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VOL. 6 | NO. 49 | Saturday, November 30, 2013

Daily Digest

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Civil Rights Museum President Retiring

National Civil Rights Museum President Beverly Robertson says she is retiring in July.

Robertson said in a news release Tuesday she’s retiring because she has seen the Memphis museum through the major goals she had set during her 16-year tenure.

She said those goals include an expansion that brought the museum to international prominence, dramatic changes to the museum’s demographics and the Freedom Award program that brought human rights leader Nelson Mandela to Memphis.

The museum is undergoing a $27 million renovation and a $40 million capital and endowment fundraising campaign.

Board Chairman Herbert Hilliard says a national search for a successor will be conducted.

Real Estate Trends in Focus at ULI Seminar

Local and national real estate experts will gather Dec. 10 to discuss real estate trends and forecast what awaits the industry in 2014.

ULI Memphis, the local district council of the Urban Land Institute, is hosting its annual Mid-South Real Estate Outlook, featuring the Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2014 report and a panel discussion on the outlook for Memphis-area real estate.

The event will include presentations from Dean Schwanke, the Urban Land Institute’s senior vice president and executive director of the newly formed ULI Center for Capital Markets and Real Estate. John Gnuschke, director of the Sparks Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Memphis, will also speak.

A panel discussion focusing on the office, industrial, retail and multifamily sectors will follow the presentations.

The event is sponsored by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz PC and is open to the public. Admission is $65. The meeting will be held at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation auditorium, 20 S. Dudley St., and begins with a continental breakfast at 8 a.m. For more information, visit memphis.uli.org.

Belz CEO to Receive Honorary Degree

At Yeshiva University’s 89th annual Hanukkah Convocation and Dinner Dec. 8 in New York City, university president Richard Joel will confer honorary degrees upon attendees who include Jack Belz, chairman and CEO of Belz Enterprises in Memphis.

The annual event draws nearly 1,000 of the country’s leading Jewish philanthropists and community leaders.

Belz is a benefactor and trustee of Yeshiva University. He graduated from Central High School in Memphis and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His company has developed and operates a portfolio of more than 25 million square feet of commercial and residential real estate in several states.

Fox Meadows Nuisance Petition Dismissed

The Knight Arnold Food and Fuel gas station and convenience store is no longer under a nuisance petition in General Sessions Environmental Court.

Environmental Court Judge Larry Potter dismissed the petition Monday, Nov. 25, against Sohail Hemani, the owner, after he said Hemani had taken steps including adding surveillance cameras and guards to discourage gang activity and drug sales on his property at Knight Arnold and Mendenhall.

Potter also said the court will continue to monitor the business, which was allowed to reopen in October. The monitoring continues under terms of a memorandum of understanding.

Neighbors of the business were vocal in their complaints about the open drug sales and gang activity in the store’s parking lot, and some were upset when the business was allowed to reopen.

US Home Prices Rose More Slowly in September

U.S. home prices rose more slowly in September than in August, a sign that weaker sales are preventing the kinds of sharp price gains that occurred earlier this year.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index rose 0.7 percent from August to September, down from a 1.3 percent gain from July to August. That figure isn’t adjusted for seasonal variations, so the change reflects, in part, slower buying in late summer and fall.

Still, other recent reports show that previous gains in home prices, higher mortgage rates and the partial government shutdown last month have weighed on the housing market. Home resales and signed contracts to buy homes both fell in October.

“Other data suggest a market beginning to shift to slower growth rather than one about to accelerate,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the S&P Dow Jones index committee.

The Case-Shiller index covers roughly half of U.S. homes. It measures prices compared with those in January 2000 and creates a three-month moving average. The September figures are the latest available.

Monthly price gains slowed in 19 of the 20 cities tracked by Case-Shiller index. Prices rose 1.3 percent in Las Vegas compared with a 2.9 percent month-to-month gain in August. Home prices rose just 0.2 percent in Tampa, Fla., after a 1.8 percent gain in August.

Charlotte, N.C., was the only city where prices declined from August to September.

Year-over-year, prices jumped 13.3 percent from September 2012, the fastest such gain since February 2006. Those gains may be putting some homes out of reach for many buyers. Mortgage rates have also risen since the spring, though they remain low by historical standards.

Consumer Confidence Falls to 7-Month Low

U.S. consumers’ confidence in the economy fell in November to the lowest level in seven months, dragged down by greater concerns about hiring and pay in the coming months.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its index of consumer confidence dropped to 70.4 from 72.4 in October. The October reading was higher than initially reported, but still well below the 80.2 reading in September.

November’s drop comes after the 16-day partial government shutdown caused confidence to plunge in October. The declines in both months were driven by falling expectations for hiring and the economy over the next six months.

Some economists also attributed the weakening confidence to Americans’ frustrations and worries about the implementation of the Obama administration’s health care reform.

“Disgust with politicians and government policy is what’s holding back expectations,” said Ted Wieseman, an economist at Morgan Stanley.

Less optimism among Americans could slow the holiday shopping season and weigh on economic growth. Consumer spending drives 70 percent of economic activity.

But spending patterns don’t always closely follow measures of confidence. Americans sometimes shop more even when they say they are less optimistic.

That’s what happened last month. Despite a sharp fall in confidence in October, consumers spent 0.4 percent more at retail stores and restaurants than in September.

Strong auto sales accounted for about half the gain. Restaurants also reported a healthy increase in spending. Americans also spent more on furniture, electronics and clothing. There were some signs of caution: Sales at grocery stores were flat and department stores reported only slightly higher sales.

Raymond James Donating $430,000 in Memphis

Raymond James Financial Inc. will distribute more than $430,000 in Memphis as part of the company’s distribution of $4.3 million around the country through its annual United Way giving campaign.

In Memphis, the funding will go toward 89 partner agencies and impact the lives of more than 300,000 people, the company said.

Companywide this year, Raymond James associate pledges totaled $2.4 million, surpassing the firm’s fundraising goal of $2.25 million, and the firm contributed an additional $1.9 million through a dollar-for-dollar match for eligible associates.

Commission Races Generate Early Interest

The first two days of the period for candidates in the 2014 county elections to pull qualifying petitions has been dominated by incumbents and contenders for the newly configured district seats on the Shelby County Commission.

The latest additions to the list of declared candidates for Shelby County Commission include Alvin Croo, who pulled a petition for commission District 12. Attorney Van Turner already has a petition out for that position.

Ron Fittes picked up a petition Monday, Nov. 25, for District 4 on the commission. George Chism pulled a petition for District 2, the same race for which David C. Bradford Jr. picked up a petition Friday.

The three new petitions bring to six the number of possible contenders for four of the seats on the 13-member legislative body.

In countywide races, three petitions were pulled Friday, opening day of the qualifying petition period, all by Republican incumbents – Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos, Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd and County Clerk Wayne Mashburn.

Regalia to Host ‘Festive Night Out’

Regalia Shopping Center at Poplar Avenue and Ridgeway Road is hosting A Festive Night Out on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Shoppers can take advantage of extended holiday shopping hours and enjoy caroling by DeltaCappella, complimentary refreshments, a wine tasting at Great Wines & Spirits and a drawing for a $250 gift certificate to use at any of Regalia’s shops and restaurants. In addition, Santa will be strolling throughout the center, handing out candy.

As part of the event, each of the shops and restaurants at Regalia, which is owned and managed by Memphis-based Boyle Investment Co., will stay open late and have a special sale, promotion or in-store drawing.

For more information, visit regaliacenter.com.

Haslam Wraps Hearings With Transportation Dept.

The Tennessee Transportation Department commissioner said Monday that the state won’t be able to start any new highway projects if it loses federal funding next year.

Gov. Bill Haslam wrapped up his annual budget hearings with the department at the state Capitol.

Commissioner John Schroer told Haslam that money from a measure President Barack Obama signed in 2012 to extend federal highway and transit funding will end on Oct. 1, 2014. If Congress doesn’t extend it, then that would mean a loss of more than a billion dollars for Tennessee.

“We don’t know we’re going to lose it,” Schroer said. “They could come and pass a new authorization ... and funding could be in place. But there’s a possibility that won’t happen, and so I thought the governor needed to be aware of that.”

Schroer said the state would likely be able to maintain current construction projects, but not take on new ones.

When asked by a reporter after the hearing if the state should consider ways to increase revenue in case of the loss, the commissioner said such discussion is premature, despite sluggish revenue reports for the state.

The state’s annual transportation budget is about $1.8 billion. The state makes up about 44 percent of that funding, largely from fuel taxes.

The governor has asked all departments to present potential spending cuts because of the state’s sluggish economic performance.

Banks Earn $36 Billion in Third Quarter

U.S. banks earned less in the July-September quarter than they did a year earlier, marking the first year-over-year decline in earnings since the spring of 2009, when the country was still mired in the Great Recession.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. says the banking industry earned $36 billion in the third quarter, down $1.5 billion, or 3.9 percent, from the third quarter of 2012.

The FDIC says the year-over-year earnings decline came primarily from a $4 billion increase in litigation expenses at a single institution. The FDIC did not name the institution.

Lower revenue from reduced mortgage activity and lower gains from asset sales also contributed to the reduction in earnings.

Half of the nation’s 6,891 insured banking institutions had year-over-year growth in earnings while half reported declines.

Tennessee Driving Records Now Available Online

State officials are giving Tennessee residents an online option to access driving records.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security announced this week that it has launched an online service at www.tn.gov/safety that allows people to download or print copies of their official driving records.

Officials hope the online option will reduce the wait time at driver services centers.

A $2 convenience fee will be assessed to each online transaction, in addition to the $5 state fee set by the Tennessee General Assembly for a copy of a driver record.

UPS, Monogram Foods Set to Expand Locally

Two companies with major local operations have won tax freezes for proposed expansions.

The board of the Economic Development Growth Engine of Memphis and Shelby County has approved payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements for United Parcel Service and Memphis-based Monogram Foods. The two expansions are expected to add 40 new jobs between them.

UPS was awarded an 11-year PILOT for its plan to invest around $80 million to expand its existing facility at Memphis International Airport by 140,000 square feet. The expansion, which EDGE said would bring in $1.62 in new taxes for every $1 abated, is expected to create 15 new jobs.

Monogram Foods was awarded an eight-year PILOT for its plan to move to a new headquarters at 530 Oak Court Drive in East Memphis.

The $2.1 million project, which EDGE said would produce $1.98 in new tax revenue for every $1 abated, is expected to create 25 new jobs.

Orpheum’s Latest Auction Most Successful Yet

The Orpheum Theatre’s 35th Annual Auction this month was the theater’s most successful auction in the history of the event.

According to The Orpheum, the fundraiser brought in more than $330,000 through auctions, sponsorships and ticket sales, and an additional $72,600 through a raffle.

All proceeds benefit the Orpheum’s new Centre for Performing Arts, scheduled to break ground in early 2014.

The $14.5 million facility will offer advanced performing arts education programs.

6 Candidates Pull Qualifying Petitions on Opening Day

Three Republican incumbents and three Shelby County Commission hopefuls were the first six candidates to pull petitions on the opening day of the candidate filing season for the 2014 county elections.

The incumbents with petitions out on opening day were Probate Court Clerk Paul Boyd, Shelby County Clerk Wayne Mashburn and Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos.

Shelby County Commission candidates pulling petitions were Colonel Gene Billingsley in District 7, David C. Bradford in District 2 and Van Turner in District 12. The county commission’s district structure changes for the 2014 county elections to 13 single-member districts. The commission is currently a body of 13 with five districts: one single-member district and four districts with three commissioners each.

The deadline for candidates to file their petitions for the county ballot is Feb. 20. Election day for the county primaries is May 6, with the county general election on Aug. 7.

Contracts for US Homes Fall for Fifth Month

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes fell in October for the fifth straight month. Higher mortgage rates, price increases and the 16-day government shutdown held back sales.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index dipped 0.6 percent to 102.1. That’s the lowest level since December. September’s reading was revised slightly higher to 102.7.

There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale. The drop suggests final sales will remain weak in the coming months.

The Realtors’ group said the shutdown prevented the IRS from verifying incomes, a critical part of the mortgage-approval process. The group said that 17 percent of Realtors reported delays.

Sales may rebound a bit in November as purchases delayed by the shutdown are completed. But sales are not expected to pick up much after that.

“The recovery in home sales has clearly at least stalled,” said Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist with High Frequency Economics, a forecasting firm. “With other data showing the recovery in the labor market still on track, and confidence moving up again, we expect home sales to start trending up again in coming months.”

A limited supply of homes has pushed up prices in the past year. Prices of existing homes jumped 12 percent in September from the previous year, according to real estate data provider CoreLogic.

Signed contracts fell sharply in the West, where investors have snapped up foreclosed homes and bid up prices in the past year. Signed contracts also slipped in the South, another area hit hard during the crisis. But contracts rose last month in the Northeast and Midwest.

Mortgage rates have eased but remain nearly a point higher than they were in the spring. The average rate on a 30-year mortgage fell to 4.22 percent last week from 4.35 percent the week before. That’s down from a peak in August of nearly 4.6 percent and still low by historical standards.

Marston Group Adds Courtenay to Practice

The Marston Group PLC, a Memphis certified public accounting and financial consulting firm, has added Terry Courtenay as a member of the firm’s practice.

Courtenay, a certified public accountant, has experience providing tax and advisory services to predominantly family-held businesses, and he’s worked with a variety of businesses, including in the fields of real estate and agriculture.

The Marston Group was founded in 1985.

Multiple Sclerosis Society Adds Trustees

The Mid-South Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has added 10 people from the Memphis area to its board of trustees.

They are Andrew Forsdick, owner of Addison Capital Advisors; Kerry Hayes, director of public relations for Doug Carpenter & Associates LLC; Terry Lawrence, project manager at AutoZone Inc.; Ginger Leeke, esthetician with Eden Spa; Alan Lindgren, owner of Speed of Sound LLC; Karen Malogroski, owner of Bikes Plus; Tracy Pearson, vice president and general manager, food service, International Paper Co.; Michelle Rappaport-Moore, psychotherapist with The Experiential Healing Center; Dr. N. Shah, pediatric neurologist with Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital; and Suzanne Williamson, vice president of market, Boscos Corp./Roma Pomodori Inc.

Diamond Rio to Receive Liberty Bowl Award

Country music group Diamond Rio is being honored at the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Classic game and will perform at the halftime of this year’s matchup in Memphis.

The group will receive an outstanding achievement award, which is presented each year in recognition of excellence in the field of music and entertainment. The group will perform at a gala function the night before the game and then again at halftime on New Year’s Eve.

Previous recipients of the award include Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Little Richard, Alabama, The Beach Boys, Clint Black and more.

The Grammy award-winning group has sold more than 10 million records and been selected as the Country Music Association’s Vocal Group of the Year four times.

Lawmakers Urge Bidding for Gates in Airline Merger

Four key members of Congress say that all airlines – not just low-fare carriers – should be able to bid on gates and landing rights that American Airlines and US Airways will give up after their merger.

The leaders of the House and Senate transportation committees say they’re worried that unless the big airlines can bid, service between Washington and some smaller cities may be lost.

The U.S. Justice Department settled a lawsuit against the merger earlier this month after American and US Airways agreed to give up gates and landing rights at several big airports, notably Washington’s Reagan National Airport.

On Friday, top Democrats and Republicans on the transportation committees released a letter that they sent to Attorney General Eric Holder protesting terms of that settlement.

US Job Openings, Hiring Reach 5-Year Highs

U.S. job openings and overall hiring both reached five-year highs in September, signaling steady improvement in the job market.

Job postings rose 69,000 to a seasonally adjusted 3.9 million, the Labor Department said Friday. That’s the most since March 2008, just a few months after the Great Recession began. It’s also close to the roughly 4 million job openings each month that are consistent with healthier job markets.

Total hiring increased 26,000 to 4.6 million, the highest level since August 2008. The gain suggests employers are not only posting more jobs but are also taking greater steps to fill them.

September’s total hiring is still below the roughly 5 million people who are typically hired in sturdier job markets.

The number of people who quit their jobs in September dipped from August but was still about 15 percent higher than a year earlier. People usually quit their jobs when they have another one lined up, or when they are certain they can find one. More quits is a sign of confidence in the job market.

The growth in hiring, job openings and quits points to more movement in the job market, which can create opportunities for those out of work or who are looking for another job.

It also shows that competition for jobs is easing. There were 2.88 unemployed people, on average, for each available job in September. That’s the lowest since August 2008 and down from 7 to 1 in July 2009, just after the recession ended. In a healthy economy, the ratio is usually about 2 to 1.

Unemployment is still high at 7.3 percent. But other reports suggest the job market is healing.

Mississippi Jobless Rate Holds Steady

Mississippi’s unemployment rate held at 8.5 percent in October, according to figures released Friday by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The jobless rate in August and September also was 8.5 percent. The unemployment rate was 9.1 percent in October 2012.

The labor force declined by more than 7,000 people between September and October. Mississippi’s labor force has fallen every month in 2013.

Mississippi had 109,000 unemployed people in October, down 1,000 from September and also down from 121,000 in October 2012.

The national unemployment rate was little changed from September at 7.3 percent and was 0.6 percentage point lower than in October 2012.

New Wiggle Room for Health Plan Sign-Ups

The Obama administration says people will have another eight days this year to sign up for insurance under the health care law and still get coverage by Jan. 1

The extra wiggle room announced Friday is important because it could prevent people from having a break in coverage on account of the government’s balky enrollment website. That’s critical for those losing current individual policies that don’t measure up under the law, and also for high-risk patients in a small federal insurance program that ends Jan. 1. Under the change people will have until Dec. 23 to enroll and still be covered the first year.

PROPERTY SALES 64 87 1,429
MORTGAGES 39 60 1,107