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VOL. 6 | NO. 50 | Saturday, December 7, 2013

Daily Digest

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FedEx Honored For Civic Engagement

FedEx Corp. is one of the companies honored on this year’s Civic 50 survey, now in its second year, the results of which were published by Bloomberg Thursday, Dec. 5.

The survey was developed by the National Conference on Citizenship, Points of Light and Bloomberg for the purpose of measuring corporate civic engagement.

Its goal also is to recognize top S&P companies that make socially responsible practices and community leadership part of their corporate culture.

Other companies on this year’s list include Gap Inc., Southwest Airlines and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Bunker Sets Exit Date From Commission

Lakeland Mayor Wyatt Bunker has formally set Jan. 3 as the date he will resign from the Shelby County Commission.

Bunker was elected mayor of Lakeland in September, giving him 90 days to resign from the commission under terms of the Shelby County Charter, which prohibits him from holding both elected positions.

The letter from Bunker means the commission will be appointing someone to fill his seat for the remainder of his term of office, which runs to Sept. 1, 2014.

That’s when those elected in the 2014 August county general elections take office for full, four-year terms on the commission.

Commercial Council Wins National Award

The Memphis Area Association of Realtors Commercial Council has been honored with a 2013 ACE Award for Accredited Commercial Excellence.

The National Association of Realtors says ACE winners “have demonstrated that they have gone beyond their accreditation benchmarks to be leaders in engaging their members and the high quality of the services provided.”

Iberiabank Promotes 2 Memphis Associates

Iberiabank has promoted two associates in Memphis.

Stephen Fitzsimmons is the new branch manager at Iberiabank’s Germantown branch, 7465 Poplar Ave. He has seven years of banking experience, and is a licensed attorney and an active member of the Memphis Bar Association.

Meanwhile, Kirstin Wicker will assume the role of assistant branch manager at Iberiabank’s Memphis headquarters, 4894 Poplar Ave.

She has eight years of experience and will also act as the key operations liaison for retail support and training new associates.

Dollar General Sees Quarterly Profit Rise

Dollar General’s fiscal third-quarter net income climbed 14 percent as traffic improved and shoppers spent more per transaction on average.

Its earnings topped Wall Street’s expectations. The discounter also lifted the low end of its full-year adjusted earnings forecast and boosted its stock repurchase authorization by $1 billion.

Sales at stores open at least a year climbed 4.4 percent. This figure is a key indicator of a retailer’s health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.

Dollar General reported strong sales of tobacco products, perishables, candy and snacks in the quarter. Seasonal and home product sales were solid, it added.

The company’s board approved an additional $1 billion for stock buybacks on Wednesday. This raises the total authorization for future buybacks to $1.2 billion.

For the period ended Nov. 1, Dollar General Corp. earned $237.4 million, or 74 cents per share. A year earlier it earned $207.7 million, or 62 cents per share. Taking out a benefit from the reversal of income tax reserves, earnings were 72 cents per share.

Revenue increased 11 percent to $4.38 billion from $3.96 billion.

Analysts, on average, expected earnings of 70 cents per share on revenue of $4.42 billion, according to a FactSet poll.

Dollar General now foresees full-year adjusted earnings between $3.18 and $3.22 per share.

Average Mortgage Rate Rises to 4.46 Percent

Average U.S. rates for fixed mortgages rose sharply this week, making home-buying slightly less affordable.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday the average rate on the 30-year loan jumped to 4.46 percent from 4.29 percent last week. The average on the 15-year fixed loan increased to 3.47 percent from 3.30 percent.

Rates have risen a full percentage point since May after the Federal Reserve signaled it might slow its bond purchases by year’s end. Rates peaked at 4.6 percent in August.

Mortgage rates have stabilized since September, when the Fed surprised markets by taking no action. And rates remain low by historical standards. The Fed meets later this month and could slow the bond purchases if the economy shows further improvement.

The bond purchases are designed to keep long-term rates low.

The increase in mortgage rates has contributed to a slowdown in home sales over the past two months. But the government reported Wednesday that purchases of new homes ramped up in October after three months of soft sales, evidence that the housing market is improving fitfully.

Sales of new homes increased 25.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 444,000 in October, the largest monthly percentage increase since May 1980.

And in another sign of potential economic strength, the Commerce Department said Thursday the economy grew at a 3.6 percent annual rate from July through September, the fastest since early 2012. But nearly half the growth came from a buildup in business stockpiles, a trend that could reverse in the current quarter and hold back growth.

Jobless Claims Plunge As Layoffs Slow

The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits tumbled 23,000 last week to 298,000, nearly a six-year low that shows companies are laying off fewer workers.

The Labor Department said the less volatile four-week moving average declined 10,750 to 322,250.

Last week’s unemployment benefit applications nearly matched a September figure that was distorted by late reporting from California. When excluding the September report, last week’s figures were the lowest since May 2007.

Applications have now fallen in seven of the past eight weeks, a hopeful sign for job growth at the end of the year.

Last week included the Thanksgiving holiday, which can present challenges for seasonal adjustments. But government officials say there were no special factors affecting the report.

Weekly jobless claims are a proxy for layoffs. The steady decline should help boost job gains at a time when hiring has accelerated.

The economy has added an average of 202,000 jobs a month from August through October, up from an average of 146,000 in May through July. The government issues its November employment report on Friday.

A report Wednesday from payroll processor ADP suggested the hiring gains continued last month. Companies and small businesses added 215,000 jobs in November, ADP said.

Greater employment typically boosts income, which helps drive more economic growth. Consumers’ spending accounts for roughly 70 percent of economic activity.

Still, the unemployment rate remains high at 7.3 percent. That’s well above the 5 percent to 6 percent unemployment rate consistent with healthier job markets. When unemployment is lower, workers have more flexibility to change jobs.

Memphis Receives Grant To Increase College Grads

Memphis is among 20 U.S. communities chosen as the first partners in a national initiative aimed at increasing the ranks of college graduates.

The Indianapolis-based Lumina Foundation on Wednesday promised as much as $200,000 to the communities over three years. The foundation’s goal is to raise the percentage of Americans with college degrees from 38 percent to 60 percent by 2025.

In several communities, the Lumina support will boost existing efforts like Louisville, Ky.’s 55,000 Degrees program and Say Yes in Syracuse and Buffalo.

Also chosen were Albuquerque, N.M.; Boston; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Columbus and Fort Wayne, Ind.; Greensboro, N.C.; Houston and San Antonio, Texas; Kalamazoo, Mich.; Memphis, Tenn.; Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pa.; Providence, R.I.; Quad Cities, Iowa/Ill.; Santa Ana, Calif. and South Seattle, Wash.

Health Department Launches Mobile App

The Shelby County Health Department has launched its first mobile app, part of a new campaign to reduce the local infant mortality rate.

B4BabyLife is now available on the Android and iPhone platforms, and the aim of the free app is to encourage healthy pregnancies and healthy babies by giving families information they can use before, during and after pregnancy.

Features of the app include prenatal information, access to local resources, ways for fathers to help and information on how to stay healthy before and between pregnancies.

Medtronic Awards Trio Of Memphis Grants

Medtronic Inc. is awarding three Health Access Grants totaling half a million dollars to a trio of Memphis-area groups.

Christ Community Health Services is getting $225,000 to go toward a high blood pressure-screening program for adults in Orange Mound. The Church Health Center is getting $200,000 to expand its Wellness 4 Life program, and Health Shelby is getting $75,000 to start a community registry of people suffering from hypertension that won’t have patient-identifying information.

Council Votes Down Solid Waste Fee Hike

Memphis City Council members voted down Tuesday, Dec. 3, the long-delayed effort by the Wharton administration to reset the city’s solid waste fee at the higher rate it was before the July 1 start of the current fiscal year.

And the council approved a retirement supplement of up to $1,000 a month for city sanitation workers, with an amendment that if savings don’t materialize after an overhaul of sanitation services, the supplement will not be paid by the city.

City Chief Administrative Officer George Little insisted the two items were separate matters for the council.

But when the council approved the supplement after denying the solid waste fee hike, Little said the savings to fund the supplement would probably be more difficult but not impossible for the city to realize.

The savings are supposed to be realized through an agreement with the union representing sanitation workers for them to work on routes that include more stops, increasing efficiency.

The revenue from the fee hike would have gone to buy new recycling containers to increase the materials the city recycles as well as update a vehicle fleet that is nearly 20 years old.

Haynes Promoted To ServiceMaster CIO

Tim Haynes has been promoted to vice president and chief information officer of The ServiceMaster Co. effective immediately.

Robert Gillette, CEO of the Memphis-based provider of residential and commercial services, appointed Haynes to replace Linda Goodspeed, who is leaving the position at the end of December after becoming CIO in 2011.

Haynes had been serving as vice president and information technology business partner for the American Home Shield, ServiceMaster Clean and Merry Maids divisions of ServiceMaster.

Broadband in US Schools Gets Boost From Tech Gurus

The effort to get high-speed broadband in every school is getting a boost from the philanthropy of two technology gurus – Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates.

Zuckerberg’s Startup: Education and Gates’ foundation have contributed a combined $9 million to the nonprofit EducationSuperHighway. The San Francisco-based nonprofit is working to improve connectivity in schools.

Nearly every school has Internet access, but for many, that doesn’t include classrooms or the connections are super-slow. That makes it difficult to videoconference scientists with students or to have digital learning programs on tablets such as iPads.

President Barack Obama’s goal is to have 99 percent of students connected to superfast Internet within five years. The Federal Communications Commission is weighing changes to a program to increase connectivity in schools.

Shelby County Prosecutors Take Madison Sheriff Case

When Madison County Sheriff David Woolfork was indicted on sexual assault and domestic violence assault Monday, Dec. 2, by a grand jury in Jackson, Tenn., it was the formal start of a criminal case that will be prosecuted by the Shelby County District Attorney General’s office.

Shelby County District Attorney General Amy Weirich signed the indictments following the recusal of Madison County District Attorney General Jerry Woodall. Woolfork’s office works with Woodall’s office in prosecuting Madison County cases.

Prosecutors from Shelby County will handle the case against Woolfork in Madison County Circuit Court. Woolfork is accused of sexually assaulting a civilian employee of his department at her home in October.

Woolfork turned himself in at the Chester County Jail Monday, was booked and then released on a $20,000 bond.

Madison County Commissioners passed a resolution in November urging Woolfork to resign after the group commissioned an independent investigation of two allegations of sexual harrassment by Woolfork.

Fogelman Partnership Acquires Kansas Apartments

A joint venture comprised of Memphis-based Fogelman Venture Partners and New

York-based DRA Advisors LLC has acquired The Savoy, a 252-unit apartment community in the Kansas City, Kan., suburb Overland Park.

The Class A apartment community was developed in 2002 and offers one-, two- and three-bedroom floor plans. Rental rates range from $899 to $1,635 per month.

Overland Park is the second-largest city in Kansas, and is home to the Sprint world headquarters and Black & Veech.

Memphis-based Fogelman Management Group, which manages 64 apartment communities across the Southeast, Southwest and Midwest, will manage the newly acquired property.

Red Cross Seeking Holiday Blood Donations

The holiday season has arrived, and friends and family will soon begin exchanging presents. But for many hospital patients, one gift on their wish list can’t be found at stores: a blood donation.

The American Red Cross is asking people to donate blood for the holidays. Those in the Memphis area can participate in the Red Cross holiday blood drive on Monday, Dec. 23, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Ed Rice Community Center, 2907 N. Watkins St.

The Red Cross said that all blood types are needed to ensure a reliable supply for patients.

To donate, a blood donor card or driver’s license, or two other forms of identification, are required at check-in. People who are 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and are in generally good health may be eligible to donate blood.

For more information, visit redcrossblood.org.

Arkansas Revenue Below Forecast in November

Arkansas’ revenue in November fell below last year’s figures and predictions for this year, financial officials said Tuesday.

The state Department of Finance and Administration reported that Arkansas’ net available revenue for last month totaled $349.7 million, which was $800,000 less than November 2012 and $8.4 million below forecast.

The department said the November numbers were affected by swings in corporate income taxes.

Gross collections in corporate tax income were $4.2 million below forecast and 41.6 percent below last year’s levels. Corporate refunds, meanwhile, were $2.6 million above expectations and 36.6 percent above last year’s levels.

Arkansas’ net available revenue so far for the fiscal year that began July 1 totaled more than $2 billion, which is $29.4 million ahead of forecast.

Whole Foods Delays Germantown Store Request

The development team behind a proposed Whole Foods store in Germantown has withdrawn its application from the Germantown Planning Commission’s Tuesday, Dec. 3, agenda and will return next month.

“There are a few engineering issues, primarily traffic, that city staff needs to address,” said Germantown City Administrator Patrick Lawton.

Whole Foods Market and local development firm Cypress Realty Holdings Co., in conjunction with Ford Jarratt Realty & Development Co., in October submitted plans to the city of Germantown to develop a 41,000-square-foot, freestanding Whole Foods store.

The proposed store would be on the southeast corner of the intersection of Poplar Avenue and Pete Mitchell Road, on the eastern edge of Germantown’s Central Business District and across Poplar from the Germantown Collection shopping center.

The site plan for the new Whole Foods, developed under Germantown’s smart growth plan, shows the store being built close to Poplar with landscaped parking areas at the intersection of Poplar and Pete Mitchell and behind the store along Pete Mitchell.

Whole Foods, founded in 1980 in Austin, Texas, has been active in the Memphis area lately. In addition to the planned Germantown store, the specialty grocer is in the midst of a $3.1 million expansion of its East Memphis location. Whole Foods is relocating its current 25,000-square-foot store at 5022 Poplar into the space next door formerly occupied by Office Depot.

Additional Delta Flight Cuts Now in Effect

With the Thanksgiving travel days now past, Delta Air Lines has followed through with further cuts in air service at Memphis International Airport, reducing its number of flights to approximately 40 a day.

The 24 daily flight cuts, which began Tuesday, Dec. 3, were announced by the Atlanta-based air carrier in October. With it, Delta executives also announced the first job cuts at its Memphis airline operations since it dehubbed Memphis International Airport earlier this year. The 126 jobs included closing a flight attendant center at Memphis.

The Delta cuts over the past two years have been so significant that origin and destination air traffic, not connecting flights, now comprise the majority of flights into and out of Memphis. Before the Northwest Airlines-Delta Air Lines merger in 2008 and in the early years of the merger, the majority of passenger traffic was connecting flights.

Flight Wins OpenTable Diners’ Choice Award

Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar has been named a winner of OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards for the top 100 restaurants in the United States that specialize in American cuisine.

Based on feedback collected from OpenTable diners between Nov. 1, 2012, and October 2013, the 100 award-winning restaurants received the highest scores.

Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar is at 39 S. Main St.

Five Memphis Artists Win ArtsMemphis Grants

Five Memphis-area artists will be the first recipients of ArtsAccelerator grants, created earlier this year by ArtsMemphis to help individual working artists in the field of visual arts.

The winners are Ben Butler, Mary Jo Karimnia, Susan Maakestad, Brandon Marshall, and Terri Phillips. Each artist will receive a $3,000 ArtsAccelerator grant, and all projects will be completed by August 2014.

ArtsAccelerator grants are designed as incentive grants for the visual arts to help local artists offset expenses.

Arkansas Finance Officials Release Revenue Forecast

Arkansas finance officials are releasing the general revenue forecast for the coming fiscal year ahead of next year’s legislative session.

The Legislature convenes in February for a session devoted to the state’s budget. On Monday, the Department of Finance and Administration released its official general revenue forecast for the coming fiscal year, along with an update for the current fiscal year.

The agency says net available revenues in the 2015 fiscal year are expected to increase by about 2 percent compared to the forecast for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. The agency also revised its forecast for the current fiscal year down .3 percent compared to its previous forecast.

Gov. Mike Beebe said Monday that the latest numbers reflect slow growth.

US Construction Spending Up 0.8 Percent in October

U.S. developers boosted construction spending in October at the fastest pace in more than four years, propelled by a surge in government projects. But spending on home construction and commercial projects both fell.

Overall construction spending increased 0.8 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $908.4 billion, the Labor Department said Monday. That’s up from September, when spending fell 0.3 percent.

The October pace was the best since May 2009 and was driven by a 3.9 percent surge in public spending. Federal spending increased 10.9 percent, suggesting the 16-day partial government shutdown had little impact on public projects.

Spending on state and local government construction also rose. One troubling sign: Home construction fell 0.6 percent in October from September, dragged lower by a drop in single-family homes.

But spending on home construction has surged 17.8 percent in the past 12 months, the fastest year-over-year pace since the peak of the 2008 financial crisis. And a recent jump in permits to build apartments indicates that will continue.

Deutsche Bank chief U.S. economist Joseph Lavorgna said that spending on single-family houses should rebound given plans by homebuilders to ramp up construction.

“The recent dip should reverse course given the ongoing improvement in permits for new construction,” Lavorgna said in a client note.

Nonresidential spending fell 0.5 percent in October from September, lowered by declines in the building of private power plants, communication facilities and amusement parks and recreation centers. Construction of office buildings, hotels and private schools all increased.

The decline in home construction in October may prove temporary. Permits issued to build apartments increased in October at their fastest pace in more than five years.

But permits for single-family home construction rose only slightly and were at the same pace as in May.

MATA Makes Changes To Whitehaven Flyer Route

The Memphis Area Transit Authority has stopped calling the Downtown-Whitehaven express bus service it launched in September the “Whitehaven Flyer.”

In a set of route changes that began Sunday, Dec. 1, the transit authority has added more stops for the express bus route now known as 46-Whitehaven. As an express route, the bus took half an hour to travel between Downtown and Whitehaven, making minimal stops. It will now make all stops on the route, which remains mostly north and south on Bellevue and Elvis Presley boulevards.

The revised route will also serve the Benjamin L. Hooks Job Corps Center, 1555 McAlister Drive. The facility is a federally run education and technical training center for teenagers and young adults.

The center had previously been served with morning and afternoon drive trips on the 42-Crosstown route.

The Crosstown route was the other major change the transit authority announced in September, combining several previously separate routes into the Crosstown service. The consolidation has created fuller buses.

As of Dec. 1, the scheduled times for 42 Crosstown have been adjusted to add four minutes to the run time of each trip.

The two changes are part of a set of changes to 11 routes that the transit authority estimates will add $100,000 to the system’s annual operating cost. MATA leaders plan to make it up by the end of the fiscal year on June 30 with “other cost-saving measures.”

Dewald Honored By Brokerage Industry Group

The National Association of Independent Life Brokerage Agencies has presented Jack Dewald, president of Agency Services Inc. in Memphis, with its 2013 Douglas Mooers Award for Excellence.

The annual award honors distinction in brokerage and is given to a person deemed most committed to furthering independent life brokerage as a distribution system, and who demonstrates an exemplary record of community service.

Dewald has been in the life insurance industry for more than 30 years and has served in a variety of volunteer leadership positions, including a year in service as the chairman of the national association.

2014 County Candidates Continue to Surface

Former Shelby County Schools board member Patrice Robinson has pulled a qualifying petition to run for the Shelby County Commission in the May Democratic county primaries.

Robinson is seeking the District 9 seat in an election that will mark the start of a new structure for the commission as it moves to single-member districts.

Robinson informally announced this summer her intention to seek the commission seat.

Also picking up qualifying petitions before the Thanksgiving holiday were Cynthia Gentry, who has a petition out for Juvenile Court clerk in the May Democratic primary.

Republican incumbent clerk Joy Touliatos checked out her qualifying petition on Nov. 22, the first day prospective candidates could get the paperwork for 2014.

And Ernie Lunati, a perennial candidate in past elections, checked out a qualifying petition in the Republican primary for Shelby County mayor.

Republican incumbent Mayor Mark Luttrell is expected to seek re-election in 2014.

Potential candidates have until Feb. 20 to file their qualifying petitions for a place on the ballot.

Durable-Goods Orders Fall 2 Percent in October

Businesses spent less last month on machinery, computers and most other items, lowering orders for U.S. long-lasting factory goods. The decline suggests companies may have been reluctant to invest during the 16-day partial government shutdown

The Commerce Department said last week that orders for durable goods dropped 2 percent in October from September. That follows a 4.1 percent increase in September from August.

Durable goods are meant to last at least three years.

Demand for commercial aircraft plunged nearly 16 percent last month, accounting for much of the decline. But orders also fell 1.2 percent in a closely watched category, known as core capital goods, which excludes volatile transportation and defense orders. That was the second straight drop.

Economists pay closer attention to core capital goods because those orders can reflect businesses’ confidence in the economy.

Many companies may have held off placing orders in October, awaiting the outcome of a budget impasse that shut down parts of the federal government.

However, the report conflicts with a private sector survey released earlier this month that showed companies shrugged off the shutdown and boosted orders.

The Institute for Supply Management, a trade group, said factory activity accelerated for the fifth straight month in October to the fastest pace in 2 1/2 years. The survey’s measure of new orders ticked up and production remained strong, though it slowed from the previous month.

Other reports have suggested that manufacturing has picked up since the spring. Strong auto sales and a healthier housing market have pushed up demand for steel and other metals, auto parts, furniture and appliances.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751