TRANSPORTATION

Turnpike traffic counts on record pace

The number of drivers using the Maine Turnpike is on track to break the record set in 2015, and traffic on some state roads is heavier than it has been for almost a decade, according to figures from the turnpike authority and the Maine Department of Transportation. Low gas prices, hot and sunny summer weather, and increasing numbers of tourists are factors driving up traffic. As of this month, there were 49 million toll booth transactions on the turnpike, a 6 percent increase over the same period in 2015. Transactions do not directly translate to traffic, but are a reliable indicator for the volume of cars on the highway, said Peter Mills, turnpike director. About 8.8 million drivers have used the York tollbooth so far this year, an increase of 7 percent over 2015. Read the story.

INSURANCE

Maine blocks Progressive’s attempt to raise auto rates on seniors

Maine Superintendent of Insurance Eric Cioppa has ruled against Progressive Corp.’s request to raise car insurance rates for seniors in Maine. Progressive had been seeking state approval for rate changes that would allow the company to charge older Mainers higher auto insurance premiums based solely on their age. The proposal by the Ohio-based company would have applied only to new customers in Maine, according to documents filed with the state Department of Professional and Financial Regulation’s Bureau of Insurance. Increasing rates for seniors based on their age alone would have been a major departure from the way most insurance companies operate. In his ruling against Progressive, Cioppa noted that Progressive’s requested rate hike would have affected as many as 65,000 policyholders in Maine. He said the change would have violated a section of Maine’s insurance code that protects drivers from arbitrary rate increases based on their age. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE

Health insurance co-op sues government for reimbursement

A Lewiston-based health insurance co-op is suing the federal government, claiming it is owed $22.9 million to offset losses it suffered in 2015. Community Health Options made money in 2014, the year it began operations, but reported a loss of $31 million in 2015 and has set aside $43 million in reserves for potential losses this year. The nonprofit cooperative is designed to provide consumers with insurance coverage options under the Affordable Care Act. The suit alleges that the federal government owes the co-op money under the temporary “risk corridors” program, which is designed to help insurers manage costs, profits and losses for the first few years of the ACA. Insurers that have lower-than-expected costs pay a portion of their profits into the program, while insurers that experience higher-than-anticipated costs receive payments to help offset their losses.

CHO paid $2 million into the risk corridor program in 2014, when it had a profit of $7 million, but it has received nothing under the program for the costs it incurred in 2015, said Kevin Lewis, chief executive officer of the cooperative. The $22.9 million it is seeking is based on its 2015 losses, not what it contributed to the risk corridors program in 2014. Read the story.

RETAIL

Fate of two Maine Macy’s stores unclear

Macy’s plans to close about 100 stores nationwide in response to a trend of declining sales. The Cincinnati-based retailer broke the news Thursday in a media release that accompanied its second-quarter earnings report. One hundred stores comprise about 14 percent of the entire chain, which consists of 728 locations, including 675 larger “full-line” stores and 53 smaller stores. The company said it has not yet decided which locations will be closed. According to its website, Macy’s employs about 300 workers at its two Maine locations in South Portland and Bangor. The affected stores will close in early 2017. Read the story.

Despite huge increase in sales, Wayfair posts quarterly loss

Home goods company Wayfair posted a bigger-than-anticipated loss Tuesday sparking a nearly 20 percent drop in its stock price. The Boston-based company reported a 60 percent increase in sales in its second quarter, but it wasn’t enough to cover expenses, which rose nearly 70 percent. It reported a loss of $48.2 million for the three months ending June 30. Overall revenue was $787 million for the quarter. The news sent the company’s stock price spiraling to $38.80, a loss of $9.49 from its Monday closing price of $48.29. The company, which is in the midst of hiring nearly 1,000 workers here in Maine, attributed the loss to infrastructure changes to increase delivery speeds and intense hiring. The company added nearly 800 employees in the quarter, bringing its total to 5,398, an 89 percent increase from June of 2015. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Camden media entrepreneur buys two Vermont newspapers

The owner of the Portland Press Herald and another investor are buying two Vermont newspapers. Reade Brower and Chip Harris have entered into an agreement to buy the Rutland Herald, Barre-Montpelier Times Argus and affiliated print and online publications from the Herald Association, which is owned by the Mitchell family. That family has owned the two publications for decades. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Brower is the principal owner of MaineToday Media, which publishes the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal in Bath and owns the pressherald.com, centralmaine.com and mainetoday.com websites. He is also the owner of Alliance Press, a commercial printing company in Brunswick. Read the story.

ImmuCell reports 21 percent spike in quarterly sales

Sales at Portland-based animal health company ImmuCell Corp. increased by 21 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier, the company reported Thursday. ImmuCell develops, manufactures and sells products that improve health and productivity in the dairy and beef industries. It reported total sales of $2.4 million in the second quarter, up $415,000, from the second quarter of 2015. The company experienced a net loss of $9,000, or less than 1 cent per share, in the second quarter, primarily due to an increase in sales, administrative and product-development expenses, ImmuCell said. The loss was in contrast to a net income of $94,000, or 3 cents per share, during the second quarter of 2015. Read the story.

Mainer joins Verso’s new executive team

Following its emergence from bankruptcy, Verso Corp. has announced its new senior management team, which includes a graduate of Old Town High School and Maine Maritime Academy. Adam St. John, who holds an engineering degree from Maine Maritime Academy, was promoted to senior vice president of manufacturing for the paper company. A 24-year paper industry veteran, St. John has worked at Verso for the past 10 years, most recently serving as regional vice president of manufacturing with responsibility for the company’s largest paper mills, according to a release from Verso. St. John spent 13 years with Georgia Pacific, before joining Verso in May of 2006 as a maintenance superintendent. He was the paper business unit manager at Verso’s mill in Bucksport in 2008 and then an operations manager at the Androscoggin Mill in Jay. By 2011, he was a mill manager at Quinnesec, Michigan, according to the company. Read the story.

ENERGY

Summit Natural gas pays $307,000 in fines

A gas leak in Augusta that forced the evacuation of buildings in February in a shopping plaza on Western Avenue and other safety violations will cost Summit Natural Gas of Maine $307,000 in fines, according to the Maine Public Utilities Commission. The fine is part of a consent agreement between Summit and the state Tuesday that includes an additional $57,000 in fines related to violations that included improper installations, unqualified employees and failing to locate underground facilities, according to the agreement. The fine money will be paid to the state, according to the PUC, which said the safety violations resulted from construction work by the company and subcontractors beginning during 2012 and 2014. The Feb. 17 gas leak was labeled as potentially “catastrophic.” It was repaired the following morning, and the businesses in Shaw’s Plaza opened as usual. Read the story.