Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Some push Fed for stimulus

WASHINGTON — Some Federal Reserve officials pushed in August for a more aggressive response to the economy’s slowdown. They settled for a plan to keep rates near zero for another two years and won agreement to discuss more options at an extended meeting in September.

Minutes of the Aug. 9 policy meeting released Tuesday show that Fed officials discussed a range of actions, including another round of Treasury bond purchases. Some Fed officials said a weaker economy called for such a step.

Fed officials in the end said they planned to keep rates low until at least mid-2013, assuming the economy remained weak. They also added a second day to their September meeting. That raised speculation that the Fed would announce some further action after that meeting.

Three Fed members opposed any steps for fear they could ignite inflation. The 7-3 vote after the meeting marked the first time in nearly 20 years that at least three members dissented from a Fed statement.

Stocks rose modestly after the minutes were released. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 20 points for the day. Broader indexes also gained.

The minutes show Fed officials discussed the two-year plan to keep interest rates near zero, a third round of bond purchases, and shifting the mix of the Fed’s holdings into long-term Treasury securities. Some members also raised the idea of tying record-low interest rates to a level of unemployment or inflation, instead of the set time period.

The bond purchases are intended to keep long-term rates low and aid the economy. The second round of bond purchases, announced last year, sparked a 28 percent rally in the Dow through April 29.

Charles Evans, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said Tuesday that he was one of the Fed officials who favored more aggressive policy actions. He was also one of the seven officials who supported the two-year plan for keeping rates near zero.

“Strong accommodation needs to be in place for a substantial period of time,” Evans said.

Analysts have speculated that such a high level of dissent makes it harder for Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke to rally support for more action. Others say the August vote shows Bernanke is willing to press forward, even with a divided board.

And at least one of the dissenters may be softening his opposition. Narayana Kocherlakota, president of Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, said Tuesday that he would not seek to overturn the August decision at future meetings. He said such a move would undercut the Fed’s ability to take similar actions in the future.

Investors had hoped Bernanke would provide details of the Fed’s next moves during a highly anticipated speech in Jackson Hole, Wyo. But Bernanke offered no new steps.

He did say the central bank would extend its September meeting to two days to allow for a fuller discussion. On Tuesday, the minutes show that the board had pushed for the longer meeting.

A turbulent summer has fueled fears that the U.S. is on the verge of another recession. The economy grew at an annual rate of just 0.7 percent in the first six months of this year, the weakest performance since the recession ended two years ago.

A key question is whether consumers and business owners will continue to pull back on spending this fall.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Gold's drop could chip at its safe-haven image

NEW YORK — Maybe gold isn’t so safe after all.

After months of setting record after record, the price of gold plunged $104, or 5.6 percent, Wednesday to finish at $1,757 per ounce. That was the biggest percentage drop in nearly 3 years and a blow to investors who thought the metal could go only one way — up.

“Gold was considered a safe haven for years because it wasn’t popular, but now it’s popular,” said Cetin Ciner, a professor of finance at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. “You can’t have a fad and a safe haven at the same time.”

The drop came on news that orders for long-lasting manufactured goods rose 4 percent in July, which was more than analysts had expected. Investors may also have been selling on news of new rules in China requiring traders to set aside more collateral when borrowing money to buy gold. After gold settled in the U.S. Wednesday, exchange operator CME Group announced it was raising its collateral requirements, too.

Gold a favorite

Considered a safe investment in times of turmoil, gold has become a favorite among investors worried about rising U.S. debt, the possibility of inflation and a spreading debt crisis in Europe. But many investors have simply been looking to profit from gold’s ever-rising price.

In October 2007, gold traded for about $740 an ounce. Two months later, the Great Recession started and gold began creeping up. This summer, the rise accelerated. Gold started July at $1,482.60 an ounce and on Monday hit a record $1,891.90 — a gain of 28 percent in less than two months.

Helping push the price higher lately have been big price swings in the stock market. Frightened investors have been shifting money into assets that seem less volatile, like Treasury bonds and gold.

But now the belief that gold can provide relief from the roller coaster of stocks may be tested.

The danger of investing in gold is that the metal has no intrinsic value. It doesn’t pay interest like a bond, or represent a share of a company like a stock. It is only worth what people believe it’s worth, and that means that prices can rise and fall based on emotion.

“People could start thinking gold is much more risky than thought,” said UNC professor Ciner, who thinks gold is in a “bubble.”

Monty Guild, chief investment officer of money manager Guild Investment Management, is still bullish, though he recently sold some of his gold holdings.

“It went up too far, too fast,” Guild said, before adding that he may buy again soon now that the price has dropped. “I think it could eventually go to $2,200.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ailing Jobs quits as CEO at Apple

SAN FRANCISCO — Steve Jobs, the mind behind the iPhone, iPad and other devices that turned Apple Inc. into one of the world’s most powerful companies, resigned as the company’s CEO on Wednesday, saying he can no longer handle the job.

The move appears to be the result of an unspecified medical condition for which he took an indefinite leave from his post in January. Apple’s chief operating officer, Tim Cook, has been named CEO.

In a letter addressed to Apple’s board and the “Apple community,” Jobs said he “always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs’ health has long been a concern for Apple investors who see him as an industry oracle who seems to know what consumers want long before they do. After his announcement, Apple stock quickly fell 5.4 percent in after-hours trading.

Earlier this month Apple became the most valuable company in America, briefly surpassing Exxon Mobil. At the market close Wednesday its market value was $349 billion, just behind Exxon Mobil’s $358 billion.

The company said Jobs gave the board his resignation on Wednesday and suggested Cook be named the company’s new leader. Apple said Jobs was elected board chairman and Cook is becoming a member of its board.

Jobs’ hits seemed to grow bigger as the years went on: After the colorful iMac computer and the now-ubiquitous iPod, the iPhone redefined the category of smartphones and the iPad all but created the market for tablet computers. His own aura seemed part of the attraction. Onstage at trade shows and company events in his uniform of jeans, sneakers and black mock-turtlenecks, he’d entrance audiences with new devices, new colors, new software features, building up to a grand finale he’d predictably preface by saying, “One more thing.”

An innovator

Jobs, 56, shepherded Apple from a two-man startup to Silicon Valley darling when the Apple II, the first computer for regular people to really catch on, sent IBM Corp. and others scrambling to get their own PCs to market.

After Apple suffered a slump in the mid-1980s, he was forced out of the company. He was CEO at Next, another computer company, and Pixar, the computer-animation company that produced Toy Story on Jobs’ watch, during the 10 years before he returned.

Apple was foundering before he returned, having lost $900 million in 1996 as Microsoft Windows-based PCs dominated the computer market. The company’s fortunes began to turn around with its first new product under his direction, the iMac, which launched in 1998 and sold about 2 million in its first 12 months.

Apple’s popularity grew in the U.S. throughout the 2000s as the ever-sleeker line of iPods introduced many lifelong Windows users to their first Apple gadget. Apple created another sensation in 2007 with the iPhone, the stark-looking but powerful smartphone that quickly dominated the industry.

The iPad was introduced less than a year and a half ago but has already sold nearly 29 million units.

Right-hand man

As Jobs was praised for his vision, concerns about his health persisted. The January leave was Jobs’ third medical leave over several years. He had previously survived pancreatic cancer and received a liver transplant.

Shannon Cross, an analyst at Cross Research, said Cook is a good choice to replace Jobs.

“He has taken over for Jobs twice in two medical leaves and the company has functioned extremely well,” she said, adding that Cook has been Jobs’ “right-hand guy” for many years.

Cross also said Jobs put in place a “culture of innovation” that will help Apple remain a creative force in the industry.

“Steve Jobs is an extremely strong leader and clearly has made Apple a leading consumer electronics company and one of the most innovative companies in the world,” she said. “However, he didn’t do it alone.”

Sunday, August 28, 2011

IBM test chips act more like brains

SAN FRANCISCO — Computers, like humans, can learn. But when Google tries to fill in your search box based only on a few keystrokes, or your iPhone predicts words as you type a text message, it’s only a narrow mimicry of what the human brain can do.

The challenge in training a computer to behave like a human brain is technological and physiological, testing the limits of computer and brain science. But researchers from IBM Corp. say they’ve made a key step toward combining the two worlds.

The company announced last week that it has built two prototype chips that it says process data more like how humans digest information than the chips that now power PCs and supercomputers.

A milestone

The chips represent a significant milestone in a six-year-long project that has involved 100 researchers and some $41 million in funding from the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA. That’s the Pentagon arm that focuses on long-term research and previously brought the world the Internet. IBM also has committed an undisclosed amount of money.

The prototypes offer further evidence of the growing importance of “parallel processing,” or computers doing multiple tasks simultaneously. That is important for rendering graphics and crunching large amounts of data.

The uses of the IBM chips are prosaic, such as steering a simulated car through a maze, or playing Pong. It may be a decade or longer before the chips make their way out of the lab and into actual products.

But what’s important is not what the chips are doing, but how they’re doing it, said Giulio Tononi, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin at Madison who worked with IBM on the project.

Ability to adapt

The chips’ ability to adapt to types of information that it wasn’t specifically programmed to expect is a key feature.

“There’s a lot of work to do still, but the most important thing is usually the first step,” Tononi said in an interview. “And this is not one step, it’s a few steps.”

Technologists have long imagined computers that learn like humans. Your iPhone or Google’s servers can be programmed to predict certain behavior based on past events. But the techniques being explored by IBM and other companies and university research labs around “cognitive computing” could lead to chips that are better able to adapt to unexpected information.

IBM’s interest in the chips lies in their ability to potentially help process real-world signals such as temperature or sound or motion and make sense of them for computers.

IBM, which is based in Armonk, N.Y., is a leader in a movement to link physical infrastructure, such as power plants or traffic lights, and information technology, such as servers and software that help regulate their functions. Such projects can be made more efficient with tools to monitor the myriad analog signals present in those environments.

Dharmendra Modha, project leader for IBM Research, said the new chips have parts that behave like digital “neurons” and “synapses” that make them different from other chips. Each “core,” or processing engine, has computing, communication and memory functions.

“You have to throw out virtually everything we know about how these chips are designed,” he said.

“The key, key, key difference really is the memory and the processor are very closely brought together. There’s a massive, massive amount of parallelism.”

The project is part of the same research that led to IBM’s announcement in 2009 that it had simulated a cat’s cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, using a massive supercomputer.

Using progressively bigger supercomputers, IBM had previously simulated 40 percent of a mouse’s brain in 2006, a rat’s full brain in 2007, and 1 percent of a human’s cerebral cortex in 2009.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Area farmers suffer in hot, arid summer

Johnny Howell’s answer was succinct when asked how his 200 acres of tomatoes, squash, cucumbers and other produce have fared this summer.

“Lost 50 percent of my crop,” said Howell, who has been farming in southwestern Davidson County for five decades. “Heat and no rain got ’em.”

Other Middle Tennessee farmers share his plight, to varying degrees. This summer’s near-record heat and scant rainfall have combined to shrivel crops, reduce yields and cut into farmers’ livelihoods.

Consumers also will feel the impact, in the form of higher prices at farmers’ markets and grocery stores.

Temperatures in Middle Tennessee have averaged four degrees warmer than normal since June, according to National Weather Service data. Last month was the hottest July in Nashville since 1993 and the fifth-hottest month on record, with temperatures breaking the 90-degree mark on 27 days —10 more than usual.

While such temperatures are typical of Middle Tennessee summers, a hot stretch in July was particularly damaging, agricultural officials said. Overnight heat stunted crop growth and hindered pollination by reducing insect activity, thereby decreasing yields.

“The corn was at a really critical stage when the heat hit,” said DeWayne Perry, Williamson County Extension Service director. “We had those two weeks where we didn’t cool off much at night, and that hurt us.”

Hurting even more has been below-average rainfall since July 1, farmers said.

While the rainfall deficit is less than an inch at the weather service’s official station at Nashville International Airport, farmers in outlying areas say they’ve gotten up to four inches below what’s needed.

Chad Jewell, a corn, wheat and soybean farmer and cattle rancher in Williamson County, said his fields have gotten a half-inch or less of rain since mid-July.

“The beans are starting to dry up, wilt and die,” he said.

At the mercy of a higher power

The arid weather has left nearly two-thirds of Tennessee — including Sumner and Wilson counties, almost all of Davidson County and the western half of Williamson County — “abnormally dry,” according to the latest U.S. Drought Monitor index, issued last week. A week before that, less than a third of the state was considered abnormally dry.

There’s little Middle Tennessee farmers can do about the lack of rain, as few have water wells for irrigation. Many also are reluctant to tap ponds, rivers and other surface water bodies during dry spells because of their low water levels.

“We’re at the mercy of the good Lord,” said Brian Sanders, who has grown corn, soybeans and wheat and raises cattle on 1,700 acres, primarily in Williamson County, for more than 30 years.

He said he expects to harvest 30 bushels of soybeans per acre this year, well below the 50 bushels he normally gets. For corn, he planned on 120 to 160 bushels per acre but now expects 80 to 100.

Although corn and soybean prices are well above normal, Sanders said higher growing costs — fertilizer prices have doubled in recent years, for example — will erode his bottom line.

“If I eke out a profit, it will be very small compared to going to a job in town,” he said.

Tennessee’s weather troubles won’t have much impact on retail food prices because the state accounts for a small portion of U.S. food production. But bad weather in major agricultural states such as Illinois, Iowa and Oklahoma will mean higher grocery bills.

Prices for corn, used for everything from animal feed to cereal, has surged by 70 percent a bushel in the past year. That led farmers to plant more corn this spring and less soybeans and wheat, driving up prices for those crops and food in general. And corn prices haven’t dropped despite the larger-than-usual crop because worldwide demand is outpacing supply.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture projects grocery prices will rise by 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent this year and at least another 3 percent in 2012. That’s on top of a 5.4-percent increase since mid-2010. Restaurant prices are projected to rise by slightly smaller percentages.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Low rates hurt savers, may stall economy

WASHINGTON — Super-low interest rates haven’t done what they usually do after a recession. They haven’t ignited economic growth or revived the home market or persuaded consumers to spend freely again.

They have, though, caused misery for retirees and others who depend on interest income. Such income plummeted 27 percent from 2008 to last year.

Now, some economists worry that low rates might be hurting the economy itself — defeating the purpose of the Federal Reserve’s low-rate policies. When savers earn less, they spend less. And spending by individuals drives about 70 percent of the U.S. economy.

Those concerns arise 2 years after the Fed pushed short-term rates to near zero, part of an effort to combat the gravest recession since the 1930s. It’s kept rates there since.

The Fed is “turning the faucet, and nothing’s coming out,” says William Ford, a former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta. “I don’t see any pluses on the plus side of the ledger … But they’re ignoring the strong negative effect that they’re having. They’re killing savers. Retirees are earning nothing on their life savings.”

The Fed this month announced plans to keep short-term rates near zero through mid-2013 unless the economy improves. And in a speech today, Chairman Ben Bernanke will likely lay out options for lowering long-term rates even further below the current near-record lows.

One option is a third round of Treasury bond purchases by the Fed. Such purchases would be intended to nudge rates even lower, to encourage spending and borrowing and raise stock prices. But additional rate declines would likely also further drive down rates on savings vehicles.

Low rates have already hurt retirees and other savers. Savings accounts, on average, are yielding 0.15 percent, 1-year CDs 1.15 percent and even 5-year Treasury notes only 1 percent.

Americans’ total interest income dropped from $1.38 trillion in 2008 to $1.01 trillion in 2010, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis. That time span has coincided with a period in which the Fed kept its main interest-rate lever, the federal funds rate, at a record low of zero to 0.25 percent.

Seniors suffer

In Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Julie Moscove, 69, has watched her monthly interest income drop from more than $2,000 a few years ago to perhaps $400 now.

“It’s ridiculous,” says Moscove, who’s semi-retired but still runs the Tattoo-A-Pet registry business. “I cut coupons now.”

Moscove has little appetite for risk after having been burned by stocks when the dot-com boom went bust a decade ago. So she’s resigned to accepting negligible returns just to keep her money safe.

Pension funds are also being hurt. Largely because of low rates, the nation’s 100 biggest pension funds were $254 billion short of what they need to meet obligations to retirees at the end of July. That was up from a $186 billion shortfall in June, according to the consulting firm Milliman.

Low rates are a tool that Fed officials have long used to boost weak economies. In recessions past, when the Fed slashed rates, a drop in borrowing costs led companies to hire and expand.

It hasn’t worked that way this time. This recession followed a devastating financial crisis that damaged the banking system and made lower interest rates less effective.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Record companies plan downloading appeal

MINNEAPOLIS — Recording industry attorneys are appealing a recent ruling that reduced the amount of money a Minnesota woman must pay for willfully violating the copyrights of 24 songs.

U.S. District Judge Michael Davis ruled last month that the $1.5 million penalty imposed by a jury was unreasonable, and that Jammie Thomas-Rasset of Brainerd should instead pay $54,000.

The judge also ruled that making copyrighted works available on file-sharing networks does not constitute distribution — a decision that could prevent record labels from telling Thomas-Rasset to stop sharing songs in the future.

Attorneys for the recording industry filed documents Monday indicating they’ll appeal both points.

The recording industry sued Thomas-Rasset in 2006 for illegally sharing music on the file-sharing site Kazaa.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How to rein in iPad that hogs email

I just bought an Apple iPad tablet and connected it to my home Wi-Fi network, which already had two Windows PCs on it. But when the iPad is using the wireless network, we cannot receive any email on the other computers. What’s the cure?

Rein in your iPad, which is trying to monopolize your email account, and, as a result, is locking out your two PCs.

Why? The iPad is set up to use your email account continuously, or at least to access the email account often to update your list of received mail.

But, if your email account uses a common technology called “POP3” (Post Office Protocol version 3), only one your three computers can access the account at a time. Because the iPad gets to the email first, the two PCs don’t stand a chance.

There are three solutions.

Close the iPad’s mail application when you aren’t using it. This ends its connection to your email account and gives the PCs a chance to access the account.

If your iPad isn’t constantly connected to email, another alternative is to change its settings so that it checks your email less frequently. You can do this by going to the iPad’s “Settings,” then to “Mail,” “Contacts,” “Calendars,” and then to “Fetch New Data.”

The last and most obvious solution is to disconnect the iPad from the Wi-Fi network when you want to use one of the PCs to get your email.

My laptop PC recently became infected with the Google Redirect Virus. This happened even though I have Norton security software installed.
How do I get rid of the virus?

Fortunately, it is rather easy to get rid of the Google Redirect Virus, which takes people to malicious websites when they click on legitimate search results. Symantec provides a free downloadable virus removal tool; see

And you really do want to get rid of this virus because in addition to redirecting you to wrong websites, it hides itself from antivirus software, displays advertisements and opens an electronic doorway that allows other malicious software to enter your PC.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

SunTrust CEO defends new debit card fees

Executive Q&A: Rob McNeilly

In what many banks called a “$12 billion-a-year gift to retailers,” a deal to slash fees that retailers pay banks when shoppers use a debit card got passed by Congress last year as part of President Barack Obama’s financial overhaul package.

In response, Atlanta-based SunTrust Banks Inc., among a handful of other banks, introduced $4 and $5 debit cards fees for checking-account customers.

In an interview with Tennessean finance reporter Bobby Allyn, regional president and CEO of SunTrust, Rob McNeilly, said the bank had no choice but to look for other ways to make up for lost profits as the rules changed for how banks operate.

He said the decision was carefully vetted through customer surveys, so he doesn’t expect a vigorous backlash from consumers.

Meanwhile, SunTrust’s stock is down nearly 40 percent for the year through Thursday’s close on Wall Street. SunTrust opened the year with shares trading just shy of $30. The stock closed Thursday at $17.71 per share on the New York Stock Exchange.

Many bank stocks have been battered amid skittishness among investors about the national economy and weak consumer and business loan demand.

In March, SunTrust did pay back the $4.85 billion in federal bailout money it had received under the Troubled Asset Relief Program at the height of the U.S. financial meltdown.

The bank’s loan volumes are up slightly from a year ago, even as regulators pore over all financial institutions’ books with increased toughness these days as the industry tries to recover.

Small business, commercial and private wealth lending have been SunTrust’s recent focus, McNeilly said. Here’s what he had to say on other topics — ranging from the housing market’s condition to local competition among lenders.

What can you say about the regional housing market’s recovery?

In the Southeast, home prices never increased as much as they did in other parts of the country during the boom. So when the bubble popped, it, too, wasn’t as drastic as it could have been. And the Southeast continues to have strong population and job growth. Compared to the rest of the country, the Southeast looks pretty strong right now.

SunTrust and other regional banks are testing out debit card fees. Can you comment on the timing of these programs?

It’s a result of one revenue stream being diminished, the interchange fee (merchant fee). As an organization or a business, if you’re going to be taking (in) less revenue, you can’t have the same expense costs. So, banks are getting creative.

Do you fear that the new debit card fees will hurt lower-income customers?

Our clients can choose whether or not they want to use debit cards. If you use it as an ATM card, there’s no charge. We will have options available so our clients can minimize or avoid incurring fees.

Nashville is one of the leading regional banking hubs in the country. Is it hard to compete in this environment?

When you consider Rutherford County along with the Nashville area, there are about 65 bank (flagship operations). That’s almost double the flagship banks in Raleigh, N.C., which is a comparable market. When you have this many providers, you have to ask: How many is enough?

I have a friend in the contracting business, and he tells me about bidding on jobs with almost no profit margin, and the person walks away. How did anyone bid lower than that? That same thing happens in our business with competitors doing some serious risk-taking to stay ahead.

Where has SunTrust seen the greatest opportunities for loan growth?

The SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration) recently changed some guidelines to increase loan amounts to clients. We saw this as an opportunity, and last year, we were the (top) lender in the Nashville marketplace for SBA. One of the loans we made was for $3.4 million, which wouldn’t have been allowed under old rules.

But whether it’s millions or $400,000, the underwriting is the same and credit-worthy borrowers will get the money they need. But there is a lot of scrutiny.

You need to remember one thing: We’re lending our depositors’ money. And 100 percent of them expect that money back, so we have to be almost perfect in our lending decisions.

Some regional banks in Middle Tennessee have stepped up financing for multifamily projects. Has SunTrust contributed to this upswing in local multifamily lending?

Our commercial real estate world is not limited to multifamily. We’ve been involved in many high-profile projects in the area, including office buildings, retail centers, condo projects. But with the number of banks competing for the same lending opportunities, some banks are willing to structure loans differently. We tend to take a more conservative view. There’s only so much demand with an oversupply.

What explains your stock’s volatility and the recent wild swings on Wall Street, particularly with other financial industry stocks?

We feel like we are in a low-growth environment. We, as an industry, have to adjust to the fact that top-line revenue is being cut. So, if we continue to spend at the same pace, earnings will continue to drop.

More regulatory scrutiny typically means more costs. It’s not like Uncle Sam is handing us a million dollars to handle compliance expenses. We’re all waiting for normalized earnings.

Do you think public opinion still treats banks with heavy skepticism?

In the national press, banks have taken a hit to their reputation. One of the things we’re trying to do is overcome that perception with a dose of reality.

Our employees are volunteering with United Way and other organizations and getting paid for up to 16 hours of their volunteer work. We believe in the quality of life in Nashville, and we hope that can translate into giving back to the community.

Bank of America announced on Friday plans to cut 3,500 jobs nationwide. What does this say of the industry?

From an industry standpoint, when your topline revenue growth is challenged, you tend to look for places to cut cost. Let’s say revenue is growing 5 percent but expenses are at 6 percent. That’s sort of like the predicament we’re in.

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to rein in iPad that hogs email

I just bought an Apple iPad tablet and connected it to my home Wi-Fi network, which already had two Windows PCs on it. But when the iPad is using the wireless network, we cannot receive any email on the other computers. What’s the cure?

Rein in your iPad, which is trying to monopolize your email account, and, as a result, is locking out your two PCs.

Why? The iPad is set up to use your email account continuously, or at least to access the email account often to update your list of received mail.

But, if your email account uses a common technology called “POP3” (Post Office Protocol version 3), only one your three computers can access the account at a time. Because the iPad gets to the email first, the two PCs don’t stand a chance.

There are three solutions.

Close the iPad’s mail application when you aren’t using it. This ends its connection to your email account and gives the PCs a chance to access the account.

If your iPad isn’t constantly connected to email, another alternative is to change its settings so that it checks your email less frequently. You can do this by going to the iPad’s “Settings,” then to “Mail,” “Contacts,” “Calendars,” and then to “Fetch New Data.”

The last and most obvious solution is to disconnect the iPad from the Wi-Fi network when you want to use one of the PCs to get your email.

My laptop PC recently became infected with the Google Redirect Virus. This happened even though I have Norton security software installed.
How do I get rid of the virus?

Fortunately, it is rather easy to get rid of the Google Redirect Virus, which takes people to malicious websites when they click on legitimate search results. Symantec provides a free downloadable virus removal tool; see

And you really do want to get rid of this virus because in addition to redirecting you to wrong websites, it hides itself from antivirus software, displays advertisements and opens an electronic doorway that allows other malicious software to enter your PC.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Business briefs: Parts manufacturer plans expansion in Morristown

Meritor Inc., a parts manufacturer for commercial trucks, said it plans a $26.6 million expansion of its plant in Morristown, Tenn. Meritor said it will make the investment over five years and add 29 jobs over time.

The plant employs 376 people, and it produces precision forged gears used in rear-drive axles for the commercial truck industry. The facility was built in 1979.

— Staff reports

Plant to bring jobs to Lauderdale County

A German company has announced plans for a manufacturing plant that will create more than 120 jobs over five years in Lauderdale County.

State officials said Quaprotek USA will produce metal parts for vehicles, engines and power trains, investing $22 million in an existing 63,000-square-foot building in Ripley, Tenn. Much of the hiring will be done in the second half of 2012.

— Associated Press

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More sports talk radio is coming to Nashville this fall

Just in time for football season, Nashville is getting another jolt of sports talk radio.

Local radio station executive Bayard “Bud” Walters and the Cromwell Group Inc. plan to jump into the sports radio niche by switching WPRT-FM 102.5 to the all-sports format under the nickname “The Game,” once studio renovations are completed.

Walters said 102.5 The Game will serve up local programming as much as possible each week. Full programming hasn’t been announced.

“We are pledging from the beginning to have local sports talk in morning and afternoon along with lots of live game play by play,” Walters said in a statement.

When the station launches, local sports personality Darren McFarland and former Tennessee Titans lineman Brad Hopkins will anchor morning drive time with a show called The First Quarter that will air weekdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Until late 2009, McFarland was part of The Sports Zone show hosted by George Plaster on 104.5 FM.

— Randy McClain

Friday, August 19, 2011

Defense industry set for period of retreat

NEW YORK — The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are winding down, Osama bin Laden is dead, and the federal government is deeply in debt. This spells the end of what was a golden decade for the defense industry.

In the decade since the Sept. 11 attacks, the annual defense budget has more than doubled to $700 billion and annual defense industry profits have nearly quadrupled, approaching $25 billion last year.

Now defense spending is poised to retreat, and so are industry profits. “We’re about to go into the downhill side of the roller coaster here,” said David Berteau, a defense industry analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Congress agreed last month to cut military spending by $350 billion over the next 10 years. The defense budget will automatically be cut by another $500 billion over that period if lawmakers fail to reach a deficit-cutting deal by November.

Defense industry stocks have already begun to suffer; they are lagging the S&P 500 in recent months. During the last defense spending downturn, which lasted from 1985 to 1997, defense stocks underperformed the broader market by 33 percent, according to an analysis by RBC Capital Markets.

The Sept. 11 attacks forced the world’s biggest and best-funded military to quickly retool itself. It needed to develop technologies, weapons and strategies to find and fight a network of terrorists.

Floodgates opened

The U.S. spent $1.3 trillion in the 10 years after the attacks chasing al-Qaida and fighting two wars. That was on top of baseline military spending in excess of $4 trillion. “After 9/11 the floodgates opened,” said Eric Hugel, a defense industry analyst at Stephens Inc.

All that spending was reflected in the soaring performance of the defense industry, led by the top five defense contractors: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Suddenly, Tennessee Titans tickets aren't hard to get

Tennessee Titans fan Ricky Adcock has been trying to sell a pair of south end zone season tickets on the open market for several weeks.

So far, there have been few nibbles. Well, actually “none whatsoever,” Adcock says. “Sad, ain’t it?”

Mike Woodke considers himself luckier. The Brentwood fan unloaded a pair of loge-level seats at the 45-yard line at LP Field for his asking price via an online ticket exchange, but he said there was less interest from buyers than he’s seen in past seasons.

“I had about twice the interest in the past two seasons’ ticket advertisements than I did this year,” he said. Woodke said the NFL lockout could have been a factor in the weakened market.

A mostly down economy, a four-month labor lockout and recent mediocre won-loss records by the once-proud Tennessee Titans are causing a little pain at the box office.

Ticket sales for the team’s 2011 home games are lagging behind last year’s pace, and a growing number of personal seat license (PSL) holders are putting their season tickets up for sale rather than attend all the games.

Nevertheless, Titans officials remain optimistic the team’s 12-year streak of 125 consecutive sellouts at LP Field — which includes preseason, regular season and playoff games — won’t end this year.

“We’re encouraged that we’ll be able to sell out all of our home games,” said Marty Collins, the team’s senior director of ticketing.

The Oct. 30 home game versus Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts is nearly sold out, and just 600 to 1,800 tickets remain for each of the other seven regular-season home games, he said.

LP Field’s official capacity is 68,798 seats.

Still, the secondary market seems filled with Titans tickets for individual home games or the full season. Sites such as Craigslist and others are littered with sales offers from ticket brokers and private owners.

That’s a departure from the dozen previous seasons, when the entire home schedule sold out within hours of single-game tickets being made available to the public. This year, not a single regular-season home game reached sellout status when single-game tickets went on sale early last week.

However, both home preseason games were sellouts, largely because of big purchases by corporate sponsors that plan to give the tickets to military personnel.

Loyalty praised

Collins said 96.8 percent of Titans season ticketholders renewed for 2011, down slightly from 97.2 percent renewals the previous year.

It was the third consecutive year the renewal rate has fallen, despite a six-week extension of the deadline to place ticket orders because of the lengthy lockout.

“It’s still a phenomenal renewal rate, especially in this economic climate,” Collins said.

Most of the surrendered seats are in the less-desirable upper sections of LP Field and are being sold as single-game tickets because the lockout left too little time to resell them as season packages, Collins said.

The Titans now have 59,705 season ticketholders.

But several are looking to sell their tickets via outlets online.

Danny Bridges of Hendersonville hopes to sell his upper-deck tickets and cash in by scoring better seats at lower prices for any game he wants to attend when football season cranks up in earnest next month.

“My thoughts were mainly even if I can’t make it to all the games, I could find equal or cheaper tickets outside the stadium,” Bridges said.

Thousands of tickets online

According to a popular ticket search engine,, secondary ticket sites had 6,000 to 9,000 seats available on Tuesday for each Titans home game for as little as $30 each, depending on the location.

John Vrooman, a Vanderbilt University economics professor, said the Titans’ recent instability, a head coaching change, a newly acquired starting quarterback, the star running back’s contract holdout and other issues are dampening demand for tickets.

“The good news is that most of the off-season moves were made to create increased stability,” Vrooman wrote in an email. “When team performance picks up (which it predictably will), single-game sales will again max out and as the long-term outlook improves, season-tickets and PSLs (personal seat licenses) will begin to strengthen.”

For now, few longtime fans appear willing to give up seat licenses, which they secured by paying a one-time fee ranging from a few hundred bucks to $6,000, plus agreeing to buy season tickets every year.

PSLs can be sold, but the number of them trading hands has stayed fairly constant at about 900 a year, Collins said.

Stacy Pride of Spring Hill said her husband hopes to sell their season tickets for six north end zone seats this fall, but ever the optimist he will hold onto his seat license because of one perk: first crack at playoff tickets.

“He’s still holding out hope they’ll go to the Super Bowl,” she said.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

'American Songwriter' magazine adds co-publisher

Albie Del Favero, former publisher of the Nashville Scene, Nashville City Paper and the company that bought both publications — SouthComm Communications — has been named co-publisher of Nashville-based American Songwriter magazine.

Del Favero bought in as a minority partner with options to acquire a majority interest, he said.

The 27-year-old glossy magazine targets a niche audience of songwriting professionals. Its editorial content includes stories about the lives of famous and up-and-coming songwriters, the latest in music gadgetry, album reviews and industry news.

Del Favero, 57, is a well-known Nashville media figure with a 20-plus-year history as publisher of local news publications. In 1989, Del Favero as an advertising executive helped launch the Nashville Scene, the city’s first widely read alternative weekly paper. He went on to work for SouthComm, which currently owns the Scene and City Paper, departing two years ago to lead He left that venture in January when it was sold to the Outdoor Channel.

At American Songwriter, Del Favero will work with current owners Robert Clement (who also serves as co-publisher) and Doug Waterman, who has a minimal role in operating the company, according to Del Favero.

Del Favero’s plans for the magazine include continued development of an iPad app that was launched two issues ago. The company will focus on both the magazine as well as using its website to build a membership base of amateur songwriters and creating future events, contests and content.

The deal includes the formation of a new parent company, ForASong Media LLC. Del Favero is president, and Clement and Waterman are partners.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Latest version of OS X is available for download

I heard you mention on your national radio show that Apple is about to release the next version of OS X. When can I get it? Will it work on my system?

It is already here. You can download OS X 10.7 Lion for $30 from Apple’s Mac App Store. Your current system needs to be running OS X 10.6.6 Snow Leopard. Your computer needs an Intel Core 2 Duo processor or higher. PowerPC and older Intel computers won’t accept Lion. Lion is a large file; it’s more than 3 gigabytes. This will take a long time to download over slower Internet connections. If you don’t have a speedy Internet connection, Apple will soon release Lion on a flash drive. It will cost $70.

I have some older negatives of my kids. I want to bring them into the digital age. Can you scan black and white negatives with a color scanner?

Yes, a color scanner can scan black and white negatives. Be careful. If you use the scanner’s default settings, it can add unintentional colorization. So, set your scanner software to grayscale mode when scanning the negatives. It will only scan the image using shades of gray. Your scanner may offer black and white mode. Don’t use this as it is intended to scan text.

I am ready to take the plunge. I’m going to buy an iPad 2 from Verizon. They have better coverage where I live. Which data plan should I get?

For the iPad 2, you choose from tiered data plans. You pay to use a certain amount of data a month. If you go over, you get charged. Which plan should you get? It depends on your usage habits. If you are always using your gadget on Wi-Fi, you don’t need a large plan. Wi-Fi use doesn’t count against you. If you like to stream video while out and about, get the biggest plan. Video uses up a lot of data. Verizon does have a data calculator. This can help you get an idea of how much data an activity uses. It makes estimating your data use easier. AT&T also has a calculator. Find links to both at

I’m concerned about my privacy using the Internet. How much data does my browser store? Can someone using my computer figure out the sites that I have visited?

Your Web browser essentially stores everything you do online. It records where you go, information you enter in forms, passwords you use and more. Anyone with access to your computer can pull this information easily. If that concerns you, open your browser’s options or preferences. Turn off history functions and password saving. You can also use a free program like CCleaner. It will erase all the recorded information from your browser. Find a link to it at

I just switched from a PC to a Mac. Someone lied. My Mac does freeze from time to time. Is there an equivalent of ALT+CTRL+DEL to end a stuck program on a Mac?

I hear you. Macs do have a similar command. Press CMD+OPT+ESC to bring up the Force Quit menu. You can then select and close a troublesome application. Pressing CMD+OPT+SHIFT+ESC will automatically Force Quit the foremost program on the screen. Or click and hold on the program’s icon in the dock. A menu will pop up. Select Force Quit from the available options.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Jittery investors flee risky stocks

NEW YORK — The downgrade of the USA’s once-pristine triple-A credit rating got a failing grade from Wall Street on Monday, as stocks suffered their worst plunge since December 2008, leaving the fragile stock market on the brink of another bear market.

The fallout from the nation’s first-ever downgrade to AA+ hit global stock markets hard Monday in the first day of trading since rating agency Standard & Poor’s made the U.S. pay for the federal government’s inability to agree on a credible plan to rein in its spiraling deficit.

Investors in Asia, Europe and the U.S. all fled risky stocks in panic selling in response to the downgrade, coupled with the ongoing debt crisis in Europe and recent signs of a slowing economy.

The benchmark Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fell 6.7 percent, extending its loss from its April 29 bull market high to 17.9 percent. That steep, sudden drop has reopened the psychological wounds investors suffered back in the 2007-09 bear market, when fears of a financial system meltdown knocked the market down nearly 57 percent, erasing the financial security of millions of Americans.

“This is clearly a Blue Monday. Nerves are raw, and there’s clearly panic in the air,” said Paul Schatz, president of money management firm Heritage Capital. “So many people sat through the ’08 (market plunge) without making a single move. It is unsettling, and people don’t want to live through it again.”

In an ominous sign, the S&P 500 is nearing the 20 percent drop required for Wall Street to officially designate the recent carnage as a bear market. The sheer velocity and ballooning size of the losses not only accelerate the stock market’s downside momentum, they also increase the odds of a dreaded bear market, according to data from Ned Davis Research.

In the 42 “severe corrections,” or a drop of 15 percent or more, the S&P 500 has morphed into a bear market 60 percent of the time, NDR data to 1928 show. And the average decline in those bear markets was almost 36 percent.

There’s no reason to wait for that 20 percent threshold, said Richard Suttmeier, chief market strategist at “Stocks are already in a bear market.”

The broad market, he said, has already broken the uptrend that was in place since the March 2009 lows. The downside of that fractured stock chart pattern is that a new trend heading in the opposite direction occurs.

A game changer

“The S&P credit downgrade, which has never happened before, was a game changer,” said Suttmeier, who sees nothing on the horizon that will entice investors to buy stocks.

Paradoxically, the 10-year U.S. Treasury note, which was downgraded by S&P and can no longer be considered a risk-free investment as a result, rose in price, as jittery investors bought bonds in search of safety.

That buying, which knocked the yield down to 2.34 percent, from 2.57 percent on Friday, sent a message that the U.S. is still considered a safe place to deposit cash and investors trust they will get paid by the U.S. government.

“It shows the U.S. is still creditworthy,” said Chris Konstantinos, director of risk strategy at Riverfront Investment Group.

Edward Yardeni, market strategist at Yardeni Research, said the credit downgrade caused a big drop in investor confidence: “We are clearly in a crisis of confidence around the world.”

Investor panic was so widespread that a widely followed “fear gauge” skyrocketed 50 percent on Monday to its highest closing since the bottom of the last bear market on March 9, 2009.

Other market watchers cited the credit downgrade as the catalyst that got investors to rethink their bullish global growth story and to start to entertain the notion that the U.S. could slump back into recession.

A rally this week?

Still, many investment strategists say it is premature to say the current fall will keep deteriorating.

“The weak start was expected following the debt downgrade,” said Tim Hayes, an investment strategist at NDR. “But I would still put this in the correction category. The market has gotten very oversold, with high pessimism, so the market should start to rally this week.”

Some Wall Street strategists insist the selling is panic-driven and does not jibe with the still-positive drivers of stock prices.

Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at Oppenheimer, argues that the strength of Corporate America, with strong earnings momentum and a mountain of cash, is the main reason he is not altering his investment outlook.

“At times like these, investors often ignore the positives,” he says. “U.S. corporations are generally in a much better place than the rest of the world.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Live Nation records profit in 2Q

LOS ANGELES — Concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment Inc. made a profit in the second quarter, reversing a loss from a year ago, as concert attendance went up in North America and people spent more money than last year on beer and parking.

The results announced Monday beat analysts’ expectations for a break-even quarter and provided some upbeat news on a day the stock market fell sharply because of worries about the slowing U.S. economy and escalating debt problems threatening Europe.

Live Nation, which merged with Ticketmaster last year, put on 4,243 shows during the quarter, or 16 percent more than a year ago. Fans responded as attendance grew 13 percent to 8.9 million. Spending on ancillary items such as food and parking grew3 percent to $19.21 per concertgoer.

Outside North America, Live Nation held 16 percent fewer shows at 1,591, and attendance fell 6 percent to 4.2 million.

Overall, attendance grew 6 percent to 13 million.

“We are seeing the global ticketing business stabilize and concert business grow year-over-year,” CEO Michael Rapino said in a statement.

Revenue grew 23 percent to $1.56 billion. That also was much higher than the $1.31 billion expected by analysts polled by FactSet.

Live Nation’s stock rose 47 cents, or 5.35 percent, to $9.25 in extended trading. Before the results came out, its stock fell 60 cents, or 6.4 percent, to close at $8.78 in a broad market sell-off on Wall Street Monday.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Startup company tries to deliver big on idea

This startup company’s ad slogan says volumes about its appeal to college students: “We shop so you don’t have to.”

Rising college junior Jonathan Murrell has worn the diverse mantles of business school student, Belmont University tennis player and now CEO of a startup food delivery company,

Operating from his parents’ home in a gated community in Williamson County, Murrell and two partners aim to ship care packages to college kids’ front doors on campuses, first across Tennessee and then in other states. His bedroom/warehouse is crammed with inventory these days as prepares for the late August move-in dates on campuses from Nashville to Clarksville and beyond.

Sales are tiny at this point for the 1-year-old operation. But the idea could be big. Murrell has researched competitors — one similar outfit is dubbed — and he thinks there’s room for his firm to grow. The idea is this: Students (well, actually it’s parents) generally spend more than necessary on snacks, fast food and energy drinks during a school year.

So, instead of dropping into a convenience store to make expensive impulse purchases, why not get a week’s or month’s supply of snack foods, packaged meals and drinks delivered to campus at a fraction of the cost.

Advertising is targeted at parents who pay the bills. Murrell and company think the idea could grow into a $2 million-a- year business in a few years, although he acknowledges “that’s just a number” on a business plan at this point. For now, the goal is to hit $70,000 to $80,000 a year in sales over the next two years.

Murrell talked about his brainchild with Randy McClain, business editor of The Tennessean, last week.

Who are your competitors? How can you make a dent in this field of feeding college students?

There are a handful of dorm-room product companies out there and one other company that specifically delivers food to campus. It’s called Dormzy and is based in Columbus, Ohio. It started a year before we did. Its CEO is a recent college graduate in his early 20s. We both operate on the same principle. Kids are paying too much for these items on campus, moms are sending care packages from home and it’s just too much hassle.

Indirect competitors are more varied, and that includes Amazon, which has expanded its grocery selection. But here’s why we’re more convenient. Especially with Amazon, most of the items people want to buy have to be bought in bulk, massive amounts. And college students don’t need that; they don’t have the room to store stuff.

With us, you can order one “cup of noodles” in a shipment, let’s say, or one Granola bar instead of a box of 96. We sell completely individualized packages. We offer choice. You can fill a box with coffee or just Butterfingers. It doesn’t matter to us.

How do you ship to campus?

We ship via UPS. Right now we drop off at UPS every day because our volumes are small. But eventually we’ll be scheduling pickups with them. Right now, we are low in inventory because it has been summer. We’ll start marketing and sales again in earnest within this next week.

What campuses are you targeting now?

Lots of colleges have contracts with big distributors to deliver food to their own cafeterias and campus stores. So, we’re not officially licensed at any school. We ship orders via the campus post offices to Belmont University, Lipscomb, others — and we’ve shipped to some students in California, Massachusetts, Missouri and Texas. But no single school has really taken off yet.

Coming this fall, from Aug. 21 to Aug. 30, we have campus events and vendor fairs planned at Middle Tennessee State University, Austin Peay, Belmont, UT-Martin and Martin Methodist College. We plan to focus our energy on Tennessee schools and a few other schools within a four- or five-hour drive of Nashville.

We want to try different types. MTSU is a big commuter campus, but Martin Methodist is smaller. Campus events will feature us giving out pamphlets and collecting email addresses to build a database. We want to build brand awareness. We’ll have an iPad and show students our website (, show them how it works.

Is the goal to expand beyond the borders of Tennessee at some point?

The goal is to advertise online to reach schools in other states, but we’ll also be recruiting on-campus representatives to market for us. We’ll get a connection on campus and let them handle events there. The reps will get a percentage of sales from their campus. We won’t physically have to be at Texas State (in San Marcos, Texas), but we can distribute materials there. We are looking at UT-Chattanooga and the University of Kentucky right now and a handful of others.

What size university are you likely to target? Are bigger schools with lots of students the best, as I’d guess?

One of the problems with the big state schools is that they have such extensive cafeteria systems — and on-campus food plans — that it may be tough to win sales. Freshmen at a lot of schools have to get meal plans and they’re even hard-pressed to spend all the money on their campus (debit card).

So, we may be better off targeting smaller schools with less elaborate meal plans or with a limited cafeteria system. One of our methods will be to offer some items that are harder to find in a small town environment. We have specialty drinks and a variety of power bars — things that may be tough to find where there isn’t a Whole Foods supermarket on the corner.

Any plans for off-campus sales at some point?

One of our other targets is seniors as they’re graduating from college. Right now, our product offerings are fairly limited, but it’s almost enough that a young bachelor coming out of college could order from us whatever they need to fill up a pantry.

We’re also moving to offer enough personal care items, shampoos and the like, that a person right out of college working 9 to 5 can get what they need delivered from us and skip shopping at the store altogether. We have drinks that don’t have to be refrigerated; microwave meals, soups; chips; power bars; lots of nonperishable things. We might step into bread and bagels at some point after our daily volume becomes more predictable. We also have 20 or 30 specialty health food items that we haven’t put online yet for orders, but we are planning to add them as volume grows.

How do you buy inventory now with such a small volume of initial sales?

We’re buying merchandise at Sam’s, Costco and sometimes if there’s a big discounted sale on Amazon. Even with that our gross margins are about 35 percent at this point, and that’s basically with us matching the grocery store price of a Publix with the convenience of basically delivering to your doorstep. Packages are delivered to the campus mail center, actually.

What were your start-up costs for this business? Obviously, overhead is low since you’re operating out of your home.

We started with $6,000; the three partners put up $2,000 apiece. We used about one-sixth of that on promtional materials, logo, stickers, banners and other gear. We spent about $1,500 on initial inventory — cereals and other items — and about $800 on legal costs to set up our limited liability corporation. The website I did myself. We entered entrepreneurship competitions at both Belmont and Lipscomb and won a total of $5,500 by finishing first and second place, respectively. We’ve put that into operations.

How did you use that new cash?

We used the new money to upgrade our website, redesign it and get a new logo. The website now allows easier tracking of customers and it looks more professional. That project should have cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, but we did it for a fraction of that cost. I hired designers in India; guys in the Philippines to do the coding; we had the logo designed in Dubai. We outsourced everything and I oversaw it. I used (an online outsourcing site) to parcel out the work.

Describe your core customer.

It’s all over the map. This shipment going out today (points to boxes on a nearby table) is a mom sending 60 Gatorades to her son who started school this week. Most of our orders so far come from parents buying for their children. Our advertising will target both students and the parents, and one will tell the other about us.

What about your pricing? What’s a typical sale at this point?

The average order at this point has been $33 per shipment. We’ve had everything from $10 orders up to $200. If you spend over $45, it’s free shipping. At that price, you’re saving money over what you’d spend in an on-campus store for the same items.

We’re anticipating that a moderate-use customer would order from us four times a year. These are nonperishable items; so you can order quarterly for the most part. We also will market at exam times; as we offer more items, we expect the frequency of orders to increase.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fed's plan is no fix for economy, retirees

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve’s plan to keep interest rates super-low for at least two more years is great news for mortgage refinancers and other borrowers.

For retirees and others who need interest income? Not so great.

Nor will low rates likely revive a depressed home market, energize a weak economy or reassure frightened consumers.

No matter how low rates stay, nervous individuals and wary businesses remain reluctant to spend money or take risks. The economy is barely growing, unemployment is stuck at a recession-level 9.1 percent, the stock market is falling and the risks of another downturn appear to be rising.

“It’s all about consumer psychology right now,” said Stan Humphries, chief economist at “During economic turmoil, people hunker down.”

Low interest rates

Wall Street is still trying to assess the Fed’s unprecedented decision Tuesday to leave short-term rates near zero until mid-2013 because it thinks the economy will stay weak until then.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average plunged about 520 points, one day after gyrating wildly and finishing up 4 percent after the Fed’s statement.

The Fed’s two-year timetable swept away any doubts about rates remaining low for the long run. Previously, it had said only that it would keep rates at record lows for “an extended period.”

“Any information that provides some certainty is good for the economy and good for people who are trying to think longer-term about investments,” said Frank Nothaft, chief economist at mortgage giant Freddie Mac.

The Fed sets a target for the federal funds rate. That’s the rate banks charge one another for overnight loans. The Fed has kept that rate near zero since the depths of the financial crisis in December 2008.

The funds rate indirectly affects rates for credit cards and some business loans.

Longer-term yields are determined by traders. These yields are also near record lows, driven down by investors seeking the safety of U.S. Treasurys.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

USPS reports $3.1B loss

WASHINGTON — The Postal Service said Friday that it lost $3.1 billion in the April through June period and could be forced to default on payments due to the federal government when the fiscal year ends in September.

Losses for the year come to $5.7 billion.

“We continue to take aggressive actions to reduce costs and bring the size of our infrastructure into alignment with reduced customer demand,” Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe said. But losses have been mounting over the last few years as more private mail and bill payments were switched to the Internet, and the recession caused a decrease in business mail.

He said the agency planned for a decline in first-class mail but it occurred more rapidly than expected. On the positive side, Donahoe said, there has been an increase in parcels business as the post office carries more items purchased via the Internet.

The post office has asked Congress to change or drop the requirement that it make a $5.5 billion annual payment into a fund to cover future retirement disability benefits. No other government agency makes such a payment.

If Congress doesn’t act and current losses continue, the post office will be unable to make that payment at the end of September because it will have reached its borrowing limit and simply won’t have the cash to do so.

In that event, Donahoe said, “Our intent is to continue to deliver the mail, pay our employees and pay our suppliers.”

May reduce delivery

The post office wants permission to reduce mail delivery from six days a week to five as part of a series of cost-cutting measures. And it would like a refund of overpayments it says it made to employee retirement accounts.

Art Sackler, coordinator of the Coalition for a 21st Century Postal Service, which represents the private sector mailing industry, commented that “within the past year, the Postal Service’s financial situation has gone from bad to worse to worst. If Congress does not enact bold reforms soon, the tailspin the Postal Service is in will pass the point of recovery, and many of the 8 million private sector workers who depend on it will lose their jobs. This would be terrible not only for them and their families, but for our economy.”

Several bills designed to change the law governing the post office, are pending in the House and Senate.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif, chairman of the House committee that supervises postal operations and the sponsor of one of those bills, said Friday’s announcement underscores the need to enact reforms.

In the three months from April through June, the post office handled39.8 billion pieces of mail. That’s 1.1 billion fewer items than in the same period last year.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kroger to close store on Dickerson Pike

The Kroger supermarket chain said Friday that it’s closing its store at 3046 Dickerson Pike, which has endured $1 million in losses over the last two years.

“The store has experienced significant losses, and the financial projections going forward are even more discouraging,” said Melissa Eads, a Kroger spokeswoman.

Sixty-two employees will be offered jobs elsewhere within the chain.

Eads said the store will close within 60 days, but an exact date wasn’t released.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

CVS Caremark stock slides 6 percent

NEW YORK — CVS Caremark said Thursday its profit slipped 1 percent in the second quarter as its pharmacy benefits management business weathered lower prices on contract renewals.

The Woonsocket, R.I., company has ties to Nashville, where Caremark has operated the pharmacy benefits side of the dual purpose company. Its stock fell more than 6 percent on a bleak day on Wall Street, closing at $34, down $2.21 per share.

Now, CVS Caremark faces pressure to lower prices linked to its pharmacy benefits services even more.

That side of the business works with big groups to deliver drug prescriptions and handle other back-office chores online and through the mails.

Caremark’s results also have been hurt by continued declines in prescription drug use, which mostly affect medications for chronic ailments.

Prescriptions have slumped since early 2010 because Americans have cut back on doctors’ visits and tried to make their prescriptions last longer. The company said it now expects a slightly bigger decline in Caremark’s annual profit because of those cutbacks.

CVS Caremark Corp.’s second-quarter profit declined to $816 million from $821 million a year ago. On a per-share basis it was unchanged at 60 cents. Excluding one-time items, the company earned 65 cents per share. Revenue rose 11 percent to $26.63 billion from $24.01 billion.

Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected a profit of 64 cents per share and revenue of $26.76 billion in revenue, on average.

During a conference call with analysts, the company said it has kept 98 percent of its clients whose contracts are up for renewal in 2012, and it expects $4.8 billion from new or expanded contracts with the federal employee program, with California government employees, and the state of Hawaii, among other clients.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Nissan executive strives to drive automaker 'farther, faster'

Executive Q&A: Bill Krueger

Bill Krueger recently was appointed vice chairman of the Americas for Nissan Motor Co., the top resident executive in charge of the automaker’s operations in North, Central and South America.

He replaced Carlos Tavares, who was named to the No. 2 job at Renault, the French automaker that has a partnership with Nissan.

Tennessean automotive writer G. Chambers Williams III recently sat down with Krueger to discuss his new post; his goals for the company; and Nissan’s presence in Middle Tennessee, where it has two manufacturing plants and its Americas headquarters.

What is your new role at Nissan? And describe your background in the industry.

I’ve been in automotive since 1985. That’s when I got my start with General Motors. So over 26 years in automotive; I spent 10 years with General Motors, spent a couple years with a division of Harley-Davidson called Utilimaster, which was also in commercial truck manufacturing. Then I moved to Toyota, where I worked (almost) nine years before coming here. I’ve been here since October 2005.

In that time, I’ve had a chance to work in primarily the industrial operation but also business planning, procurement, logistics, and spent time both here and at Toyota visiting dealerships to keep an eye on product quality, on-time delivery and parts/service solutions.

It’s been kind of soup to nuts. Now, the biggest change in my new role as vice chairman, I will be having that full accountability for the sales performance every month. My responsibility is for supporting the entire region, from Canada down to South America — in all functions for Nissan and our Infiniti brand.

To whom do you report?

Well, we have a matrix organization, so I have a number of people to whom I report. We have an executive committee in Japan, and I’m accountable to virtually all of the executive-committee members. My immediate regional boss is Colin Dodge, who is the chairman of the Americas. It’s been one of those matrix organizations that’s really worked for us, and through the Japan earthquake, it was valuable to have people that I could pick up the phone and call and coordinate supply issues with directly. The head of the global supply-chain management organization used to work for me here in the region.

What are the biggest differences you’ve found between working for an American manufacturer such as GM and working for a Japanese automaker?

Probably the biggest difference — and I don’t know if it’s positional — was when I was with General Motors, I was very locally focused, where in my position now, I have to be regionally and globally focused.

The analogy I use is that working in the factory is like being in the engine room on an aircraft carrier. You’re focused on making sufficient power to move that large structure. And within General Motors, I was very much in the engine room, feeding and supplying and making sure that we had a very efficient, fine-tuned engine.

My roles and responsibilities within Nissan have been much broader. So, I have had to have much greater collaboration with all functions — sales, marketing, finance — as well as the industrial side.

How do the corporate philosophies differ?

What I think distinguishes Nissan specifically is our midterm plan: transparency of what our vision for the next three, and now up to six, years in the future is. That’s a collective understanding not only internally, but we make that transparent and visible outside the company, and I don’t remember seeing that three-year or six-year vision from my past employers.

What Nissan embraces is making sure … customers come back; that once we get them into our vehicles, we make lifelong customers out of them. We haven’t been perfect at it, and that’s one of those never-ending objectives, to keep getting better and better at that. Because once you lose the customer, you really don’t have a strong future. It’s over — forget it.

Nissan has had operations in Middle Tennessee since 1983 when the factory opened in Smyrna; you moved your Americas headquarters here in 2006. What’s in the future for Nissan in Tennessee?

The reason we’re here in the first place is that this was the right place to be able to form our manufacturing beachhead because of the work ethic of the people in Middle Tennessee, the access to customers, geographically where it’s positioned. I think that promise has been fulfilled, and keeps fulfilling itself with our manufacturing plants. I think it was really a marriage made in heaven when the decision was made to move here.

I’ve been here almost six years now, and I love it here, and my family loves it here. I used to hear that when I was with General Motors. The employees who moved down here to work at Saturn fell in love with the community, the people, the environment, the weather. We have had a great relationship with the community, here and at the Decherd plant.

There’s absolutely no uncertainty for me now that this is a great place to do business, and that it’s a great place to find talented, motivated people.

There was some criticism of the company about its decision to move the headquarters here from California. How has that worked out?

Moving the headquarters and the sales and marketing organization, I think, was a significant competitive advantage for Nissan. Our results speak volumes as to whether it was the right decision. Our market share has grown significantly, and I attribute a big part of our success and our potential to the fact that we are located here.

But we’re a regional organization, as well, and now we have a lot more opportunity to create synergies with Canadian and Mexican operations, our Latin American business, our Brazil facility. Getting at least the regional functions together is making it much easier now to be regionally focused.

Obviously, the terrible tragedy in Japan has sparked questions about the future. There has been speculation that the opening of the lithium-ion battery plant you’re building in Smyrna could be delayed along with the startup of production of the Leaf electric car there. What’s the status of those plans?

Right now, we’re in the construction phase of the battery plant, the building part of it, and that wasn’t impacted. The material and construction were contracted locally. The teams that we had in Japan training lost some valuable training time as we shut down (Leaf) production in Japan for a month-plus. So that put some of our training off plan, but being that we’re not going to launch for another year and a half or so, there’s plenty of opportunity to pull ahead and stay on track.

We should be able to be on time, without a negative impact. Had it been one of these programs that was going to launch imminently and all of the equipment was there, it would have had a much bigger impact. We’ve got time now to work our way through it.

When will hiring begin for the battery plant and for the Leaf production line, as well as for the other new vehicles being moved to Smyrna from Japan — the Nissan Rogue and the new Infiniti JX?

We’ve been hiring all along, and we are going to continue to hire. Right now, specific to the Leaf and the battery plant, we are hiring people to come in and take the places of some of our key trainers who are in Japan. So we’ve hired those back-fills for those positions.

But it’ll probably be staggered and staged over the next 18 months to get the initial volume of employees to support the launch of the Leaf, the JX, then it will probably be within 12 months of that when the hiring will take place for the Rogue.

We are kind of always in the hiring mode as the growth is taking place, and we’re typically three to six months in advance of the actual need so we get people fully trained and repositioned within the factory.

We’ll man up and hire for that initial expectation, but then we’ll kind of wait and see how the market responds. We have high expectations for the new vehicles that we’re launching, as well as for the vehicles we currently have. As the economy recovers, we’ll have growth, and as these new products come into the marketplace, we’ll have growth.

Most of your hiring now is of contract workers. Will there be permanent positions as well?

Initially, all of the factory technicians that we’re hiring are contract positions, and those positions as we grow will continue to develop. And we’ve got a strong wage progression with each of those contract positions.

We continually want to develop them, to improve their skill sets, to move to higher-wage positions within the factory. Our long-term plan is to have those employees working for us for a long time. They aren’t temporary jobs; these are long-term positions that we have for them. I think in the long run, we will have some of them that will convert to become Nissan employees.

What are your goals for this job?

Quite simply, to unleash the potential we have here in the region that my predecessor, Carlos Tavares, really set a strong foundation for. We’re not going to have to restructure; we’re not going to have to change direction; it’s a matter of shifting into the next gear and accelerating farther, faster. We’ve certainly got a product that we’re currently proud of, but we’ve got a lot more work to do.

Because we had a little bit of a stumble through the earthquake (in Japan), we’re just starting to build that momentum, and we got a little bit of a speed bump there. We’re producing at a high rate; during the first six months of this calendar year, our North American plants have outproduced Toyota and Honda.

It’s remarkable how we were able to react to that tragedy and the adversity of having the supply conditions that we had. Those are behind us, and I expect to meet our business plans as if the earthquake hadn’t happened.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rare alliance reduces medical costs

LOS ANGELES — A rare alliance of health-care rivals — a giant insurance company, a major hospital chain and a large doctors group — has managed to reduce health-care costs through a radical new strategy: working together.

The question now is whether the alliance can serve as a roadmap for the success of other projects around the nation.

The collaboration among Blue Shield of California, Catholic Healthcare West and Hill Physicians Medical Group shaved more than $20 million in costs last year and prevented an insurance rate increase for public sector workers in Northern California.

The three partners cite evidence that the quality of care also improved: Hospital stays were shorter, readmissions dropped, and doctors and nurses kept closer tabs on patients.

Relationships between these kinds of companies typically are adversarial, with doctors and hospitals trying to negotiate higher prices for their services as insurers strive to limit what they pay out.

But driven by a mutual interest to cut costs and to be more competitive, the three devised a strategy they believed would deliver medical care more efficiently.

Skeptics worry that the partnership and others like it will put cost-cutting ahead of patient care. Health-care experts believe, however, that such experiments hold important lessons for an expected wave of similar “accountable care organizations” as part of the nation's health-care overhaul.

“The fact that they achieved substantial savings in the first year highlights the potential for the model,” said Dr. Elliott Fisher of the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice in New Hampshire. “There are a lot of opportunities to achieve savings, even in the short term.”

The three partners began planning their experiment in early 2008 — well before President Barack Obama and Congress opened a heated national debate over how best to control spending.

Their talks centered on 41,500 members of a Blue Shield HMO who were served by Hill Physicians, whose doctors are affiliated with Catholic Healthcare West, the state’s largest hospital chain.

All of the participants got their Blue Shield insurance through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System .

“Our staffs had a history of combatting with each other through negotiations,” said John Wray, a senior vice president with Catholic Healthcare West. “We had to trust one another to make it happen. This was a very significant culture change between the organizations.”

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Fresenius Medical to buy Liberty Dialysis

Fresenius Medical Care AG, a worldwide dialysis provider, has snapped up a pair of U.S. competitors — including one with a Brentwood connection — bringing more consolidation to an industry facing cost pressures.

Bad Homburg, Germany-based Fresenius agreed to buy Liberty Dialysis Holdings for $1.7 billion, one of two acquisitions announced by the German company on Tuesday. Last year, Liberty had merged with Brentwood-based Renal Advantage.

Fresenius Medical also will buy American Access Care Holdings LLC for $385 million.

Liberty Dialysis, a closely held company based in Mercer Island, Wash., has 260 clinics with annual revenue of about $1 billion. Its deal with Fresenius is expected to close early next year.

“Fresenius has certainly shown that scale matters,” said Lisa Clive, a London-based analyst for Sanford C. Bernstein Ltd. Clive has an “outperform” recommendation on the Germany company’s stock. She said the latest deals make “strategic sense.”

Bigger dialysis chains have an advantage under a new U.S. Medicare reimbursement system. Called the bundled rate, the new system is a fixed compensation amount designed to reduce overuse of drugs that were previously separately billable, Clive said.

American Access runs outpatient clinics for procedures such as fistulas and grafts that give permanent surgical access to veins, reducing the need to use temporary catheters for dialysis blood-cleaning treatment. Using such procedures may help Fresenius reduce the number of expensive-to-treat infections, Clive said.

Shareholders of Liberty Dialysis include private equity companies KRG Capital Partners, which is based in Denver, and Bain Capital, based in Boston.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Health IT leader Emdeon could go private again

Two years after making its debut as a publicly traded company, Nashville-based Emdeon could return to being closely held if buyout talks said to be going on between the company and private-equity firm Blackstone Group result in a deal.

Several Wall Street analysts agreed that going private would make sense for Emdeon, whose earnings and stock price have lagged since it went public.

Growth opportunities for the company are limited because of its already high market penetration — Emdeon processes almost half of all electronic medical bills nationwide.

Revenues and earnings, meanwhile, have been hurt by a drop in transaction volume as consumers use medical services somewhat less due to the economic downturn nationally. And acquisitions that Emdeon has made to diversify its business amid that sluggish economy have had no more than a modest impact on earnings.

Going private would allow Emdeon to restructure its operations and add new products and services without the scrutiny of public investors, said Leo Carpio, an analyst at Caris & Co.

“They want to be able to focus on longer-term growth of the platform without having to worry about delivering near-term earnings expectations,” said Carpio, who earlier this year named Emdeon the top takeover target within health-care information technology companies.

On Wednesday, Emdeon’s stock increased 22 percent on a Wall Street Journal report that private equity group Blackstone was in advanced talks to buy the company for more than $3 billion including debt, although there was no guarantee a deal would happen.

On Thursday, Emdeon’s stock eased off 3.8 percent, or 61 cents per share, to a price of $15.49 per share.

Tommy Lewis, an Emdeon spokesman, said the company doesn’t comment on market rumors.

A spokeswoman for Blackstone, whose local interests include a significant stake in newly publicly traded hospital chain Vanguard Health Systems, didn’t return a call.

In addition to being a claims clearinghouse, Emdeon offers services such as mailing patients’ statements and verifying insurance eligibility.

The company made at least four acquistions last year, including an expansion of its revenue cycle management business and services to help hospitals qualify patients for government-assistance programs.

Ryan Daniels, an analyst with William Blair & Co. in Chicago, said the more than $3 billion kicked around as a sales price would be a fair value for Emdeon. He considers the company a good takeover target because of its cash flow, recurring revenues, and what he called a great management team.

The private equity firms General Atlantic LLC and Hellman & Friedman LLC owning 54 percent and 13 percent, respectively, of Emdeon would make a transaction easier to complete as long as General Altantic approves the deal, Daniels said in a research note.

Including Class B shares, the two investors own roughly 74 percent of Emdeon.

Sean Wieland, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, said because of its limited organic growth, Emdeon has under-performed peers in a health-care IT niche that’s all about growth.

“What investors want to see is the business growing on its own without a dependency on acquisitions,” Wieland said. “This potential transaction with a private equity firm would make some sense because they haven’t been getting the valuation they felt they deserve.”

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lebanon lands center announced plans Thursday to open a 500,000-square-foot fulfillment center in Lebanon, promising to create hundreds of full-time and seasonal jobs before the end of this year.

It’s one of three sites the company has announced it will open in Tennessee that are expected to create 1,200 new full-time jobs for the state. The other two sites are planned for Chattanooga and Cleveland. The firm has said it plans to open at least one more facility.

“Obviously, we’re pleased somebody is going to grow jobs in Tennessee,” Gov. Bill Haslam said at a stop in Spring Hill. “This is something they’ve been working on for a while.”

But the arrival of the world’s largest online retailer to Middle Tennessee has not been without controversy over a deal to excuse it from a state sales tax. The deal continues to divide lawmakers, anger business owners and vex Haslam, who inherited a deal that was largely cut in private by his predecessor, ex-Gov. Phil Bredesen. Haslam has said in the past that his administration is committed to the deal made by his Democratic predecessor that would not require Amazon to collect sales taxes from its online customers. He subsequently has said that the federal government should resolve the question of whether online retailers must pay sales taxes.

Some Tennessee lawmakers have opposed such a deal, arguing that the online retailer’s presence will be big enough in the state to require it to collect sales taxes from its customers.

Earlier this month, state Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said he plans to reintroduce legislation that would clarify when online retailers like must collect sales tax in the next legislative session. But McNally said he would be willing to compromise by delaying the effective date of the measure for two years.

Republican colleagues — who represent the three legislative districts where Amazon has said it plans to open — have opposed McNally’s offer.

Retailers such as Walmart and Autozone also have opposed providing Amazon a break from collecting sales taxes as well, arguing that it would give Amazon an automatic advantage over big-box and small-business owners who are required to pay the tax. Bill Hubbard, the Nashville-based attorney for the Retail Industry Leaders Association, has said the opponents are considering filing a lawsuit.

So far, there has been no resolution of the tax issue.

Officials are ecstatic

In Lebanon, officials were ecstatic about the prospect of Amazon coming to town.

“If they hire 500 people, then we have 500 opportunities now for someone to put food on the table,” Mayor Philip Craighead said.

The site at an existing warehouse along State Route 840 at 14840 Central Pike is Amazon’s third facility planned for Tennessee this year.

Along with the two other sites in East Tennessee, the Lebanon center is expected to be open by the fall.

No local incentives were offered to Amazon, according to G. C. Hixson, executive director of the Joint Economic & Community Development Board of Wilson County.

That agency, as well as local workforce training and placement agencies, will work with Amazon to put residents in the jobs. About 5,500 county residents — or an estimated 8.6 percent of the labor force — are out of work.

Community Health beats earnings forecast, makes deal

Community Health Systems reported second-quarter earnings that beat analysts’ expectations and announced a deal to acquire a hospital in Tomball, Texas.

Income from continuing operations increased to $92.9 million, or 81 cents a share, for the three months that ended June 30, beating the 78 cents a share average estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

A year earlier, Franklin-based Community Health earned $88.4 million, or 76 cents, a share.

Net operating revenues increased 11.5 percent to $3.4 billion.

For the full 2011 year, the hospital company expects income from continuing operations of $3.20 to $3.35 a share vs. analysts’ expectations of $3.23.

Acquiring 358-bed Tomball Regional Medical Center would give Community Health its 19th affiliated hospital in Texas. The deal requires regulatory approvals.

Business Briefs: LifePoint reports 2Q profit gain

NEW YORK— LifePoint Hospitals’ stock rose 4 percent in Nasdaq trading Friday after the rural hospital chain reported better-than-expected earnings for the second quarter.

The company said profit grew to $40.3 million, or 77 cents per share, from $37.6 million, or 69 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose 11 percent, to $877.6 million.

Brentwood-based LifePoint had 52 hospitals at mid-year, with locations in 17 states. The stock rose to $37.10 per share, up $1.50, by Friday’s closing.

“We will continue to target acquisitions in faster-growing markets while maintaining our focus on being the sole provider in smaller communities,” CEO Bill Carpenter said in a statement.

— Associated Press

AT&T aims to slow top 5% of users

AT&T Inc. said Friday that it’s going to start limiting speeds for the 5 percent of its customers with “unlimited” data smartphone plans who clog the airwaves the most. The measure will take effect Oct. 1, AT&T said, and is intended to alleviate network congestion.

AT&T says it will warn users when they are approaching joining the top 5 percent.

AT&T won’t count data use over Wi-Fi.

— Associated Press

New music club on tap for Marathon Village

A new event space that aims to fill a void left by the now-defunct 328 Performance Hall and City Hall is set to open in Marathon Village this fall. The currently unnamed venue is owned by partners with experience in the entertainment industry, including Josh Billue of Exit/In, the music club here; Chris Cobb; and Telisha Arguelles Cobb.

The new venue is to open in October. A radio contest being held this week is designed to pick a name.

Nashville radio station Lightning 100 is staging a “name that venue” contest through Friday. Anyone who enters a name via an online form will receive a complimentary ticket to the place’s grand-opening show.

— Staff reports