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33 posts from March 2012


Malaysian company plans 1,000 RadioShack stores in Asia

RadioShack is planning a major expansion throughout Asia after signing a development agreement with a Malaysian retail group.

The Fort Worth-based retailer said today that Berjaya Retail Berhad expects to open at least 1,000 franchise locations in several southeast Asian nations over the next 10 years. It anticipates to open the first RadioShack locations in Kuala Lumpur later this year.

Berjaya Retail Berhad operates the 7-Eleven and Singer brands that have 2,000 stores combined. The company is owned by Tan Sri Vincent Tan Chee Yioun.

RadioShack's retail network includes 4,700 company-owned stores in the U.S. and Mexico and more than 1,100 dealer and franchise locations worldwide.

-- Steve Kaskovich


Six Flags announces changes to Mr. Freeze ride at Arlington park

Roller coaster enthusiasts might find the new twist on the Mr. Freeze ride at Six Flags Over Texas a cool experience.

The theme park said Thursday it is reversing the ride. Now, riders will travel backwards through a 190-foot tunnel, into a 180-degree inversion before climbing more than 200 feet in the air, where they will be suspended before repeating the ride face-forward.

"Reversing the direction of the trains on two of our most popular coasters is a fun twist on the ride experience," said Al Weber, Six Flags chief operating officer, in a statement. "Mr. Freeze: Reverse Blast demonstrates Six Flags’ commitment to continually push the envelope and deliver new and innovative thrills to our guests."

Six Flags St. Louis is also reversing the ride.

The ride will maintain the original Mr. Freeze theme, patterned after Batman’s cold-hearted arch rival in the DC Comics Batman series, Six Flags said.

The 20-passenger seat ride covers nearly 1,500-feet of track at speeds of up to 70 mph. The ride opened in the Arlington park in 1998.

"The reverse launch is sure to be dramatic," said Tim Baldwin, editor of RollerCoaster! Magazine. "What will really blow riders away is the upward vertical climb into the sky staring face forward to the ground. Diving straight down more than 200-feet back to earth, face-down, is going to be totally wicked."

The ride is scheduled to open in May. Six Flags Over Texas opened for the 2012 season on March 3.

_ Sandra Baker

GameStop quarterly profit falls on charges, but beats Wall Street estimates

GameStop’s profit fell in the fourth quarter as it took several one-time charges, but, excluding those items, earnings were in line with the company’s projections.

Net profit for the Grapevine-based video games retailer fell to $174.7 million compared to $237.8 million. Excluding the writedowns and restructuring charges, profit was $1.73 per share of common stock, 10 percent over a year earlier, GameStop said.

For the new fiscal year, which began Jan. 29, GameStop said its sales growth would be driven primarily by its digital business, used video games, and mobile initiatives. It said it expects 8-15 percent in earnings per share growth over 2011.

GameStop forecasted sales in comparable stores would fall off in the first quarter of the new year, but accelerate through the year. It said it expected first-quarter sales in comparable stores – those open at least a year, an industry benchmark - would fall 7.5-9 percent. For the year, it expects comparable store sales to be in the range between down 1.5 percent to up 2 percent.

GameStop said it expected to open 100 new stores and close 150, and it continues to focus on its digital business.

Rob Lloyd, GameStop’s chief financial officer, said in an interview that GameStop expects its fast-growing digital business to grow 50 percent above the 57 percent growth in 2011. Digital sales finished 2011 at $453 million, he said, compared to the total $9.5 billion in sales for the company.

Digital sales, which the company has said its future growth will come from, should grow into “the high $600 million range for 2012,” Lloyd said in the interview.

As for the expected tough first quarter in comparable store sales, Lloyd noted GameStop is up against a strong period from a year earlier, after Nintendo launched its 3DS game unit.

Through the remainder of the year for the stores, GameStop expects a boost from its software lineup and growing buy-sell-trade program for Apple “i” devices such as iPhones and iPads.

Nintendo is also preparing to launch its new Wii U device later in the year, and “that is always a (comparable store sales) driver, when we have a hardware launch,” Lloyd said.

GameStop expects its net retail square footage to be down 1 percent for the year, primarily driven by shrinkage in the U.S. store base.

Lloyd said GameStop is using its rapidly growing PowerUp Rewards affinity program to help it make decisions on opening and closing stores.

In the case of closing a store, he said the company can use the PowerUp Rewards system to redirect customers to the nearest store. Typically, the company can redirect 40 percent of a closing store’s customers to another nearby store, Lloyd said.

Including subtraction of costs, the combination of two stores can increase the profit of those combined operaitons by 20 percent, he said. PowerUp now has more than 17 million participants, up from 15.9 million at the end of the fiscal year, Lloyd said. The company went national with the program in 2010, and thhe company estimates 59 percent of its sales come from PowerUp customers.

The company wants to get that number up above 70 percent by the end of 2014, Lloyd said.

“That’s been a home run for us,” he said. “Knowing what customers are spending, what their frequency is, incenting them, it’s been a great tool for us.”

- Scott Nishimura


Familiar Fort Worth advisers make this year's Barron's 1,000 ranking - again

Familiar faces popped among the Tarrant County financial advisers ranked among the annual Barron’s 1,000 top U.S. advisers: Henry Luskey of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, and Shott Miller and Bradley Bruce of Merrill Lynch, all three of Fort Worth.

It was Luskey’s fourth straight year on the ranking and Miller’s third consecutive. Bruce has made the prestigious list two of the last three years.

“I hope we can have this conversation again in another year,” Miller said.

The ranking is based on assets under management, revenue produced for the firm, regulatory record, quality of practice, and philanthropic work, Barron’s says.

Luskey, ranked 50th among Texas advisers and a former specialty retailer who went into the investment business 18 years ago, says nothing has changed about his game. He likes to pick his own stocks and bonds, shies from bond funds in favor of individual issues, loves energy, and generally doesn't farm money out to other managers except in cases such as gaining exposure to foreign holdings.

“We’re always very heavy in energy, we stress quality, we stress blue chip, we stress income,” Luskey said.  “We try to get our clients income and growth in the most conservative way.”

Luskey, the lone adviser in his team of three at Morgan Stanley, recently won a promotion to executive director from senior vice president. He reports having $500 million under management, with a $3 million typical account.

Lately, Luskey says some clients have been taking profits in the strong equity market. “The market’s doubled in the last three years,” he notes. Not only that, his clients’ largest holding had been XTO Energy, and when it was acquired by ExxonMobil, which clients also hold, portfolios ended up too heavy in ExxonMobil, Luskey says.

Miller, in his 27th year at Merrill Lynch and ranked 35th this year among Texas advisers, says clients have been “gaining a little bit of confidence in the market” over the last six to eight months.

He notes many investors in a recent Merrlll study indicated the best investment advice they’d received lately was to “stay the course.”

“People have done that,” said Miller, whose four-adviser team reported $3.5 billion in assets under management and a typical $1 million account.

Merrill’s also keeping an eye on risk these says, he said.

“There’s risk in this market,” he said. “You never really know what’s going to happen day to day.. When everybody feels happy and feels they’re beyond the risk, that’s usually when something happens.”

At least among his clients, he said, “I’m not seeing that.”

Merrill recalls the start he got in the investment business, building his book through cold calling in the 1980s and early 1990s. “It opened up what are now some of my better accounts,” he says.

Such a route is difficult for newcomers in the industry, who typically leverage their networks to prospect new business, he says.

Bruce, ranked 64th among Texas advisers, has been at Merrill for 24 years, since graduating the University of Arkansas and being taken in by the firm on his first visit to Fort Worth

The lone adviser among a team of four, he reports $517 million under management, with a $5 million typical account.

“My clients are typically cautiously optimistic” and not in a get-rich-quick mode, he said.

 “We don’t have a lot of get-rich-type portfolios,” he said. “We have a lot of stay-rich-type portfolios.”

Scott Nishimura

GSA employees in Fort Worth get more freedom to telecommute

Update: This blog post originally incorrectly stated the amount of savings the GSA incurs by closing its 11th and 12th floors on Fridays.

The federal General Services Administration in Fort Worth is encouraging more employees to work from remote, as part of the government’s push to go greener.

Eight months ago, the GSA began closing its 11th and 12th-floor offices in the Federal Building downtown on Fridays. This week, it showed off its recently completed Mobile Work Space on the 14th floor, where GSA employees can reserve workstations and use conference rooms and wireless Internet. The 275-square-foot space can handle up to 49 employees.

Employees can use the space on Fridays or other days, if they’re used to telecommuting and need to drop by the Federal Building.

“Work is what you do, not where you’re at,” J.D. Salinas III, regional administrator for the GSA Greater Southwest Region, said Tuesday.

The GSA estimates it saves $1,400 per Friday in energy costs by closing the 11th and 12th floors.

Beyond reducing demand for federal space, saving taxpayer money, and reducing the agency’s carbon footprint, Salinas said the green push, laid out in an executive order President Obama signed in 2009, fosters collaboration and better prepares employees to respond to emergencies.

GSA employees in Fort Worth responded, for one, to the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995. “All they need is their laptop, and they can work from anywhere,” Tina Jaegerman, the GSA’s public affairs officer in Fort Worth, said.

The GSA region office represents Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, and manages 13 million square feet of federal office space and nearly 1,350 buildings. The GSA, which also fully occupies the fifth and 14th floors and part of another in the Federal Building, has about 600 employees in downtown Fort Worth.

Other federal offices are undergoing the same kinds of changes. The GSA’s 1800 F Street offices in Washington, D.C., have made a major push away from assigned cubicles and toward telecommuting, Jaegerman said.

- Scott Nishimura

Texas Health Resources names chief operating officer

Arlington-based Texas Health Resources said today that longtime executive Barclay Berdan will be the healthcare system's chief operating officer, a new position it had previously announced it planned to create. Berdan, who is also senior executive vice president, effective April 1 will be responsible for integrating the 24-hospital organization's operations, as well as managing joint ventures and partnerships involving wellness, home health and rehabilitation. THR, whose properties include the Harris Methodist hospitals, Arlington Memorial Hospital and the Presbyterian hospitals in the Dallas area, had said March 7 it would restructure its upper management.

THR said Berdan will work with a to-be-named chief clinical officer, a physician position that the system is still looking to fill. Together they will implement "the next phase of the 10-year strategic plan launched in 2007," THR announced today.

“As we move forward with the transformation of Texas Health Resources from a hospital-centric organization to a patient-centered, fully integrated health system, creating a team of clinical and operations experts working side-by-side in leadership at the system and zone levels will be crucial to the successful integration of operations and clinical care,” said THR CEO Doug Hawthorne. The strategy also involves bringing more physicians into management positions, THR said.

-- Jim Fuquay

Texas union membership declined in 2011, BLS reports

Union membership in Texas fell to 534,000 last year from 545,000 the year before, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Tuesday.

Nationally, the number of workers belonging to a union rose by 49,000 to nearly 14.8 million. Membership dropped by more than 600,000 in each of the two prior years, the BLS said.

Union members made up 5.2 percent of Texas wage and salary workers in 2011, the third straight year with rates above 5 percent. Nationally, 11.8 percent of workers were union members, the BLS said.

New York had the highest union membership rate tat 24.1 percent, followed by Alaska (22.1 percent) and Hawaii (21.5 percent). North Carolina had the lowest membership rate, at 2.9 percent.

In addition to the 534,000 Texas union members, the BLS said another 109,000 workers were represented by a union while not being union members themselves.

“Combined, these numbers accounted for 6.3 percent of Texas wage and salary employment compared to a national rate of 13 percent,” the BLS said.

- Scott Nishimura


Protestors want more help to homeowners

About 20 demonstrators in downtown Fort Worth today called for the federal government to take more action to help struggling homeowners, such as reducing mortgages when a home’s value has fallen below the loan balance. The noontime event, at Burnett Park along Seventh Street, lasted less than an hour.

Kit Jones, an organizer for the Fort Worth office of the national MoveOn political group, said “it’s far past time that government-controlled mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide some needed relief. Those two organizations, which were taken over by the federal government in 2008 during the financial crisis, purchase a majority of the new U.S. home loans.

Jones said her group also is calling for the replacement of Edward DeMarco as acting director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Democrats have called for the Obama administration to appoint a director who will accept the government’s incentives aimed at encouraging lenders to reduce loan balances for some homeowners. DeMarco, whose agency regulates Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, has resisted, noting recently that three out of four borrowers whose loans are held by the organizations are making payments on time. He has suggested that lowering monthly payments could be more effective.

-- Jim Fuquay


Michaels, Calloway's Nursery report fourth-quarter gains

Some good earnings numbers from two North Texas retailers this morning.

Michaels Stores reported higher sales and operating income for the fourth quarter, though net income was cut by a higher effective tax rate.

Operating income for the three months ended Jan. 28 increased 13 percent to $234 million, as total sales at the Irving-based arts and crafts chain grew by 5.5 percent. But net income decreased by 1 percent to $97 million as the company paid an additional $22 million due to a higher effective tax rate.

For the full year, net income was $4.2 million, up from $2.6 million, and same-store sales increased by 3.2 percent.

John Menzer, Michaels chief executive, said the results "exceeded expectations" and credited an improved focus on the customer and increased penetration of private-label products.

Fort Worth-based Calloway's Nursery reported a fourth-quarter profit of $57,000 compared with a loss of $600,000 the previous year. Sales at the chain's 19 stores were $9.6 million, up from $8.9 million.

For 2011, Calloway's earned $1.3 million on sales of $46.6 million, up from a profit of $700,000 in 2010.

-- Steve Kaskovich 



Job fair on Friday at Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel

National Career Fairs will be holding a job fair in Fort Worth on Friday at the Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel and Spa, 1701 Commerce St., from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

Companies such as TravelAce Enterprises, Kroge, Check N Go, Aaron’s and others will be at the event. National Career Fairs will have a local career expert on hand to provide a free professional resume review.

The event is free.  For more information, go to www.nationalcareerfairs.com.

-- Steve Kaskovich



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