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VOL. 6 | NO. 14 | Saturday, March 30, 2013

Daily Digest

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Morgan Keegan Fund Directors Settle With SEC

A group of former Morgan Keegan & Co. mutual fund directors are reportedly settling claims filed against them by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in 2010.

The SEC made the settlement public in an administrative order Wednesday, March 27, according to press reports. Terms were not disclosed.

The Memphis-based funds, according to regulators, had been invested in some securities backed by subprime mortgages and “fraudulently overstated the value of their securities” as the housing market was collapsing in 2007.

The SEC and other state regulators previously charged the funds’ managers with fraud, and Morgan Keegan – which later was sold to Raymond James Financial Inc. – agreed to pay $200 million to settle.

Fred's Profit Down as Costs Rise, Shoppers Wary

Discount store operator Fred’s Inc. said Thursday that its fourth-quarter net income fell 33 percent due to some higher costs and cautious consumer spending.

The Memphis-based company’s forecast for this year also fell below analyst expectations.

Fred’s pharmacy division is performing well, but its general merchandise unit is weaker, said Fred’s CEO Bruce Efird. The company is starting a three-year turnaround plan aimed at improving the profitability of its general merchandise segment.

Net income for the three months ended Feb. 2 fell to $6.6 million, or 18 cents per share. That compares with $9.8 million, or 26 cents per share, the year before. Analysts expected 20 cents per share, according to FactSet.

Revenue rose 7 percent, to $533.4 million from $497.6 million. Analysts expected $537.4 million. Revenue in stores open at least one year rose 4.8 percent. The measure is a key gauge of a retailer’s financial health because it excludes stores that open or close during the year.

Operating costs were higher than the company expected.

For the year, profit fell 11 percent to $29.6 million, or 81 cents per share. Revenue rose 4 percent to $1.96 billion.

Looking forward, Fred’s predicted earnings of 77 cents to 88 cents per share in 2013. Analysts expect 95 cents per share.

The company’s predictions for the current quarter also fell short, as bad weather in March hurt sales of seasonal items. Fred’s expects profit of 26 cents to 30 cents per share, with revenue in a range of down 1 percent to up 1 percent, which implies sales of $493 million to $503 million in the period through April.

Analysts expect profit of 30 cents per share on revenue of $511.3 million.

Agricenter Breaks Ground on Two New Projects

Bayer CropScience and Helena Chemical Co. have committed to separate investments at Agricenter International totaling nearly $20 million.

Executives from the two companies will be at the East Memphis center Monday, April 1, with Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to break ground on the research laboratory and greenhouse facilities.

Bayer CropScience will build a $17 million greenhouse, including 40,000 square feet of greenhouse space plus open office space. All are part of Bayer’s research and development of cottonseed and cotton.

Helena Chemical has had a presence at Agricenter for 20 years. Its latest addition will be a $2.2 million new research formulation laboratory as well as some improvements to existing facilities at Agricenter.

Society of Entrepreneurs Inducts New Members

In a ceremony next month at the University of Memphis-Holiday Inn, the Society of Entrepreneurs will induct five new members.

The April 13 event will see added to the society Duncan Williams, president of investment firm Duncan-Williams Inc.; Neely Mallory Jr., chairman of logistics business The Mallory Group; David Andrews, CEO and owner of City Enterprises LLC, the parent company of several auto-related businesses; William Courtney, CEO of Classic American Hardwoods; and Dick Leike, a co-founder of Crye-Leike Realtors.

The society was founded in 1991 to foster the development of the entrepreneurial spirit locally and to recognize entrepreneurs in the community. Membership is comprised of Memphis-area business owners, presidents and other key executives, and members are chosen annually by their peers.

Visible Music College Opens Atrium Downtown

At Visible Music College next week, the Deborah Welsh Parrott Visible Community Atrium will open with a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The event on April 3 will showcase the recently redesigned atrium on the ground floor of Visible’s Madison Avenue campus. It will be an outdoor area for students to meet and socialize as well as a venue for the community to enjoy.

A small stage designed for open-air concerts will be available, and the space also will be available to rent for events.

The ribbon cutting happens April 3 at 4 p.m. in the atrium at 200 Madison Ave.

Bill Would Let Cities Form Own School Systems

Legislation that would allow cities to form their own school systems is advancing in the Senate.

The measure sponsored by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

The proposal would lift a 1998 ban that forbids municipalities from starting their own school systems.

The measure would benefit six Memphis suburbs seeking to bypass a merger of the Shelby County and Memphis school districts and run their own schools.

The suburbs voted in August to create their own districts after the Legislature passed a narrowly crafted bill that allowed it.

Shelby County officials argued in court that the law violated the Tennessee Constitution because it applied to only one county. A federal judge agreed and struck it down.

Chism Joins BankTennessee as Mortgage Loan Specialist

George Chism Sr. is a newly appointed mortgage loan specialist at BankTennessee.

Chism, who has been with the bank since February 2012, had been a commercial loan officer. During his tenure in the banking industry, Chism has worked at Magna Bank, Wells Fargo and Germantown Home Mortgage.

Collierville-based BankTennessee has seven retail banking offices located in Collierville, East Memphis, Downtown, Germantown, Ripley and Lebanon. The bank also has a loan production office in Atoka.

U of M Raises Awareness of Habitat for Humanity

The University of Memphis Habitat for Humanity Chapter and Students Advocating Service are hosting a series of events to educate the public about Habitat for Humanity’s mission and to encourage people to get involved.

Act! Speak! Build! Week is an annual, weeklong series of youth-led advocacy events that raise awareness on eradicating poverty and access to housing.

The opening ceremony will be held on April 1, and events run through April 5. All events will be held on the University of Memphis campus.

Senate Bill Cuts Lawmaker Allowances

The Senate has passed a bill to eliminate hotel allowances for lawmakers who live within 50 miles of the state Capitol.

The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Ferrell Haile of Gallatin was approved on a 28-2 vote on Thursday.

The measure would eliminate the $107-per-night hotel payment for Nashville-area legislators, though it would provide for daily mileage allowances instead of weekly ones.

The legislation would continue to provide a $66 daily meals allowance for all lawmakers.

The House approved its version on a 71-15 vote earlier this month, but would have to approve a technical change made by the Senate before the measure could head for the governor’s signature.

Annual savings are projected at more than $250,000.

Rate on 30-Year Mortgage Ticks up to 3.57 Percent

Average U.S. rates on fixed mortgages edged up this week but remained near historic lows. Low rates have helped drive the housing market’s steady recovery.

Mortgage buyer Freddie Mac said Thursday that the average rate for the 30-year fixed loan rose to 3.57 percent from 3.54 percent last week. That’s near the 3.31 percent reached in November, which was the lowest on records dating to 1971.

The average rate on the 15-year fixed mortgage increased last week to 2.76 percent from 2.72 percent last week. The record low of 2.63 percent was also reached in November.

To calculate average mortgage rates, Freddie Mac surveys lenders across the country on Monday through Wednesday each week. The average doesn’t include extra fees, known as points, which most borrowers must pay to get the lowest rates. One point equals 1 percent of the loan amount.

The average fee for 30-year mortgages was unchanged at 0.8 point. The fee for 15-year loans also was steady, at 0.7 point.

The average rate on a one-year adjustable-rate mortgage slipped to 2.62 percent from 2.63 percent last week. The fee for one-year adjustable-rate loans edged down to 0.3 from 0.4 point.

The average rate on a five-year adjustable-rate mortgage rose to 2.68 percent from 2.61 percent. The fee held at 0.6 point.

Herbi-Systems Adds Irrigation Service

Herbi-Systems Inc., the largest privately owned lawn care company in the Memphis area, is adding irrigation maintenance and repair service for residential and small commercial business clients.

According to Herbi-Systems owner and president Kenny Crenshaw, the new service is something customers need for the overall health of their lawns. Herbi-Systems will use existing staff to manage the new service, which includes obtaining proper state certification each year to monitor backflow prevention, as well as repairing and replacing sprinkler heads and controllers, and installing rain and moisture sensors to conserve water for residential and commercial lawns with sprinkler systems.

Locally owned since 1984, Bartlett-based Herbi-Systems has 32 employees and serves nearly 8,000 clients in the Memphis area, representing homeowners as well as industrial, governmental and commercial industries.

Cooper-Young Auction Celebrates Arts

The Cooper-Young Community Association’s annual auction will showcase the work of local artists and benefit the Cooper-Young community.

The Art for Art’s Sake Auction, which is set for 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on April 13 at the Young Avenue Deli, will raise money to install solar panels to power the Cooper-Young Trestle Art Gateway. Already, the association has replaced the standard light bulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs. Designed in 2000 by artist Jill Turman, The Cooper-Young Trestle Art Gateway welcomes visitors at the community’s entrance on Cooper Street.

“We’re proud of the community association because they are pioneers when it comes to doing things like this,” said Tamara Cook, executive director of the Cooper-Young Business Association. “The trestle art, when they put that on old ugly train trestle, that was huge news.”

An artist reception will be held at Otherland’s Coffee Bar on Thursday, March 28, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Many of the pieces of artwork that will be sold at the auction will be available for advance viewing by the public. The artists will be available to discuss their work and meet guests.

Easter Travelers Won’t Face Road Work

Tennessee transportation officials are shutting down highway construction for the Easter weekend.

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has told contractors and its own crews to knock off work no later than 6 p.m. Thursday, in anticipation of increased holiday travel.

Transportation Commissioner John Schroer encouraged travelers to download the department’s SmartWay Mobile App to get current traffic information as they travel. It’s available at the Apple App Store or the Google Play Store for Android devices.

Travel information is also online at http://www.tn.gov/tdot/tdotsmartway.

Long-term lane restrictions will remain in place and lower speed limits in construction zones still apply. There will be no temporary lane restrictions, however.

Construction will resume at 6 a.m. April 1.

Signed Contracts to Buy US Homes Dips Slightly

Fewer Americans signed contracts to buy homes in February, but the level stayed close to a nearly three-year high. The report suggests sales of previously occupied homes will keep rising in the coming months.

The National Association of Realtors said Wednesday that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales dipped to 104.8 in February.

That’s down from January’s reading of 105.2 – the highest since April 2010, when a homebuyer’s tax credit was boosting sales.

Signed contracts are 8.4 percent higher than a year ago.

There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale.

In February, completed sales of previously occupied homes rose to a seasonally adjusted pace of 4.98 million, the fastest in more than three years.

The gains in both signed contracts and completed sales point to a housing recovery that is strengthening, although re-sales remain below the 5.5 million that are consistent with healthy markets.

Pending home sales rose 0.4 percent in the Midwest and 0.1 percent in the West last month. They fell 2.5 percent in the Northeast and 0.3 percent in the South.

Transplant Foundation Tops for Organ Donations

The Mid-South Transplant Foundation has been ranked No. 1 in the nation for the number of organs transplanted per healthy donors by the United Network for Organ Sharing.

The results were released in the organization’s most recent quarterly report. The Mid-South Transplant Foundation serves Western Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and Northern Mississippi.

“We contribute our success to our staff’s excellent management and care of potential donors and to the assistance from hospital staff in helping us ensure that we are able to recover as many organs as possible from each donor,” said Kim Van Frank, executive director of the Mid-South Transplant Foundation.

The quarterly report also ranked the Mid-South Transplant Foundation as the No. 1 organ procurement organization in the U.S. for the percentage of African-American donors in 2012.

Law School Graduation to Feature Kennedy Jr.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the son of the late presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, will be the graduation speaker for the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law Class of 2013 graduation on May 12.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts. Local investment firm Duncan-Williams Inc sponsors it.

Kennedy is a professor of environmental law at Pace University School of Law and serves as co-director of the school’s Environmental Litigation Clinic.

Among his other accomplishments, he serves as senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is president-at-large of the Waterkeeper Alliance, is a partner on the CleanTech investment team of Silicon Valley’s VantagePoint Capital Ventures, is the environmental adviser to Napo Pharmaceuticals, and serves on the board of directors for Westinghouse Solar.

Open Meetings Law Bill Withdrawn in State House

A Republican lawmaker who last year backed off a bill that would have allowed local officials to hold more closed-door meetings has withdrawn a similar measure this session.

Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin withdrew the legislation in the House State Government Subcommittee on Tuesday.

His proposal last year sought to allow local government officials to meet privately as long as a quorum isn’t present.

He eventually withdrew the measure following concerns from the governor and Senate and House speakers, all Republicans. Casada has been trying to work with county commissioners to craft legislation that might pass the subcommittee.

Senate Adds Sunday Sales to Supermarket Wine Bill

Tennessee liquor stores would be allowed to be open for business on Sundays under changes to a supermarket wine bill adopted by the Senate Finance Committee.

The panel voted Tuesday to make several changes to the measure seeking to allow cities and governments to hold referendums on whether to permit supermarkets and convenience stores to sell wine. The liquor store amendment was approved on a 6-5 vote.

Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro, the main sponsor of the bill, also supported a change to link supermarket wine sales to the hours they are currently allowed to sell beer.

The panel delayed a final vote on the bill for a week so members could have time to digest the changes.

The companion bill has failed in a House committee.

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