Archive for February, 2010

Power Breakfast: More questions about Toyota Camry, Coke-CCE, Delta, NCR, health reform, SeaWorld

Problems with Toyotas keep coming to light.

Even though the 2002 to 2006 Camry was not among the models recalled by the auto-making giant over the past few months, it has generated more complaints of unintended acceleration than any other Toyota model, AJC staffers Christian Boone and Larry Hartstein report.

Public safety advocates speculate a rash of incidents are linked to an electronic throttle system first installed in the Camrys starting in 2002.

“They appear to be a standout, even among Toyotas,” Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, told the AJC.

Consumer safety advocates have linked three deaths to sudden accelerations in2005 Camrys.

Toyota insists that model is free of accelerator-related problems, and four separate investigations conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration turned up no identifiable defects in the ‘02-’06 Camrys.

But a recent report from the Maryland-based Quality Control Systems revealed that the proportion of …

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You can learn a lot at lunch with Coke and CCE execs

I was invited to lunch Thursday with Coke CEO Muhtar Kent and Coca-Cola Enterprises chief John Brock so they could sell me on the benefits of one of the most dramatic moves in the beverage giants’ history.

Coke had just announced that it is taking over the North American operations of the largest soft drink bottler in the world, while CCE will become a bigger player in Europe.

It’s funny how life works sometimes. Ten years earlier, when I was covering these two companies for this paper, I was at lunch with top CCE execs. I asked if it made strategic sense for Coke to absorb CCE.

I was told, yes. But the timing was wrong. Possibly in five or 10 years.

Why was that?

Because, an exec said, Coke at the time did not have the leadership in place to pull off such a bold move, given all the problems it was having.

For those who might not remember, Coke was a mess in 2000. Just to name a few issues — an unprecedented 5,200 job cuts, an abrupt CEO change, a class-action discrimination …

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Power Breakfast: Wait until next year for job growth, Coke-CCE, tax forms, Home Depot, Toyota, health reform

If you can wait a year, job growth is likely to return to Georgia.

AJC staffer Michael Kanell reports that the state’s run of job losses — now in its third year — will finally end with the return of modest employment growth next year, according to Georgia State University’s Economic Forecasting Center.

But the state’s economic recovery will remain tepid, in part because of a banking system riddled with bad debts left over from the housing boom, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the center. Tight credit will combine with soft demand to hold back hiring, he said.

Dhawan, delivering his report at the center’s quarterly conference on Wednesday, predicted Georgia will see a net loss of 35,600 jobs in 2010 — far less than the 173,900 of 2009, Kanell reports.

The state will add 43,200 jobs in 2011 and 66,700 jobs in 2012 — a significant chunk of them lower-paying jobs, according to the center’s forecast.

Still, positive hiring will end the worst labor hemorrhage since the Great …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Wait until next year for job growth, Coke-CCE, tax forms, Home Depot, Toyota, health reform »

Should government get more power to block insurance hikes?

The new wrinkle in the health care debate is whether the government should get more power to block insurance rate hikes.

President Barack Obama said this week he wants to allow states and the federal government to screen and possibly block premium increases.

Here in Georgia, writes AJC reporter Craig Schneider, state Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine plans to submit legislation that would allow the insurance commissioner to reject rate hikes on individual policies.

Given the large increases that many policyholders are experiencing, do you think this is a good idea?

Will more government involvement distort the market, ending up creating other issues like shutting out some consumers?

Or is this what the doctor ordered, given the big rate hikes that are squeezing people?

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

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Power Breakfast: Housing market stabilizing, College Hall of Fame, World Congress Center, Home Depot, Toyota

Stability appears to be returning to our housing market, although it’s still hurting.

AJC reporter Michelle Shaw writes that Atlanta’s average price in December fell nearly 1 percent over November, according to Standard & Poor’s Case-Shiller Index. But that slight decrease shouldn’t be seen as a negative, said Cameron Findlay, chief economist for LendingTree.com.

“You want to see that,” he said. “You don’t want to see huge spikes in value changes, which we are seeing in other places.”

Findlay said Atlanta’s trend is “nice and even” and its continuous improvement will be attractive to investors and consumers.

Another good sign — the year-over-year price difference shrunk to 4 percent in December, Shaw writes.

Since June, the year-over-year gap has steadily declined. In June, prices were 14 percent lower than a year earlier. By August that number was 11 percent, and by November, 6 percent, Shaw reports.

“It doesn’t mean all is well, but that the precipitous declines are likely …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Housing market stabilizing, College Hall of Fame, World Congress Center, Home Depot, Toyota »

Investing like the rich do

Got a few million dollars to invest?

Neither do I.

Dorsey Farr

Dorsey Farr

Still, on the theory that the rich generally get richer, I thought it would be a good idea to talk with two local advisers who invest money for those with lots of it.

Maybe, Dorsey Farr and Mike Wolf would have a few ideas for us average types. They’re two of the three owners of French Wolf & Farr, which invests $225 million of their clients’ money.

The firm’s minimum for an individual account is currently $3 million — a sum I’m hoping to accumulate in my next life. When it comes to investing, you can never start too early.

Also, when it comes to investing, it’s critical to try to avoid major mistakes. A big one, according to Farr and Wolf, is to pay too much for an asset.

A few years back, they noticed that important investments — stocks, bonds and real estate — were becoming very pricey. So they adopted a more defensive posture, sheltering a larger proportion of money in U.S. Treasuries, money markets and other …

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Power Breakfast: Atlanta poaching Ohio firms, tax increases, pensions, power bills, jobs, health care

Atlanta has gained three companies from Ohio over the past eight months.

First up was NCR, the famed, 125-year-old cash register company that moved its headquarters from Dayton to Duluth last June, AJC reporter Dan Chapman writes.

Then came Fischbein, which announced in July that Suwanee, not Cleveland, would be the site for a new production line.

Finally, earlier this month, aluminum can maker Novelis quit Cleveland and moved its North American headquarters to Buckhead.

Poaching business from the Rust Belt isn’t a new phenomenon, Chapman reports. Midwest companies have been heading to the Sun Belt for decades to take advantage of balmy weather, tax breaks and non-union workers.

But the quantity, and quality, of the relocations augurs well for Atlanta, Chapman writes.

Also in the AJC:

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Take precautions before giving up home

Consumers should take precautions before walking away from their homes or they could face unnecessary legal consequences.

That’s the word today from Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Atlanta, which is warning homeowners they may be sued by the mortgage company if they just “turn in the keys.”

Instead, CCCS says, homeowners should get a document that frees them of all future liability before they walk away or they get could sued to recover the amount owed.

What’s more, consumers who sell their home for less than the amount owed — known as a “short sale” — can be sued for the unpaid balance. CCCS warns that can happen even after the sale of the home takes place.

“A borrower facing a foreclosure should assume that a post-foreclosure lawsuit is possible,” Emory University law professor Frank Alexander said in a CCCS news release.

“In addition, no homeowner should ever participate in a short sale without receiving a signed agreement clarifying that all outstanding debt …

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Power Breakfast: Insolvent insurer leaves injured workers in limbo, Ga. nuke, spy pen, UPS, health care, Toyota

AJC reporters Peralte Paul and Carrie Teegardin have written compelling stories about a gaping hole in the state’s insurance program for workers who get injured on the job.

Paul reports on how Kenny Whitey’s life radically changed when he got injured on June 20, 2006, at Leon Jones Feed & Grain in Cumming. The accident left the 49-year-old, 6-foot-2 outdoorsman trapped in a body he no longer controls.

But the safety net for his medical bills — workers’ compensation — ripped apart in November when Whitey’s employer’s insurer, Atlanta-based Southeastern U.S. Insurance (SEUS), was declared insolvent and taken over by state insurance regulators, Paul reports.

SEUS’ failure placed Kenny Whitey and 87 other Georgians with workplace injuries in insurance limbo. None are covered by the state’s insurance insolvency pool.

Meanwhile, Teegardin reports that when SEUS’  sales tanked with the recession, Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine audited the company and won a court order last year …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Insolvent insurer leaves injured workers in limbo, Ga. nuke, spy pen, UPS, health care, Toyota »

How can Hartsfield improve?

What can Hartsfield-Jackson do to improve passenger satisfaction?

The airport fell to No. 10 in the just released J.D. Power satisfaction study — down from No. 8 in 2008, AJC staffer Kelly Yamanouchi reports.

The study of North American airports is based on surveys of passengers and considers six areas — airport accessibility, baggage claim, check-in and baggage check process, terminal facilities, security checkpoints and concessions.

Hartsfield’s largest areas of decline were airport accessibility and check-in and baggage check, Yamanouchi reports.

What should be done?

Do you have a horror story to share or something good that happened that should be standarized?

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

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