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VOL. 123 | NO. 4 | Monday, January 7, 2008

Daily Digest

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Hyneman Cos. Buys Land From Bankrupt Levitt

     The Hyneman Cos. LLC, the development company headed by William "Rusty" Hyneman, has bought Memphis property owned by now-bankrupt Levitt and Sons LLC for nearly $10 million, according to documents filed with the Shelby County Register of Deeds.
     In the transaction, dated Dec. 21, Levitt and Sons of Shelby County LLC transferred property to The Hyneman Cos. LLC for $9.6 million. The property includes vacant land and lots that are a part of six parcels, according to deeds. The property description goes on to list all 63 lots in Vinings at Germantown Subdivision - a 32-acre development on the north side of Winchester Road between Forest Hill-Irene and Crestwyn roads in Germantown - and 164- and 160-acre parcels off Chambers Chapel Road in Lakeland.
     A bankruptcy document dated Dec. 19 filed with the sale deed states the debtor, Levitt, is to set aside a portion of the funds from the sale to cover certain expenses; the remaining amount, more than $8.8 million, is to be paid to Regions Bank at closing.
     Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Levitt and Sons entered the Memphis market in 2004 with the purchase of local firm Bowden Building Corp. In 2006, Levitt began the process of changing Bowden's name, with billboards along Interstate 40 reading: "America's Oldest Home Builder is Memphis' Newest."
     In an April 2006 interview, Levitt Corp. CEO Alan Levan told The Daily News, "Levitt brings to Memphis and to Bowden a company with significant financial strength, a long history of expertise in being an innovative company and the quality of homes and the customer service that we stand for." (For more, see The Daily News' April 3, 2006, Trends & Analysis Focus at www.memphisdailynews.com.)
     But that financial strength had eroded by late 2007. In September, Levitt laid off 200 employees who worked in homebuilding activities nationwide. Soon thereafter, the company announced plans to pull out of the Memphis market.
     And on Nov. 9, Levitt and Sons LLC and 37 of its subsidiaries filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection petitions in a Florida bankruptcy court. Chapter 11 is bankruptcy "reorganization," in which a company usually attempts to stay in business while a bankruptcy judge oversees reorganization of certain debts and obligations.
     Rusty Hyneman did not immediately return a phone call. Anthony Gunter, president of Levitt & Sons of Tennessee, referred calls to Levitt's corporate headquarters. The corporate media relations representative listed as a contact for Chapter 11-related questions is no longer with the company, according to another Levitt representative, who was not able to provide more information about the local transaction by press time.

Attorney Faces Claims He Stole $1.3M From Clients

     Memphis attorney J. Richard Rossie faces two claims in Shelby County Chancery Court that he stole $1.3 million from two clients.
     The civil lawsuit filed by Phoebe Copeland last week claims Copeland stole $346,000 over almost seven years from an escrow account. The first lawsuit, by Darrelle Miller, claims Rossie took $1 million from her in a similar manner.
     Rossie, who faces no criminal charges, is prevented from distributing any money under terms of a restraining order issued by Chancellor Arnold Goldin. Rossie's law partner, John House Parker, was sentenced last year to 22 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to embezzling approximately $2 million from other clients of the law firm. Rossie testified at the sentencing hearing, urging a stiff sentence for Parker.

Evans Elected As New MLGW Board Chairman

     Lynn Evans is the new chairman of the Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division board. Evans was elected to the post by fellow board members at Thursday's utility board meeting. William Taylor was elected vice chairman.
     Each will serve a two-year term in the posts. Evans had been vice chairman during the previous two years with Rick Masson serving as chairman.
     In the last year, Masson doubled as chairman and president in the wake of Joseph Lee's resignation as MLGW president. Interim Chief Utility Officer Jerry Collins was later appointed by Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton to be the new president of the utility and was confirmed by the Memphis City Council. Collins took the oath of office last month.
     Collins has eliminated one of the three meetings the board has on each of the two days they meet during the month. There had been a separate meeting in which the utility president briefed the board.
     That's now part of the regular board meeting. That and a luncheon meeting are open to the public.
     Herenton is expected to fill a vacancy on the five-member utility board later this month as well as appoint a new board member for the seat now held by Nick Clark, whose term on the board is up. The open seat became vacant when Dr. Phillip Bowden resigned in June from the utility board.

5% Jobless Rate Is 2-Year High

     Sluggish hiring in December drove unemployment up to a two-year high of 5 percent, and the Federal Reserve has announced a new move to ease the credit crunch.
     Employers last month added the fewest new jobs to their payrolls in more than four years, according to the employment report released Friday by the U.S. Department of Labor. The report fanned fears of a recession, showing that the job market is deteriorating under the strain of a housing slump and the credit crunch.
     The unemployment rate jumped from 4.7 percent in November to 5 percent in December, the highest since November 2005 after the Gulf Coast hurricanes dealt the country a mighty blow. Total payrolls - both private employers and government - grew by just 18,000 last month, the worst showing since August 2003, when the economy suffered job losses as it struggled to recover from the 2001 recession.
     The December employment picture was much weaker than economists were expecting. They were forecasting the unemployment rate to bump up to 4.8 percent and for employers to add about 70,000 jobs to their payrolls.
     The government added 31,000 jobs in December, while private employers actually cut payrolls by 13,000, underscoring the weakness.
     For all of 2007, the economy added 1.33 million jobs and the unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent, the same as in 2006. Employment growth averaged 111,000 a month in 2007, down from 189,000 a month in 2006.

Investigation of Collapse Of RMK Funds Continues

     An investigation into the collapse of several Regions Morgan Keegan mutual funds is still unfolding, prodded along by an ad hoc group of four separate law firms.
     Lawyers from other firms might also be looking into the funds, which are overseen by a Memphis unit of the brokerage firm. A handful of lawsuits on behalf of investors already have been filed, and more are expected within a matter of weeks.
     But this week, the four-firm team of lawyers offered a point of clarification about their investigation. Brokers who might have sold any of the volatile RMK funds to investors are not targets of investor claims.
     The four-firm legal team looking into the funds includes California-based Aidikoff, Uhl & Bakhtiari; Maddox, Hargett & Caruso, with offices in Indiana and New York; Page Perry LLC, of Atlanta; and David P. Meyer & Associates Co. LPA, of Columbus, Ohio.
     Meanwhile, Regions Financial Corp. - the brokerage firm's parent company - said Thursday it expected to take a $38 million hit in the fourth quarter that's directly the result of losses in the RMK funds.

Trends in 3PL/Warehousing Topic at CSCMP Meeting

     The local chapter of the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals is bringing the group's national president to speak in Memphis Jan. 16 at the Holiday Inn-University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave.
     Richard Murphy, president and CEO of Murphy Warehousing Co. in Minneapolis, will present "Strategic Trends in 3PL/Warehousing," a look at recent industry trends and how to meet the challenges they present.
     The event costs $35 for members and $40 for nonmembers. Registration begins at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6 p.m.

100th Hyatt Place Opens at Wolfchase

     Hyatt Place opened its 100th hotel Dec. 27 near Wolfchase Galleria.
     To commemorate the opening, Hyatt Place Memphis/Wolfchase Galleria is partnering with United Services Automobile Association (USAA), a provider of financial services to U.S. military personnel and veterans, to donate 100 free nights to Tennessee military families.
     This Hyatt Place has 126 renovated guestrooms. Twenty more Hyatt Place hotels are scheduled to open in the first quarter.
     A Hyatt Place in Germantown is scheduled to open in 2009.
PROPERTY SALES 56 289 2,908
MORTGAGES 55 226 2,009
BUILDING PERMITS 108 1,002 6,703
BANKRUPTCIES 42 248 1,225