Archive: February, 2010
"The Pennsylvania National Guard has more new facilities being built than any other Guard in the nation," spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Cleaver tells me. The Guard plans to dedicate at least a dozen new field centers around the state this year, starting next month in Chambersburg. Locally, an expanded Northeast Philadelphia facility is supposed to be completed this summer, and a new one in Coatesville next year.
"The primary reason is the Stryker Brigade, which required new facilities to field that 4,000-member program," Cleaver added. The Philadelphia-based unit, newly returned from Iraq, is "falling in to brand new facilities." Most of the work is paid for by a Stryker $1.5 billion multi-year Pentagon appropriation, which also includes equipment and supplies. Pennsylvania is paying a quarter of the cost of additional new or refurbished non-Stryker facilities completed at the same time.
The Guard is using this opportunity to change the whole idea of what a traditional Guard "armory" ought to be. "Historically armories have been the focal point or centerpiece of communities. They're located downtown, and are used for many other civic functions and programs," Cleaver told me. "But as the roles and missions of the Guard have increased, we have had a need to get out of communities. Today we do not like to be in the downtown setting. We like to be on the outskirts of the community, with a good transportation system, o 15 to 20 acres. Many of the communities like us to get out of the center of town. We make noise. We make traffic. It's military training."
What happens to the old armories? "They need to be sold. In Media, the new Trader Joe's is an old armory," Joanne Phillips, the Philadelphia lawyer who headed Gov. Rendell's real estate bureau before returning to law firm Ballard Spahr's real estate department, told me.
Thanks to TV-watchers' willingness to pay more for cable or satellite service (even as companies' capital spending falls), and investors' insistence on sharing the wealth with companies whose profits are rising faster than share prices, "suddenly, the Pay TV companies are falling over themselves to return cash to shareholders. It’s about time," writes Craig Moffett of Bernstein Research in a report to clients today.
"DirecTV, Time Warner Cable, and Cablevision are leading the charge. Time Warner Cable's dividend, at 3.5% yield, is
now the industry's highest... DirecTV announced a plan to buy back $3.5B of stock this year alone... Cablevision – which reported truly spectacular free cash flow results yesterday – has spun off (Madison Square Garden)... and has hinted to shareholders" that it will finally pay down its crushing debtload."
Not everyone's sharing, however. "By contrast, Comcast committed its cash to buying NBCU," while Dish Network "ha(s)n't promised to do anything... Investors, justifiably, want to know how and when they will get paid... Since news of Comcast's NBCU announcement, Time Warner Cable has outperformed Comcast" by more than 10 percent. "If one were to assume that Comcast's stock would otherwise have matched TWC's... then Comcast's decision to acquire NBCU has arguably cost their shareholders $5.2B" in lower share value.
Moffett recommends Time Warner shares over its rivals' because it "has a clear view on how all (its) cash will be used for creating shareholder value." He didn't say which TV company delivers the best value for consumers.
"GMAC has yet to resolve the ultimate fate of ResCap, its mortgage subsidiary, and it remains highly dependent upon government support," writes Gimme Credit LLC analyst Kathleen Shanley in a report to clients today. GMAC, ResCap and their Ally Bank unit employ nearly 2,000 at the company's Horsham residential mortgage center, one of the places Michigan-based GMAC has been concentrating workers as it closes smaller centers elsewhere.
"GMAC hopes it will be able to return funds to the government by taking the company public in an IPO within the next few years, but government support is likely to remain a fixture for the next few years, offering the company breathing room to restore profitability. The long-term outlook remains less clear, given that GMAC is still largely dependent on the turnaround prospects of two of the weakest automakers (GM and Chrysler)...
"GMAC was the only one of the 19 participants in the 2009 Supervisory Capital Assessment Program (stress tests) that couldn't come up with private capital to cover the estimated gap ($13.1 billion) under a stress scenario.... In all, the Treasury pumped $17 billion into the company, and now controls a 56% equity stake....
"GMAC will continue to benefit from government support over the next few years, but the Treasury is unlikely to keep writing blank checks indefinitely. GMAC's wagon remains hitched to two of the weakest competitors (GM and Chrysler) in the auto sector."
Two years after Pennsylvania announced the sale of its office building at 1400 Spring Garden St. to developer Bart Blatstein's Tower Investments, the deal still isn't done, and the sale price has gone down.
The sale is now scheduled to close in July, for around $23.4 million, down from the original price of $25.2 million, state Department of General Services spokesman Ed Myslewicz told me. That's because the state took longer than expected to negotiate replacement rental offices at 801 Market St (the old Strawbridge & Clothier store, partly owned by Ron Rubin's Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust) and 801 Race St.
But Blatstein has also faced delays, due to the difficulty of arranging financing, Misewicz added. He's paying the state "up to $40,000 a month" past last November's previous deadline. Blatstein has said he plans apartments - probably rental, maybe condo - and a row of stores.
Evan Britton, a Plymouth-Whitemarsh High School ('96) and UPitt graduate who made a pile of money brokering Web addresses, via his www.SiteLauncher.com, says he's getting traction with his new site, www.Sency.com, which sorts Twitter posts "to tell you what people are talking about in real time."
Citing data posted by Amazon.com's www.alexa.com, Britton says visits jumped from 10,000 last October to 150,000 in January. "I need 1 million hits a month to be scalable," attracting enough Web advertising to pay for expansion, he told me over burgers at Marathon Grill. "We'll be there this year if we just keep feeding the stove." He's working to move Sency onto smartphone apps.
Sency's in "a very tight race," says Charles S. Knight, who attended Radnor High School and UVa. before setting up www.AltSearchEngines.com and, currently, www.TheNextWeb.com/search, which rates the many aspirants to post-Google dominance.
Knight counts Sency as one of at least 10 firms jockeying to dominate free real-time searches: "Topsy.com, OneRiot.com, Collecta.com, Wowd.com. . . . It's all about, who gets to the million [hits-a-month] mark soonest, who learns to monetize it first, and who gets bought by Google or Microsoft Bing first."
How valuable is this? "Tweeters are ordinary people. A lot of the time they're saying nonsense," Knight said. "If I want news, I get a feed from the New York Times." Still, Knight likes Sency's focus on smartphones, whose proprietary data applications threaten to fragment the free Web into what some users call a "Splinternet" (cf, Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research) of subnetworks you have to pay to use.
What does Knight admire? "Siri.com, which isn't just a 'search' engine, it's a 'do' engine. You tell it [via voice-recognition software] what you want it to search for - 'I need two reservations to the Knicks and a nice French restaurant and a cab home,' - and it already knows who you are, where you are, what you need. Soon, you won't have to search anymore."
He's also attracted to simplified search engines like Gabriel Weinberg's Valley Forge-based www.DuckDuckGo.com. "It's Google Light," says Weinberg. "They strip out all the garbage - video, ads. And it's intelligent. You search for 'wolf,' it'll ask, 'What wolf do you mean?' and list some choices."
Weinberg's a twentysomething graduate of MIT who sold his Web site, NamesDatabase, to Classmates Online Inc. in 2006, and retired here to invest in new companies and raise his child with his wife, a GlaxoSmithKline Plc statistician.
"Around M.I.T., we had a lot of people starting companies," he said. "We started this group, Hackathon." His Philly chapter "is growing slowly over time," with help from people at the LiquidHub consulting group, among others. They meet every month, sometimes in an office at Cira Centre, sometimes at the Bear Rock Cafe in King of Prussia. "There's random people making sites," he explained. "We try to put them together."
NEW: Who buys this stuff? "My wife purchased the Spectrum chair for me as a Christmas gift," Lou Polillo, principal photographer at Helishot Imagery, Havertown, told me. It took some "rehab and restoration," but the chair's now in his living room, where he watches the Flyers.
He's been a devoted Flyers fan, rocking Flyers games with his dad and his uncles since the mid-1970s Broad Street Bullies won back-to-back Stanley Cups. The chair's "a showpiece. It really takes me back. I love with it. I would never part with it for any amount of money."
EARLIER: Lou Scheinfeld coined the name Spectrum. He worked there as Ed Snider's vice president in 1967, when the South Philly arena opened. Now Snider's Comcast Spectacor L.P. has brought Scheinfeld out of retirement to take the place apart.
"I've been overseeing the sale of the seats and other assets," Scheinfeld told me. "We've been selling pairs of seats for $395. We've sold several thousand.
"They'll take them home, put them in the rec room, sit in them when they watch Flyers games. One guy took a pair to Florida and put it in what he called his 'man-cave.' Another guy married a girl he met here at a Rolling Stones concert, he went looking for [her] seat. There's a lot of memories."
And not just seats. "We're selling plaques made from wood from the Sixers' floor. We melted ice from that last Flyers' hockey game, shipped it out to Chicago, they put it into coasters, you can freeze 'em and keep your drink cold."
Scheinfeld posted a catalog at the www.RememberTheSpectrum.com Web site. He'll add "everything from lockers to speakers to signage and emergency generators, artwork and the scoreboard." A quarter of the proceeds are supposed to go to charity. "The rest offsets the $3 million cost to take the building down," Scheinfeld said.
Fed chairman Ben Bernanke worried stock markets last week when he boosted the bank discount rate. But don't worry, he assured Congress this morning, the economy's still weak, and we're keeping civilian rates low, at least for now.
"Inflation will likely be subdued for some time,", unemployment will still be "roughly 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 percent by the end of 2012," and the discount rate bump is "not expected to lead to tighter financial conditions for households and businesses and should not be interpreted as signaling any change in the outlook for monetary policy, which remains about the same as it was at the time of the January meeting of the FOMC." Thus, rates won't rise until "the appropriate time." Read Bernanke's comments here.
So today: "U.S. stocks rose, halting a two-day drop in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said the economy still requires low interest rates to spur demand," reports Bloomberg here.
Veteran developer Robert J. Ambrosi, who splits his time between offices in Center City and Clifton, N.J., says his ARC Properties Inc. has formed an affiliate to develop and buy properties for CVS drugstores, Wells Fargo Bank, Firestone Tires, Wal-Green, and other chain stores along the East Coast.
He’s modeling it on his ARC Corporate Realty Trust, which had the good sense to sell its assets in 2006 and 2007, before the real estate market plunged.