Archive for July, 2010

Baptism by fire for Atlanta Beat owner

Call it the St. Louis Scramble.

The last thing that the rookie owner of the women’s pro soccer team in Atlanta needed was for the St. Louis team to fold right before coming here in May for the third home game of the season.

Fitz Johnson

Fitz Johnson

But that’s exactly what Atlanta Beat owner Fitz Johnson faced — a shot to the gut while trying to woo new fans in his team’s inaugural season.

Welcome to the rocky world of women’s pro soccer, a perennial tough sell in America. Marketing women’s basketball is no picnic, but hoops is a considerably bigger draw than soccer.

“You’ve got to become relevant in the sports landscape of Atlanta,” said Johnson, who has invested $2.5 million to try to do that. “It’s extremely hard.”

Even harder, when the league, Women’s Professional Soccer, is shaky. It has gone from nine teams to seven, losing the Los Angeles franchise before the season started.

When St. Louis bailed out right before the Atlanta game, Johnson needed to do some …

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Power Breakfast: Pitney Bowes to cut jobs, no sales-tax break, DeKalb teachers, BP, iPhone 4

Another shoe is dropping in the post office budget crisis — this time a local one.

Nearly 200 Pitney Bowes employees in Atlanta will lose their jobs, the mail processing and information technology firm announced Monday, AJC staffer Dan Chapman reports.

Workers for the company’s Government Solutions division process mail and containers at the postal service’s Surface Transportation Center on Fulton Industrial Boulevard. The contract for 184 Pitney Bowes workers expires Sept. 8, Chapman writes.

“The decision was made by USPS to bring this work back in-house as a cost-cutting effort,” according to a Pitney Bowes statement.

The nation’s long-serving mail carrier, facing a $7-billion budget gap, is in the midst of far-reaching consolidation and cost-cutting maneuvers. The USPS is considering raising the cost of a postage stamp to 46 cents, up from 44 cents, as well as ending Saturday mail deliveries.

Also in the AJC:

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Report: Credit scores are sinking

The credit scores of millions of Americans are sinking to new lows, Associated Press is reporting.

Figures provided by FICO Inc. show that 25.5 percent of consumers — nearly 43.4 million people — now have a credit score of 599 or below, marking them as poor risks for lenders, AP writes. It’s unlikely they will be able to get credit cards, auto loans or mortgages under the tighter lending standards banks now use.

FICO’s latest analysis is based on consumer credit reports as of April. Its findings represent an increase of about 2.4 million people in the lowest credit score categories in the past two years, AP writes.

Before the Great Recession, scores on FICO’s 300-to-850 scale weren’t as volatile, Andrew Jennings, chief research officer for FICO, told AP. Historically, just 15 percent of the 170 million consumers with active credit accounts, or 25.5 million people, fell below 599, according to data FICO.

On the positive side, AP says, the number of consumers who have a top …

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Power Breakfast: McIntosh Commercial Bank failure, foreclosures decline, MARTA, BP, census, federal debt

Why did McIntosh Commercial Bank fail?

AJC reporters Peralte Paul and Russell Grantham set out to answer that question after one prominent shareholder — U.S. Rep. Paul C. Broun (R-Ga.) — complained that federal regulators were being overzealous in closing banks.

But regulators, banking experts and the top executive at the institution that picked up the Carrollton-based bank’s pieces say the reasons behind McIntosh Commercial Bank’s crash were all-too-similar to those that brought down dozens of other Georgia banks since 2008, Paul and Grantham report. They boiled down to too much lending to developers and homebuilders who got into trouble when the real estate market crashed.

Not long before it lost its multi-year fight for survival, McIntosh Commercial Bank had lost so much money on such loans that, by one measure, it was financially the weakest of Georgia’s roughly 300 banks.

“I think they got caught in this downdraft in this economy,” Robert L. Johnson, …

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Foreclosures declining in metro Atlanta

The foreclosure picture in metro Atlanta appears to be improving.

Foreclosure notices declined 25 percent in July when compared with June and 5.6 percent from a year ago, according to figures released Monday by Equity Depot.

Over the past two months, notices fell 6.8 percent compared with the same two months a year ago, Equity Depot data reveal.

“If that trend continues, we may be able to conclude the foreclosure rate is declining somewhat, but [it's] still a bit early to tell,” Barry Bramlett, president of Alpharetta-based Equity Depot, said in an e-mail.

The decline from June to July was expected because there was an extra week in June to prepare foreclosure ads for publication. Still, the June ads were down 12 percent from March — the last time the calendar provided an extra week.

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

Even with the recent downward trend, however, foreclosure notices …

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Report: Rich become big mortgage defaulters

The mortgage crisis may have started with the working class, but the upper class is now engulfed in greater and greater numbers.

Whether it is their residence, a second home or a house bought as an investment, the rich have stopped paying the mortgage at a rate that far exceeds the rest of the population, the New York Times is reporting.

More than one in seven homeowners with loans in excess of a million dollars are seriously delinquent, according to data compiled for The New York Times by the real estate firm CoreLogic.

By contrast, the Times says, homeowners with less expensive housing are much more likely to keep paying. About one in 12 mortgages below the million-dollar mark is delinquent.

Though it is hard to prove, the CoreLogic data suggest that many of the well-to-do are purposely dumping their financially draining properties — just as they would any sour investment, the Times says.

“The rich are different — they are more ruthless,” Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s senior …

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Power Breakfast: Colleges fuel state economy, police chief, airport delays, Google, BP

The college classroom has a big effect on the Main Street economy.

Georgia’s public university system had a $12.7 billion economic impact on the state’s economy during fiscal year 2009, according to a newly released report, AJC staffer Gertha Coffee writes.

The 35 institutions of the University System of Georgia generated nearly 3 percent of the state’s total jobs during that time, the report said.

Most of those jobs — 62 percent — are off-campus positions in the private or public sectors, the report said. The remainder are jobs on campus, Coffee writes.

The University of Georgia– the University System’s largest institution with 34,885 students — had the single greatest economic impact: $2.2 billion on the Athens-area economy. That is 17 percent of the system’s total statewide economic impact, the report said.

Also in the AJC:

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Is a prenup in your financial future?

They’re not only for the rich any more. Would you sign a prenup?

Baby boomers looking to protect their assets are increasingly turning to prenuptial agreements, the Wall Street Journal reports. The legal contracts drawn up before a marriage detail what happens to the financial assets in the event a couple should get divorced.

“They used to be for the rich and famous,” Marlene Eskind Moses, president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told the WSJ.  “It’s become more commonplace in the market as an estate-planning opportunity for boomers.” Many are remarrying after divorce.

Even before the financial crisis hit, some 80% of matrimonial lawyers surveyed said they had seen an increase in couples signing them in recent years, the WSJ reports.

And the financial crisis — which hit boomers especially hard — accelerated the trend, with boomers adopting a defensive strategy to hold on to what they have left.

Do you think this is a good idea? Does it take the romance out of …

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Power Breakfast: Jobs top priority in governor’s race, Imperial Sugar deal, UPS, BP, Facebook, iPhone 4

They’re getting the message.

High unemployment has all the candidates for governor this year touting plans to create jobs and attract new business to the state, AJC writer James Salzer reports.

Many of them want to use the tax system to give breaks to companies that hire or to potential investors, Salzer writes.

Virtually all of them talk about working to attract more biotech and other high-tech industries. And some want to create jobs by increasing government spending.

Creating work is such an important issue because the state has lost about 337,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession, according to the state Department of Labor.

Salzer details each of the candidate’s ideas in this story.

Also in the AJC:

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Hospital hiring ban: Are smokers getting picked on?

Gwinnett Medical Center says it will not hire smokers any more, reports AJC staffer Craig Schneider.

“By not hiring people that use tobacco products and helping current employees to quit, we are trying to lead by example,” Steve Nadeau, vice president for human resources, told Schneider.

What do you think of this new policy? Is the hospital picking on one group of people in an era of high unemployment?

Should other hospitals and medical facilities adopt this policy? Or should prospective employees have the freedom to lead their lives the way they see fit outside of work?

Is it outside of work when medical costs for all employees can increase because of smoking? But medical costs can increase for lots of reasons — should all of those new workers be shunned?

Beyond hospitals, do you think other employers will adopt a policy like this? Should they?

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