Monday, July 28, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Monday, July 21, 2014, 6:00 PM
Comcast Cable's operations chief David N. Watson posted an employee memo where he admitted, "The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him -- and thousands of other Retention agents --to do." (Joe Raedle, Getty Images, file)

MONDAY: Re the infamous Ryan Block customer service call (see below): Comcast Cable's operations chief David N. Watson has posted an employee memo, reproduced here by Consumer Reports' Consumerist site, admitting the company is "embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service."

Watson wrote of his "regret" it all happened, but maintains it's "not representative of the good work that our employees are doing," and that most Comcast employees are "respectful, courteous and resourceful." Still, "it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance.

"I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts... If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer...

POSTED: Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 10:59 AM

Claiming that "existing data centers in Philadelphia are woefully inadequate for today's cloud and network application businesses," vXchnge, Tampa, Fla., says it plans to build a 70,000 sq ft "state of the art" data center at 1500 Spring Garden St., the former Smith Kline pill factory that is already a major data site for Wayne-based SunGard Availability.

vXchange says it will seek clients from the region's "dense concentration of healthcare, pharmaceutical, manufacturing and financial services firms" with "high-density cabinets and advanced cooling capabilities" to support "cloud and network application businessees." CEO is Keith Olsen, an AT&T veteran. Other vXchange bosses include former Unisys executives Charles Browning and Ernie Sampera.

Existing data centers in the area include the Navy Yard data center (Philadelphia Technology Park) sold to St. Louis-based TierPoint last month; Digital Realty's 655,000 sq ft facility at 833 Chestnut St. (ex-Gimbel's department store tower); ex-1500 Spring Garden owner Amerimar Enterprises' ex-Packard Motor Car factory at 401 N. Broad St. (home to other Sungard Availability operations, and recent subject of a $70 million upgrade); SteelORCA's $650 million upgrade of an ex-Pfizer site near Princeton, the Citi and JPMorgan data centers near Wilmington; and others.

POSTED: Wednesday, July 16, 2014, 9:44 AM
Scotts Miracle-Gro's Chairman and CEO Jim Hagedorn. (Photo from thescottsmiraclegrocompany.com)

This is bigger than Nicki Minaj: Some of America's foremost trash talkers are corporate CEOs. Bloomberg LP has catalogued chief executives' use of the words "s---" and also 'f---," a------" and "G---d---ed" in publicly-traded companies' quarterly conference calls for the past 10 years, and found a surge after the 2008 stock market collapse.

Boss potty-talk eruptions in those recorded, transcripted and public exchanges rose from less than 10 a year in 2004-08, to more than 20 in 2009, and an average of more than 50 in 2010-12, before slipping to 30 as stock values rose last year, and 12 so far this year (though first-half reporting isn't done yet.)

Multiple-repeat offenders including Scotts Miracle-Gro CEO James Hagedorn, who for example called 2012 "clearly a s----y year"; longtime Ryanair boss James O'Leary, who told the world in 2011 that "I have no interest in f---ing dividends;" and Emerson Electric boss David N. Farr: "If I see that in writing one more G--d-----d time, I'm going to tear them apart... We do well in China, G--d---it, and I'm not embarrassed by it..." More here.

POSTED: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 3:27 PM
Fans enjoy the atmosphere during celebrations to mark Germany's 2014 Brazil World Cup victory, at a 'fan mile' public viewing zone in Berlin July 15, 2014. Germany's victorious soccer team led by coach Joachim Loew returned home on Tuesday after winning the 2014 Brazil World Cup. A triumphant Germany team landed in Berlin on Tuesday to a hero's welcome, greeted by hundreds of thousands of jubilant Germans waving flags and wearing the national colours, revelling in the nation's fourth World Cup victory on Sunday in Brazil. (Alex Grimm / Reuters / Pool)

World Cup Facebook, Twitter and other social-media fans posting in English (US, UK, India, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, other ex-British colonies), German (Germany, Switzerland, Austria, other central Europe), and Spanish (Spain, most of Latin America) posted a steady 1 million to 1.6 million posts a day during the first month of World Cup play -- the volume slipped and became more volatile form day to day as crowd favorites like Spain and the U.S. dropped out -- then surged to more than 3 million, 7 million and 10 million posts on the three final days, according to trackers at SAP Social Media Analytics, a Silicon Valley outpost of the business-software giant, which is based in Germany and run partly from CEO Bill McDermott's Newtown Square offices.

The English-speaking crowd (the largest by far) tended to be markedly more positive for most of the series, with Spanish comments getting darker as more pan-Hispanic teams were eliminated, and Germans more critical after each controversy involving the national team, then rising on wins.

SAP hasn't laid out all the ways it plans to profit from this data. But the Germany-based firm is bragging how its SAP Match Insights futbol-data service "helps the German team improve performance." And it's probably useful to know, given the many billions spent advertising around the Cup games, that the U.S. National Security Agency isn't the only organization out there collating what social-media users are saying.  

POSTED: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 3:16 PM
Corporate logo from twitter.com/iQmediacorp.

iQ Media, the Conshohocken cloud-based "media intelligence" firm backed by more than $5 milllion from Gary M. Holloway's Newtown Square-based GMH Ventures, says it has more than tripled sales over the past year and boosted staff to 38, from 15, "with plans to add more through the end of the year," spokeswoman Bethany Chrisman tells me. The company also says sales are up over 200% for the quarter vs. last year; won't say how much sales are.

iQ Media, run by ceo John Derham and president Kye Strance, claims Hotels.com, the National Hockey League, Edmunds.com, Septa, US Pharmacopeia, and Nutrisystem among its clients.  

POSTED: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 2:06 PM

UPDATE: "S&P announced its new Local Government criteria change last year after a period of rigorous assessment and feedback from the market," Alex Ortolani, spokesperson for the credit rating agency, tells me. S&P laid out its the new criteria, which had the effect of boosting credit ratings for cities like Philadelphia, here. S&P also challenges anyone who thinks it's too easy to check out its "credit scenario builder,” which "allows anyone to test the model we use for rating a local government, or to match against their own model," here. See also S&P comments in Barron's here.

EARLIER: Philadelphia was so happy when the Standard and Poor's credit-rating agency boosted the city's rating to A+ last December -- up two notches, and a notch higher than rival Moody's Investors Service -- that the city issued a press release two days before Christmas, bragging that it now enjoys its "highest rating ever" -- weak hiring, public school layoffs, underfunded pensions and all.

But S&P, in upgrading hundreds of communities like Philadelphia recently, is taking a "questionable" and over-optimistic view of taxpayer-financed local-government borrowing, writes municipal credit analyst Tom Kozlik and managing director Alan Schankel, in a report to clients of Janney Capital Markets. Rival Moody's is, rightly, more skeptical, they add.

POSTED: Tuesday, July 15, 2014, 1:31 PM

Rita's Italian Ice, the 600-store Trevose, Pa.-based chain founed by Philadelphia ex-firefighter Bob Tumolo and owned since 2011 by Michael Lorelli's Falconhead Capital, a New York buyout firm, says it has awarded its largest-ever franchise-development agreement to East Bay Ice Empire Inc. to add 75 stores employing over 500 people in six populous California counties to the east of San Francisco.

The team includes President Lisa Pina-Rasmussen, Matt Seever, Misty Young and Sandra Bourasa. At least two of the investors also operate businsses for ACN Inc., a multi-level marketing company that some observers compare to Amway. In a statement, Pina-Rasmussen said she hopes to repeat the chain's recent growth in Southern California. The group is seeking franchisees at NorCalICE.com  Rita's operates in 21 U.S. states, with outposts in Canada, China, India and the Dutch Caribbean, ceo Jeff Moody said in a statement.

Separately, Saladworks, the Conshohocken-based salad restaurant chain, says it plans to open stores in Boston, Rochester, Virginia Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Morgantown, and towns in Tennessee and Michigan later this year, and has added stores in Vancouver, Canada and Raffles Place, Singapore, with others planned for Qatar and Dubai, ceo Paul Steck said in a statement.

POSTED: Friday, July 11, 2014, 4:35 PM

"Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser said the Fed risks losing credibility by waiting too long to raise rates, and economic data are already suggesting a need to tighten policy. Chicago’s Charles Evans and Atlanta’s Dennis Lockhart countered that low inflation and labor-market slack will allow the central bank to wait until the second half of 2015 or 2016," reports Bloomberg here.

Plosser, a conservative economist who thinks the Federal Reserve should focus on managing interest rates and inflation expectations because it can't effectively fight unemployment, was rated last year as the worst of the 15 Fed regional presidents and other senior Fed officials at predicting the actual direction of interest rates, inflation and unemployment, the Wall St. Journal reported here. 

But Plosser is still trying to get it right. He told Bloomberg TV today that “we are closer than a lot of people might think” to the first interest-rate increase since 2006. Wait too long, he said, and “we’ll lose credibility. We may lose control of inflation.” He's not completely alone: "St. Louis Fed President James Bullard warned this week that inflation will rise above the Fed’s target late next year," Bloomberg said. Plosser added: “We are on a path that says low for long and we have no plans to raise interest rates anytime soon, yet as the data keeps telling us, we ought to be raising rates.” Unemployment fell to 6.1% in June, lowest since 2008. Inflation remains below the Fed's 2% target. 

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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