Friday, July 31, 2015

POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 2:09 PM

Comcast Corp., Philadelphia, has hired Daniel C. Murdock away from his job as Deputy Chief Accountant at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company says. Murdock will be Comcast's Vice President, Corporate Controller "and oversees accounting policies and procedures, reporting controls," and compliance with the Sarbanes-Oxley federal accounting law, Comcast said in a statement.

Murdock is no stranger to Comcast-style accounting: Before joining the SEC in 2013, Murdock headed the Media & Entertainment practice at the Big Four accounting firm Deloitte & Touch LLP.

Murdock's new boss is Comcast executive vice president/chief accounting officer Lawrence Salva.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 10, 2015, 8:52 AM

Marlette Funding LLC, a "personal loan marketplace" online loan-processing company employing 50 (fulltime-equivalent) plus 150 contractors at offices on US 202 in Fairfax, Del., just north of the I-95 exit at Wilmington, Del., says it has approved debt-consolidation, home-improvement, medical and vacation loans worth nearly $500 million so far this year, passing its total for all of 2014 ($383 million). Marlette targets customers using direct mail, at a time when credit card giants like Chase have switched toward online and social media marketing.

The investor-backed start-up and its "Best Egg" loans system competes with LendingClub, Prosper and other online and mail-based lenders that have sprung up in recent years, based mostly on rapid application and approval software, to compete with banks and loan brokers. Marlette says it is profitable "on a GAAP basis" and plans "aggressive employee recruiting efforts" to add workers. 

Marlette isn't a bank; its loans are made through Cross River Bank, Teaneck, N.J. Marlette is run by a group of former managers at BarclaycardUSA in Wilmington, including CEO Jeffrey Meiler and colleagues Sabrina Basht and Paul Ricci (corrected). "I consider those executives to be exceptionally strong, high performing people," Richard Vague, the Wilmington banker turned Philadelphia philanthropist who formerly headed Barclaycard's Wilmington operations, told me. (He also said he's not "up to speed" on the business they're now in.) 

POSTED: Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 5:00 PM

Hill International, the Philadelphia- (formerly Marlton-) based multinational constuction-management and insurance-claims consulting company, has "adjourned' its 2015 annual meeting so it can mount a campaign to block activist investor Bulldog Investors LLC from trying to win board seats and influence strategy, the company says. The meeting, scheduled for today, will "reconvene" Friday Aug. 7, 11 a.m., at Hill's new headquarters, 2001 Market St., 2d Floor, Philadelphia.

Hill acted after a Delaware Chancery Court judge agreed Bulldog should be able to nominate two candidates to run against management-backed candidates in this year's board election and to put other proposals before the board. "While we will be appealing the Chancery Court's decision, we nevertheless will also be progressing with a proxy campaign over the next two months," Hill CEO David L. Richter said in a statement. "We are confident that Hill's current strategic plan," growth and cost cuts will win over shareholders, "and that Bulldog's self-serving proxy fight will not benefit our stockholders in any way."

Earlier this year Hill rejected an unsolicted $5.50 a share takeover offer from DC Capital Partners, Alexandria, Va. DC principal Thomas Campbell has urged Hill to reconsider and said he's willing to negotiate over price.  Hill shares closed today at $5.31, down 4 cents.

POSTED: Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 3:17 PM
Gov. Christie flew to Orlando, Fla., last week to speak at an economic summit. With a recent poll showing GOP voters rating security a top issue, Christie is highlighting his time as U.S. attorney. (JOE RAEDLE / Getty Images)

Moody's Investor Service analyst Baye Larsen says New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's victory in the New Jersey Supreme Court pension funding case gets him off the hook for this year's budget -- but it won't rescue the state from long-term insolvency, and it's not likely to help New Jersey's state credit rating, the second-worst after Illinois, which has added millions to taxpayer financing costs. Writes Larsen:

"The New Jersey Supreme Court has decided that pension contributions are not contractually protected. This decision has reduced the risk of sudden late-year liquidity and budget pressure, but perpetuates severe pension underfunding and rapid growth of state liabilities.

"In the near term, this decision stabilizes the state’s fiscal 2015 financial position because it eases the risk of a late-year liquidity and budget shock, and preserves the state’s expected budget flexibility for fiscal 2016. However, long term, this reinforces the state’s ongoing reliance on one-time budget solutions and will perpetuate large structural imbalances  and a rapidly increasing pension burden."

POSTED: Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 12:52 PM
Pep Boys: Manny (L), Moe and Jack.

Shares of Pep Boys - Manny Moe & Jack, the Philadelphia-based, 800-store retail auto parts, tires and service chain, rose 6 percent in trading so far today to top $11 a share for the first time since fall.

That's after the company reported car repair sales rose nearly 2% during the three months ended May 3, despite a slight drop in Pep Boys store retail sales. Total revenues increased to $542 million for the quarter, from $539 million a year ago. Profits rose to $11.9 million, or 22 cents a share, from $1.6 million, or 3 cents, in the same quarter last year, while operating profits nearly quadrupled, to $23 million. It was Pep Boys' third straight quarters of higher sales, acting ceo John Sweetwood told investors in a statement. "Tires, commercial, fleet and digital leads the waym" and Pep Boys expanded "Road Ahead"  store redesign will add stores around Baltimore next month. Company statement here.

"It's like a straight-D student suddenly gets a C-plus," analyst Bret Jordan, who follows Pep Boys for BB&T Capital Markets, told me.  Investors are reacting to the good news that Pep Boys was able to boost sales and profits in their service bays and to small shops. By contrast, store retail sales still lag. Jordan says that leaves some investors wondering if "maybe this retail operation should be owned by someone else" and the company could be in a position to attract new investors or operators.

POSTED: Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 9:00 AM

Inverness Graham Investments, Ken Graham's Newtown Square-based private equity group, has raised $283 million from pension funds, university endowments, nonprofit foundations, insurers, fund groups and rich families, in six months, to start its third buyout fund, beating its target of $225 million.

IGI says it focuses on "lower middle market buyouts of high-growth, technology-abled businesses with a buy and build aproach" (a recent acquisition was New York-based Identity Finder, which protects confidential ID within databases).

The "IGI-III" fund, like its predecessors, will buy into companies valued at below $75 million, with earnings (before interest, taxes, depreciation/amortization) befween $3 million-$10 million.

POSTED: Tuesday, June 9, 2015, 8:27 AM

Campbell Soup Co., in Camden, says it has agreed to pay $231 million for Garden Fresh Gourmet, a $100 million (yearly sales), 500-employee Ferndale, Mich. company that makes what Campell calls "the no. 1 branded refrigerated salsa in the U.S.," along with packaged tortillas, dips and hummus. 

As readers have noted, Campbell already owns Pace, the Texas company that puts salsa in jars with long shelf life. Perishable Garden Fresh Gourmet sauce is to Pace products what Tastykake is to Hostess Brands, approximately, making this another sign in Campbell's march from someplace in the back pantry to tonight's dinner table. 

Campbell ceo Denise Morrison in a statement called the deal "another milestone in reshaping our portfolio toward faster-growing categories, including packaged fresh and organic food." Campbell owns carrot grower, drink, snack and salad-dressing packer Bolthouse Farms, among other brands.

POSTED: Monday, June 8, 2015, 11:23 AM

Vanguard Group has boosted its "Partnership Plan" payments to senior and veteran employees to $165.57 a share, up 13% from $146.52 last year, writes Daniel P. Wiener in a note to readers of his Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors newsletter.

The plan "pays out millions of dollars a year to Vanguard's top dogs, while limiting most employees to a bonus that is calculated using a tricky set of variables related to their job 'grade' and tenure," Wiener adds. Vanguard declined to comment on the payment rate.

The increase is roughly in line with the S&P 500 stock index's advance for 2014. But that's not the basis for Vanguard partnership points, Wiener notes. Rather, the company factors in expense ratios and other performance measures.

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,, 215.854.5194 or 302.652.2004.

Reach Joseph N. at or 215 854 5194.

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