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Not a ringing endorsement for Bank of America

Bank of America's planned $43-billion acquisition of FleetBoston quickly drew some negative reaction last week.

A flurry of analysts derided it. Bank of America shareholders, apparently thinking the price was too high, dumped shares of their bank's stock en masse.

One of the few neutral observers to defend the deal was longtime banking analyst Dick Bove in St. Petersburg. He reasoned shareholders should be happy because they will benefit in the long run by owning a piece of the biggest consumer bank _ by far _ in the country.

But Bove's support of the deal didn't sound too, well, supportive.

Bank of America should have spent its money in an area like investment banking where profits are rising instead of retail banking, which is at the peak of its profit cycle, he said. Moreover, if Bank of America really wanted to buy another retail bank, FleetBoston wasn't the best choice. And now, with Bank of America's market share of U.S. deposits hovering near the 10 percent limit, it's prohibited from making another big deal.

"I think that they bought the wrong company," Bove concluded. "If I had my preference, I would have gone in a different direction."

And that's for a deal he endorsed.

_ JEFF HARRINGTON

Drumming up support for dragon boat racing

Dragon boat enthusiasts are hoping the third time is a charm in trying to pull off a race in Tampa.

Fans of the 40-foot-long, dragon-headed boats have been trying to bring a race to Tampa for two years. This year, they are determined to see up to a dozen teams racing the 22-person boats May 1 on a 500-meter stretch of water in the Garrison Channel, with the finish line behind the Marriott Hotel.

For more than 2,000 years, teams in south China have been racing the slender boats, with a steerer in the stern, 20 paddlers seated side-by-side and a drummer on the bow, keeping the paddlers working in unison with the beat. The tradition is based on the Chinese legend of a man exiled from his land who threw himself into a river. Local fishermen supposedly beat drums and splashed the water with their paddles to try to save him from water dragons and fish, giving rise to the noisy tradition of dragon boat racing.

About 50-million people reportedly participate in dragon boat competitions worldwide each year. Though most races are still in the Far East, a growing number of events are held in Europe, Australia and the United States. The reigning world championship team is from Philadelphia.

Tampa's inaugural race will be held in connection with the annual Asia Fest, and proceeds will benefit the Florida Aquarium. The race will be managed by Great White North, a Toronto company that will provide up to 12 boats, a training clinic the week before the race and supervision at the event. The company also will provide a professional steerer for each boat to keep mishaps to a minimum.

Phil Vosburgh, executive director of the group sponsoring the Tampa race, expects about a quarter of the teams will be from out of the area. But he hopes to attract teams from local companies as well.

"It's a great team-building activity," he said. "I'd like to see the chief executives out there, beating the drum for their employees."

While Vosburgh is trying to drum up corporate sponsorships of up to $25,000 each, a team can reserve a boat to race for $1,500. "For that they get a steerer and three chances to race, with the best composite time the winner," he said.

Amateurs should be aware that competition could be stiff. Vosburgh said the Toronto team won the recent dragon boat race in Miami, blowing away local teams.

"Toronto did 500 meters in less than two minutes," he said. "They really wiped everybody out."

_ KRIS HUNDLEY

Bucs still champs to online shoppers

The Bucs may be having an up-and-down year thus far, but their gear has been scoring high sales on the Web.

Sales of Tampa Bay Buccaneers merchandise are up 135 percent over last year at the NFL's official online store, NFLShop.com. In addition, three of the top-selling items on the site are the Bucs-brand replica jerseys from team favorites Mike Alstott, John Lynch and Warren Sapp.

And it's not just Tampa Bay area fans driving up sales. Eighty percent of Bucs paraphernalia bought from the NFL site is purchased by people outside of Florida.

NFL spokesman Dan Masonson said there's a fairly good correlation between a winning season and high sales. T-shirt, anyone?

_ BENITA D. NEWTON

Swing a club to benefit plane crash victim

It's not your typical corporate fundraising pitch.

"Wait!" begins the letter from Chad Angell, president of Angell Construction of Tampa. "Before you toss "just another charity golf tournament' flyer into your circular file, I beg you to read the letter . . . enclosed in this mailing."

The letter from Highwoods Properties vice president Stephen Meyers describes in excruciating detail the plight of 22-year-old Bradley Kendell, sole survivor of a crash of a twin-engine plane as it approached Clearwater Airpark in August.

Two men pulled Kendell from the burning wreckage of the Piper Navajo before it exploded. After stopping the internal bleeding and closing a tear in his aorta, doctors gave him a 50-50 chance to live through the night. He subsequently had both legs amputated above the knees, surgery for broken bones in his arm and shoulder and multiple skin grafts.

His father, Highwoods construction director Bruce Kendell, died in the crash along with Daniel Griffith, a friend and a flight instructor.

"Brad will require months of rehabilitation after his stay at Tampa General," Meyers wrote. "While (his mother) has some funds and there will be some insurance proceeds, they are not a substitute for Bruce's earnings."

Chad Angell read the letter and decided to host a charity golf tournament for Kendell at the Eagles Golf & Country Club on Nov 18. Net proceeds from entry fees, sponsorships and a silent auction will go to the Bradley J. Kendell Family Trust at Old Harbor Bank in Clearwater.

_ STEVE HUETTEL

When it's time to discuss the L-word

Hundreds of Sykes Enterprises workers lost their jobs last year as part of a $21-million "restructuring" plan that closed five U.S. and European call centers.

Further layoffs may be afoot, the Tampa company said in its quarterly conference call last week.

In fact, CEO John Sykes already has a new euphemism for just such an occasion: "facility and cost rationalizations."

Sacking American workers is no fun. It's bad for morale and a public relations blot, even when the employer in question has little choice but to do so. Sykes says its clients are demanding prices it can provide only in low-cost locales such as India or the Philippines.

If Sykes has responded with the linguistic equivalent of a fog machine, it's by no means the first employer to do so.

Euphemisms for corporate layoffs in recent years have included such gems as "normal involuntary attrition," "negative employee retention" and "dehiring."

Of course, shareholders usually don't view layoffs with the same dread employees do. After Sykes' conference call Tuesday, the company's stock closed at $9.37, a one-day gain of 26 percent.

_ SCOTT BARANCIK

At odds over cruise line's wastewater practice

An environmental advocacy group has begun a boycott designed to convince Royal Caribbean Cruises of Miami to adopt more stringent wastewater technology and practices.

Oceana says it has more than 30,000 pledges from citizens across the nation, including 3,000 Floridians, who say they won't vacation with the cruise line until it stops dumping what Oceana calls inadequately treated sewage into the ocean. The Washington, D.C., group is aiming for 100,000 signatures.

Oceana spokesman Sam Haswell said the group is targeting Royal Caribbean, which sails from the Port of Tampa about 25 times a year, because it could set an example for the industry as one of the biggest cruise lines.

"It touts itself as an environmental leader in the cruise industry, yet it refuses to take simple and affordable steps to clean up its act," Haswell said. The proposed systems would cost more than $2-million per ship to install, Haswell said.

Oceania can't say how many of those signing its environmental pledge would ever consider paying for a cruise anyway, but Haswell said the group figures everyone is a potential customer for Royal Caribbean.

A report on the company's Web site says it "properly, responsibly and legally disposes of all of its shipboard waste" and its procedures "even exceed those of the Coast Guard." Spokesman Michael Sheehan said Oceana is misrepresenting Royal Caribbean's environmental practices.

"We have met with representatives of the group and tried to educate them about our policies and procedures but have been frustrated by these discussions," Sheehan said. "We would like to resolve our differences."

_ BENITA D. NEWTON

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