Saturday, April 25, 2015

POSTED: Thursday, March 19, 2015, 12:15 PM

Tighter pension accounting standards imposed this year by the Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) will make it more obvious how far public pensions in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and other states are underfunded, compared to the promises the states have made to workers and retirees, Governing magazine reports here.

GASB rule 67 will make both states' pension savings look smaller -- and, perhaps, more realistic --  relative to what they will have to raise to keep checks coming without paying in billions in increased "employer contributions" in future years. "Best case, GASB rules will help accelerate the funding schedule," says Matt Fabian, partner at Municipal Market Advisors, a bond advisory fund in Concord, Mass.  

But the rules don't actually obligate states to put across any more cash. "GASB created a different set of standards for accounting only. Our actuarial funding methodology and the process for establishing the employer contribution rate are unchanged. The GASB standards do not impact the PSERS funding or contribution rates," says Evelyn Williams, spokeswoman for Pennsylvania's school employee retirement system (PSERS). 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 12:15 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Thursday, March 19, 2015, 10:19 AM

(Adds comments from CEO Brassington) LiquidHub, the Wayne-based "digital integrator" and IT outsourcing firm that has counted Novartis, SEI, Independence Blue Cross,Comcast, Vanguard and Subaru among its clients, has purchased New York-based Redkite, a cloud-consulting firm that specializes in fitting Salesforce.com software to corporate software users "through a proprietary client-focused approach." Terms not disclosed. 

Redkite employs 50 at its New York headquarters and offices in Atlanta, Denver, Minneapolis and Phoenix, bringing LiquidHub's total to around 1,600. Founders Brennan Burkhart and Kenny McColl will also join LiquidHub.

It's the third Salesforce consultant LiquidHub has bought this year: other acquisitions include Harvest Solutions (Albequerque, NM) and ClosedWon (Boston, San Francisco). LiquidHub raised $53 million last year from ChrysCapital and other investors, who also promised to back acquisitions with up to $100 million as LiquidHub founder Jonathan Brassington builds a multinational network.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 10:19 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 6:11 PM

Havertown insurance-company veteran and grandmother Terri Waters is opening a 4,000 square foot franchise store for Clothes Mentor at 61 E. Germantown Pike (near U.S. 202), East Norriton, on Thursday March 19. The Minneapolis-based chain is founded by Ron Olson, who was previously a cofounder and former partner in resale chains Play It Again Sports, Plato's Closet and Once Upon A Child.

Same idea: Waters buys good-condition designer clothes, from area women, for cash, and offers them at discounts a fraction of the new price. "The company provides intensive training, a computer system, pricing for all items by brand, quality and age, and really intensive support,' says Richard Brill, a spokesman for the chain. Clothes Mentor plans five Philadelphia-area locations in all, 125 across the U.S.

Clothes Mentor calls itself "America's largest upscale-resale fashion chain carrying 40 better brands in excellent resale condition for only $15 average prices," including Talbot's jackets at around $15, Ann Taylor shortsleeved blouses at $10, Lily Pulitzer dresses at $40 (vs $200 at list), Coach bags at $30-150. "Regular, maternity, petite and plus... Chico’s, Michael Kors, J. Crew, Louis Vuitton, Lane Bryant and Anthropologie," shoes and jewelry too.

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 6:11 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 2:30 PM
File: Former Penn State University President Graham Spanier watches Nittany Lions warmups before the game against Ohio State on October 27, 2007. (Photo by Hunter Martin (Getty Images)

Former Penn State President Graham D. Spanier filed a civil lawsuit against former FBI director Louis Freeh, Freeh’s firms and the university today, accusing them of defamation in the Penn State-sponsored Freeh Report of 2012 for its findings related to Spanier's failure to stop ex-Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky from sexually abusing young boys at Sandusky's charity, the Second Mile. Sandusky was convicted and is serving a 60-year sentence.

Freeh's attorney, Robert Heim of Dechert LLP, Philadelphia, was not immediately available for comment on Spanier's suit. Spanier had previously rejected Freeh's conclusions and said he intended to sue, but had delayed filing while a separate state criminal complaint against Spanier advanced through the courts.

In an interview last week, Heim said Freeh stood by his report. “It's frustrating to sit here and have years go by and not be able to squarely challenge supposedly what is said" about Freeh and his report, Heim said at the time. The Freeh Report, Heim added, "is very much like Judge Freeh. It is direct, it's to the point, it sets forth his findings and it doesn't dance around the issues, which is what Penn State wanted.” Penn State officials were not immediately available for comment on the suit.

Joseph N. DiStefano, Jason Laughlin and Susan Snyder @ 2:30 PM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 11:53 AM

eMoney Advisor LLC, the suburban Philadelphia software maker maker that helps "20 percent of the One Percent" of richest Americans and their advisers track $1.4 trillion in investment assets, according to founder Edmond Walters, plans to hire "60 software engineers over the next nine months," plus dozens more staff for its "customer engagement team," spokeswoman Kelly Waltrich tells me. The hires would boost employment to at least 400, from the current 270.

eMoney, purchased just six weeks ago by Fidelity Investments for more than $250 million (according to my sources) with plans (Walters said) to "accelerate" operations, is also planning to move from its Conshohocken offices to larger space in Radnor over the next year. The company has a satellite office in San Diego and sales reps in key financial markets.

How to find 60 software engineers, in greater Philadelphia, which despite Drexel, Penn and all its other tech-friendly colleges, still punches below its weight as a software development center? "Philly's got a great talent pool," but "we most likely will need to expand our search a bit wider geographically," Waltrich said. "We are contemplating offering finders' fees and signing bonuses" that would "entice young developers to travel just a bit outside of the city limits to join our team. If we can pique the interest of those who currently work and live in Philly, we think we can reach our number." 

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:53 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2015, 9:46 AM
File: Carol Balog of Pottstown plays the slot machines at the Valley Forge Casino Resort.. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)

"In order to reverse the Pennsylvania gambling industry's negative trend" -- Pa. casino tax revenues slipped from $1.40 billion in 2012 to $1.32 billion last year -- the state should pass this list of friendlier casino laws, according to a letter from 10 casino chiefs (including Philly locals Tony Ricci at Parx, Wendy Hamilton at Sugar House and Ron Baumann at Harrah's in Chester) to Republican Sen. Kim L. Ward and Rep. John Payne (who head the legislative committees that oversee casinos) their Democratic counterparts, and Gov. Wolf:

- Reduce regulatory staffing and other costs by easing mandatory minimum casino staffing rules and other “strict regulatory requirements"
- Pass a 24-hour casino alcohol service law, or at least extend current hours. Also, allow casinos to give any visitor free drinks
- Grant reinvestment tax credits for 1) updating casinos, 2) marketing to out of state patrons (per W.Va. practice)
- Allow “immediate installations of new slot machines and electronic table games” pending prior approval of another state or a proper testing lab, instead of waiting for Pa. regulators to approve each machine
- Allow tax-free “Promotional Play” in which bets are made in an internal casino currency, not U.S. dollars (for example: bet points, win meal tickets)
- Don't make it easier for taverns or other other non-casinos to install gambling machines. In Illinois, these are blamed for casino layoffs.
- No additional smoking restrictions.
- No additional resort casinos and no easing of current restrictions on Valley Forge and Nemacolin, the "resort casinos"
- “Eliminate redundancy” by combining regulatory powers now spread through the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board, Revenue Department, State Police, and Attorney General.
- Add “serious sanctions designed to deter underaged persons from gambling,” using NJ drivers’ license 6-months suspension as a model.

"This all starts with the latest attempt to get in an I-gaming bill," backed by Sen. Payne and members of his committee, says Sen. Robert "Tommy" Tomlinson, R-Bucks, an ally of casino owners; his district includes the Parx casino.. "We're not opposed, but we think the tax rate can't be lower than it is for casinos," Tomlinson added. "If we have the right structure, if we make (Internet gamblers) register at the casinos, if we put a proper fee in there and put a higher tax rate than the casinos pay, they might pass it."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 9:46 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 11:34 AM

"McDonald's sells more chicken than beef in the U.S.," and now struggling McDonald's Corp.'s U.S. stores "plan to roll out improvements to its grilled chicken," possibly under the "Artisan Grilled Chicken" label, over the next four weeks, reports Mark Kalinowski, chain-restaurant analyst for Philadelphia-based Janney Montgomery Scott. The improvements -- we don't have details -- would be designed to show more attractive chicken for sandwiches, salads and wraps.

Chicken is popular, but it's tough to ship, freeze, store and serve on a mass-production scale and have it still look appetizing. KFC and other chains known for burying bird parts in salty breading ("chicken-flavored doughnuts," to critics) have found it tough to make un-breaded chicken attractive to consumers.  

Separately, Kalinowski notes this year's Temkin Experience Ratings rate Papa John's as the No. 2 "best customer experience" in fast food, with an 81% favorable rating among 10,000 U.S. consumers. No. 1 remains Chik-Fil-A, with an 82% favorable rating. Kalinowski says it's industry lore that Papa John set out years ago to be the Chick-Fil-A of Pizza.  Dairy Queen, Panera, Subway and Sonic were also high-rated. A little more here at FastCasual.com

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 11:34 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
POSTED: Tuesday, March 17, 2015, 10:03 AM

"China, fueled by runaway lending, has produced far more housing, steel, iron, and a host of other goods than it knows what to do with, amassing unprecedented levels of overcapacity and, by my estimate, making a staggering $2-$3 trillion in problem loans in the process," writes Richard Vague, who ran the biggest credit card bank in the company in the late 1990s (First USA) and has since parlayed his consumer-marketing smarts into a career as company founder and seller (EnergyPlus), investor (Gabriel Partners), Philadelphia philanthropist and Washington policy activist, in Democracy Journal here. 

"And since GDP growth is more a measure of capacity being created than capacity actually needed, even China’s high rate of GDP growth, fueled almost entirely by continued ultra-high levels of lending growth, compounds rather than solves China’s fundamental overcapacity problem," Vague adds. He compares China to the U.S. in the mid-2000s, before the financial crash.

"Which means that the global economic boost from China, the world’s only major growth engine since the crash of 2008 in the West, is rapidly diminishing and will soon largely end. The only question is how."

Joseph N. DiStefano @ 10:03 AM  Permalink | 0 comments
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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