TODAY

– May 6, 2015

New GM boss Barra stands behind lossmaking Opel 


(AP) — New General Motors chief Mary Barra has stressed the company's support for its struggling Adam Opel AG subsidiary in Europe, saying Opel workers will get the job of building a new vehicle at the main plant in Germany.

Barra said it was "no accident" that Opel's headquarters in Ruesselsheim was the destination for her first foreign trip since becoming CEO on Jan. 15.

"I thought it was very important to reinforce in person my commitment and GM's commitment to Opel," she said during a brief appearance before journalists Monday. She called Opel "clearly a vital part of our company."

Barra reiterated the commitment made last year by her predecessor Dan Akerson to turn Opel around after years of losses.

She said Opel's Ruesselsheim assembly plant would be the site for a new vehicle that for competitive reasons she couldn't name. The plant, which produces the Insignia model, will lose production of the Astra compact when the current model is replaced. The company is closing another plant in Bochum at the end of this year.

General Motors Co., which has headquarters in Detroit, considered selling Opel to Magna International in 2009 but changed its mind. Akerson went to Germany last year and underlined the automaker's commitment to turning its European business around by rebuilding its brand image and launching new models.

GM now aims to return Opel to break-even by mid-decade, and is plowing 4 billion euros ($5.5 billion) into the European business. Opel will roll out 23 new models and 13 new engines over the next several years.

Barra cited the company's success with recent models such as the tiny Adam city car and the Mokka small SUV as grounds for optimism. Opel's market share inched up to 6.8 percent in the European Union from 6.7 percent last year. Still, the division lost money, recording an operating loss of $200 million in the third quarter.

Europe's mass-market carmakers are struggling with weak demand in an economy that is recovering only slowly from a financial crisis. The economy is growing again but unemployment remains painfully high at 12.1 percent.

Latest Local News

Written on 05/06/2015, 2:03 pm by Business Journal staff
Fresno City College and the State Center Community College District (SCCCD) have named Dr. Cynthia Azari interim president. 
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:33 pm by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
(AP) — A high-ranking State Department official said Wednesday it's "not acceptable" for any agency employee to conduct government business on a private email server as former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton did. Joyce Barr, the agency's chief freedom of information officer, made the comment under questioning from Republican senators who used a Senate Judiciary hearing on open records laws to attack Clinton over her email practices. Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said that Clinton's approach amounted to a "premeditated and deliberate" attempt to avoid open records requirements. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina said that anyone who took such an approach should be fired, and asked Barr whether it would be considered acceptable. Barr said that she had not been aware of Clinton's decision to conduct all her State Department email on a private server but that the agency has now made it clear to employees that such an approach would not be acceptable. "I think that the actions that we've taken in the course of recovering these emails have made it very clear what people's responsibilities are with regard to record-keeping," she said. "We continue to do training, we've sent department notices, telegrams, we've talked to directors and I think the message is loud and clear that that is not acceptable." Clinton, who is running for president, has defended using a personal email account while serving as secretary of state as a matter of personal convenience. She says she has turned over to the State Department all work-related emails — more than 30,000 of them — though House Republicans investigating the 2012 attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya, are demanding more. They insist the server itself should be examined by a third party. A spokesman for Clinton's campaign declined comment. Clinton has agreed to testify on Capitol Hill later this month at the request of the special committee investigating the Benghazi attacks. Barr acknowledged problems with the State Department's overall performance responding to open records requests, calling an existing backlog of 18,000 requests "unacceptable." But she insisted improvements were being made even as the number of requests keeps growing and the agency is understaffed. Like other government agencies, the State Department is bound by laws including the Freedom of Information Act that generally require them to maintain records and make them available to the public when asked, with some exceptions. Karen Kaiser, general counsel at The Associated Press, testified that despite promises of greater transparency by the Obama administration, most agencies are not abiding by their legal obligations under open records laws. "Non-responsiveness is the norm, and the reflex at most agencies is to withhold information, not to release it," she told senators. Lawmakers are weighing legislation to improve the Freedom of Information Act, but Kaiser said agencies should also be made to comply with the laws already enacted. "We can have all the wonderful laws on the books and the presumptions of disclosure written in, but if the agencies don't abide by the requirements we're in a bad position," she said.
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:30 pm by KEN SWEET, AP Business Writer
(AP) — Everyone wants in the Club. Shares of Lending Club advanced 3 percent Wednesday after the company reported better-than-expected results and raised its full-year outlook as more people discover peer-to-peer lending as a cheaper alternative to a traditional bank. It's a positive bit of good news for a company whose the stock is down nearly 30 percent year to date as investors wait to see if Lending Club, and its competition, become as big as some investors believe it will be. Lending Club is the largest company in the peer-to-peer lending industry, which has become one of the hottest topics among investors in the past year. Lending Club is not a bank nor does it lend money itself. Like other peer-to-peer lending companies, Lending Club operates a website that puts potential borrowers and investors together. Lending Club earns revenue by charging a servicing fee on all loans it helps create. The San Francisco-based company said it earned an adjusted profit of 2 cents per share on revenue of $81.2 million. Analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research anticipated a profit of a penny per share on revenue of $74.7 million. Lending Club now expects its full-year revenue to be in a range of $385 million to $392 million, up from its previous range of $370 million to $380 million. Interest in peer-to-peer borrowing is still small, but remains strong, judging by Lending Club's loan originations. The company originated $1.64 billion in loans in the first 90 days of 2015, compared with $791 million a year earlier. That's a 107 percent year-over-year growth. As more people take out loans, the type of people borrowing money is broadening as well. In 2009, Lending Club said 53 percent of its borrowers were 35 years old or younger. Now nearly half of all Lending Club borrowers are between the ages of 36 and 50, a sign that online lending is moving beyond the digitally attuned and young. Peer-to-peer lending still makes up a tiny fraction of the $700 billion consumer loan market. But investors and analysts believe that percentage will only grow, since the interest rates Lending Club, Prosper and others can charge for their loans is significantly less than a traditional bank. Because of the intense interest in online lending industry, there has been a flood of competition from new companies and old Wall Street mainstays alike. Goldman Sachs is reportedly looking to get into online lending and banks are partnering with Lending Club and others to stay competitive in consumer loans. A recent conference in New York attracted nearly 2,000 attendees, double the year before. The booming interest has required Lending Club to spend heavily to stay ahead. The company spent $35.8 million on sales and marketing last quarter, a 75 percent jump from the $20.6 million what it spent last year. The company's overall expenses increased sharply in the quarter from a year earlier, particularly in engineering and product development. The company also saw a sharp rise in the amount of money it gave out in stock-based compensation to recruit new engineers and employees. Despite signs that Lending Club and the entire peer-to-peer lending industry has room to grow, investors remain cautious. Even with the stock down 30 percent this year, it still costs a massive $348 for every dollar of earnings Lending Club has, far more than the $24 average for companies in the Standard & Poor's SmallCap 600, an index of small-company stocks. While higher earnings multiples are common for companies with high growth potential, analysts say the biggest thing holding up the stock is how expensive it is already. Lending Club was up 52 cents, or 3 percent, to $18.10 in early afternoon trading.
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:28 pm by Associated Press
(AP) — U.S. stocks are closing lower as investors worry about the economy, interest rates and stock valuations. Payroll processor ADP said hiring slowed in April to its weakest pace in nearly a year and a half. Traders were also concerned that Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said stock market valuations were high. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell nine points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,080. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 86 points, or 0.5 percent, to 17,841. The Nasdaq composite declined 19 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,919. News Corp., which publishes The Wall Street Journal, fell 6 percent after its results missed forecasts. Noodles & Co. plunged 19 percent. Bond prices fell. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.23 percent, the highest in two months.
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:23 pm by HOPE YEN, Associated Press
(AP) — Significant amounts of natural gas on federal lands are being wasted, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year and adding to harmful greenhouse gas emissions, a congressional investigation has found. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office also said the Bureau of Land Management failed to conduct production inspections for hundreds of high-priority oil and gas wells — roughly 1 out of 5 — to ensure full payment of royalties to the U.S. The report, obtained by The Associated Press before its public release, is the latest to highlight substantial gaps in oversight. An AP review of government records last May found the agency, which manages oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands, had been overwhelmed by a boom in a new drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The GAO report said it had been urging BLM, an agency of the Interior Department, to update guidelines for the burning or venting of natural gas since at least 2010, when it found 40 percent of it could be captured economically and sold. BLM has yet to do so, although agency officials now say they are in the process of putting together various orders and a proposed rule for comment later this year. Until then, government investigators called BLM's management of oil and gas "high-risk" for waste and fraud. "The Interior Department has known for at least a decade that companies have been wasting natural gas from oil and gas wells on public lands," said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. "Venting and flaring natural gas from these wells hurts the environment and speeds up global warming, and it shortchanges the taxpayers." He joined Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, in calling on the department to redouble efforts to stem waste, rather than give "drilling companies a pass to let millions of taxpayer dollars evaporate into thin air." Companies that drill for natural gas pay the federal government a royalty on the gas they extract; they are also allowed to burn or release publicly-owned gas from wells in certain amounts for free. But GAO said BLM was underestimating the amount of gas vented and flared and failing to collect royalties for that gas. Based on data from the Environmental Protection Agency, the GAO calculated in 2010 that the government was losing at least $23 million annually in lost sales, an amount that environmental groups say has since grown due to increased drilling activity. Much of the vented gas is methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Using EPA estimates, the GAO concluded that capturing the vented gas would be the equivalent of removing 3.1 million cars from the road or closing four average-sized coal-fired power plants. Pieter Tans, lead scientist of the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said methane is an important contributor to global warming, but that carbon dioxide emissions remained the no. 1 target. "It's more easy to do something about methane than it is to do something about CO2," he said. The report also found that BLM repeatedly failed to meet annual inspection goals for high-risk wells. In 2013, for example, it did not complete production inspections on 19 percent of the wells it considered at high risk, GAO said. The Interior Department generally concurred with the GAO's findings, saying it had taken steps to improve its data on the venting and flaring and would update its rules. It generally pointed to a lack of funding for delays and noted that President Barack Obama had requested more money in his budget for inspections, in part by collecting fees from oil and gas companies. "This authority would provide much needed resources to support BLM's cradle to grave responsibilities for wells," wrote David Haines, deputy assistant secretary for the Interior Department. BLM and the Interior Department did not immediately return a request for further comment. ___AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:21 pm by COLLEEN SLEVIN, Associated Press
(AP) — A video showing workers at a Colorado pig farm hitting animals with cans and boards prompted the firings of seven employees, but authorities said Wednesday no criminal charges will be filed. A member of the Los Angeles-based group Mercy for Animals filmed the video while working undercover at one of about a dozen Seaboard Foods farms in Colorado's northeastern corner. The group posted the footage online late Tuesday. It previously turned over the video to the Phillips County Sheriff's Office, which launched an investigation and notified Merriam, Kansas-based Seaboard, which did its own probe. District Attorney Brittny Lewton concluded there was no evidence the abuse warranted criminal charges. "Although in the video submitted by 'Mercy for Animals,' it appears that one or two of the employees for Seaboard Farms is violating company policies and the best practices for livestock handling, the appropriate course of action is either training or termination, not criminal charges," Lewton said in letter to the sheriff's office. Undercover video by Mercy for Animals also captured workers at a now-closed New Mexico dairy whipping, kicking and punching cows last year. Four men were charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty in that case last month. Seaboard Farms has more than 300 pig farms in Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas and Colorado. It has fired five workers and two supervisors following an internal investigation at the Colorado facility near the Nebraska border, spokesman David Eaheart said. In a statement, the company said the abuse, which happened while the pigs were being loaded onto trucks, is "unacceptable and inexcusable" and violates its standards. It said all farm managers will be shown the video to send a message that such handling of animals is not acceptable. Mercy for Animals' investigations director, Matt Rice, said the company's actions are "too little too late," and Seaboard should install livestream cameras to deter abuse. The video also shows pigs crammed into concrete stalls and a worker snaring a pig and firing a captive bolt — used to stun animals before slaughter — into its head in front of other animals. Rice said the group doesn't claim those things are illegal but believes they are unethical. Seaboard supplies pork to Walmart and other retailers. Mercy for Animals seized on the Walmart connection to try to pressure the retail giant to require its suppliers to adopt reforms, including ending the practice of keeping pregnant sows in crates. Companies including Target and McDonald's have agreed to phase out the use of gestation crates by their suppliers. Colorado will outlaw them starting in 2018. Walmart spokesman John Forrest Ales said the company requires its suppliers and producers to rely only on farms certified as following industry and government rules. "We hold all our suppliers to high standards and do not tolerate the mistreatment of animals," he said.
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:19 pm by 
EDDIE PELLS, AP National Writer
An NFL investigation released Wednesday concluded New England Patriots employees likely deflated footballs used in the AFC Championship and that quarterback Tom Brady was "at least generally aware" of the rules violations. The NFL began investigating what's now known as "Deflategate" after the Patriots defeated the Colts 45-7 on January 18. The Colts complained that several footballs were under-inflated and the NFL confirmed that 11 of the 12 footballs were under the limit. The investigation started as the Patriots were preparing for the Super Bowl — which they won two weeks later. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Troy Vincent, the league's executive vice president of football operations, would review the 243-page report on attorney Ted Wells' investigation and consider what steps to take next. "We will continue our efforts vigorously to protect the integrity of the game and promote fair play at all times," Goodell said. The NFL requires balls to be inflated between 12.5 and 13.5 pounds per square inch, and each team is responsible for the balls it uses on offense. Footballs with less pressure can be easier to grip and catch. Some quarterbacks prefer footballs that have less air. Brady said he prefers footballs inflated to 12.5 pounds per square inch. On many occasions, Brady said he never asked for balls to be deflated outside of the rules. But the NFL report concluded "it was more than probable than not" that Jim McNally, the officials' locker room attendant, and John Jastremski, an equipment assistant for the Patriots, were involved in "a deliberate effort to release air" from the footballs in the moments before kickoff of the AFC title game — and after they were examined by the referee. The report cites evidence that McNally took the game balls into a bathroom adjacent to the field at Gillette Stadium, and stayed there for about 100 seconds — "an amount of time sufficient to deflate thirteen footballs using a needle." Other evidence included referee Walt Anderson's inability to locate the previously approved footballs at the start of the game — the first time that had happened to him in 19 years. The report includes salty text messages between McNally and Jastremski — sent in October and January — that imply Brady was requesting footballs deflated below 12.5 pounds per square inch. They also imply that Brady had previously been upset with the quality of the game balls. The texts described requests from McNally for shoes and signed footballs from Brady in exchange for deflating the balls. "Remember to put a couple sweet pig skins ready for tom to sign," one said. "Nice throw in some kicks and make it real special," another said. The report says there's no evidence that owner Robert Kraft, coach Bill Belichick or anyone on the coaching staff knew about the scheme. Kraft, who strongly defended his team and said the NFL would owe the Patriots an apology if the investigation turned up no culpable evidence, called the conclusion "incomprehensible." But, he said the Patriots would accept the findings of the report "and take the appropriate actions based on those findings as well as any discipline levied by the league."
Written on 05/06/2015, 1:00 pm by SCOTT SMITH, Associated Press
(AP) — A drone large enough to carry tanks of fertilizers and pesticides has won rare approval from federal authorities to spray crops in the United States, officials said Tuesday. The drone, called the RMAX, is a remotely piloted helicopter that weighs 207 pounds (94 kilograms), said Steve Markofski, a spokesman for Yamaha Corp. U.S.A., which developed the aircraft. Smaller drones weighing a few pounds had already been approved for limited use to take pictures that help farmers identify unhealthy crops. The RMAX is the first time a drone big enough to carry a payload has been approved, Markofski said. The drone already has been used elsewhere, including by rice farmers in Japan. The FAA approved it for the U.S. on Friday. "I certainly understand their cautious approach," Markofski said. "It's a daunting task given our airspace is complicated." The drone is best suited for precision spraying on California's rolling vineyards and places that are hard to reach from the ground or with larger, piloted planes, said Ken Giles, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis. Giles tested the drone in California to see if it could be used here. "A vehicle like this gives you a way to get in and get out and get that treatment done," Giles said. Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said in a statement that the approval highlights other potential uses. "The FAA is taking an important step forward to helping more industries in the U.S. realize the benefits (drone) technology has to offer," he said.
Written on 05/06/2015, 12:58 pm by Business Journal staff
Porterville College will host its third annual job fair on Thursday. The job fair will run from 9 a.m. to noon in the College Gymnasium at 100 East College Ave, with priority service for military veterans and their families from 9 to 9:30 a.m. The event is free and open to the public. Representatives from 75 organizations have been confirmed for the job fair, including San Joaquin Valley Vets, Marshalls, Foster Farms, Home Depot, California Highway Patrol and the City of Porterville.  In a statement, the college said it has heard from several organizations that are expected to hire applicants during the job fair. Those interested in attending are encouraged to dress appropriately for an interview and bring three copies of a current resume. No parking permits are required for the event. 
Written on 05/06/2015, 12:56 pm by Business Journal staff
Saint Agnes Medical Center has been awarded $203,000 from the Saint Agnes Men’s Club in support of the advancement of a dozen hospital programs and services. The check was awarded to the medical center during the club’s Las Vegas-themed Mercedes-Benz of Fresno Casino Night fundraiser last month and is a result of the group’s 2014 fundraising efforts.  “Our special thanks to everyone who contributed to or participated in the Men’s Club’s fundraisers, which support vital patient care services and outreach programs,” said Nancy Hollingsworth, president and CEO of Saint Agnes Medical Center. “We’re very blessed to have dedicated volunteers helping us fulfill our commitment to the community in providing access to quality, compassionate care.” The money will provide new equipment, additional funding for community benefit and outreach programs and funds for expansion and renovation projects.  The Saint Agnes Men’s Club has helped raise more than $3 million for the hospital since 1983.

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Latest National News

Written on 05/06/2015, 1:33 pm by ERICA WERNER, Associated Press
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Written on 05/06/2015, 1:28 pm by Associated Press
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