Thursday, July 24, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

POSTED: Monday, June 23, 2014, 10:57 AM
Penn law professor Chris Yoo. (Photo from law.upenn.edu)

Christopher S. Yoo, the Penn Law professor who has championed Comcast's and other U.S. telecom giants' control of private Internet lines, has published a 58-page report on "U.S. vs. European Broadband Deployment: What Do the Data Say?" in which he finds that high-speed Internet services -- fiber, high-speed wireless (4G LTE) and cable lines, and 30 megabits/second service generally -- are available in a lot more places in the U.S. than in Europe.

Yoo says that's because leaving cable and phone companies freedom to build their own giant private networks does more to get Internet built than the government-based systems in Europe, where countries subsidize fiber and force network operators to share their lines with rival suppliers, as if they were roads, railroads, oldtime AT&T phone wires or other "common carriers" open to all.

Yoo acknowledges that high-speed Internet in Europe is cheaper than in the U.S., and generally a little faster. But he makes the decision, early on, to count "coverage" (how many homes are in places where they could buy fast Internet if they wanted?) rather than the number of people who actually use Internet service (because people won don't buy Internet service mostly can afford it but don't really want it, he argues, citing Pew Research Center Internet Project's 2013 study, Who's Not Online and Why). 

POSTED: Friday, June 20, 2014, 3:44 PM
Hillary and Bill Clinton. (AP Photo)

Bloomberg LP reporter Richard Rubin, in a story noting that ex-President Bill and would-be President Hilary Clinton, who claim to support inheritance taxes, have hired expert trust professionals to reduce their own inheritance liability and keep their money with daughter Chelsea and her descendants instead of the government, sifted through Hilary Clinton's official-disclosure forms and found that Bill Clinton earned a quick $200,000 making a speech for Malvern-based Vanguard Group, the mutual fund giant, in 2012.

What did Vanguard get for its clients' money? I asked Vanguard spokesman Linda Wolahan. She writes back: "Every other year, we host a conference for our Institutional clients -- companies that hire us to administer their 401k and other retirement plans -- as an education forum to help them stay current on fiduciary requirements, plan design, participant behavior, and what their peers are doing with their plans. This conference is part of our commitment to provide plan sponsors with the tools and knowledge to help their participants save successfully for retirement.

"Our clients have asked that we provide diversity of thought, especially on leadership, which is why we bring in speakers such as Mr. Clinton. Because this conference was held in Washington in 2012, an election year, we looked for a speaker who could provide perspective on major issues. Mr. Clinton was available and served as our speaker that year." I remember Vanguard's top Washington "government relations" man, Brian Mattes, as a conservative guy. Wolahan says the company hasn't turned Democratic: "Vanguard is party neutral; we did not ask him to speak politically, nor did he. He spoke about his foundation and ways to propel social change."

POSTED: Friday, June 20, 2014, 10:48 AM
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (left) and Robert Keith, Jr., co-founder of TL Ventures.

UPDATE: Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett will give a campaign donation from a state and city contractor that violated 'pay-to-play' rules to charity, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter will return his to the donor.

EARLIER: The Securities and Exchange Commission says TL Ventures Inc., of Wayne, illegally collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees from the underfunded Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System and the still-more-underfunded Philadelphia city pension system, after a TL official gave money to political campaigns for top state and city officials in 2011. It's the first time the SEC has brought and settled charges under a  2010 ban on investment pros collecting fees for managing public funds so soon after donating to elected officials who oversee those funds. 

The SEC did not identify the official who gave money or who got it, but state and city records show TL founder Robert Keith Jr. gave $2,000 to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett that fall, and $2,500 to Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter during the spring primary campaign that year, matching the amounts and dates cited by the SEC.

POSTED: Friday, June 20, 2014, 9:05 AM

JE Berkowitz LP, the South Jersey architectual glass maker that once made mirrors for Strawbridge's and Wanamakers and now makes reflecting panels for buildings like Comcast headquarters and the Kimmel Center in Center City Philadelphia, turned earth at its Pedricktown, Salem County plant yesterday to begin a 53,000 sq. ft. expansion of the 200,000 sq. ft. plant.

The company is run by Arthur Berkowitz, grandson of the founder. "Our growth has been rather amazing, in light of the commercial construction industry being so flat," says Ed Berkowitz, Arthur's semi-retired dad.

The company hopes to hire another 20-25 workers above the current 196 workers. "There is still manufacturing done in the Philadelphia area, and the plant itself is state-of-the-art," Arthur told me. More from Berkowitz here and from the South Jersey Times here.

POSTED: Thursday, June 19, 2014, 4:22 PM

TierPoint LLC, St. Louis, says it has purchased Philadelphia Technology Park LLC, which operates the 27,000 sq ft Navy Yard-based data center serving Penn Medicine, Jefferson Health, Fox Rothschild, Legg Mason, and other financial firms around the city with high-speed data service from competing providers including Verizon, Comcast and other industrial data carriers (as I noted here last year), for an undisclosed price. Liberty Property Trust remains the building's owner, confirmed Liberty spokeswoman Jeanne Leonard.

The center was built for $25 million with help from government loans, by the former Philadelphia Stock Exchange, which no longer needed the facility after its 2007 sale to the Nasdaq stock market. The site was purchased by Baltimore-based Enterprise Technology Centers and developed as a remote tech facility for big Philadelphia-area companies, including hospitals and others who needed fast two-way communication with little latency delay. The site will immediately be renamed for its new owner, the buyer said in a statement.

TierPoint, known as Cequel Data Centers before its management-led, private-equity-funded buyout last year, has other data centers in Seattle, Spokane, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Baltimore totalling 141,000 sq. ft., including the Philadelphia center. 

POSTED: Thursday, June 19, 2014, 9:34 AM

ParenteBeard, a Philadelphia-based accounting firm that employs nearly 1,000 CPAs and staff at offices across Pennsylvania, in the New York area, Baltimore, and Dallas, has been in merger talks with Baker Tilly Virchow Krause LLP, a Chicago firm that employs 1,500, both firms confirmed this morning after I called to ask about staff memos detailing the discussions. The proposal would result in ParenteBeard being merged into the larger firm under the Chicago firm's name and leadership.

"We are currently involved in ongoing discussions with Baker Tilly, and we look forward to providing more detailed information as we advance the discussion and planning process, but we are not in a position to share additional information at this time," said ParenteBeard boss Robert Ciaruffoli, in an emailed reply. Ciaruffoli is the intense Wilkes-Barre native who moved to Center City to lead ParenteBeard's expansion in recent years through a series of mergers sometimes followed by layoffs and partner departures. Small accounting firms have been consolidating into larger firms as the cost of accounting technology and regulatory compliance squeezes practicioners.

"We are involved in ongoing discussions," David Pendery, spokesman for Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, confirmed to me. Both firms are affiliated with Baker Tilly International, a London-based network of more than 100 accounting firms worldwide that competes with the U.S. "Big Four" and other multinational networks. Jake Luskin, the Philadelphia-based North America director for Baker Tilly International, declined further comment beyond what the firms said.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 1:48 PM

As I noted in today's Inquirer, Philadelphia officials have been assembling property at the former Frankford Arsenal site in Northeast Philadelphia for use by cold-cuts-maker Dietz & Watson Inc. as a new warehouse and trucking center. The new facility would replace the 260,000-square-foot facility in Delanco, Burlington County that burned down in 2013. That seven-year-old warehouse employed 130 people.

 A new warehouse on the proposed property would be convenient to Dietz & Watson's nearby headquarters on Tacony Street - and a coup for the city at the expense of New Jersey, which has been offering buckets of cash to employers in an attempt to lure them from Pennsylvania or stop them from moving away.

Real estate and city sources have confirmed that Dietz & Watson is the focus of city ordinances introduced in April that would swap city and state property tracts to make way for an unnamed industrial user on land near the Delaware River south of Dietz & Watson's offices and deli-meat production plant.

POSTED: Wednesday, June 18, 2014, 11:14 AM

Univest Corp., the Souderton company that runs one of the largest banks still based in the Philadelphia area, is moving downtown with its deal to buy Valley Green Bank, of Philadelphia's Mount AIry section, for $76 million in stock, worth around $27 a share at recent prices.  

"My shareholders are very happy today," Valley Green chief executive Jay Goldstein told me. He said the sale price is triple the $9 a share the bank's 300 shareholders invested, on average, starting from when it opened in 2005 and including later investments that enabled the bank to keep lending when others cut back after the 2008 credit-market collapse. (By comparison, investors in the S&P 500 boosted their money about 93% over that period, while investors in the KBW Index of 25 big-bank stocks lost about 15%.)

What's it mean for customers? Thanks to Univest's larger size, "we can triple the size of the loans that we can do now," to as much as $15 million, Goldstein said. A $7 million or $10 million neighborhood apartment or retail-center loan that used to be too big for the bank "will be in our sweet spot." He also hopes to add more branches around Philadelphia, modeled on the South Philly office that has attracted $50 million in loans and a similar level of deposits in its first year. 

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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