Friday, November 21, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 2:11 PM

UPDATE: New Jersey had the most-underfunded pension system of any U.S. state this year, with the government in Trenton kicking in just 28 cents for every dollar needed to balance spending liabilities with income, Moody's Investor Service says in a report today by a team of analysts led by John Lombardi. Two-thirds of states put in at least 90 cents for every dollar of "actuarially determined contributions."  

EARLIER: Yesterday's departure of Robert Grady, a longtime adviser to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, as chairman of the State Investment Council, which oversees the underfunded New Jersey state workers' and teachers' pension system, provoked an outpouring of praise from Christie financial managers. (See my colleague Maddie Hanna's article here.) 

You'd never know, from the official statements, that the state's pension deficit has ballooned under Christie-era policies. The assets set aside to pay current and future retirees trail the liabilities actually owed to current and future pensioners by $42 billion, according to "Truth and Consequences," a report prepared by Christie's own Treasury Department in September. This deficit is twice what it was back in 2007; it's approaching the high it briefly hit during the financial markets collapse that bottomed in 2009; it has grown worse by $6 billion over the last two years, even as U.S. stock values jumped 16% in 2012, and 32% in 2013.

POSTED: Thursday, November 20, 2014, 11:59 AM

They weren't acting lke the defeated party: "A sold-out crowd of over 200" filled JG Domestic, the restaurant at the Cira Center office tower next to Philadelphia's 30th St. train station, last night to raise funds for bringing the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Philadelphia, says one organizer, Dan Kessler, investment analyst for Cira landlord Brandywine Realty Trust (and son of Duane Morris rainmaker and national Democratic fundraiser Alan Kessler).

It was a cheap night - $20.16 a head, up to $200+ for "host committee" members. Ex-Gov. Ed Rendell and Mayor Michael Nutter were on hand to rally the faithful and tell young "millennials," like the  professionals crowding into Center City and neighboring districts, that "we are the future of the Democratic Party," Kessler adds. City hotel-keepers are also hoping the party will be here in two summers.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 12:38 PM

First Savings Bank of Perkasie and First Federal of Bucks County have agreed to merge, forming a single, depositor-owned mutual savings bank with $1.8 billion in loans and other assets and 24 offices. Jeane Coyle, president of First Federal, will head the combined banks, which will have the second-largest branch network in the county, after Wells Fargo (check FDIC data here). First Savings boss Fred Schea plans to retire after the merger.  They haven't decided on a new name.

Each company has 12 offices. Perkasie-based First Savings focuses on wealthy suburban central and upper Bucks, while First Federal is based in Bristol and covers blue-collar Lower Bucks. Since the branches serve different areas, the banks expect to keep all of them open; headquarters jobs will be combined. 

“Being a mutual means we don’t have to answer to stockholders. We answer only to our customers,” said First Savings board chairman Bob Byers Jr in a statement.  While First Federal remains an old-fashioned mutual, First Savings has set up a depositor-owned holding company, FSB Mutual Holdings Inc., that owns the bank and its insurance and investment affilaites. The banks will be part of the holding company.

POSTED: Wednesday, November 19, 2014, 9:35 AM
Shire P.L.C. is headquartered in Ireland but has operations in Exton and Wayne (above). (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer, file)

Shire Plc, the drugmaker that popularized Adderall for attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), plans to move its U.S. headquarters and more than half the 970 jobs at its Chesterbrook offices near Valley Forge to the Boston area, workers were told in a meeting this morning.

The company, incorporated in the British tax haven island of Jersey, employed 1,100 plus 300 contractors at Chesterbrook as recently as 2012, and previous CEO Angus Russell had considered local sites for a larger Philadelphia-area campus. But current CEO Dr. Flemming Ornskov, killed those plans; Ornskov, who holds a master's in public health from Harvard, prefers the Boston area. "Our strategy is to become a leading biotechnology company, and Boston is a biotech center," spokeswoman Gwen Fisher told me. 

Shire plans to move 500 staff -- executives, research and development staff and the gastroinestinal, internal medicine and neuroscience business groups -- to Lexington, Mass., near the company's infectious-disease unit. Legal and some other corporate support functions will also move, Fisher said. Supply chain, government contracting, and parts of the human-resources and information-technology groups will stay in Chesterbrook. Shire statement here.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 4:19 PM

David Danon tried to warn Vanguard Group it was illegally underpaying its income taxes while he was a tax lawyer for the company from 2008 to 2013 -- and was punished, with "attempts to silence me," until he was fired "in retaliation for my persistent and vocal questioning" of the $3 billion investment company's "unlawful practices," the Wayne resident says in an affidavit filed for his whistleblower lawsuit this week.

He says he only sued after Vanguard officials' "refusal to act on clear violations of law" he brought to their attention, showed the company "intentionally engaged in unlawful conduct," Danon alleged in court papers meant to answer Vanguard's efforts to discredit him and stop his complaint from advancing in a New York court.

Danon alleges Vanguard, based in Malvern, has violated federal tax law governing payments between corporate affiliates, by undercharging for services it provides to its own mutual funds. Low income means less income tax. Danon says Vanguard has used this method to underpay taxes by more than $1 billion over the years.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 3:07 PM

Comcast Corp. has consolidated its grim old network of Philadelphia-area bill-pay centers into a smaller group of expanded sales and service sites, and redesigned them so they look more like the sunlit retail stores Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile use to sign up customers and show off smartphones.

New Comcast stores open this week at the Roosevelt Mall in Northeast Philadelphia and in Havertown, with others planned next month in Mount Laurel and on Columbus Blvd. in South Philadelphia, and on Aramingo Ave. at State Road in January, Comcast retail director Mark Dionne told me. The new stores average more than 4,000 sq. ft., vs. around 2,500 sq. ft. at former bill-pay sites Comcast has closed in Bensalem, Northfield, N.J. and other towns. Hours have expanded to seven days and into the evenings.

What's changed? Comcast has automated bill-paying -- it's been a rocky road, as the Inquirer's Bob Fernandez reports here -- and authorized UPS stores to accept Comcast boxes for return and receipting; that has reduced bill-paying trafficand the need to dump old equipment at the stores and fill out paperwork when customers move, upgrade or quit.

POSTED: Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 12:43 PM

Sometime next month, semitrailer flatbed trucks will head north from multinational electrical-equipment maker Schneider Electric's assembly center near Raleigh, N.C. with the first custom-built  "KeyBlock" 400-kilowatt modular units to build the planned Keystone NAP data center at the former U.S. Steel Corp. Ben Fairless Works in Falls Township, Bucks County, says Jason Walker, Haddonfield-based director of Schneider's East Coast Data Center Service Provider group.

Schneider is a designer and supplier to Keystone NAP, which says it has raised capital  from New York-based DH Capital and a group of "Philadelphia-based investors, led by Ira Lubert," who controls the Independence Capital fund group (clients include Pa.'s pension funds). This form filed with the SEC in January lists Lubert with Keystone NAP chief boss Peter Ritz (ex CEO of Blue Bell-based AirClic), lawyer John Parker (formerly of AirClic and Morgan Lewis) and IT exec Philip Lanctot (ASD Worldwide), together committing $4 million in equity to the project. Lubert told me there is also debt financing.

Ritz tells me the former steel plant is a good location for a data center because it's close to four commerical power plants (Exelon Fairless Hills, which uses Waste Management landfill gas; PSEG Mercer; Dominion Fairless; the Wheelabrator trash cogeneration plants). Sunesys and Comcast lines serve the site; through Sunesys, Keystone NAP users can link to Cogent, Level 3, and telco lines, Ritz says. (Clarified to reflect the Exelon-Waste Management relationship)

POSTED: Tuesday, November 18, 2014, 11:03 AM

The new boss of Italy's state-owned RAI World media network, which targets expat Italians, Italian descendants and Italy-lovers abroad, was at La Colombe opposite City Hall this morning, fueling for a whirlwind tour of Italian America, and guided on this leg by the energetic Philadelphia-based Italian Consul Andrea Canepari, who is laboring mightily to stitch together a coalition of business and academic friends of Italian trade and culture.

RAI World CEO Piero A. Corsini (intense, dark-eyed, silver hair clipped short; espresso) says his nation's new centrist government has "invested a great deal of money" in programming, some visible at www.RAItalia.it, more on the network's three pay stations, carried by most Comcast, Verizon and DirecTV affiliates. He was joined by RAI World marketing-distribution-sales chief Giovanni Celsi (avuncular; cappucinio). They acclaimed Colombe's dark strong coffee; they passed on the piled pastries under the counter.

What's their most popular program? "Soccer, for Italians abroad," and other fans of Italy's top leagues, said Corsini. Also, the election of charismatic Pope Francis has boosted interest in RAI's broadcasts of religious programming, including Vatican Masses. (He personally expects severe Pope Benedict will be well-judged by history, "because he was an intellectual.")  RAI expects to be in Philadelphia to cover the Pope's visit to World Family Day next year, and Canepari has been shepherding the media guys to meet prominent locals who will be part of that program. "The Italian community here is preparing a lot of welcoming," Canepari says.

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
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