Archive for May, 2010

Weather Channel goes after different business climates

You’d think a media company would like its hometown to know that it exists.

Mike Kelly

Mike Kelly

But for 14 years, even though the Weather Channel’s headquarters has been located right beside the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285, the company eschewed any sign of its existence. If you took a poll, I doubt many would know it’s been based here since 1982.

Enter Mike Kelly, the CEO tapped nine months ago by a new ownership group. He doesn’t subscribe to that low-key approach. A few weeks ago, two identifying signs went up on the building housing 700 employees, one facing I-75 and the other facing I-285.

“That was an important strategic issue,” Kelly, 52, said. “Once we accomplished that, I knew I was done for the year.”

Not really. He was joking. But that type of visibility is in line with Kelly’s goal of making the Weather Channel, already available in more than 100 million TV houses, more pervasive.

His favorite words are “cross platform.” He used them about …

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Power Breakfast: Alternative energy gets boost in Ga., Delta pilot, Airtran, hospital financial troubles, Lakewood, Euro, oil

It’s slow going, but maybe alternatives to oil will become more pervasive over time.

An Atlanta nonprofit announced a hydrogen fuel project Monday and a German solar panel maker promised 350 jobs for Dublin, broadening Georgia’s alternative energy industry, AJC reporter Dan Chapman writes.

The Midtown-based Center for Transportation and the Environment was awarded a $6 million contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to help develop hydrogen-powered forklifts. The Center will oversee three companies hoping to build commercially feasible fuel cells for military vehicles in California, Chapman reports.

In Dublin, MAGE Solar will establish its North American headquarters, invest $30 million and potentially employ 350 people within five years to make solar panels. Ravensburg, Germany-based MAGE, which manufactures photovoltaic modules, inverters and mounting systems, also plans a solar education academy.

Also in the AJC:

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Willing to give GM cars another look?

It looks like GM is on the comeback trail.

General Motors rode expense cuts from its bankruptcy and strong sales of redesigned models to its first quarterly net income in nearly three years, Associated Press reported Monday.

That draws the company closer to a stock offering that would repay at least part of its government aid, AP wrote.

The $865 million first-quarter profit is a dramatic reversal from the huge $6 billion loss in the same period last year. The last time the company made a quarterly profit was the second quarter of 2007, when it earned $891 million.

The Detroit automaker said it made money because debt and other expenses were slashed by its stay in bankruptcy court — and because of strong new-model sales.

Does that surprise you?

When you’re in the market for a new car, would you give GM another look?

Also, are you confident enough to buy a new car soon, or are you still concerned about the economy?

For instant updates, follow me on …

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Getting back into the housing market?

With this year’s home buying season in full swing — at least according to the calendar — are you preparing to reverse recent history?

In a new report, AJC staffer Michelle Shaw writes that every metro region across 20 counties saw prices decline last year. And all but two counties saw sales drop, too.

In the core counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, the median price of single-family homes tumbled 21 percent, Shaw reports. And the number of homes sold fell 6 percent.

But that was then. This is now. The economy is starting to improve, and many consumers have been cutting spending and trying to reduce debt.

So, will you be taking the plunge over the next few months — either on the buy or sell side? What’s pushing you in or holding you back?

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

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Power Breakfast: Atlanta home prices fall, tough teen job market, HOPE, Gulf spill, Euro crisis

Across a 20-county metro area, every region saw a residential sales price decline, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s annual Home Sales Report.

AJC reporter Michelle Shaw reports that all but two counties saw a drop in the number of homes sold, when compared to 2008.

The report was compiled with data by Marietta-based real estate research firm SmartNumbers. It looked at home sales and prices among hundreds of metro Atlanta ZIP codes but focused on 166 ZIP codes that saw a minimum of 75 homes sold during the year.

In the core counties of Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett, the median price of single-family homes — half sold for more, half sold for less — tumbled 21 percent, Shaw reports. At the same time, the number of homes sold fell 6 percent.

Also in the AJC:

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Equifax CEO pushes innovation

It may be tempting during tough times, but Equifax CEO Rick Smith says it’s a big mistake to cut strategic spending on the future, like R&D.

Rick Smith

Rick Smith

“If you cut off your lifeline to future growth, you’re dead,” said Smith, who took over the reins of the Atlanta-based information-technology company in 2005. “Any leader can manage the short-term or the long-term. True leadership is managing both.”

To do that, Smith, 50, is trying to expand Equifax’s reach. After spending 22 years at GE, he knows he inherited a company with a gold mine of consumer data that creates the ubiquitous credit reports and scores (more on that below). But, he also knows CEOs are paid to grow companies, not just watch over them.

“Five years ago, I saw a wonderful franchise with a fantastic customer proposition,” Smith said in a recent interview. “I want to protect our good assets, while bringing in new thinking for future innovation.”

The key question for Smith: “How can I add …

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Gone fishin’

I’m on vacation this week, so Power Breakfast and other biz news will return next week.

But please come back Tuesday for my column. This week, it’s an interview with Equifax CEO Rick Smith. Thanks.

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Metro Atlanta foreclosures increase slightly, but below record

Foreclosure notices in metro Atlanta rose slightly in May — 1 percent — compared with April, and increased 10 percent when compared with May of last year, according to figures just released by Equity Depot.

But this May’s total — 9,587 notices — is a 24 percent improvement from March’s record of 12,568.

“I think it’s safe to say we’re no longer showing the sustained increases we’ve seen over the last few years,” Barry Bramlett, president of Alpharetta-based Equity Depot, said in an e-mail. “The question is still how long will these huge numbers continue? Don’t think anyone knows the answer to that.”

For the first five months of the year, 50,148 notices were published — which eclipses last year’s record pace, Equity Depot data shows.

The foreclosure notices published this month in the 13-county metro area are for auctions on the courthouse steps set for next month.

Over the past several months, Bramlett has been noticing a deterioration in the commercial real estate …

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Are you noticing a change in the job market?

It’s an interesting unemployment report today.

The unemployment rate rose to 9.9 percent, but a lot more jobs were created in April — 290,000 — than economists had been predicting.

One of the reasons that the jobless rate may have risen from 9.7 percent is that more people are looking for work now, given that employers are hiring more.

What are you experiencing in the job market? Is it any easier now to find employment?

If you’re working, is your employer hiring, cutting or standing pat?

And, for you stock investors, how do you think Wall Street is going to treat the job news today? Another wild ride or will it take things in stride?

For instant updates, follow me on Twitter.

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Power Breakfast: Jobless numbers to affect Wall St., AT&T, Delta, AirTran, Home Depot, Greece

Around 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Jim Grissett could hardly put a sentence together, writes AJC reporter Michelle Shaw. He was on the phone with Shaw when his train of thought was shattered. The usually well-spoken Grissett, an Emory adjunct professor, began fumbling for words.

“Oh my goodness,” he said. “Oh my goodness.”

Grissett, principal of Atlanta-based investment company the Parthenon Group, saw something disturbing on his Bloomberg machine, Shaw writes. The Dow had suddenly cratered, falling 999 points. Grissett and his computers were freaking out.

“I felt like my worst fears were being realized,” he said.

They may have been for a little while, but the Dow managed to rebound, closing down nearly 348 points.

But what happens today? Another wild ride?

The national unemployment figures, which come out at 8:30 a.m., will play a key role in determining the direction of the stock market.

The market does not like uncertainty, and investors are hoping that there are …

Continue reading Power Breakfast: Jobless numbers to affect Wall St., AT&T, Delta, AirTran, Home Depot, Greece »