Sunday, November 23, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 9:22 AM

Shares of JetPay Corp., the Berwyn payments-processing company run by MAC Card founder Bipin Shah, are still trading in the $2 range, down from $6 three years ago when the company first traded shares. JetPay said last week it's acquiring Michael Collester's ACI Merchant Systems, a Langhorne company that provides debit and credit card processing for banks, credit unions and other institutions, for a total of $11.1 milllion in cash and stock, see SEC filing here. (Updated)

JetPay says the combined company will handle payments totalling $20 billion for 14,000 U.S. merchants. Collester will remain in charge of what's now ACI as part of JetPay. ACI is the latest in a string of acquisitions by JetPay. The company posted losses of $2 million on shares of $7.7 million last quarter, vs. a $3.5 million loss on sales of $7.8 million the year before, the company told the SEC here.

POSTED: Monday, November 17, 2014, 4:52 PM

Carl Dranoff's plan to build 45 apartments, 20 underground parking spaces and ground-floor stores behind the old Royal Theater facade at 15th and South, which would be preserved, goes before the Philadelphia City Planning Commission at its monthly meeting, upstairs at 1515 Arch St., 1 p.m. Tuesday.

Also on deck: the 300-room Hudson Hotel proposal for 17th and Chancellor, the Center City site now occupied by Little Pete's diner.  Both projects will require Civic Design Reviews.

Other business includes new development lots at the old Navy Yard and area plans in parts of North Philadelphia.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 9:01 AM

North Carolina-based BB&T Corp. has agreed to pay $2.5 billion for Lancaster County-based Susquehanna Bancshares, which has 245 branches in southern Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia area and nearby states.

BB&T (it stands for Branch Banking and Trust) plans to cut $160 million from Susquehanna's $500 million in yearly expenses, including staff at Susquehanna headquarters and back offices in Lititz. Susquehanna (corrected) currently employs around 3,000. BB&T also plans to rename the Susquehanna Bank Center in Camden and call it the BB&T Center, BB&T President Ricky K. Brown told me.

BB&T is buying its way north in search of "diversification," Brown said. The bank is one of the largest U.S. regional lenders, with $187 billion in loans and other assets, and more than 1,800 branches in 12 Southern states and Washington, D.C. Susquehanna operates 245 branches and controls $19 billion in loans and other assets.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 4:02 PM

A surge in credit card mailings by big U.S. banks has boosted sales and employment at a King of Prussia printer that specializes in envelope offers. Revenues at IBS Direct have more than doubled, to $43 million this year, from $18 million in 2011, says Ted Sherwin, IBS president.

IBS Direct has benefited from industry consolidation as more business moves online and to smartphones: Sherwin's company acquired Berkshire Printing Inc. last year, Imtek Inc. in 2012 and Mars Graphic Services Inc. in 2011. So it's maybe not surprising that employment has risen to 105 on 9 presses at the 94,000 sq. ft. facility this year, up from 50 at 5 presses on 71,000 sq. ft. three years earlier.

But "that growth is primarily a result of credit card solicitations" for the major banks, and not just the acquisitions, Sherwin told me. JPMorgan Chase & Co., Bank of America, Capital One, Discover Card and Citigroup all have large operations in the Wilmington, Del. area, the nation's "credit card capital" since a 1981 law eased consumer protections and cut bank taxes. Sherwin won't confirm which of those banks are are clients, other than to say "most" of the dominant card banks order at least some of their envelopes and mailings through his presses.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 3:29 PM

The big telecom carriers "and their proxies in the current and new Congress, the media, industry associations, and think tanks, as well as the Republican FCC Commissioners, will launch an all out war" on President Obama's attempt to prod the Federal Communications Commission into guaranteeing "Net neutrality" (no charging higher rates for faster service to favored programmers), and to regulate Internet service as a utility, writes Paul de Sa, Ph.D., in a report to clients of Bernstein Research today.

(For its part, Comcast says it agrees with the President's goals -- but not with his proposal to regulate broadband Internet the way it does telephones and other telecom services under Section II of the Communications Act. "This is not game playing or sophistry," Comcast adds. Read the company's statement here. More on who supports, who opposes"Net neutrality" here.

They will fight hard -- despite the fact that Obama doesn't want the FCC to set cable or Internet rates, hasn't set guidelines for connection deals between Internet providers, or set targets for other stern government actions that consumer-activists want and corporations dread: indeed the new initative will most likely slow down the FCC's shuffle toward a "net neutrality" policy, de Sa adds.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 2:52 PM

A University of Delaware poll of 802 Americans found 81% oppose "allowing Internet service providers to charge some websites or streaming video services extra for faster speeds," while 17% said they liked the idea. 

The survey by UD's Center for Political Communication appears to support President Obama's calculation that most Americans oppose letting (as UD puts it) "Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon... set aside higher-speed service for content providers who pay extra." Instead, more people identify with "streaming video services such as Netflix, Hulu and Amazon," which presumably will charge less if they don't have to pay more.  Obama's stand drove down cable stocks and dismayed Comcast's David L. Cohen and other cable apologists.

Maybe this is the real news: The people most strongly supportive of "Net neutrality" were the ones who've heard the most about it -- on comedy satire programs: viewers of HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, who last summer posted this video on Google' YouTube about net neutrality (29% of Oliver's viewers said they've "heard a lot" about the topic), Comedy Central's Colbert Report (23%) and John Stewart's Daily Show (22%). Least familiar with net neutrality were TV viewers, especially fans of Fox news (just 7% of Fox-watchers "heard a lot" about net neutrality).  Netflix and other streaming-media users were relatively more familiar with the subject. Newspaper and online-media readers were in the middle. 

POSTED: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 2:07 PM

Falling milk prices are "near certain and a collapse quite likely, given global inventories," as dairy products have piled up in warehouses unsold, analysts Jonathan P. Feeney and Mark E. Williams write today in a report to clients of their Berwyn-based firm, Athlos Research.

Indicators such as the GlobalDairyTrade price index, down 30% since June, and USDA milk demand, off 2% in August, the first drop since early 2013, are "screaming, 'lower prices,'" the Athlos report added. 

That may be good news and lower expenses for dairy buyers and milk processors and resellers such as Dean Foods, the Dallas conglomerate that supplies Lehigh Valley (based in Lansdale), Tuscan (Roebling, Burlington County), Swiss Premium (Wengert's Dairy, Lebanon, Pa.), and other milk brands, the Athlos report noted. Feeney and Williams predict that a continued "industry decline" will eventually be followed by "capacity reductions" that will mean higher profits for the remaining dairy producers.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 11, 2014, 1:23 PM

"In dialogue with investors it is apparent that a key component to returning value and credibility to [American Realty Capital Properties] will require the company to separate completely from founder, former CEO, and Executive Chair Nick Schorsch," analyst Chris Lucas told clients of CapitalOne Securities Inc. in a Monday report. American Realty, a Manhattan-based corporate landlord with back offices in the Jenkintown area, has lost a third of its stock-market value since the company retracted its 2014 financial reports last month.

"These steps include Mr. Scorsch’s resignation as Executive Chair, relocating the company’s offices, changing the company’s name and logo, and anything else that creates any confusion with investors," Lucas added.

The Capital One report says investors overreacted to American Realty's admission that its accountants misstating adjusted cash flow from operations (AFFO), first by accident, then by intentionally failing to correct the error in later financial documents.

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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