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Robert Trigaux

To Media General, Tampa Tribune's become 'discontinued operation' until sold

marshall-morton_mediageneralceo.jpgWake up and good morning. Will the Tampa Tribune newspaper have a new owner before the end of this year? The shrinking paper was recently orphaned by longtime owner Media General after the Richmond, Va., parent company sold all of its newspapers to billionaire Warren Buffett. Except the Tribune. Curious.

Now, says Media General CEO Marshall Morton (photo, left), the paper is being looked at by other potential buyers. "We're in discussions with prospective buyers for our Tampa print properties and associated web sites, and we believe the sale of these properties is probable, although we can't provide a definitive timetable today," Morton told analysts in an earnings conference call Wednesday. Read the entire transcript of that discussion here. …

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John Sykes' brokerage, JHS Capital Advisors, penalized for actions of a 'legacy' broker

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Even business pros like John Sykes, shown here in Tampa where he keeps his jet, can run into customer complaints that get industry regulators involved. (Photo: Stephen J. Coddington, Tampa Bay Times.)

Wake up and good morning. It's not a big deal in the scheme of investment services but it highlights the challenge anyone -- including wealthy Tampa business pro and philanthropist John Sykes -- will encounter when knitting together a new brokerage firm from the parts of others.

Sykes-owned JHS Capital Advisors and a former broker were penalized $1.9 million last week in a Finra (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) award stemming from allegations the broker churned -- traded excessively to generate extra commissions -- a client's account. Here's a Wall Street Journal story. …

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Escalating inquiry: North Carolina regulators call in outside investigators of Duke-Progress Energy fiasco

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A series of cracks like these that have appeared in Progress Energy's -- now Duke Energy's -- containment wall surrounding the Crystal River 3 nuclear power reactor in Florida, now offline since 2009, are one of the primary reasons for the Duke-Progress merger mess now being sorted out in North Carolina. Should Duke try to fix this for a multi-billion dollar price tag or just shut down the nuke plant for good? Will that require a new natural gas plant to be built to make up for that lost source of electricity? (Photo: Progress Energy.)

Wake up and good morning. The merger fiasco spawned by Duke Energy board's high-handed dumping of CEO Bill Johnson on the same day Duke and Progress Energy combined is escalating rapidly. Not only is Johnson testifying on Thursday this week before the North Carolina Utilities Commission, a hearing sure to stir the nasty pot of this saga of greed and power. Now that same commission has decided to bring in outside investigators, according to coverage in the Charlotte Observer here.  …

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Updates: Sighting Keith Norden, calculating Wellcare's chances to be acquired

Wake up and good morning. Here are three things you might want to know about at the start of this new business week.

keithnorden.jpg1. Keith Norden (left), who until recently ran the Tampa/Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. (now run by Rick Homans), is now a finalist to run Team Volusia Economic Development Corp. in Daytona Beach.  The Daytona Beach News Journal reports that Norden is the most experienced of four finalists under consideration for the job that pays about $125,000. Norden ran the Tampa/Hillsborough EDC from 2009 until January of this year when his contract was not renewed -- a factor Norden will have to overcome in selling himself to Volusia County. …

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Everyone still shops for food but how much of it do you buy at traditional supermarkets?

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Wake up and good morning. The parent of Tampa's Sweetbay Supermarket, Belgium-based Delhaize, has seen its stock drop 52 percent in the past year. Today's Wall Street Journal reports that traditional supermarkets are losing business both to high-end stores like Whole Foods, low-end providers like Dollar General, players like Wal-mart and Target that use lower-priced food to build store traffic and warehouse clubs like Costco. States the Journal: "Americans still shop for groceries. They're just not doing it so much at supermarkets."

-- Robert Trigaux, business columnist, Tampa Bay Times

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Duke's 'new' CEO Rogers tries to calm skeptical Progress Energy employees in merger fiasco

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New J.D. Power customers satisfaction rankings out  this week show Progress Energy Florida once again is worst. But Duke Energy just bought Progress. Alas, this same survey finds Duke's satisfaction in the Carolinas is also below regional average. So what happens when a sub-par provider of service buys the worst provider of service? Don't look for much of an uptick in customer satisfaction in Florida. Read survey details here.

Wake up and good morning. More than 1,000 Progress Energy employees piled into Raleigh's downtown Marriott Wednesday to hear "new" CEO of Duke Energy Jim Rogers try to make nice to a worker base who had just heard Rogers call their former boss and now ousted leader Bill Johnson "autocratic" and someone who had lost the confidence of Duke's board of directors. …

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Duke Energy CEO Rogers testifies for four hours but this inquiry's just getting under way

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Botched repairs at Progress Energy's Crystal River nuclear power plant (above), shuttered since 2009, factored in the "loss of confidence" in incoming CEO Bill Johnson at Duke Energy. Photo: Will Vragovic, Tampa Bay Times

Wake up and good morning. It seems the fiasco at Duke Energy in the wake of its corporate cold-cocking Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson and tossing him out of the new company may not be coming to an end. It's just warming up.

After an extraordinary 4-hour hearing Tuesday (covered in person and reported here by Tampa Bay Times reporter Ivan Penn) at the North Carolina Utilities Commission -- at which Duke CEO Jim Rogers (sort of) answered questions about the apparent executive coup that ousted Johnson and installed Rogers himself as CEO -- there's plenty more vetting of this issue ahead. Some highlights of what to expect:  …

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Fear and loathing of Duke Energy: What happens when a big company loses its goodwill?

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Duke Energy headquarters in Charlotte, N.C. AP photo

Wake up and good morning. Leave it to Duke Energy to reinforce the cliches of a monopoly electric utility -- now the nation's biggest -- that thumbs its nose at the world at corporate ethics, fair play, market transparency and management discipline. Well, that world is pretty disgusted and angry at Duke, which today must explain to North Carolina regulators why the company was so deceptive in ousting Bill Johnson in the first day as CEO of the merged Duke-Progress Energy and replacing him with old Duke CEO Jim Rogers.

Here are the five best recent critical assessments of Duke's shoddy behavior:

1.  CEO Swap at Duke Puts State in Hot Seat says the headline of this Wall Street Journal story. The abrupt ouster of Duke's new CEO "is adding pressure on North Carolina officials who already faced public criticism for letting the states two largest utilities combine." …

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Backlash grows as Duke Energy scrambles to explain, soothe ousting of 'CEO-for-a-day' Johnson

dukeenergylogo.jpgWake up and good morning. New details are emerging about the CEO coup at the newly merged Duke Energy-Progress Energy, where originally anointed chief Bill Johnson (who ran Progress Energy) was booted from the executive throne before he even had a chance to warm it.

According to news reports, Johnson is eligible to receive exit payments of as much as $44.4 million, despite his short-lived tenure. A July 5 dated Wall Street Journal story headlined Behind Duke's CEO-for-a-Day, Johnson signed his three-year employment contract to be CEO of the new Duke Energy on June 27 and resigned his post July 3. "One immediate consequence of the way the change was handled is Mr. Johnson's exit will cost Duke up to $1.5 million more than he would have received under the contract he had as Progress CEO," the Journal reports. Nice work if you can get it.

The story adds that Johnson was surprised by the outcome and had very little time to consider the terms of his exit package. …

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Was Bill Johnson's immediate ouster as CEO of new Duke-Progress giant due to bungled nuke plant?

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Cause and effect? Did the failed do-it-yourself repair of the containment vessel surrounding the Crystal River nuclear power plant -- Progress Energy's sole nuke plant in the state of Florida -- ultimately lead to the booting of Bill Johnson? The photo above shows "delaminations" -- what Progress Energy once insisted the media call the big cracks visible in the photo -- that are now the focus of a giant repair bill likely to cost billions of dollars.

Johnson (below) was officially supposed to become CEO billjohnsonprogressenergyceo.jpgof the newly merged giant Duke Energy-Progress Energy. But the merged company's board, dominated by Duke board members, decided Monday evening to send Johnson packing into early retirement at age 58 and to name former Duke CEO Jim Rogers, 64, as both chairman and CEO of the new energy company.

The barrage of reporting, from the Charlotte Observer to CNBC coverage, has largely lacked much speculation on how Johnson, Progress Energy's former CEO, could be tossed aside at the very moment the new company passed final regulatory muster. Allow me to speculate. …

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Florida vies for new slogan: Drone capital of the United States

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Wake up and good morning. My first unexpected face-to-face experience with drones -- unmanned planes or helicopters that can be controlled from the ground -- happened years ago when one flew several feet over my car as it landed at adjacent Fort Huachuca in southernmost Arizona. Presumably it was helping to monitor the border with Mexico. (Photo above: AP.)

Now comes a flurry of stories suggesting Florida is well on its way to becoming one of the capitals (if not the capital) for drone development in the country. Consider these recent reports:

Dozens of Central Florida researchers "hope to play key roles in creating next-generation drone technology," this Orlando Sentinel story says. Prominent among them are the University of Central Florida in Orlando and Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach. Lockheed Martin's Orlando operations are crafting systems for some of the best known drones in the U.S. arsenal, another Sentinel story reports. …

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Clearwater oxygen supplier Lincare bought by Germany's Linde for $4.6 billion

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Wake up and good morning. After some strong hints last week, home oxygen supplier Lincare -- one of Tampa Bay's bigger public companies -- on Sunday agreed to be acquired by the German giant Linde in a deal worth a whopping $4.6 billion. Lincare had annual revenue of $1.8 billion and 800,000 customers.

lindelogo.jpgThe companies said Sunday night that Linde will make a tender offer for all shares of Lincare at $41.50. That's up from the original $40 per share hinted at in earlier reports stemming from the Financial Times and this FT follow-up Sunday.

Lincare CEO John Byrnes, perhaps the least known CEO in this area running a large public company, said the deal affords Clearwater-based Lincare "benefits it would not be able to realize on its own."

The acquisition will be completed by the end of September, which will end LNCR as a publicly traded stock and again shrink the already modest number of area public companies with at least $1 billion in annual revenue.

Read the AP story here. Read the MarketWatch story here.

-- Robert Trigaux, Business Columniust, Tampa Bay Times

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