected auditor general and treasurer, approved Penn’s plan unanimously March 10.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:19 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2015, 1:09 PM

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia has told staff that four ranking law-enforcement officers from its evening shift “are no longer employees of the Bank.” The move follows “a great deal of investigation, deliberation and consultation,” according to a staff memorandum from James Welch, vice president for law enforcement and facilities management at the Philadelphia federal reserve bank.

The four previously had been suspended, according to the memo. Marilyn Wimp, spokeswoman for the Philadelphia Fed, declined to comment on why the officers no longer are employees, or the reason for their departures.

With about 900 employees, the Philadelphia Fed is one of the smallest of the 12 regional Federal Reserve banks. Its hulking modern stone headquarters near Independence Mall handled more than $20 billion in cash for banks last year.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 1:09 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2015, 12:56 PM
File: The 9th Street entrance to The Gallery. (MATTHEW HALL / Staff Photographer)

UPDATE: A South Philly reader writes: "Also on the agenda is a plan to change the zoning of an entire block in South Phillly for the Concordia group who bought a number of closed Philadelphia schools (near Mt. Sinai at 400 Reed Street) to (convert to) multiuse... (We haven't seen a) civic design review, to say nothing of meeting with the neighbors... Should be an interesting meeting." Looks like she's talking about Councilman Squilla's Bill 150355 changing zoning between 4th and 5th, Reed and Dickinson. See Agenda link below.

EARLIER: The Philadelphia City Planning Commission holds its May meeting Tuesday, upstairs 1 p.m. at 1515 Arch St. Big item on the Agenda is a review of the Gallery renovation on Market St., which would include city payments of $175 million -- up to $7 million a year over the next 42 years -- to publicly-traded landlords Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust and Macerich Corp. "for construction, maintenance, and operating cost" at the public part of the Gallery.

The developers also want at least $31.5 million in state matching funds, and $127.5 million in tax "increment" financing (to fund a $55 million construction loan,) and say they'll put in $235 million, "net."
 
GALLERY MILLIONS: Read the Galley ordinance #150375, by Councilman Squilla, here. See also #150376,-7 and -9, which further authorize city financing and redevelopment. The city planning staff is expected to back the bills.

NEW PRISON: Separately, planners will review Bill 150406, to replace the 1920s-era House of Corrections with a new prison up at 7777-R State Road in the Northeast; 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 12:56 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2015, 9:48 AM

Chemours, the $7 billion (yearly sales) spinoff company carved out of DuPont Co. to run its cyclical titanium-dioxide (white-paint-base) business and send $4 billion in cash to DuPont shareholders, will be run by veteran DuPont executive Mark P. Vergnano, 57. Vergnano has been named CEO and a director of Chemours ("kem-OARS"), which will be based at the former DuPont headquarters in central Wilmington. Vergnano is also a director of Johnson Controls Inc. (which has a plant in Middletown, Del.) and the U.S. National Safety Council.  

The other seven founding Chemours directors include: Curtis V. Anastasio, executive chair of GasLog Partners, LP, San Antonio, and vice chair of Par Petroleum Corp.; he's also ex CEO at NuStar Energy (Valero); Bradley J. Bell, non-executive chair of Momentive Performance Materials Holdings Inc. and former CFO of Philadelphia's former Rohm and Haas (now part of Dow Chemical) and Nalco Holding Co.; Richard H. Brown, chair of Browz Inc. and ex-CEO of EDS, Cable & Wireless, H&R Block, and a former DuPont board member (2001-15).

Also, Mary B. Cranston, chair emeritus of law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLC; consultant Curtis J. Crawford, former CEO of Onix Microsystems and a former DuPont board member; Dawn L. Farrell, CEO of TransAlta Corp.; and Stephen D. Newlin, executive chair of polymer maker PolyOne Corp. and former COO of Nalco Chemical. 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:48 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