Business – Press Herald Tue, 23 May 2017 04:12:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Anxiety spreads at U.S.-Mexico border over Trump’s threat to NAFTA Tue, 23 May 2017 00:10:08 +0000 REYNOSA, Mexico — Waving arms and brandishing a long electric prod, the ranch hands and truck drivers herd about 400 leggy calves onto trucks as the sun crests on the outskirts of this border city. After spending their first eight months on the ranches of Gildardo Lopez Hinojosa, the calves are about to cross the border – bound for Texas and U.S. feed lots beyond.

On one of the three bridges connecting Reynosa with Texas, they might cross paths with the beef and chicken shipments that Lopez imports from the U.S. for his local chains of butcher shops and fried chicken restaurants. He gets the best price for his calves in the U.S., and it’s cheaper for him to import U.S. chicken than ship Mexican chicken from the country’s interior.


Lopez has been selling calves and buying beef across the border for about as long as the North American Free Trade Agreement has been in effect. President Trump has said the agreement that is the basis for much of the $500 billion annual trade between the U.S. and Mexico needs to be renegotiated or scrapped entirely. To hear him tell it, NAFTA was “a catastrophic trade deal for the United States.”

The reality is far more complicated, especially at the border where communities are enmeshed in a shared economy that can be affected by actions or words in either country.

“It’s a lie to say that NAFTA didn’t work,” said Rafael Garduno Rivera, an economist at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Aguascalientes, who studies the agreement’s impacts. “It worked and worked very well and for both sides in various areas. Like everything, there were losers and winners.”

Maquiladoras, as Mexican assembly plants are known, get most of the attention. They churn out everything from flat-screen televisions and washing machines to auto components that might cross borders a dozen times before a car comes off the assembly line in Michigan.

But U.S. border retailers – downtown discount stores and high-end outlet shopping and malls – also depend on Mexican shoppers, especially those whose jobs in Mexican border cities allow them to shop in the U.S.

For nearly 25 years, Lopez has been sending cows to the U.S. and importing beef to Mexico. Three days a week he loads four to six trailers with his young cows and sends them across the bridge connecting to Pharr, Texas. Once cleared by USDA veterinarians there, buyers from elsewhere in Texas, Arizona or even up toward the Canadian border pick up their cows. After that initial sale, Lopez does not know where they go.

In theory, some could come back to him mixed in among the 25 tons of beef he imports from the U.S. every week for his butcher shops. He buys from the big beef processors like IBP, National Beef and Supreme Beef, wherever he finds the best price.

Lopez’s calves create jobs in U.S. feed lots and slaughterhouses and the cheaper U.S. chicken he buys allows him to employ more Mexicans in his restaurants. Among his various businesses he employs about 400 people.


Nearly 5 million U.S. jobs depend on trade between the two countries, according to a study released last fall by the non-partisan Wilson Center Mexico Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

“The United States depends on Mexico as much as Mexico depends on the United States,” Lopez said.

Monica Weisberg-Stewart, across the border in McAllen, Texas, knows that as well as anyone.

Her family ran discount stores on the border for more than 60 years, before making the business decision a couple years ago to close. Now Weisberg-Stewart leases their properties to other businesses.

The border economy is so interconnected that moves in either country can have dire consequences. As an example, she recalled when the U.S. began requiring a new, more expensive visa for Mexicans who crossed to U.S. border cities.

“It wiped out a socio-economic group that would come over here on a daily basis for groceries, milk, products, just their daily goods,” she said. “Mexico not coming, Mexico not shopping, affects us.”

Border residents on both sides say that is already happening. A weaker Mexican peso has been a principal factor, but the unwelcoming rhetoric and fear of the sort of reception they will receive has been another.

Several hundred miles upriver from Reynosa, Lidia Gonzalez sat in the shade of El Porvenir, Mexico’s town square, selling used clothing purchased in El Paso.

“It’s all second-hand because people can’t buy new,” Gonzalez said. “It’s OK for us, because from that we eat.”

But she was anxious because her supplier had cut back her buying trips recently. She said Mexican customs officials suddenly began hassling the buyer about her purchases, something Gonzalez attributed to the generally deteriorating relations between the two countries.

Gonzalez has a visa that allows her to cross, but the last time she felt U.S. immigration agents were interrogating her more than usual. For now she has stopped crossing out of fear they might take her visa.

Just west of El Paso, Marisela Sandoval, 39, of Sunland Park, New Mexico, said she has seen fewer border crossers like Gonzalez at her job with Wal-Mart. Consequently, sales at the store have dropped this year, she said.

“Because of the dollar and the feelings about Trump, what he was saying,” Sandoval explained. “People were getting afraid, because in the bridge they were making them sign a paper that would say that they would take their visa and (border crossers) were afraid to even come.”


The weaker Mexican peso put an end to Gilberto Lozoya’s shopping trips to Laredo, Texas.

Lozoya, 24, has spent four years working in maquiladoras in Nuevo Laredo, a major trade thoroughfare to the United States.

He now works as an engineer supporting assembly lines producing gas valves, thermostats and other products so they keep running, but he’s ambitious and hopes to advance.

At night he studies English because it would help him move up the ladder at so many foreign-owned maquiladoras, including the Illinois-headquartered engineering and manufacturing firm Robertshaw, where he works now.

Lozoya used to cross to Laredo to buy school supplies that he couldn’t find. But the strong dollar put such purchases out of reach. Many maquila workers making only $50 to $60 for a six-day work week rely on a few hours of daily overtime to make ends meet, he said.

If something happened to the maquila jobs, Lozoya said he worries that the unemployed would fill the ranks of the drug cartel that controls Nuevo Laredo. But nothing is clear at the moment, he said.

“So far,” he said, “we don’t know what situation we’re in and what this new president (Trump) is going to say that could affect us.”

]]> 0 Gomez, a recruiter for assembly plants in Reynosa, Mexico, helps Juan Luis Alvarado de la Rosa fill out a job application at an industrial park across the border from McAllen, Texas. President Trump has said NAFTA was "a catastrophic trade deal for the United States," but the reality is far more complicated, especially at the border where communities are enmeshed in a shared economy.Mon, 22 May 2017 20:18:46 +0000
Retail survey can help businesses find customers Mon, 22 May 2017 23:07:34 +0000 Your business, like many businesses, has customers all across the country thanks to the internet. Your job is to find more of them and target your products to the demographics that are most inclined to buy. The problem is that you have limited marketing resources and don’t want to waste money by targeting the wrong group. Should politics be a factor? You would think that the Trump supporter in Texas would share little in common with the Hillary fan from Chicago. A new survey may help you figure this out.

According to an infographic released Monday by Goodshop, an online marketplace that donates a portion of every sale to more than 114,000 nonprofits and schools, your potential customers in red and blue states are different in some ways, the same in others.

For example, red state people seem to shop travel sites more than their blue state counterparts and favor brands like Tripadvisor, and Orbitz. So if you’re selling travel-related products or services you may find more customers there. Not surprisingly, people in red states consider themselves more independent (doesn’t Texas want to secede?) and want less help not only from the government, but, apparently, from contractors too. They prefer do-it-yourself projects and like arts and crafts stores as well as the big brand hardware outlets like Home Depot and Lowe’s more so than those in blue states. Again, if that’s the kind of product or service you provide . . . well, now you know where to sell.

Regardless of these differences, there’s one thing that both Republicans and Democrats can agree on: value. Kohl’s, Wal-Mart, Target and Amazon were the favorite brand names in both red and blue states. These are all brands that provide affordable products for daily use and emphasize convenience over specialization. Apparently, there are a lot of 99 percenters out there, regardless of their political affiliation.

]]> 0 Mon, 22 May 2017 19:16:04 +0000
Stock market continues to recover Mon, 22 May 2017 22:08:06 +0000 NEW YORK — Strong gains for technology companies like software and chip makers helped lead U.S. stocks higher Monday. Defense contractors also climbed as the market continued to bounce back from a bout of turbulence last week.

Stocks rose for the third day in a row. Technology companies are closing in on all-time highs and continued to rise Monday, led by big names like Cisco Systems and Qualcomm.

Aerospace and defense companies rose after President Trump presided over a huge sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. Amazon led consumer-focused companies higher. Energy companies lagged even though oil prices continued their recent climb.

Sameer Samana, a strategist for Wells Fargo Investment Institute, said people continue to spend more money on personal electronics while businesses invest in automation and software to boost their productivity.

“In a low-growth environment, you’ve got to squeeze more out of every dollar of investment,” Samana said. At the same time, he said, some overseas markets have been stronger than expected this year.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index jumped 12.29 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,394.02. The Dow Jones industrial average added 89.99 points, or 0.4 percent, to 20,894.83. The Nasdaq composite gained 49.91 points, or 0.8 percent, to 6,133.62. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks picked up 9.81 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,377.14.

The technology component of the S&P 500 index has soared 18 percent this year, almost three times as much as the broader S&P 500. On Monday chipmaker Qualcomm gained $1.61, or 2.8 percent, to $59.28 and Cisco Systems, which sells equipment such as routers, switches and software, rose 38 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $31.59. Adobe Systems picked up $2.42, or 1.8 percent, to $138.85 and design software maker Autodesk jumped $3.45, or 3.1 percent, to $113.36.

Both the S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq composite set records early last week before worries about growing political uncertainty in Washington, which could hamper Trump’s agenda of tax cuts and deregulation, knocked those indexes back from their highs. The Russell 2000 of smaller companies, which would benefit more than large ones from Trump’s proposals, is down 3 percent from the record it set a month ago.

Samana said he thinks stocks will become more volatile in the coming months, but not because of politics. Instead, he thinks stocks will break out of their unusual calm because the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank will pull back on the stabilizing measures they’ve used since the global financial crisis.

“If they both start to lay the groundwork for pulling back on the extraordinary stimulus, that’s probably the catalyst for a little bit more volatility,” he said.

Aerospace and defense companies climbed after Trump presided over a $110 billion sale of military equipment to Saudi Arabia. The agreement could expand to $350 billion over 10 years. Lockheed Martin climbed $4.24, or 1.6 percent, to $277.03 and Boeing gained $2.91, or 1.6 percent, to $183.67.

Amgen and its partner UCB said women who took their experimental osteoporosis drug Evenity were more likely to have serious cardiovascular problems than patients who took Fosamax, an older drug. The companies said that was a new safety concern and they no longer expect the Food and Drug Administration to approve Evenity this year. Amgen lost $3.49, or 2.2 percent, to $153.02.

Ford replaced CEO Mark Fields as it struggles to keep the traditional parts of its business running smoothly while it tries to remake itself as a nimble, high-tech automaker. In Fields’ three years as CEO, popular cars like the Fusion sedan became dated and Ford lagged competitors in bringing long-range electric cars to market. Ford’s new CEO is Jim Hackett, who has led Ford’s mobility unit for more than a year.

Ford added 23 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $11.10. The stock is down 8.5 percent this year.

U.S-based Huntsman and Swiss specialty chemicals maker Clariant are merging to create a company with a market value of $13.8 billion. The company will call itself HuntsmanClariant and Clariant shareholders will own 52 percent of the new company. Huntsman stock slid 56 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $26.15 and Clariant stock rose 3.4 percent in Switzerland.

Oil prices continued to rally. Benchmark U.S. crude oil added 40 cents to $50.73 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, rose 26 cents to $53.87 a barrel in London.

Wholesale gasoline gained 1 cent to $1.66 a gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.60 a gallon. Natural gas climbed 7 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $3.33 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $7.80 to $1,261.40 an ounce. Silver jumped 40 cents, or 2.4 percent, to $17.19 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $2.60 a pound.

Bond prices moved a bit lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note inched up to 2.25 percent from 2.24 percent.

The dollar declined to 111.20 yen from 111.38 yen. The euro rose to $1.1234 from $1.1207.

In Britain, the FTSE 100 gained 0.3 percent. The German DAX dipped 0.2 percent and France’s CAC lost a fraction of a percentage point. Japan’s market rose following strong trade data. The benchmark Nikkei 225 gained 0.5 percent while the South Korean Kospi jumped 0.7 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng surged 0.9 percent.

]]> 0 Mon, 22 May 2017 18:13:24 +0000
Ford names turnaround specialist as new CEO Mon, 22 May 2017 15:56:02 +0000 Ford Motor Co. is replacing embattled CEO Mark Fields with Jim Hackett, a turnaround specialist who has been leading the automaker’s moves into self-driving cars and ride sharing.

Fields, 56, is retiring and Hackett will move up from his position as head of Ford’s Smart Mobility unit, according to a statement. Hackett, 62, revived office-furniture maker Steelcase Inc. as CEO from 1994 to 2014.

“This is a time of unprecedented change,” Executive Chairman Bill Ford said during a news conference Monday. “A time of great change requires a transformational leader, and thankfully we have that in Jim.”

Fields came under pressure from Ford’s board this month ahead of an annual shareholder meeting where investors excoriated management for a poorly performing stock price. Ford shares fell 37 percent during Fields’s almost three-year tenure, dropping the company’s market capitalization to below Tesla Inc. The automaker announced a salaried-worker buyout program last week to show it was moving to cut costs.

President Trump jokes with Ford Motors CEO Mark Fields, second right, as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, right, looks on at the start of a meeting with automobile leaders at the White House on Jan. 24. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

“It’s surprising how quickly Fields is being replaced,” said Stefan Bratzel, director of the Center of Automotive Management at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany. “Ford isn’t exactly in crisis, but this development shows that shareholder value is more in focus,” even as carmakers face pressure to invest in technology where the payoff is uncertain.

Ford also will shuffle the direct reports beneath Hackett, with Europe chief Jim Farley adding responsibility for the Americas and Asia Pacific regions and overseeing the Lincoln luxury brand. Joe Hinrichs, who had been leading the Americas, has been appointed president of global operations and will oversee areas including product development, manufacturing, labor, quality, purchasing and sustainability. Marcy Klevorn will take over Ford Smart Mobility after serving as chief information officer since January.

Ford shares were up 1.2 percent as of 10:18 a.m. in New York, after earlier rising as much as 2.4 percent, the biggest intraday jump in a month. The stock had dropped 10 percent through the close Friday, trailing the 6.4 percent gain for the S&P 500 Index.

Hackett joined Ford’s board of directors in 2013 and was appointed chairman of Ford Smart Mobility in March 2016. The unit was formed to accelerate Ford’s foray into emerging mobility services.

For two decades, Hackett guided Grand Rapids, Michigan-based office furniture maker Steelcase. He was recognized for predicting the office landscape would shift away from cubicles to an open-space environment and transformed the traditional manufacturer of office furniture, according to a profile on Ford’s website.

“We need to speed up our decision making, we need to invest our capital where we can create value, and we have to move decisively to address underperforming areas,” Bill Ford said at the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan. “When I think about ideas flowing freely without regard to hierarchy, I think about Jim.”

Jim Hackett, former chairman of Ford Smart Mobility LLC, a subsidiary of Ford Motor Co., will be the company’s new CEO. Ford Motor Co. via AP

Hackett led a major reorganization that involved deep cuts in Steelcase’s workforce, including personally pink-slipping the best man from his wedding, according to Automotive News. After Steelcase, Hackett served as interim athletic director of the University of Michigan at a time of turmoil and hired Jim Harbaugh to return the football team to its winning ways.

Ford’s board scheduled extra meeting time two weeks ago to drill Fields on his plans for reversing the company’s fortunes, a person familiar with the discussions said earlier this month. As CEO, he was pouring billions into self-driving cars and ride-sharing experiments as its traditional-car business has struggled more than General Motors Co. with a slowing U.S. market.

“Ford’s reputation with the investor community with respect to the secular pressures is that they are throwing a lot of things at the wall,” Joe Spak, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, wrote in a report Monday. “They are doing a lot. Some of it may be smart. But the overall communication hasn’t been great. A simpler message may be needed.”

Mark Truby, who’s been overseeing Ford’s communications in Asia, will take over the department and succeed Ray Day, who plans to retire from the company next year.

Fields was leading an overhaul of Ford’s business model so the company could take on self-driving cars from the likes of Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and Uber Technologies Inc. He warned the cost of investing in new technologies would reduce profits last year and this year before rebounding in 2018.

Ford’s first-quarter adjusted earnings fell 42 percent, while GM appears on pace for another record annual profit. Net income at Ford plunged 38 percent last year.


]]> 0, 22 May 2017 18:56:09 +0000
Invasive green crabs are putting the pinch on another clam harvest Mon, 22 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Clammers face a shrinking harvest again this year after predator green crabs survived the mild winter, but one scientist may have an answer – aquaculture.

The second mild winter in a row means Maine’s tidal flats will likely be overrun by large, ravenous invasive green crabs this summer.

That’s bad news for the state’s already weakened soft-shell clam industry. One green crab can consume 40 half-inch clams a day and will dig 6 inches to find clams to eat. In 2016, clam landings fell 21 percent, from 9.3 million to 7.3 million pounds, the lowest total reported since 1991, according to the state Department of Marine Resources.

Some of the landings decline was undoubtedly a result of an unusual bloom of toxic algae that forced a monthlong shellfishing ban along about a third of Maine’s coastline last fall. But researcher Sara Randall of the Downeast Institute in Beals notes that a review of clam landings in towns with traditionally high numbers south of the Deer Isle-Stonington closure line found that 19 out of 24 towns, or 79 percent, had harvested fewer clams.

For example, from 2015 to 2016, landings fell 35 percent in Harpswell, 87 percent in Yarmouth and 21 percent in Scarborough. In Freeport, a town on the front line of the effort to combat the green crab invasion, landings decreased 17 percent despite efforts by municipal officials, clammers and researchers like Randall, among others, to use protective measures such as nets and other tools to ward off the green crabs.

The mild winter may only make matters worse. Clammers had hoped for a cold winter so the deep freeze and ice would kill off a lot of the crabs, allowing the clam seed still found in high numbers in Maine waters a chance to settle in the tidal flats and grow, forming those telltale tiny holes that tell clammers a harvest awaits them under the mud.

But this winter, Freeport clammer Chad Coffin, president of the Maine Clammers Association, saw green crabs active throughout the winter, with some even bearing eggs or in soft shells, which is a sign of recent molting. Neither of these usually happens in the cold of winter, which means there will be more crabs on the flats this year looking for dinner, and that many of those will be larger than in years past and thus able to eat more.

As clam harvests become more unpredictable, Coffin said the once-thriving clamming culture is fading, and the infrastructure that brought clams to market slowly disappearing. Buyers are leaving the industry and restaurants are writing the summer favorite off their menus, unsure if they will be available on any given day.

Scientist Brian Beal carries his experimental clam boxes on the mudflats of the Harraseeket River. Beal says that hoping a winter deep-freeze kills off predator green crabs is not the way to save Maine’s clamming industry, but aquaculture may be. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

“When I first started clamming in 1990, there were three wholesalers here in Freeport,” Coffin said. “It is down to one now. He’s getting up there in age, so we don’t know how long that’s going to last. There aren’t as many of us clammers here either, with only 1,200 or so left of us in the state, and we’re getting old, too, clamming less.”

Clammers may yet see a good harvest this year. As the number of clammers decline, those who remain can harvest a bigger share of the smaller harvest. In 2017, they will be harvesting clams that made it from seed to juvenile status because of a cold winter in 2013-14 that killed off many green crabs. As a result, the clams were able to grow big enough, with thick enough shells, to survive predation and fill clammers’ bags.

The clammers who remain hope to make a living off that population until the next deep freeze comes along.

But unlike in 2015, when scarcity drove prices up over $2 a pound for the first time, the value of Maine soft-shell clams fell 31.5 percent in 2016. Soft-shell clams sold for an average of $2.13 a pound last year, compared with $2.46 a pound in 2015. But that’s still more than clammers dreamed of just 10 years ago, when clams sold for an average of $1.43 a pound, and more than enough to keep some clammers coming back for more.

And holding their breath for another cold winter.

The scientist who is leading efforts to find a way to save the iconic industry believes there must be a better way.

“Hope is not a sustainable long-term management plan,” said Brian Beal, a professor of marine ecology at the University of Maine at Machias. “I believe the answer lies in aquaculture.”

Warming waters in the Gulf of Maine have allowed the invasive green crab, above, to proliferate. One green crab can consume 40 half-inch clams a day.

While clammers like Coffin embrace Beal’s scientific findings, others denounce the suggestion that they turn to farming clams in small plots of carefully protected flats, possibly leased from the landowners who control access to the upper tidal flats, to keep the industry alive. The old ways still work for them, they say. They question his science and his motives, often in raised voices at local shellfish commission meetings.

But Coffin has seen the empty netted boxes, built by Beal on Freeport flats that were once thought dead, yield thousands of clams in the protected silt come fall.

Here’s how it works: High tide brings the floating clam larvae to the flats. The microscopic seed can pass through the netting – which is just large enough to let the clams pass through but small enough to keep the crabs out – to settle in the box. The flats around the box, left unprotected, are empty of clams come fall, but not the netted boxes.

There have been some kinks. Beal has had to put bottoms on the boxes to prevent milky ribbon worms from coming up through the mud from below to eat the baby clams. Not every spot has been as productive as others, although the silt inside the boxes has always yielded far more clams than outside. And the boxes are still too small to yield a commercially profitable crop, although he plans to test larger boxes this summer.

But the evidence was more than enough to persuade Coffin that this is the future of his industry. The ocean temperature is warming, faster in the Gulf of Maine than almost anywhere else in the world, and deep-freeze winters are likely to become rarer in the future, he said. But it will be a difficult change for an industry that has remained essentially unchanged for generations, Coffin said.

Many shellfish commissions that control licensing on the flats are made up of clammers who still cling to the old ways, he said. The riparian landowners who control access to the upper tidal areas where would-be farmers could set up protective boxes want to keep their ocean views free of farming plots and the farmers who would tend them.

“The working waterfront is disappearing,” Coffin said. “If we can’t adapt to what’s coming, what’s already happened, clamming in Maine will disappear. It may be that a clam digger doesn’t have a future, but a clam farmer might. But we can’t do it alone. People look out at the ocean and see the blue and the sunsets and think it’s beautiful, but they don’t see the devastation. They may not see it, but I can. It’s decision time.”

Penelope Overton can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Beal, director of research at the Downeast Institute, and Sara Randall, a field science coordinator, set out what they call recruitment boxes on the mudflats of the Harraseeket River in Freeport. The experimental boxes catch settling clams and protect them as they grow.Mon, 22 May 2017 06:50:06 +0000
Maine’s mortgage lending industry in midst of big changes Mon, 22 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Maine’s residential mortgage lending industry bears little resemblance to its prerecession version as changing conditions have shuffled the deck of top lenders and created new choices for borrowers.

Gone is the dominance of mega-banks such as Bank of America, and in their place are regional community banks and non-bank lenders that specialize in home mortgages.

Two of the biggest non-bank players in Maine today are South Portland-based Residential Mortgage Services Inc. and Detroit-based Quicken Loans Inc., both of which have risen from the ashes of the Great Recession.

In July 2009, Bank of America was the top mortgage lender in Cumberland County, according to county records. In July 2016, Residential Mortgage Services was the top lender, followed by Bangor Savings Bank. Bank of America barely cracked the top 10.

“Dodd-Frank changed the landscape for residential lending – forever,” said Maine Bankers Association CEO Christopher Pinkham, referring to the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. “The largest financial institutions have said, … ‘We’re getting out of that business.’ ”

The purpose of Dodd-Frank was to improve the country’s financial stability by increasing transparency and accountability in the financial system and protecting consumers from abusive bank practices. Among other things, it added new regulations for banks and organizations that issue residential mortgage loans.

In its wake, big national banks have shifted their focus away from originating home mortgages. Instead, they have decided to largely forgo the regulatory red tape by purchasing loans originated by third parties. Their exodus from the market has created opportunities for both community banks and non-bank lenders.


With major banks backing out of home mortgage originations, a group of innovative non-bank companies have risen to prominence within the industry.

Residential Mortgage Services, or RMS, has become a tremendous success story in Maine. The South Portland company was founded in 1991 as a small mortgage brokerage, and it was converted into a home mortgage lender in 2001.

Michael Ianno, executive vice president of retail production at Residential Mortgage Services. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Now the company has nearly 900 employees working at 70 branch locations from Bangor to Virginia Beach. Most of its growth has happened in the wake of the financial crisis, said Michael Ianno, the company’s executive vice president of retail production.

“We’re one of the few that survived,” Ianno said. “We actually grew through it.”

Ianno attributed the growth of RMS to its singular focus on mortgages and its ability to process loan applications in person, over the phone or online.

“We just deliver superior customer service,” he said. “This is all we do.”

In 2016, RMS originated nearly 17,500 home purchase and refinance mortgages, worth a total of $3.83 billion, Ianno said.

In Maine, RMS originated 450 mortgages valued at $89 million in the first quarter, the third-highest among all mortgage lenders in the state. It was surpassed only by Bangor Savings Bank with 795 loans worth $112.9 million, and Camden National Bank with 545 loans worth $99.3 million, according to Boston-based real estate and financial data provider The Warren Group.

Some banking industry representatives expressed concern that non-bank lenders aren’t as heavily regulated as banks.

“No one really knows what their level of compliance or noncompliance is,” Pinkham said.

But Ianno took issue with the claim. He said loans originated by RMS meet the same strict standards as bank-issued mortgages, as evidenced by the fact that it sells 90 percent of its loans to major banks and government-sponsored enterprises such as the Federal National Mortgage Association, or Fannie Mae.

Ianno acknowledged that non-bank lenders have a reputation for being major contributors to the 2008 financial crisis, which began with an erosion of underwriting standards and companies issuing loans to homebuyers who could not realistically afford to pay them back.

However, he said all financial institutions, including traditional banks, share responsibility for the crisis, and that regulators have imposed new rules to prevent another catastrophe.

“The credit standards are so much stricter today,” Ianno said.


Another non-bank mortgage lender that has risen to prominence in Maine since the financial crisis is Detroit-based Quicken Loans, which operates online under the brand name Rocket Mortgage.

The company advertises aggressively online, targeting millennials and others who turn to the internet to conduct their research before applying for a home loan. Typing “mortgage loan” into a Google search brings up Rocket Mortgage as one of the top results.

Bill Emerson, vice chairman of Rock Holdings Inc., the parent company of Quicken Loans, said the company did about $96 billion of mortgage loan originations in 2016. In Maine, Quicken Loans originated 399 mortgages valued at $62.9 million in the first quarter, the fourth-highest among lenders in the state.

A large percentage of Rocket Mortgage customers are first-time homebuyers who are unfamiliar with the application process and may be apprehensive about it, Emerson said. The company has designed a simple, user-friendly online application process that is designed to improve transparency and eliminate the applicant’s anxiety. The average time to complete the application is just nine minutes, he said.

“We decided many years ago that the way the loan process works is broken,” Emerson said, and the company set out to fix it.

Pinkham said he is skeptical about the ability of online lenders such as Rocket Mortgage to provide excellent customer service, especially if something goes wrong with the application process. However, he acknowledged that a growing number of consumers want the ability to conduct all of their financial transactions online, and that traditional banks need to provide that ability if they want to compete.

One Maine-based bank that recently launched its own online mortgage application is Camden National, the state’s second-biggest mortgage lender in the first quarter. Others are likely to follow suit.

“There’s no way Camden is going to put that kind of money into that kind of product unless they have already established that that’s what people want,” Pinkham said.


Camden National President and CEO Greg Dufour said the online mortgage product, called MortgageTouch, is the latest step in the bank’s efforts to “build a digital gateway” to banking services.

In the past, mortgage applications always have been paper-intensive, he said, but now banks can access all of the verification data needed to complete the application process digitally. It reduces the application time down to about 15 minutes, Dufour said.

The primary driver of digital applications is customer demand, he said. To compete with companies such as Quicken Loans and the larger banks, Camden National decided it needed to add the online option.

“What we have found is that millennials are much more open to using technology (such as computers and mobile devices) for financial transactions,” Dufour said. “They’re very comfortable with that.”

The goal is not to replace face-to-face transactions but to provide an online alternative for those who would rather not visit a bank branch, he said, adding that Camden National is committed to growing its mortgage business and does not want to lose market share to online-only lenders.

“We have to really compete head-to-head with big companies, technology-wise,” Dufour said.

Bangor Savings, Maine’s largest mortgage lender in the first quarter, also offers an online mortgage application. Company Senior Vice President and Director of Mortgage Lending Bruce Ocko said Bangor Savings’ strategy is to distinguish itself from competitors by offering both high-tech and high-touch options for customers. The product itself is almost irrelevant.

“We’re all selling a widget,” Ocko said. “Our 30-year fixed rate is the same as their 30-year fixed rate.”

Therefore, the only way to gain market share is to provide the best customer experience, he said. Banks such as Bangor Savings and Camden National also promote their charitable contributions to local communities to make customers feel good about using their services.

“Millennials care about social responsibility,” Ocko said. “Does the lender give to the local community?”

There is nothing new about non-bank lenders, said Joe Ferris, director of mortgage lending at Androscoggin Bank. They were major players in the market before the financial crisis, and then most of them were crushed or absorbed in the aftermath. Now, they’re back.

Smaller banks such as Androscoggin don’t need to compete head-to-head with the big banks and non-banks to do a healthy business, he said, and there is a lot more to running a bank than issuing home mortgages.

For example, while Androscoggin does not offer the latest online home mortgage application software, it does provide an online lending system for small commercial loans. Ferris said the product has been very successful.

“I’m going to go where they’re not going,” he said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Donahue, branch manager with Residential Mortgage Services, works on new applications last Wednesday.Mon, 22 May 2017 17:55:56 +0000
Interactive chart: Maine’s top 25 breweries, from 2006 to today Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:29 +0000 The chart below illustrates the changing rankings of Maine’s top 25 breweries by volume for the past 11 years.

While the positions of the top two producers have remained relatively static, there have been dramatic increases for new breweries and steep declines for some of Maine’s oldest brewers.

Mouse over the chart to track each brewery’s production ranking over time.

]]> 0, 20 May 2017 21:50:44 +0000
Michelle Singletary: Slump or jump with Trump, keep a long view Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 There’s at least one certainty about the stock market.

It’ll go up and eventually come down.

Last week, we witnessed this truth about investing. The markets responded with trepidation after a series of scandals hit President Trump.

Trump shared highly classified information with Russian diplomats. He fired FBI Director James Comey. He may have tried to get Comey to end an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn. And now a special counsel has been appointed to investigate possible Russian interference in the election.

Many experts think it wasn’t these controversies that pushed stocks down. It’s that the scandals may get in the way of tax cuts and other business-friendly legislative measures.

So here we are, regular investors just trying to grow our money enough to retire or send our kids to college. As the stock market climbed in recent months, people began to call it the “Trump Bump.”

But all good things come to an end in the investing world. The question now is: Are we about to see a “Trump Slump,” and, if so, is there anything you should be doing with your investments?

Here’s a roundup of advice from some certified financial planners.

Carolyn McClanahan, founder of Life Planning Partners in Jacksonville, Florida, says politics should not play any part in your investment decisions.

“People should have an appropriate asset allocation based on their goals, time frame, and financial and psychological ability to take risk,” she added. “Don’t pay attention to the noise that politics creates.”

Larry Stein, president of Disciplined Investment Management in Deerfield, Illinois, says Trump was getting too much credit for the market rise anyway.

“The bump was driven largely by stronger than expected (corporate) earnings, much of it due to surprisingly strong results overseas,” he said. “Optimism around the election may have added an extra jolt to the positive environment, but that wasn’t the main driver.”

Stein says the uncertainty now building in the U.S. political environment may have a negative impact on stocks, which is why he says investors might want to add global stocks to their portfolio.

“Stocks are for long-term goals, and investors should try not to focus on short-term fluctuations,” said Michael Guillemette, assistant professor of personal financial planning at Texas Tech University, who echoed Stein’s advice on diversifying your holdings.

Robert Schmansky, president of Clear Financial Advisors in the Detroit metro area, said, “By the time we hear the latest news, it’s already too late to act. The best plans are long-term, and recognize we will have rocky periods. If you have a lot in the market, consider adding investments that may not correlate with stocks, like precious metals and real estate. Probably the best thing you can do is replay 2008’s market in your mind and think about if you were better off worrying or sticking with your plan. Most investors did best by sticking it out and staying invested.”

A. Scott Ward of Johnson Sterling in Birmingham, Alabama, still sees room for growth. “The core questions for long-term investors remain the same. To what extent, if any, does volatility change your financial goals? Do you have any reasons to doubt that U.S. companies can find ways to grow and thrive in the next 20 years, regardless of the political circumstances?”

Joseph Kelly of Valic Financial Advisors in the Philadelphia metro area says some caution is in order.

“History has proven that markets abhor uncertainty,” he said.

“The chaos that is happening in Washington certainly has stirred the pot and infused doubt among the investors of America. I never recommend ‘timing’ the market; however, these are unprecedented times. I think it would be prudent to take some profits and put some liquidity on the sidelines for a wait and see period. … It’s time to decrease your risk profile for a while.”

James Watkins, managing member of InvestSense in Atlanta, pointed out that many experts believe the markets have had a significant run up, and a drop may just be due. “We have advised our clients to consider reducing their equity exposure, especially in 401(k) and other tax-deferred accounts since there would be no tax implications in making such changes,” he said.

Barbara Roper, director of investor protection for the Consumer Federation of America, says it’s “generally a mistake to focus on short-term ups and downs in response to the politics of the day or anything else. Doing so risks making poor market-timing decisions based on an emotional reaction to the news.”

Perhaps the Trump drama will lead to a stock slump. But what goes down can also go back up. The important thing to remember is that you’re in it for the long haul.

]]> 0 Sat, 20 May 2017 21:21:34 +0000
Baxter hones its ambition as a ‘go-to beer’ Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Baxter Brewing Co. has harbored big ambitions since it opened in 2011, when it burst onto the scene as the sixth-largest brewery in the state.

In 2016, those ambitions took a step back as the company reported its first annual drop in production, going down 11.5 percent overall but still maintaining its spot as the third-largest brewery in the state.

Lesson learned, says Baxter marketing manager Adrienne Nichols. While Baxter’s in-state sales rose in 2016, Nichols said Baxter struggled out of state.

“The farther you get from your home base, the harder it is to sell. That is a struggle for us,” Nichols said.

The problem was acute in Massachusetts, where Baxter rolled out distribution but didn’t have a sales rep to help push the beer to draft lines and retail shops. The company has added staff in Massachusetts and other states as a new reality sets in on the beer industry: Consumers want local beer. Very local.

“People are looking more and more local,” Nichols said. “One of our most difficult states to sell in is Vermont because there’s a ton of great breweries and when you’re visiting or you’re from there, you want to try something local that you can be proud of. That said, it’s a very friendly industry. We don’t like to say we have competitors. We all have a go-to beer, and that’s what we want to be for people, but someone’s always looking to try something new. …

“It’s not something fancy. It’s not something you need to wait in line for. We’re just making the best beer that we can and we think that speaks to our numbers and our consumers. They know they’ll get a good beer every time they reach for it.”

Baxter ordered up a study of its consumers, Nichols said. Baxter learned where its fans are drinking the beer, which ones they favored and what they liked to do while drinking it. Then the company tailored campaigns to make sure it was reaching those consumers.

And the company added a new director of brewing operations, Andrew Sheffield, who worked for two of the largest craft breweries in the country – Oskar Blues and New Belgium, both based in Colorado.

Baxter also doubled its sales team, Nichols said, because simply making beer and putting it into a can isn’t good enough anymore.

“We’ve learned not to go into a new market without a Baxter rep on the ground,” Nichols said. “We’ve learned that doesn’t work well, especially in a congested market.”

Especially not outside of Maine.

]]> 0 of Baxter's Stowaway IPA are topped off at the company's Lewiston brewery.Sun, 21 May 2017 09:03:15 +0000
Week in Review: Canada pushes lobster deal; Shipyard sues over trademark Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Real estate economy reaches 11-year high

Over the past two years, Maine’s real estate economy has grown to a level of activity not seen since the market’s previous heyday in early 2006, according to a biannual report to be issued Thursday. The MEREDA Index, an indicator of the strength of Maine’s commercial and residential real estate markets, reached a new post-recession high of 95.7 in the first quarter, up slightly from 95.67 in the third quarter of 2016, according to the report, from the Maine Real Estate & Development Association. The index compares the market’s current strength to its previous high point, in the first quarter of 2006. An index score of 100 would mean that market activity was roughly identical to the first quarter of 2006. The index fell sharply from 2006 to 2010 and then remained relatively flat for three years before rising sharply through 2014 and 2015. Since then, it has continued to rise but at a declining rate. Read the story.


H&M opening at new location in Maine Mall

Trendy apparel retailer H&M opened at a new location at the Maine Mall on Thursday. The new location is directly across from its original location, in space formerly occupied by The Gap and Lane Bryant stores. The retailer, known for offering trendy clothes at reasonable prices, will offer collections for adults and teens, accessories and the H&M Kids collection for newborns to 14 year olds. Read the story.

JCPenney to add appliances to inventory

The JCPenney store at the Maine Mall was set to unveil its newest product line Friday: appliances. The 115-year-old department store chain rolled out appliances at 500 of its stores last year as a test to see whether shoppers would respond. The pilot program was successful enough that the retailer is planning to extend it to another 100 stores this spring, including the store in South Portland. Read the story.


City rejects promoter’s 10-year state pier offer

Portland city officials have rejected an offer by Waterfront Concerts to enter into a 10-year contract to stage pop music shows on the Maine State Pier, saying they want to explore permanent development options for the 7-acre pier. What that means for the future of concerts on the pier beyond the 12 scheduled for the rest of this year – including The Disco Biscuits, Pat Benatar, Slightly Stoopid and Primus – is unclear. Waterfront Concerts has staged more than 50 shows there in the past two summers. City Manager Jon Jennings said officials would be happy to see the Bangor-based promoter continue to operate there, under the type of short-term agreements used recently. Waterfront Concerts gave its proposal to city officials at a meeting Friday, including a list of improvements that the company would make if granted a long-term contract, such as adding grandstand seating and possibly a roof over the audience area. Shows at the 3,000-capacity pier now offer folding chairs and standing room. Read the story.


Unemployment rate remains low

Maine’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from March, extending a very tight labor market heading into the summer months. Maine’s Department of Labor released April’s preliminary rate of 3.0 percent on Friday. That compares with 3.8 percent unemployment a year ago. The rate has been below 4 percent for the last seven months, and 15 of the last 18. The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in April was little changed from 4.5 percent in March and down from 5.0 percent one year ago, according to a release from the DOL. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.9 percent. April unemployment rate estimates for other states in the region were 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont, 3.9 percent in Massachusetts, 4.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.9 percent in Connecticut. Read the story.

Sea Grant director stepping down to take helm at nonprofit

A University of Maine official who has led its Sea Grant program is stepping down to accept a chief executive position with the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries. Paul Anderson, currently the director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program where he has been for the last 16 years, will join MCCF in September and assume the chief executive job on Jan. 1, 2018. The decision was announced by the nonprofit’s board of directors. Anderson will succeed founding Executive Director Robin Alden, who is stepping down after 14 years at the helm of MCCF, formerly known as Penobscot East Resource Center. Read the story.


Lawmakers push biomass incentives to next session

Efforts to help move the state’s biomass power industry onto a sustainable financial path are going to be put off until next year, lawmakers decided Tuesday, amid time concerns and proposals that are both complex and controversial. At the suggestion of the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee voted unanimously to carry over the measure until next session. Saviello presented recommendations based on the findings of a special study group created last year. They’re meant to improve the economics of the state’s struggling wood-fired power plants. But it was clear during a public hearing that although some of the ideas have support from the forest products industry, they will be opposed by Gov. Paul LePage and Central Maine Power Co. Read the story.


Sappi combines divisions

Boston-based paper producer Sappi North America has combined two key business units to increase profits and spur investment in a more diverse product portfolio, according to the company. Sappi, which operates mills in Westbrook and Skowhegan, said the decision to combine its packaging and release paper units will better position the company for future growth and innovation. Release papers are embossed or coated papers that mimic the look of leather, exotic skins and other textures used in the apparel and automotive industries, among others. The company’s goal is to have the combined business units represent 25 percent of the global group EBITDA (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization), said CEO Mark Gardner. Read the story.

Shipyard Brewing Co. filed suit against a Missouri brewer alleging trademark infringement. Logboat Brewing Co. currently produces a beer called “Shiphead.” Staff photo by Ben McCanna


Shipyard files trademark suit

Shipyard Brewing Co. has filed an unusual federal lawsuit against a Missouri brewery claiming trademark infringement. At issue is Logboat Brewing Co.’s Shiphead beer. In its lawsuit, Portland-based Shipyard says Logboat’s beer infringes on its trademarked name. It also says that because Shipyard produces beer with names such as Pumpkinhead, Melonhead and Applehead, consumers could conclude that Shiphead is a Shipyard product. The company is seeking an injunction and damages from lost profits. The lawsuit was filed Monday in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri and has been referred to mediation. Logboat has denied any infringement. Read the story.


Process starts for NAFTA review

The Trump administration on Thursday formally notified Congress of its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a step forward on a campaign promise that was widely popular among voters but has unsettled the American companies that have built their industries around the trade deal’s provisions. The notification starts the clock on a 90-day period in which Congress will consult with the administration about its goals. Negotiations with Canada and Mexico begin as soon as Aug. 16, the administration said. In 2016, Maine exported goods worth $1.4 billion to Canada and $46.1 million to Mexico. It imported $1.7 billion from Canada and $70 million from Mexico. Read the story.

]]> 0, 19 May 2017 21:52:51 +0000
How Sebago succeeds: ‘Our beers have evolved’ Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 GORHAM — Kai Adams stood in what used to be a farm field at 10 a.m. in early April and cracked open a beer.

It was a Sebago beer, naturally.

Adams was celebrating as the company he co-founded in 1998 broke ground on its new brewery site. Sebago plans to double its size with a brewery and large tasting room that Adams says will draw fans off the beaten path.

While some breweries born in the 1980s and ’90s have languished, Sebago has surged to become Maine’s fifth-largest brewery in 2016. They’ve done it by tinkering with existing recipes and developing new products. Some of the brewery’s most popular or top-rated beers – Simmer Down (a seasonal ale), Whistle Punk (double IPA) and Hop Swap (pale ale) – didn’t exist four years ago.

“Our beers have evolved forever,” said Adams. “Not that you have to follow trends, but you do need to update. A traditional IPA back in 2001 is different from a traditional IPA in 2016. And consumers’ perceptions changed and our taste buds changed.

“I think we’ve all witnessed what happens when you say you only brew traditional style beers. You need to evolve from that. And you can have a traditional pale ale or a West Coast-style, but you have to update your styles. You don’t have to follow the trends, but you do have to engage the consumers.”

It seems to be working.

The company’s production has jumped the past two years. Sebago’s production went up 21.75 percent in 2016 and 16.9 percent in 2015.

Around 2014, the company revamped its lineup, changed its logo and switched from glass packaging to cans. It’s all in an effort to stay relevant in a crowded market. Sebago sells 84 percent of its beer in Maine, according to Adams. The state now has at least 93 breweries producing hundreds of different beers. Adams says Sebago has found its niche.

“There’s always been 5 million beers sold in Maine. It’s just a matter of what kind of beer is being sold, and consumers dictate that,” Adams said.

To fill its niche, Sebago needs a new brewery. Adams says he plans to sell the old Gorham location off to another Maine brewery. Its new location will be nearly 31,000 square feet and Sebago plans to hire up to 40 more employees.

Though it’s located away from beer tourism spots like Portland’s Riverside and East Bayside neighborhoods, Adams isn’t worried about drawing fans to their new building off Route 25. It’s not next door to Portland, but it has other amenities.

“I’m super confident people are going to show up,” Adams said. “This is elevating what a tasting room is like. Not only are the beers excellent, we have natural resources for people to enjoy that they don’t have to pay for. Hiking, biking. They can park, go for a walk on one of our trails and enjoy a good beer afterward.”

]]> 0 Abercrombie, a brewmaster at Sebago Brewing Co., takes a celebratory sip of Simmer Down, its summer ale, at a groundbreaking event last month for the brewery's new headquarters in Gorham. After two years of double-digit growth, Sebago plans to double the size of its brewery and tasting room, hoping to draw fans off the beaten path.Sun, 21 May 2017 09:03:54 +0000
Bangor brewery banks on opportunity Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 That bright glare to the north of Portland isn’t the Northern Lights, it’s Bangor brewery Geaghan Bros., which rocketed onto the statewide beer scene in 2016. Geaghan Bros. shot into the top 10 producers of beer in the state last year as its overall production went up 87.6 percent. The eighth-largest brewery in the state in 2016, it is close behind longtime stalwarts Geary’s and Gritty’s.

Brewmaster Andy Geaghan laughed when he was asked what it’s like to be riding a rocket ship; that’s not a bad analogy, he said.

“It’s exciting and scary every day,” Geaghan said. “It’s a testament to way, way, way more than me. I am nothing if not supported by one of the best crews that could be assembled. Our team is a young team of go-getters that show up every day and want to make the best product we can and market it in real and authentic ways that work. …

Much of the skyrocketing growth being sustained by Geaghan Bros. Brewing Co. is far north of Portland. Andy Geaghan describes his company’s success as “an opportunity-based growth.”

“This year we’re going to slow down that pace a bit but we’re still looking at more expansion this year. It’s been fun but it’s also been a lot of days on the road, a lot of early mornings and late nights in the brewery getting product out.”

Portland-area beer fans can be forgiven if they’re not overly familiar with the brewery. Geaghan said 50 percent of their beer is sold in Bangor, and areas north and east of Bangor. Though some of their beers are available in Hannaford supermarkets, it’s the draft lines and bottle shops far away from Portland that are powering the growth, Geaghan said.

And it all just kind of worked out this way. Geaghan’s family has owned and operated a pub in Bangor for more than 40 years. Late in 2011, they installed a little brewery that could produce 155 gallons of beer at a time. It made 1,166 gallons that first year.

Then other restaurants around Bangor wanted Geaghan Bros. beer. Retail stores wanted to sell their beer. In 2015 the company opened a new brewery across the river in Brewer and started pumping out more beer to meet demand. Geaghan says it was an organic growth spurt.

“It’s never been a targeted strategy, it’s been an opportunity-based growth. … I think that’s where sustained growth is going to come,” he said. “I feel like we could double our size again this year and sell every bit of it this year, but where does that put us in future years? Growth right now needs to be really well-thought-out and based on quality and consistency that people are looking for in brands.”

]]> 0 Andy Geaghan says Geaghan Bros. Brewing Co. in Bangor is "supported by one of the best crews that could be assembled."Sun, 21 May 2017 09:01:20 +0000
Who sits atop Maine’s beer scene? It’s pretty fluid Sun, 21 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 A large walk-in cooler sits in the middle of Allagash’s Portland brewery. Pop open the door and the smell of bourbon wafts out. Inside are dozens of wood barrels that were once used to make bourbon. Now they hold thousands of gallons of Curieux, Allagash’s barrel-aged ale.

It’s a sight (and a smell) you won’t find on this scale anywhere else in the state. For years, Allagash has been the quirky brewery on the outskirts of the city. Now it’s poised to be the largest brewery in the state in 2017 – and still plenty quirky.

According to data provided by the state, Allagash made 2,865,584 gallons of beer in 2016. Though that’s well behind Shipyard’s 3,658,571 gallons, the two companies are trending in different directions. Shipyard has three straight years of declining production while Allagash hasn’t reported a reduction in the last 11 years.

Allagash has a nationwide reputation for producing high-quality Belgian-style beers, and that’s paying off with more production at its lone plant in Portland. Allagash added four new fermenters this winter – each with the capacity to make about 16,740 gallons of beer per batch. But brewmaster Jason Perkins, who has been with the company almost since it started, says being No. 1 isn’t part of Allagash’s master plan.

“We like the idea of growth because growth allows us to do things like give better benefits for our employees, better quality programs at the brewery, it allows us to innovate with our beer,” Perkins said. “So we like growth. Growth is good, but we’re not a competitive bunch that’s chasing a volume.”

If they wanted volume, Perkins said, they would sell beer in larger formats. The biggest quantity of beer Allagash sells in stores is a four-pack, a far cry from the 24-packs and 12-packs put out by national brewers.

Many of Allagash’s beers fetch a premium price. A four-pack of White – which consists of four 12-ounce bottles of the company’s flagship beer – costs about $10. A 24-pack of Hoppy Table Beer costs $57, plus tax and deposits, and is only sold at Allagash’s brewery. And the company makes a number of special releases that retail for up to $25 a bottle. On a per-ounce basis, Allagash’s cheapest offerings are at least 50 percent more expensive than any Shipyard offering.

Also unlike other brewers, Allagash doesn’t make any of the lagers, pilsners or American-style ales that have long dominated the market. Everything Allagash makes is Belgian-style, often with yeast-forward tastes and a cloudy appearance.

To be sure, Perkins says, Allagash is riding a cultural shift. When the brewery opened, most Americans didn’t know what a Belgian-style ale was, much less had they ever tried one. That brought up some questions for the brewers.

“It sure has changed,” Perkins said with a laugh. “When (Rob Tod) opened the brewery in 1995 and really for the first 10 years, it was tough to sell the beers we were making. People didn’t get them. They didn’t understand. They would look at Allagash White and say, ‘Why is this beer cloudy? It’s got spices in it? What’s up with that?’ ”

As beer drinkers become comfortable with branching out from lagers and ales, Allagash has grown steadily. Leading the growth is White, which contains a bit of coriander, and accounts for about 70 percent of all Allagash’s volume.

The growth continued in 2016 as Allagash produced 10.7 percent more beer than in 2015. The national Brewers Association ranked Allagash as the 35th-largest craft brewery in the country in 2016, up seven spots from 2015.

Chart: production volumes at Maine breweries

Chart: Christian MilNeil

Even rival brewers say they’re impressed by what Allagash has managed.

“If you want a model for doing it right and with integrity and focus, it’s Allagash,” said Andy Geaghan of Geaghan Bros. Brewing. “They’re going to be in the lead of anything they’re a part of.”

“What Allagash has done very well is focus on one or two key brands and built it out nationally,” said Shipyard co-founder Fred Forsley. “I’m hoping we can hit one of those.”

“They’re willing to spend on quality,” Sebago co-founder Kai Adams said. “You know Allagash is going to have quality.”

Quality invariably comes up in connection with Allagash.

The brewery’s commitment is obvious on the production line, where a batch of Tripel was being bottled on a weekday afternoon. A brewer stood at a station adjacent to the bottling line and checked carbonization of the beer. The brewery keeps sample bottles for three years from every batch of beer it sends out, so if a problem develops they can see what went wrong.

The quality testing room is just off the bottling line and looks more like a college chemistry lab than a brewery. In a room amid beakers and centrifuges, quality manager Zach Bodah says Allagash wants to know if something goes wrong so it can correct the problem.

“As years go by, you might get burned. You might have a bad batch of beer,” Bodah said. “If you don’t have a lot of tests around it, you don’t have a story to tell about the beer, you don’t know why it happened.”


While Allagash has consistently grown, several longtime brewers have seen their production drop dramatically in the past decade. Geary’s is down 59.3 percent from its best year in 2008, and the brewery was sold to an investor as it apparently faced bankruptcy late in 2016. Gritty’s is down 43 percent from its all-time high in 2008.

And Shipyard, which has led the state in production for at least the past 11 years, is down 29 percent from its 2013 peak. Although Shipyard disputes the state’s data, saying it includes beer Shipyard brewed under contract for other breweries, data provided by Shipyard also show a 29 percent decline.

Forsley, who co-founded Shipyard in 1994, says a number of factors have hampered his brewery, complicated by the fact that a little of Shipyard’s production has shifted to its facility in Florida. As craft breweries have proliferated across the country, Shipyard faces tougher markets in outlying states like North Carolina and California, Forsley said. The problem isn’t necessarily winning over consumers, it’s winning over distributors who fight for shelf space and put beers on draft in bars. And since Shipyard distributes to 42 states and there are over 5,000 craft breweries in the U.S., there’s plenty of competition.

“We haven’t necessarily gone backward in our core markets like Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts,” Forsley said. “But the non-core markets, it’s been more difficult not so much because of consumer demand, but by getting our distributors to represent us. They can only dance with so many partners, you know.”

Another major factor hindering Shipyard has been a slump in seasonal pumpkin-flavored beers across the country. Pumpkinhead is Shipyard’s top seller, accounting for about 40 percent of production even though it is only available three months a year.

But demand for pumpkin beers dropped sharply over the past two years – and the style even earned ridicule from Budweiser in an infamous Super Bowl ad that slammed craft beer. Forsley thinks pumpkin beers will rebound, and when they do, Pumpkinhead will be near the front of the pack.

“Pumpkinhead is the huge beer for us; it’s been the thing that’s grown our volume on a national level,” he said. “The good news, from our standpoint, is it’s still one of the leaders in the pumpkin category. But the last two years the issue has been an overflow of pumpkin beers.”

Forsley says he’s been through slumps like this before in his 25 years in the industry and expressed confidence Shipyard would regain its footing.

The waning production from stalwarts like Shipyard, Gritty’s and Geary’s led to a statewide drop in beer production in Maine in 2016. The state produced 2 percent less beer in 2016 than the year before, the first drop since a 3 percent dip in 2008.

Bart Watson, chief economist at the national Brewers Association, says that makes sense. The beer economy exploded for a number of years as consumers lapped up new local brews and national brewers like Budweiser and Miller lost market share. That’s not going to happen again, Watson said.

“It’s going to look more like the restaurant scene, which is a one-in, one-out situation,” Watson said. “By that I mean when one brewery closes, another one will open. But we’re not going to see another 5,000 breweries opening.”

Maine now has at least 93 active breweries, with at least a couple more planned in the Portland area.


Shipyard is not alone in its decline. Boston Beer Co. – which makes Samuel Adams – has seen its beer sales fall. As a publicly traded company, Boston Beer publishes its financials, which offer a window into the struggles faced by large craft breweries.

The numbers in Boston Beer’s first-quarter results this year are daunting. Boston Lager sales dropped 8 percent. Rebel IPA is down 20 percent.

With its beer production sinking, Boston Beer has been inventing new alcoholic beverages, with some hits in the lineup, to try to remain afloat. The company makes hard seltzers. Angry Orchard ciders are made by Boston Beer. And Twisted Tea – an alcohol-infused tea – has been a hit for Boston Beer.

As a result, malt beverages and ciders now account for 42.8 percent of all Boston Beer’s production. If that number goes over 50 percent, Samuel Adams will no longer be considered craft beer by the Brewers Association.

Peter Frost, who covers the beer industry for Crain’s in Chicago, says Shipyard is not unlike Sam Adams, though on a much smaller scale.

“Regional brewers the size of Shipyard are the ones most at risk in this part of the market cycle,” Frost said. “They’re not new and exciting like the startup craft brewers eating their lunch and taking away their tap handles.”

Andy Crouch, who has a beer column in Beer Advocate, says Shipyard’s problems extend beyond a business level. As beer fans’ tastes have evolved, Shipyard’s traditional English-style ales have fallen from favor with consumers.

“Shipyard’s in a tough spot and it has been for quite some time,” Crouch said. “It’s been out of favor with beer geeks for quite some time. It has a very old New England flavor profile, with ringwood yeast, that old English style which used to define New England craft beer 15 years ago. Increasingly it doesn’t have much of a place.”

Both Crouch and Frost say Allagash stands in sharp contrast to Shipyard. Much of Allagash’s growth is tied to White, which has won over tap handles in bars from local watering holes to fickle, high-end beer bars. And, Frost says, White appeals to a constituency often overlooked by beer makers: women.

“Allagash has a few things going for it that we shouldn’t dismiss, such as its flagship, which appeals not only to the hard-core beer nerd who knows a near-perfect beer when she sips one, but also to the occasional beer drinker who typically drinks wine or adjunct American lagers. It’s sort of a gateway beer,” Frost said.

Will Ikard of Newcastle got his first taste of Allagash when he lived in Texas (before the company stopped distribution there). His favorite beers in his early 20s were light Mexican beers like Tecate and Pacifico. White was one of the “slightly more exotic” wheat beers he could regularly find.

Now 35 and a father, Ikard has never visited the Portland brewery. He simply picks up a four-pack of Hoppy Table Beer or White at a local store. He’s developed a taste for it, he says, and since he’s only having a few beers, he wants to savor them.

“I generally like to support local businesses across the board and I’m willing to pay a premium for that,” Ikard said. “I’m comparing Allagash to foreign beers or really micro, artisanal stuff, and in that market, it’s not particularly expensive.”

Matt Taylor of Biddeford can relate to that. The 32-year-old spent his college years drinking the cheapest beers he could find.

“Things that will get you buzzed,” he said.

Taylor discovered Allagash White on a trip to Bull Feeney’s – the longtime Portland pub – and says he still picks up Allagash beers.

“It’s good to sit back, hanging out by the lake and have a few beers,” Taylor said. “I guess at my age it’s not about getting drunk, it’s about the experience. Taking in a good beer with the people who mean the most to you.”

Once beer drinkers like Taylor and Ikard develop a taste for Belgian ales, Allagash has plenty of offerings in its catalog to keep people engaged as they seek more complexity in their beer, Crouch said. Both Ikard and Taylor cited more obscure bottle offerings from Allagash as among their favorites.

“They’ve been innovative since the day they opened,” Crouch said. “They have always pushed the envelope there, which has kept the beer geek market engaged, so they have been able to attract with White pretty much any drinker on the planet, and then keep the beer nerds also engaged.”


Outside and around the back of Allagash’s brewery sits a little room with stained-glass windows. It’s meant to look like an old Belgian brewery.

When the weather is chilly enough – it needs to be cold, but not so cold that the beer freezes – hot, unfermented beer is pumped onto a metal tray in the room. Then it just sits there on the tray, known as a coolship, exposed to the elements and picking up wild yeast strains for 12 hours. Then brewers pump the beer back into the brewery and stuff it into French oak wine barrels, where it sits for one to three years. Often, they age the beer on fruit like cherries or raspberries. The beers are released under Allagash’s “Coolship” label and cost $15 for a 12.7-ounce bottle.

And they can’t make enough of it. About a decade ago, as demand surged for its products, Allagash pulled out of Florida, Texas, Washington, Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, Indiana and Oregon. Allagash wasn’t able to keep up with demand and it was too hectic for the company, Perkins said.

The company now serves 17 states, with no plans to expand.

“We recognize it’s a different time than it was five years ago. We had times where we were growing 40 percent in a year. I don’t think we’d want to go back to that even if we could,” Perkins said. “So yes, we plan to grow, but it’s careful and growth on our own terms.”

James Patrick can be contacted at 791-6382 or at:

Twitter: @mesofunblog

]]> 0 brewmaster Jason Perkins tastes a beer in Portland. "We like growth," he says, "but we're not a competitive bunch."Sun, 21 May 2017 10:40:41 +0000
Japan’s 25 L.L. Bean stores get their own Bootmobile Sun, 21 May 2017 00:41:29 +0000 FREEPORT – L.L. Bean’s Bootmobile is leaving North America for the first time.

The four-wheeled tribute to the Maine-based retailer’s iconic boot is rolling across land of the rising sun, visiting L.L. Bean’s 25 stores in Japan.

The first Bootmobile was created to coincide with L.L. Bean’s 100th anniversary, and its popularity is giving Oscar Mayer’s Weinermobile a run for its money.

Bootmobile ambassador Eddie Flaherty traveled to Japan last month to deliver the ceremonial key to the Japanese Bootmobile. The two U.S.-spec models have the underpinnings of a Ford F-250 pickup, while the smaller Japanese Bootmobile is based on a Toyota Hilux.

The Bootmobile will tour around Japan this summer and fall. Fans are encouraged to share photos of Bootmobile on social media for a chance to win prizes.

]]> 0 this April 26, 2017 photo provided by L.L. Bean, the company's Bootmobile is displayed in Tokyo, Japan. The Maine-based outdoors company already has two of the rolling Bean boots in the U.S. Now this third version will be visiting Bean's stores in Japan.Sat, 20 May 2017 22:12:48 +0000
As Maine towns face sticky issues raised by recreational pot, some just say no Sat, 20 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The vote in Lebanon wasn’t overwhelming, but the message was clear.

Residents voted “No” on six referendum questions this month, prohibiting all varieties of recreational cannabis businesses and making the rural York County town the first in southern Maine to become a “dry town” in a state with newly legalized recreational marijuana.

York is holding a similar referendum Saturday and could join Lebanon on a small but growing list of Maine towns considering closing the door on the new legal marijuana market that is expected to launch next year, after lawmakers set up a regulatory system to oversee the industry.

“It’s the most clear-cut, unambiguous action a town can take,” said Ted Kelleher, an attorney with Drummond Woodsum who leads a practice group focusing on highly regulated markets, including marijuana. “It avoids the need to have to face a lot of the other more complicated, difficult questions about where you would permit these stores and how many you would allow.”

Municipal officials across the state are grappling with the impact that retail marijuana could have on their communities. Even with the uncertainty of how state regulations will work, town officials are wading through a host of issues, from developing local zoning and licensing to deciding on appropriate regulations for things like odor and signs.

Dozens of communities – from the largest cities in southern Maine to small towns in rural counties – have passed temporary moratoriums banning marijuana businesses while officials hammer out those details. Now, some towns are taking the next step and saying “No” indefinitely.

In December, the Kennebec County town of Oakland became the first dry town in Maine. Residents in Norway and Skowhegan will vote in June on ordinances to ban marijuana businesses and social clubs. In Saco, city councilors are considering an ordinance to ban recreational marijuana business for a year.

“There’s a small but growing number of towns that have said they don’t want these businesses, regardless of the regulations,” said Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association.

‘I’ve looked at this right from the start from a pure economic standpoint: How will this benefit York? Where do you think that tax money is going to be going? Straight to Augusta.’

— Jon Speers, vice chairman of the York Board of Selectmen

Even in towns that ban retail marijuana businesses, personal cultivation and use by adults 21 and older remains legal. Towns only have the right to ban sales and other related businesses.

Kelleher said there are three approaches towns can take to dealing with recreational marijuana. Towns could decide not to have local rules regulating marijuana – a scenario Kelleher hasn’t yet seen and says is unlikely – and treat marijuana businesses like any other business. Officials also can develop local zoning and regulations to fit the needs and desires of the community, such as designating where in town the businesses are appropriate and where they are not. For towns without comprehensive plans for zoning or no desire to be known for marijuana businesses, the easiest option may be to go dry.

While conversations in towns considering banning marijuana businesses often center on zoning and local opposition, some local officials also are discussing the financial implications of allowing them. They argue that allowing cannabis businesses will create more work for town staff – especially code enforcement officers – with no direct benefit to the town from the sales taxes that will be collected. Under the law approved in November, recreational marijuana will be taxed at 10 percent and all tax revenue goes to the state’s General Fund.

“I’ve looked at this right from the start from a pure economic standpoint: How will this benefit York?” said Jon Speers, vice chairman of the York Board of Selectmen. “Where do you think that tax money is going to be going? Straight to Augusta. We’re not going to see any retail sales tax on these operations.”

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, said financial benefits could come from the new businesses being destinations, similar to craft breweries that attract visitors. But there also seems to be some support in Augusta for proposals that would allow a local option sales tax on cannabis businesses, he said. That would mean towns could collect their own sales tax on marijuana sales.

“We don’t do that in Maine, but this is one area where it could make sense,” Boyer said. “Conversely, maybe the towns that ban stores and social clubs should not get the revenue.”


Lebanon, a western York County town with about 6,000 residents, sits on the border with Rochester, New Hampshire. Route 202 runs through rural town, which has a small commercial tax base.

In November, 56 percent of voters supported marijuana legalization and the town is home to several medical marijuana growing facilities. But, like many small towns in Maine, Lebanon does not have a charter or a comprehensive plan.

“Without a comprehensive plan, we don’t have a form of zoning, and zoning is the way to regulate these facilities,” said Richard “Chip” Harlow, chairman of the Lebanon Board of Selectmen. “It was realized that we needed to slow the process down to figure out what we needed to do.”

Planning Board members attended sessions hosted by the Maine Municipal Association to learn about the issues municipalities would face and sent out multiple surveys to residents to gather input. They also hosted two informational meetings, where residents spoke for and against banning marijuana businesses, Harlow said. Ultimately, town officials decided to put six questions on the May 9 ballot.

The first ballot question, approved by a 529-397 vote, established a moratorium on retail marijuana businesses and social clubs. The other five referendums also passed, establishing bans on specific types of marijuana businesses: stores (529-397), social clubs (566-360), testing facilities (515-409), manufacturing facilities (515-411) and cultivation facilities (471-381).

Harlow, who was elected in the same election and closely followed the marijuana discussions leading up to the vote, was surprised by the results given Lebanon’s support for Question 1 last year and the presence of medical marijuana businesses in town. It’s possible a resident could circulate a petition to have a people’s referendum to reverse the new ordinances, he said.

“My guess is that will be attempted at least once,” Harlow said. “The votes weren’t totally lopsided.”

The town also is starting the process to develop a comprehensive plan. Then, if the ban is ever overturned, the town would have the ability to develop zoning for marijuana businesses, Harlow said.


York’s history with recreational marijuana goes back to 2014, when the Board of Selectmen blocked an attempt by advocates to get a local legalization measure on the town ballot. It was the first town in Maine to reject citizens petitions calling for referendum on the legalization of recreational marijuana use, a decision that was later held up in York County Superior Court.

Two years later, York residents voted against the statewide legalization measure, 4,613 to 4,272. Shortly after, the Board of Selectmen began talking about what legalization meant for the town, but there was little clarity from Augusta on how the retail market would be structured.

“All of us were operating a little in the dark because we don’t know what our neighbors are going to be doing,” said Speers, the outgoing vice chairman of the board. “We didn’t want to sit around and do nothing and see what unfolded in the state.”

During public meetings where marijuana was discussed, residents who spoke to board members made it clear that they support the ban, said Chairman Robert Palmer. Many shared his concerns about whether marijuana shops and social clubs are a good fit for the town.

“We’re the first exit off the Maine Turnpike going north. We’re known as a family beach place and I had concerns about what this would do to the town if we had stores and social clubs right off that exit,” Palmer said. “At the end, it came down to the fact we ought to give the York voters a chance to say ‘Yes’ to a ban because they voted ‘No’ in November.”

Palmer said having the vote in May will give town officials time to react if voters decide not to ban marijuana businesses. Town leaders then would have time to discuss where to allow stores and social clubs and how many to license, then send those recommendations back to voters before retail sales start sometime in 2018.

Boyer, of the Marijuana Policy Project, wasn’t surprised to see York is considering a ban, and the law passed by voters provided strong local control to allow towns to do it. But he also thinks it’s premature for towns to shut the door on legal marijuana businesses.

“They’re just banning legal marijuana sales, they’re not banning all marijuana sales,” he said. “There will still be marijuana transactions in Lebanon and York, but it will be on the black market.”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

]]> 0, 20 May 2017 00:02:39 +0000
Daughter carries on tradition at Montsweag, but says it’s still ‘Mama’s flea market’ Sat, 20 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 WOOLWICH — The faintest trace of sun lightens the horizon as Gena Kilkenny hops out of her car and removes the chain across the entrance to the Montsweag Flea Market.

A truck whooshes past on Route 1, breaking the early morning silence, as Kilkenny roots around in her car for a list of table reservations. A van pulls in behind her and she turns, waving to the driver.

“Hey Doug,” she calls out. He heads for his usual table and Kilkenny rushes off in search of a clipboard.

It’s almost like any other first day of the season for the Montsweag Flea Market, but this one feels extra special for Kilkenny.

It marks the 40th anniversary since Kilkenny’s mother, Norma Hunnewell Scopino, opened the flea market in the field next to the home where she raised her only daughter. And it’s the fifth year that Kilkenny has run the market since her mother died of an aggressive form of brain cancer, leaving behind a heartbroken daughter and a grieving flea market family.

“This is Mama’s flea market,” Kilkenny says. “I’m only baby-sitting.”

The market started with 10 tables and has grown to more than 10 times that size, along the way developing a loyal following of sellers and buyers who consider themselves part of the family. Montsweag, open on Wednesdays and weekends from Mother’s Day weekend to Columbus Day, is believed to be the oldest open-air flea market in Maine.

As sellers pull their trucks and vans onto the field, Arthur Bailey of New Harbor arrives. He sells a few antiques here with Kilkenny, and works for her around the market. This morning, he directs people to their tables, collects table rental money from sellers and deals with a health inspector who stops by the snack bar.

Bailey waves to a seller as Kilkenny rushes off to her office, this time in search of a flashlight. His wife, Cheryl, leans into the car to pet Naace, a spaniel with long ears, big eyes and a name that’s an acronym for Kilkenny’s five grandchildren. Kilkenny has had a nervous stomach since she woke up, but that gives way to excitement as the sun rises and she greets friends with hugs. Nearly everyone comments on the new Montsweag Flea Market sign she had installed this month.

“My mother would love it,” she says.


Scopino grew up in Woolwich, where her father ran Hunnewell’s IGA. In 1968, she bought the family home next to the field where she would later start the flea market and lived there the rest of her life. The land had been used by previous generations as a working farm in the early 19th century, and the barn later housed the town’s first auto garage. Scopino was the fifth generation Hunnewell to run a business here.

“This was all a field with horses, cows and ponies when I was little,” Kilkenny says. Her mother would sometimes walk those ponies to a parking lot down the road and give kids rides.

Scopino worked for many years as a bookkeeper and cashier before opening the flea market in 1977. A friend suggested that the field would be perfect for one, but Norma wouldn’t move forward with the idea until she knew another local flea market wasn’t reopening. She didn’t want to hurt their business.

Gena Kilkenny waves to a vendor at the Montsweag Flea Market on opening day. The market, which sits in a field near her family home, was started by her mother Norma when Gena was 16. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Kilkenny, now 56, had just gotten her driver’s license when the flea market opened.

“I lost my weekends and, as a 16-year-old, I was not a happy camper,” she says. In the early years, she’d sit inside by the phone in case anyone called trying to get a message to a vendor. When a call came in, she’d run down the hill to the field to find Mama.

“She’d be sitting on the back of someone’s pickup truck, her legs just swinging away,” she says.

Scopino would walk through the market, a mechanical pencil in one hand and her paperwork in the other. She was methodical with the management and upkeep of the market. The grass was always freshly trimmed and the small vendor buildings in good repair. The mother and daughter applied water seal to the tables before every season, slopping sealant from a big bucket and spreading it with rollers.

Kilkenny, no longer a teenager longing to spend weekends at the beach, came to treasure the days she worked alongside Mama. Many seasons, she would run the snack bar or sell ice cream while Scopino “ate, slept and drank” the flea market.

Scopino seemed to know everyone by name.

“She had an intuition about her,” Kilkenny says. “She knew who needed help and who was there to make ends meet. She would befriend them in some way or another and give them things to sell so they could make extra money. She had a knack for being able to do that for people.”

In the winter, Scopino headed to Florida, where she searched the beach for shark teeth and tried to relax.

“She’d say to me halfway through the winter, ‘I miss my people,’ ” Kilkenny says. “She was missing her family. She just loved it here.”

Scopino never planned to retire, even when the headaches came and didn’t stop. By the time she went to a doctor, her brain was covered with tumors.

She died Feb. 26, 2013, with Kilkenny at her side. She was 81.

A few months later, on Mother’s Day weekend, Kilkenny stood at the entrance of Montsweag and opened the market for the first season without Mama.

“I was on this field greeting her vendors for another season of selling. It was her strength channeling through me, I swear,” she says. “It was her day. I managed to get through it.”


It’s cold and raw on the first day of the 40th season, but the rain holds off. Kilkenny pulls the cuffs of her jacket down over her hands and occasionally sits in her car to “warm my buns.” Under her green L.L. Bean windbreaker, she wears a special T-shirt she had made to mark the anniversary. It features a picture of the rock next to the entrance that reads, simply, “Montsweag Flea Market, established May 1977 by Norma.”

The early pickers have come and gone, but more buyers trickle in as Kilkenny and a friend chat about the turnout. It’s a nice start, they say, but a little slow because many people are down at the Brimfield Antique Show in Massachusetts. More regulars – including the Doughnut Lady, who has brought warm doughnuts to Montsweag for all 40 years – will join the market in the coming weeks.

Vance Stuart of Norway was one of the first vendors to arrive for the day, chatting easily with his neighbors on the field as he unloaded antiques from the back of his minivan. He came to the flea market during the first season and has now been coming regularly to sell for the past 15 years. He always sets up next to Sue Connors of Farmingdale, a relative newcomer to the market who brings breakfast sandwiches and lunch to share.

Stuart was fond of Scopino, who he says was constantly friendly, outgoing and caring.

“She’d always try to help you out,” he says as a shopper stops to look over the antiques on his table.

Tucked away in a corner of the field, just beyond a row of small buildings that sellers rent for the season, Gerry Maxim of Hallowell arranges tools, oil cans, fishing items and old photographs across three tables. He’s been coming here for more than 35 years. He retired from his job at L.L. Bean six years ago and now has more time to pick estates and yard sales for antiques.

During all his years at Montsweag, he grew to be pretty good friends with Scopino. Kilkenny, he says, seems to be following in her mother’s footsteps.

“I think (Norma) would be pretty much proud of her,” he says.

It’s mid-morning when Kilkenny finally sits down on a folding chair at a table near the snack bar, a fresh cup of coffee steaming next to her. Naace sits on a nearby chair, making doe eyes at everyone who passes and enticing most people to stop and pet her. Behind them, Scopino smiles from a photo pinned to the door of the office.

A seller stops by to ask if he can have a specific table on Saturday – it’s one of the best, he says – and Kilkenny promises he can if the vendors who have reserved it for the rest of the season don’t show up.

She shuffles the papers sitting on the table in front of her and thinks aloud about the things she has to do. She still needs to call the phone company to find out why the flea market line isn’t working and figure out what’s wrong with the ATM she had installed last year.

But first she sits back, sipping her coffee and finally eating some breakfast, and looks across the field. Buyers pick through items on tables and chat with sellers. A few more cars pull into the parking lot. Kilkenny looks past them to an apple tree, the only old one left standing in the field, and talks about being there with Mama.

During their last season together, they’d walk through the empty field, past that old apple tree and up the hill to the house. Kilkenny still takes the things Mama said on those walks to heart.

“She said to me, ‘How the heck did your roots get so deep in this land?’ ” she says. “I say, ‘Look who raised me.’ ”

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

Twitter: @grahamgillian

]]> 0, ME - MAY 10: Gena Kilkenny waves hello at a vendor she knows as they drive into the Montsweag Flea Market before opening morning. The market, which sits in a field near her family home, was started by her mother, Norma, when Gena was 16 and is now in it's 40th season with Gena at the helm. (Staff photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)Fri, 19 May 2017 23:32:21 +0000
Banking executive withdraws name from No. 2 Treasury post Sat, 20 May 2017 01:52:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — James Donovan, President Trump’s pick to be the second-in-command at the Treasury Department, has withdrawn from consideration, senior administration officials said Friday.

There was no immediate reason given for the decision, which comes two month’s after the administration announced Donovan’s selection. Donovan is a longtime Goldman Sachs executive who was slated to join several other Goldman veterans in the Trump administration and serve as Treasury’s deputy secretary.

“Secretary (Steve) Mnuchin offers Jim his support and friendship as he focuses his attention on his family,” Treasury assistant secretary Tony Sayegh said. “Jim has been an enormous asset to the department helping recruit and fill many of the senior jobs at Treasury.”

There have been a number of people who have withdrawn from consideration for top jobs following their selection by Trump. Many departments – including Treasury – are missing top political appointees four months into the administration. The White House has named several other top nominees for senior Treasury jobs, but they have not yet had hearings in the Senate.

The White House has blamed Senate Democrats for what they allege is slow-walking confirmation hearings, but Democrats have said the White House simply hasn’t submitted paperwork or, in some cases, even made the picks.

]]> 0 Sat, 20 May 2017 00:19:33 +0000
Talk of altering trade policy sows doubt among U.S. farmers Sat, 20 May 2017 01:50:15 +0000 Talk of altering Trade worries u.S. farmers

WASHINGTON — A sizable majority of rural Americans backed Donald Trump’s presidential bid, drawn to his calls to slash environmental rules, strengthen law enforcement and replace the federal health care law.

But many farmers are nervous about another plank in Trump’s agenda: His vow to overhaul U.S. trade policy, including his intent announced Thursday to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Trump’s message that NAFTA was a job-killing disaster had never resonated much in rural America. NAFTA had widened access to Mexican and Canadian markets, boosting U.S. farm exports and benefiting many farmers.

Farm Country went on red alert last month when it looked as if Trump wasn’t even going to pursue a NAFTA rewrite: White House aides had spread the word that the president would simply withdraw from the pact.

“Mr. President, America’s corn farmers helped elect you,” Wesley Spurlock of the National Corn Growers Association warned in a statement. “Withdrawing from NAFTA would be disastrous for American agriculture.”

Within hours, Trump softened his stance. He wouldn’t actually dump NAFTA, he said. He’d first try to forge a more advantageous deal with Mexico and Canada – a move that formally began Thursday when his top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, informed Congress of the administration’s intent to renegotiate NAFTA.

As a candidate, Trump defined his “America First” stance as a means to fight unfair foreign competition. He blamed unjust deals for swelling U.S. trade gaps and stealing factory jobs.

But NAFTA and other deals have been good for American farmers, who stand to lose if Trump ditches the pact or ignites a trade war. The United States has enjoyed a trade surplus in farm products since at least 1967, government data show. Last year, farm exports exceeded imports by $20.5 billion.

”You don’t start off trade negotiations … by picking fights with your trade partners that are completely unnecessary,” says Aaron Lehman, a fifth-generation Iowa farmer who produces corn, soybeans, oats and hay.

Many farmers worry that Trump’s policies will jeopardize their exports just as they face weaker crop and livestock prices.

“It comes up pretty quickly in conversation,” says Blake Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer in northwestern Missouri’s Atchison County.

That county’s voters backed Trump more than 3-to-1 in the election but now feel “it would be better if the rhetoric (on trade) was a little less strident,” says Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.


Trump’s main argument against NAFTA and other pacts was that they exposed American workers to unequal competition with low-wage workers in countries like Mexico and China.

NAFTA did lead some American manufacturers to move factories and jobs to Mexico. But since it took effect in 1994 and eased tariffs, annual farm exports to Mexico have jumped nearly fivefold to about $18 billion. Mexico is the No. 3 market for U.S. agriculture, notably corn, soybeans and pork.

“The trade agreements that we’ve had have been very beneficial,” says Stephen Censky, CEO of the American Soybean Association. “We need to take care not to blow the significant gains that agriculture has won.”

The U.S. has run a surplus in farm trade with Mexico for 20 of the 23 years since NAFTA took effect. Still, the surpluses with Mexico became deficits in 2015 and 2016 as global livestock and grain prices plummeted and shrank the value of American exports, notes Joseph Glauber of the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Mexico has begun to seek alternatives to U.S. food because, as its agriculture secretary, Jose Calzada Rovirosa, said in March, Trump’s remarks on trade “have injected uncertainty” into the agriculture business.

Once word had surfaced that Trump was considering pulling out of NAFTA, Sonny Perdue, two days into his job as the president’s agriculture secretary, hastened to the White House with a map showing areas that would be hurt most by a pullout, overlapped with many that voted for Trump.

“I tried to demonstrate to him that in the agricultural market, sometimes words like ‘withdraw’ or ‘terminate’ can have a major impact on markets,” Perdue said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I think the president made a very wise decision for the benefit of many agricultural producers across the country” by choosing to remain in NAFTA.

Trump delivered another disappointment for U.S. farm groups in January by fulfilling a pledge to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which the Obama administration negotiated with 11 Asia-Pacific countries. Trump argued that the pact would cost Americans jobs by pitting them against low-wage Asian labor.


But the deal would have given U.S. farmers broader access to Japan’s notoriously impregnable market and easier entry into fast-growing Vietnam. Philip Seng of the U.S. Meat Export Federation notes that the U.S. withdrawal from TPP left Australia with a competitive advantage because it had already negotiated lower tariffs in Japan.

Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on Chinese and Mexican imports, thereby raising fears that those trading partners would retaliate with their own sanctions.

Farmers know they’re frequently the first casualties of trade wars. Many recall a 2009 trade rift in which China responded to U.S. tire tariffs by imposing tariffs on U.S. chicken parts. And Mexico slapped tariffs on U.S. goods ranging from ham to onions to Christmas trees in 2009 to protest a ban on Mexican trucks crossing the border.

The White House declined to comment on farmers’ fears that Trump’s trade policy stands to hurt them. But officials say they’ve sought to ease concerns, by, for example, having Agriculture Secretary Perdue announce a new undersecretary to oversee trade and foreign agricultural affairs.


Many farmers are still hopeful about the Trump administration. Some, for example, applaud his plans to slash environmental rules that they say inflate the cost of running a farm. Some also hold out hope that the author of “The Art of the Deal” will negotiate ways to improve NAFTA.

One such way might involve Canada. NAFTA let Canada shield its dairy farmers from foreign competition behind tariffs and regulations but left at least one exception – an American ultra-filtered milk used in cheese. When Canadian farmers complained about the cheaper imports, Canada changed its policy and effectively priced ultra-filtered American milk out of the market.

“Canada has made business for our dairy farmers in Wisconsin and other border states very difficult,” Trump tweeted last month. “We will not stand for this. Watch!”

Some U.S. cattle producers would also like a renegotiated NAFTA to give them something the current version doesn’t: The right to label their product “Made in America.” In 2015, the World Trade Organization struck down the United States’ country-of-origin labeling rules as unfair to Mexico and Canada.

Many still worry that Trump’s planned overhaul of American trade policy is built to revive manufacturing and that farming remains an afterthought.

“So much of the conversation in the campaign had been in Detroit or in Indiana” and focused on manufacturing jobs, said Kathy Baylis, an economist at the University of Illinois. The importance of American farm exports “never made it into the rhetoric.”

]]> 0 Hurst, a corn and soybean farmer and president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, leans against a truck on his farm in Westboro, Mo., last month. President Trump has vowed to redo the North American Free Trade Agreement, but NAFTA has widened access to Mexican and Canadian markets, boosting U.S. farm exports and benefiting many farmers. Hurst says NAFTA has been good for his business and worries that he and many other U.S. farmers will lose out in a renegotiation.Sat, 20 May 2017 00:20:28 +0000
Automakers and other companies get behind fuel-cell push in Japan Sat, 20 May 2017 01:47:03 +0000 TOKYO — Japan is backing a push for pollution-free vehicles that run on hydrogen and planning to build more hydrogen fueling stations so that fuel-cell vehicles on roads will grow to 40,000 by 2020, from the current handful.

The collaboration on fuel cells, announced Friday, brings together 11 companies, including automakers Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co., as well as energy and gas companies and a bank.

Fuel cell vehicles are zero-emission, running on power produced when hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to create water.

Now, only a handful of such vehicles are on the roads, partly because of the scarcity of hydrogen stations.

Tokyo-based Honda, for instance, has delivered only 245 of its latest Clarity fuel-cell vehicles in Japan and the U.S. Toyota has delivered about 3,000 of its Mirai fuel cell cars.

The need for vehicles equipped with such futuristic technology is expected to grow because of concerns about pollution and global warming.

Other ecological vehicles are also available such as electric cars and hybrids, which switch back and forth between a gas engine and an electric motor.

But the Japanese government has been especially bullish about hydrogen-powered autos. It aims to raise the number of hydrogen fueling stations to 160 by 2020, from about 90 today, including mobile ones.

Automakers and energy companies have been working together on fuel cells, viewing such collaboration on investing in the technology, including the infrastructure of hydrogen stations, and agreeing on standards as crucial for its success.

]]> 0 fuel cell hybrid vehicle is refueled from a mobile hydrogen station in Tokyo in 2014. An effort in Japan aims to increase the number of fueling stations from 90 to 160 by 2020.Sat, 20 May 2017 00:24:09 +0000
Labor makes public-private apprenticeships a priority Sat, 20 May 2017 01:45:55 +0000 WASHINGTON — U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Friday made public-private apprenticeships his debut issue as President Trump’s point man on matching American workers with specific jobs.

“CEO after CEO has told me that they are eager to fill their vacancies, but they cannot find workers with the right skills,” Acosta told the labor ministers of the Group of 20 industrial and emerging-market nations gathered this week in Germany. Apprenticeships that pay salaries and often lead to careers, he added, “are a major priority for President Trump and the Department of Labor.”

The declaration, and a new campaign of tweets on the subject, represent the first indication since Acosta’s swearing-in three weeks ago that apprenticeships are at the core of the Trump administration’s plans to train a new generation of workers.

The discussion of apprenticeships is a relatively new one for Trump, who campaigned for the White House on promises to restore manufacturing jobs that he said had been lost to flawed trade deals and unfair competition from China, Mexico and more.

But it’s not new to policymakers of either party or the private sector, whose leaders have for years run apprenticeship programs. Some are modeled on those in such countries as Germany and the United Kingdom.

In a discussion in February, some of the two dozen CEOs gathered to discuss manufacturing jobs suggested there were still plenty of openings but too few qualified people to fill them. One executive said his company has 50 participants in a factory apprenticeship program, but could take 500 if enough were qualified.

Unemployment is historically low, but there are gaps in some sectors. Government figures show there are 324,000 open factory jobs nationwide – triple the number in 2009, during the depths of the recession.

At a White House round table discussion, some executives challenged Trump to generate a “moonshot” of 5 million new apprenticeships over five years.

“Our companies are some of the greatest universities in the world. We shape these employees, we train them, we educate them, we bring them in,” said CEO Marc Benioff, who issued the challenge to Trump.

“Let’s do that, let’s go for that 5 million,” Trump replied at the event in March.

There’s also evidence of rare bipartisan agreement, at least on the value of apprenticeships, which generally combine state and federal government money with support from universities and companies looking to train people for specific jobs. In some cases, students split their time between school and work, and the companies pay some portion of wages and tuition.

The budget compromise funding the federal government through September passed this month with $95 million for apprenticeship grants, an increase of $5 million – in part to increase the number of women apprentices.

“@POTUS & I are focused on boosting the number of women who participate in apprenticeship programs,” Acosta tweeted from Germany on Thursday. While there, Acosta toured the BMW assembly plant in Munich. The company has an apprenticeship program in Spartanburg, South Carolina, with three community colleges in the area.

Trump’s “skinny” – or abbreviated – budget blueprint released in March proposes a 21 percent cut in the Labor Department budget, but also pledges to help states expand apprenticeship, an evidence-based approach to preparing workers for jobs.

His more detailed, or “fat,” budget, is due out next week and is expected to contain more details.

]]> 0 Secretary Alexander Acosta wants to encourage more women to use apprenticeship programs.Sat, 20 May 2017 00:26:29 +0000
AT&T workers in Maine on strike through Sunday Fri, 19 May 2017 22:36:35 +0000 AT&T workers in Maine walked off their jobs Friday and will picket at nine company retail stores in Maine through Sunday.

About 21,000 workers represented by the Communications Workers of America went on a three-day strike beginning Friday to protest AT&T’s contract proposals. In Maine, 65 workers at nine AT&T retail stores are on strike and will picket outside some of the stores this weekend, said Serina DeWolfe, president of the CWA Local 1400, representing workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

DeWolfe said she expects that some stores will remain open, but she doesn’t know who will be working in them. She asked that customers “be mindful of the workers” and respect the picket lines by waiting to visit stores for problems or new phones until Monday. DeWolfe said the stores affected by the strike are in Bangor, Ellsworth, Brunswick, Auburn, Saco, Scarborough, Windham, at the Maine Mall in South Portland, and on Marginal Way in Portland.

DeWolfe said the key issues for workers include an incentive pay structure that has been “greatly diminished” over the past several years, significantly lowering the overall compensation for store workers. Though only retail store workers are involved in the strike in Maine, technicians and call center workers will be part of the three-day strike in California, Nevada and Connecticut.

AT&T said Friday it is offering terms that will make employees “better off financially” and that the strike involves less than 14 percent of workers. “We’re prepared, and we will continue working hard to serve our customers,” the statement said

]]> 0, 19 May 2017 20:52:51 +0000
Five start-ups chosen as finalists in an annual pitch contest Fri, 19 May 2017 18:16:16 +0000 Five start-ups have been chosen as finalists in an annual pitch contest sponsored by Gorham Savings Bank.

Judges for LaunchPad will decide June 6 who will receive the top prize of $50,000 in the annual entrepreneur contest, now in its fifth year. New this year is a $10,000 grant from the bank for the Emerging Idea Award, according to a news release from the bank. In addition to the $10,000 grant, the winner will receive $10,000 of in-kind marketing, business development and public relations services from iBec Creative, Creative Imaging Group, Grove Marketing, Chris Philbrook and Pro-voke Strategy and Culture.

The LaunchPad finalists are:

• Good To-Go, located in Kittery, which makes all-natural dehydrated gourmet meals catering to active adventurers.

• Jellux, in Saco, produces innovative, impact-resistant, waterproof advanced marine and outdoor lighting for the average homeowner.

• North Spore of Westbrook produces gourmet mushrooms and spawn for both retail and commercial use.

• STARC Systems, located in Brunswick, is a modular, telescopic wall system that prevents debris and noise from disseminating throughout an occupied building during construction or renovation.

• UniteGPS of Portland offers a service called CrossWalk, which solves the problems of parents and students not knowing just when the school bus will arrive each day.

The finalists were chosen from a pool of 130 applicants.

LaunchPad judges are WEX President & CEO Melissa Smith, Winxnet CEO and co-founder Chris Claudio, and the director of Southern Maine Community College’s Entrepreneurial Center, Michelle Neujahr.

The pitch contest will start at 5 p.m. at the University of Southern Maine’s Hannaford Hall in Portland. Attendees can register at

]]> 0 Fri, 19 May 2017 20:44:13 +0000
WannaCry cyberattacked 200,000 computers but almost no one paid the ransom Fri, 19 May 2017 14:53:04 +0000 One week ago a global cyberattack dubbed “unprecedented” by Europol began infecting an estimated 200,000 of the world’s computers, starting a seven-day countdown to the destruction of data if victims didn’t pay a ransom.

On Friday, those countdowns begin reaching zero. But so far, as of 1 p.m. in London, the attackers have claimed only about $92,000 in payments from their widespread ransom demands, according to Elliptic Enterprises Ltd., a U.K-based company that tracks illicit use of bitcoin. The company calculates the total based on payments tracked to bitcoin addresses specified in the ransom demands.

The ransomware, called WannaCry, began infecting users on May 12 and gave them 72 hours to pay $300 in bitcoin or pay twice as much. Refusal to pay after seven days was promised to result in the permanent loss of data via irrevocable encryption.

While it affected institutions including the National Health Service., FedEx Corp. and PetroChina, few initially paid up, leading to speculation that organizations were taking their chances on fixing their corrupt machines before the ransom forced a mass deletion of critical data. A week later, experts agree the financial gains of the hackers remain astonishingly low.

“With over 200,000 machines affected, the figure is lower than expected,” said Jamie Akhtar, co-founder of the London-based security software firm CyberSmart. “If even 1 percent paid the ransom that would be $600k.”

Akhtar said we experts may never know how much larger this figure would have been if a so-called kill switch wasn’t accidentally triggered by a cyber security researcher, who registered an internet domain that acted as a disabling tool for the worm’s propagation.

While the world’s law enforcement is pointing its resources at trying to identify the culprits, Tom Robinson, chief operating officer and co-founder of Elliptic Enterprises, says it’s unlikely the money taken from victims will be taken from the digital bitcoin wallets they’re being anonymously held in.

“Given the amount of scrutiny this has come under, I would be surprised if they moved it anytime soon,” he said. “I just don’t think the risk is worth the $90,000 they’ve raised so far.”

Akhtar agrees but doesn’t think the criminals have given up hope while machines infected later still have time ticking on their ransom countdown.

“It seems like they are still actively trying to bring funds in,” he said, noting a Twitter post from Symantec Corp. Thursday, which seemed to show fresh messaging from the attackers promising to hold their end of the decryption bargain if victims paid up.

Akhtar believes the best thing the perpetrators can do to hide from authorities is “destroy any evidence and abandon the bitcoin wallets.”

Of course, the hack may have nothing to do with money at all. Any movement of funds from a bitcoin wallet would act as a valuable clue for law enforcement as to who is behind the attack. Preliminary finger-pointing has already targeted groups with suspected links to the North Korean regime, but clues are few are far between still.

]]> 0 image shows a computer at Greater Preston CCG as Britain's National Health Service investigates an apparent "ransonware" cyberattack that locked computers and caused chaos in more than 60 countries.Fri, 19 May 2017 11:23:53 +0000
Maine’s unemployment rate unchanged from March Fri, 19 May 2017 14:23:13 +0000 Maine’s unemployment rate remained unchanged from March, extending a very tight labor market heading into the summer months.

Maine’s Department of Labor released April’s preliminary rate of 3.0 percent on Friday. That compares with 3.8 percent unemployment a year ago. The rate has been below 4 percent for the last seven months, and 15 of the last 18.

The U.S. preliminary unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in April was little changed from 4.5 percent in March and down from 5.0 percent one year ago, according to a release from the DOL. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.9 percent.

April unemployment rate estimates for other states in the region were 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, 3.1 percent in Vermont, 3.9 percent in Massachusetts, 4.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.9 percent in Connecticut.

The employment-to-population ratio estimate of 62.1 percent remained above the U.S. average of 60.2 percent.

]]> 0 Master Weavers in Sanford employs about 130 people in Maine.Fri, 19 May 2017 20:21:59 +0000
FCC takes step to end net neutrality Fri, 19 May 2017 00:45:11 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Republican-led Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to begin undoing a key decision from the Obama era. The move highlights the uphill battle for Democrats and consumer advocates, who say that weaker rules could allow Internet service providers to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the rest of the Internet. The current net neutrality rules make it illegal for Internet service providers to block or slow down websites for consumers.

ISPs have argued that softening the rules would help them to continue upgrading their networks and improve their business models.

The vote enables the FCC to begin taking public feedback on its proposal, which could be revised and put to a final vote later this year.

By a 2-1 vote led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the agency proposed to roll back a 2015 decision to regulate Internet providers like their cousins in the legacy telephone business.

The proposal also suggests repealing the so-called “general conduct” rule that allows the FCC to investigate business practices of Internet providers that it suspects may be anticompetitive.

And finally, the proposal asks whether the agency should eliminate the most high-profile parts of the net neutrality rules: The rules banning the blocking and slowing of websites, as well as the rule forbidding ISPs from charging websites extra fees.

“Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet,” said Pai. “The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go.”

The FCC’s lone Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, said the decision to revisit the rules was merely the latest in a broader effort by Republicans to undercut its own mission.

“The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation,” said Clyburn, “and a wholesale destruction of the FCC’s public interest authority in the 21st century.”

Republican lawmakers have proposed converting the FCC regulation into a bill of some form, but Democrats – concerned that the results could be much weaker than the current rules – appear unmoved.

They are currently gearing up for a grassroots battle similar to the kind that defeated the House Republican health care plan.

“This fight is just starting. Just like in 2014, the public now has the opportunity to stand up, be heard, and influence the outcome,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a statement. “It will take millions people standing up, just like they did before, to say that the Internet needs to stay free and open.”

Internet providers largely hailed the vote, which officially marks a first step toward looser regulations.

]]> 0 PAIThu, 18 May 2017 21:13:36 +0000
New poll shows racial gap in Americans’ retirement readiness Thu, 18 May 2017 23:59:54 +0000 CHICAGO — Older white Americans are nearly twice as likely as African-Americans to say they’ve saved enough for retirement, a new poll show.

The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey also found that African-Americans and Latinos have less financial security than whites and will rely on fewer sources of income during retirement. The retirement savings gap between white and other minority groups extends beyond pensions, 401(k)s or other retirement accounts.

The survey shows older white Americans are also more likely to collect Social Security benefits, inherit money from their families or receive income from the sale of a home or other physical assets.

The disparity in retirement readiness is a sign that the structural inequalities black and Latino workers face during their working years extend into retirement. For example, the unemployment rate among African-Americans is twice that of whites. On top of that, blacks earn less than whites with similar education and experience, research shows.

“Having good saving habits is good but black and Latino workers are just always worse off and it makes every aspect of saving for retirement harder,” said Matthew Rutledge, an economist at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

About 38 percent of older white Americans said they had sufficient money for retirement compared with 20 percent for African-Americans.

Four in 10 older Americans say they think they’ll outlive their retirement savings.

“Black and Latino families benefit from being close,” Rutledge said, adding that family members help to care for children and the elderly. “But it doesn’t pay off when compared to white families’ (financial) contributions.”

Families not only pass down money, but also information on how to handle finances.

“They have learned better savings behavior from the previous generation,” he said. “Older Americans who received financial help from family are less likely to have racked up credit card debt or student loans. They can save (for retirement) rather than paying off debt.”

The poll showed whites are significantly more likely, compared to African-Americans and Latinos, to say they have a retirement account. They’re also more likely than African-Americans to say they will have income from the sale of physical assets.

But even when it comes to the most basic form of income during retirement, whites are more likely to say they will receive Social Security payments – 82 percent compared to 62 percent for African-Americans and 60 percent for Latinos, the survey found.

The situation is so dire that some older African-Americans and Latinos have no sources of income for retirement –14 percent compared to 4 percent of whites, the survey found.

Maria Villanueva, 69, is one of them. She doesn’t collect Social Security payments because she didn’t pay into the system. Villanueva immigrated illegally to California in the ’70s to work as a farmworker and became a legal resident after the Immigration Reform and Control Act was signed into law. The single mother worked as a domestic worker but was paid in cash.

“I didn’t know I had to pay into Social Security,” she said in Spanish. “All my life I’ve taken care of everyone except myself.”

Villanueva hoped she would be able to work into older age but she can’t because of various chronic illnesses including diabetes and arthritis. She now relies on government assistance and food stamps. She provides for her 15-year-old granddaughter.

“I try not to think about the future because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” she said. “What if I go to sleep tonight and I don’t wake up tomorrow?”

Retired members of minority groups tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to describe their financial situation as “somewhat poor or very poor” compared to white Americans. Black Americans were also more likely to say they sometimes fall behind on bills, the poll found.

John Jackson, 66, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, contributed to an Individual Retirement Account when he worked as a manager. Now, two years into retirement, he said he’s not sure if his savings and Social Security will be enough.

Jackson, who is black, says there are many people worse off than him and that’s why he doesn’t like to complain. Worst case scenario, he said, he has a big loving family who could take care of him.

“I know God will take care of me,” he said.

Some white Americans also are fearful about having enough for retirement. For example, Karen Brooks, a 52-year-old university professor living in a suburb outside Seattle, said she’s concerned about whether she’s saved enough.

Brooks is, by most standards, better off financially than Jackson. She has a pension from her work as a school teacher. She is also contributing about 15 percent of her current income to a retirement account and she may even receive a small inheritance. But her biggest source of worry is that she didn’t save when she went back to graduate school.

“I’m pretty smart and I’ve done well,” she said. “I’m saving for retirement but I don’t know if it’s going to be enough. It’s frightening even talking about it now.”

The survey was conducted Feb. 14 through March 13 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

It involved interviews in English and Spanish with 1,683 people aged 50 and older nationwide who are members of NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It includes oversamples of 332 African Americans and 308 Hispanics

]]> 0 Thu, 18 May 2017 21:30:37 +0000
Facebook cracks down on clickbait headlines Thu, 18 May 2017 23:08:44 +0000 Facebook on Thursday launched an assault designed to crack down on clickbait headlines, in a push to banish “fake news” from its news feeds.

“People tell us they don’t like stories that are misleading, sensational or spammy,” Facebook said in a blog post on its site.

“That includes clickbait headlines that are designed to get attention and lure visitors into clicking on a link.”

Examples of headlines that are linked to a clickbait page: How much is YOUR home worth today? My foolproof way to end snoring. The world wasn’t ready for her Emmys after party dress. You won’t believe what (insert name of famous child or teenage actress here) looks like today. Man hugs a wild lion, you won’t believe what happens next. This little-known money trick can save you $10,000 a year. Pay off your mortgage with this amazing strategy.

Menlo Park-based Facebook noted that in 2016, the social network updated its news feed to reduce stories from sources that consistently post clickbait headlines that withhold and exaggerate information.

“Today, we are making three updates that build on this work so that people will see even fewer clickbait stories in their feeds, and more of the stories they find authentic,” the social media company said.

The company now scrutinizes clickbait at the individual post level in addition to overall monitoring of the domain and web page.

It also will check, through separate analytics efforts, whether a headline withholds information, or if it exaggerates information. Third, the company has begun testing this work in additional languages.

“Publishers that rely on clickbait headlines should expect their distribution to decrease,” Facebook said in the blog post.

“Pages should avoid headlines that withhold information required to understand the content of the article and headlines that exaggerate the article to create misleading expectations.”

Facebook recently cracked down on overall websites that tended to be infested with spam.

“If a (web) page stops posting clickbait and sensational headlines, their posts will stop being impacted by this change,” Facebook said in the post.

]]> 0 Thu, 18 May 2017 19:08:44 +0000
Legislative panel unanimously rejects pesticides bill proposed by LePage Thu, 18 May 2017 22:51:41 +0000 AUGUSTA — A legislative committee has voted unanimously to reject a bill that would have prohibited Maine cities and towns from adopting pesticides restrictions that are more stringent than the state’s.

The controversial proposal from the LePage administration would have invalidated more than two dozen local pesticide ordinances and barred other municipalities from going beyond the state’s pesticide regulations.

While administration officials, lawn care companies and golf courses said the measure was needed to address a confusing “patchwork” of regulations, opponents said it would undermine local control in a way that could violate the Maine Constitution.

At least 27 cities and towns have adopted ordinances adding restrictions on the types of pesticides that can be applied, as well as when and under what circumstances. Some communities opted to regulate certain pesticides years before the Maine Board of Pesticide Control issued its own restrictions on the chemicals.

More than 70 individuals and organizations testified or submitted written comments on the bill, L.D. 1505, the vast majority in opposition. Opponents included the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine Municipal Association, Maine Physicians for Social Responsibility, Friends of Casco Bay, environmental groups and multiple municipalities.

The bill was a late introduction on behalf of Gov. Paul LePage and reportedly mirrored model legislation promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative policy group that works with state lawmakers. The Maine Board of Pesticide Control voted 4-2 last week after what was described as a “spirited discussion” to endorse a watered-down version of the bill.

The Legislature’s State and Local Government voted 13-0 to recommend rejection of the bill on Wednesday, without discussion.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0 Thu, 18 May 2017 23:14:41 +0000
Traffic means profits along the annual Cornville 10-mile yard sale route this weekend Thu, 18 May 2017 18:59:15 +0000 CORNVILLE — In the beginning — 34 years ago — Tom and Peggy Hamilton of West Ridge Road in Cornville were delighted to take part in what was then just a gaggle of a few families having a yard sale together on the weekend before the Memorial Day weekend.

But the yard sales got bigger and expanded to include more and more families stretching for miles along the otherwise quiet West Ridge, bringing visitors — and traffic — from all over the place.

“It was crazy,” Tom, 66, a retired school teacher, said of what was to become the Cornville 10-Mile Yard Sale, which is this Saturday and Sunday. “We would leave for the day because of the congestion.”

Fast forward to 2012 and the Hamiltons were moving from their old drafty farmhouse on West Ridge Road to their new digs — a converted 1900 horse and cattle barn just up the road. They put some of their stuff out for the yard sale that year and came to like the traffic, all the people and congestion. From their new home, a beautiful, passive solar apartment in the big red barn, they have participated in the yard sales every year since.

“Now it’s all the way down (Route) 43, Cass Corner, Skowhegan, Dr. Mann Road — it’s really grown,” Tom said. “Now we are embracing it and making the best of it.”

This weekend, the Hamiltons will again join the 34th annual Cornville 10-Mile Yard Sale and will donate a portion of the proceeds to East Madison Square Garden, a music and art venue, and to community radio station Hooskow Radio, 98.1 FM WXNZ in Skowhegan.

Tom and Peggy, 66, also a retired school teacher who operates a yoga studio in a part of the remodeled post-and-beam barn, do a radio show together at the station inside the former Somerset County Jail called “The Great Escape.” They said their barn serves as a gathering place on yard sale weekend where family and friends come to hang out and sell stuff.

“I think it just became more convenient for us because we have this big space,” Peggy Hamilton said. “Now we don’t have to think about setting up everything outside and the weather. We can set up inside and welcome our friends.”

The Cornville yard sale began in 1983 when a handful of families got some stuff together for a combined lawn sale on West Ridge Road. Others liked the idea and joined in along the route, so that a few years later, people started calling it the 3-mile yard sale.

Then it became the 6-mile yard sale as more families joined in, stretching onto side roads and into Skowhegan. Now there are yard sales from Cass Corner on Route 150 in Cornville into Athens village and down West Ridge Road to Malbons Mills Road in Skowhegan and on to the Kennebec River on U.S. Route 2.

Items for sale include everything imaginable: baseball cards, baby clothes, Army surplus items, tools, antiques, plant seedlings, farm equipment, China sets, glassware, wood stoves and toys.

The Cornville yard sale has been a bumper-to-bumper shopping spree on more than 50 lawns, barns and vacant lots that are transformed into one long flea market — literally 10 miles long.

When the sales began to cluster in Skowhegan, the Police Department cracked down on people stopping their cars in traffic to browse the sales, which made parking a nightmare and a potential hazard for emergency vehicles to traverse the streets. Tickets would be written, police said.

Town officials in Skowhegan ask everyone to adhere to the no-parking signs in order to keep the roadway clear to allow traffic and emergency vehicles through.

Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said parking will be restricted.

Electronic signs will tell yard sale attendees parking is prohibited on the east side of Malbons Mills Road and on the north side of Dr. Mann Road. There are no parking restrictions on West Ridge Road in Cornville or on any other of the participating roads outside of Skowhegan.

Skowhegan police Sgt. Herb Oliver said two officers will be added this year to monitor traffic. Two other officers will be on general patrol.

The annual event now draws thousands of people from all over New England and Canada, said event organizer Janet Bernard of Nelson’s Candies on West Ridge Road.

“The weather is going to be in our favor, so I would expect a really good turnout,” Bernard said. “I’m getting a lot of inquiries. People are calling, asking for directions. There’ll be a lot of newcomers. I’ve had people call from out of state. They’ve never been here before so they’re looking for motels in the area. They really love the idea of being able to come and hit multiple yard sales all at once. We’ve had quite a few inquiries this year.”

The hours of the yard sales are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367


]]> 0 Hamilton sets up items for sale during the annual 10-Mile Yard Sale at her home and barn in Cornville on Wednesday. The popular sale stretches from Skowhegan to Cornville this weekend.Fri, 19 May 2017 10:13:38 +0000
Sea Grant director stepping down to take helm at nonprofit Thu, 18 May 2017 17:38:42 +0000 A University of Maine official who has led its Sea Grant program is stepping down to accept a chief executive position with the Maine Center for Coastal Fisheries.

Paul Anderson, currently the director of the Maine Sea Grant College Program where he has been for the last 16 years, will join MCCF in September and assume the chief executive job on Jan. 1, 2018.

The decision was announced by the nonprofit’s board of directors.

Anderson will succeed founding Executive Director Robin Alden, who is stepping down after 14 years at the helm of MCCF, formerly known as Penobscot East Resource Center.

The Sea Grant program was one of dozens of federally funded programs that would have lost its funding in President Trump’s original proposed budget.

The UMaine Sea Grant portfolio includes commercial fisheries, aquaculture, coastal community development, ecosystem health and coastal resiliency. Anderson also serves in national leadership with the Sea Grant Association, and is co-leader for the new state-bond-funded Alliance for Maine’s Marine Economy.

At the University, Anderson holds two additional positions: research network director of the Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network and director of the Aquaculture Research Network.

MCCF has received national and international recognition during the last two years for its work securing a future for Maine fishing communities.

It supports co-management of Maine’s marine resources, investing in people through education and leadership, in collaborative science and in advocacy for coastal fishermen and their communities.

]]> 0 Thu, 18 May 2017 21:04:49 +0000
European Union trade pact gives Canadian lobster exports a leg up Thu, 18 May 2017 17:32:24 +0000 Members of the U.S. seafood industry are fearful that Canada’s approval of a new trade deal with the European Union will cause big problems for the American lobster business, just as the catch is hitting historic highs.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Implementation Act, or CETA, cleared its final hurdle in the Parliament of Canada on Tuesday. The deal gets rid of tariffs on Canadian lobster exports to the 28-nation bloc, putting Canada at a huge advantage over the U.S.

The tariffs for fish and seafood average 11 percent, and the EU is the biggest importer of seafood in the world. EU countries imported more than $150 million in lobster from the U.S. last year, along with more than $140 million from Canada.

Seafood exporters and lobster industry members like Dave Madden, owner of exporter Lobster Trap in Bourne, Massachusetts, said they fear loss of money and jobs in the U.S. under the new rules. He ships about 4.5 million pounds of lobsters to countries such as Italy, France and Spain per year.

“Not only does it hurt not to be able to ship that poundage, I don’t need as many people to pack,” he said. “So people are going to lose jobs over this.”

Tariffs will fall in the coming weeks, said Chantal Gagnon, spokeswoman for Canada’s Office of the Minister of International Trade. The European Union already approved the agreement, and an EU spokesman declined to comment on Canada’s approval.

The rule change is coming during a boom time for the U.S. lobster catch. The American lobster industry is based largely in Maine, which set a record for total catch in 2016 with more than 130 million pounds.

Price to consumers has also been high, in part because of growing demand from Asian countries. But a loss of European business could shake up prices and availability throughout the supply chain.

Maine Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, and members of the Maine delegation have been warning about the danger of the tariff change for months, but the U.S. and EU are not close to a similar deal at the moment. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, has said the Cultivating Revitalization by Expanding American Agricultural Trade and Exports bill she submitted this month could reduce some of the sting.

She said the bill would double funding for two federal programs that help get more Maine food to foreign markets.

“These programs are vital to helping iconic Maine foods – like lobster, potatoes and wild blueberries – and many other value-added food products reach the world market,” Pingree said.

But even for lobster exporters who send to Asia, the possibility of disruption in the industry is significant, said Stephanie Nadeau, owner of the Lobster Company, of Arundel, Maine.

“It’s going to affect me, because people who do ship to Europe and can’t compete with the Canadians will try to slide into my market,” she said. “It’ll be like dominos.”

]]> 0, ME - MARCH 18: A New Meadows Lobster Company worker pack lobsters into a sectioned box in their Portland lobster pound. Sweden has deemed Maine lobster an invasive specie and seeks an EU import ban. (Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer)Thu, 18 May 2017 14:20:13 +0000
Trump administration formally announces NAFTA renegotiation Thu, 18 May 2017 16:09:00 +0000 WASHINGTON – The Trump administration on Thursday formally notified Congress of its intent to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, a step forward on a campaign promise that was widely popular among voters but has unsettled the American companies that have built their industries around the trade deal’s provisions.

The notification starts the clock on a 90-day period in which Congress will consult with the administration about its goals. Negotiations with Canada and Mexico begin as soon as Aug. 16, the administration said.

In a press call Thursday morning, United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer stressed that the administration hopes to renegotiate the deal, rather than scrapping it altogether and instead negotiating new bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico.

“I would note that many of these negotiations will be bilateral and many of the issues are bilateral, but our hope is that we will end up with a structure that is similar to what we have now,” he said. “If that proves to be impossible, we will move in another direction.”

Lighthizer, the administration’s main trade negotiator whose confirmation process dragged on until last week, said that the pact had been successful for some industries, like agriculture. But for others, like manufacturing, it had not.

“We should build on what has worked in NAFTA, but change and improve what has not,” he said.

Lighthizer’s statements Thursday morning offered few if any details on what specifically the administration hoped to change.

The trade representative’s statements also did not include the type of harsh rhetoric the president has used to describe NAFTA. Lighthizer focused on an effort to improve and update the deal, and he did not directly criticize the trade policies of either Mexico or Canada.

On the campaign trail and in office, President Donald Trump derided NAFTA as a “horrible deal for the United States,” “the worst trade deal maybe ever,” and “a defective agreement.”

The arguments were popular with voters, but businesses and some congressmen have expressed more reservations about the plan to renegotiate, fearing that missteps from the administration could lead to unintended consequences and impair valuable export markets.

Economists generally agree that NAFTA has benefited the U.S. economy overall by increasing trade. Yet like all trade deals, its benefits have been broadly distributed over the U.S. population, while its negative consequences have been felt sharply by a smaller group of people, who have lost their jobs as industries reorganized around the North American continent.

Tom Donahue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the group welcomed the opportunity to modernize NAFTA for the 21st Century. “If we all do our jobs well, the result will be a stronger agreement that spurs economic growth and job creation, not just in the United States, but across North America,” he said.

In recent speeches, Donahue had argued that 14 million American jobs depend on trade with Canada and Mexico, and that the first objective of the administration should be to “do no harm.”

“Congress and the Administration must work hand-in-hand if we are to achieve the high-standard trade agreements our country needs to grow,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement. “I’m confident that through close consultation we can chart a course that not only strengthens this vital trade pact but also preserves our strong economic partnerships with Canada and Mexico.”

In his remarks Thursday morning, Lighthizer noted that the deal was negotiated over 23 years ago and was in need of updates. NAFTA does not contain regulations pertaining to e-commerce, and it lacks the tougher environmental standards and intellectual property protections of more recent trade deals.

Yet trade experts point out that digital, environmental and intellectual property provisions were all incorporated in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-nation trade deal negotiated by the Obama administration that included the United States, Canada and Mexico, and was seen by many businesses and trade experts as a kind of NAFTA 2.0.

It remains to be seen whether many of the administration’s goals for renegotiating NAFTA are ultimately drawn from provisions in the TPP. Trump heavily criticized the TPP during the campaign, and signed a presidential memo to formally withdraw the United States from the deal as one of his first actions in office.

Business leaders are still watching closely for more information on the administration’s primary goals in negotiation.

The roughly one-page letter sent from Lighthizer to members of Congress on Thursday contained few details about the administration’s plans. An earlier draft of the letter, which was leaked to the public in late March, outlined the administration’s plans in only slightly more specific terms.

The USTR is required by Congress to publish more detailed objectives at least 30 days before formal negotiations begin.

The draft letter indicated a much more conventional approach to negotiation than many had expected, given Trump’s fiery rhetoric about trade deals on the campaign trail.

That letter called for restricting federal procurement to U.S. suppliers, reexamining an often criticized legal process that settles disputes between investors and governments, and renegotiating NAFTA’s rules of origin, which determine how much raw material from outside North American can be included in goods that qualify for the favorable terms of the trade pact.

]]> 0, 18 May 2017 21:00:46 +0000
Seven Maine family-owned companies recognized for excellence Thu, 18 May 2017 14:44:16 +0000 More than 350 people gathered Wednesday night in Portland to honor outstanding family businesses.

This year’s Maine Family Business Awards drew 166 nominations for recognition, from which seven winners were named. The event, held at the Holiday Inn by the Bay, was organized by the Institute for Family-Owned Business in Portland.

The awards recognize Maine firms that demonstrate excellence in family involvement, business success, and commitment to employees, customers and community. An independent panel of judges selected the winners from among 20 finalists.

 OceanView at Falmouth received the HUB/Norton Insurance and Financial Services Environmental Leadership Award, recognizing the many sustainable practices that make it Maine’s “greenest” retirement community. The company’s sustainable practices include recycling 95 percent of the waste it generates, a robust composting program to manage food waste, and use of solar energy.

 Guilford-based Puritan Medical Products won the People’s United Bank Innovation and Technology Award in recognition of the company’s ability to adapt to a changing marketplace and preserve more than 200 manufacturing jobs. Founded nearly a century ago to make wooden toothpicks, ice cream spoons and other consumer products, Puritan is now a leading, FDA-registered producer of single-use swabs and other specimen collection devices used by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Homeland Security, among others.

 The Holiday Inn by the Bay First Generation Award was presented to Custom Composite Technologies Inc. of Bath, which was started by a husband and wife team to help custom boat builders improve and lighten their product design. Today the company serves diverse industries, including robotics, defense, art and architecture, in addition to boat-builders.

 Hanson Enterprises LLC of Ogunquit was named the Chalmers Insurance Group Customer Service Award winner. The two-generation hospitality business, which comprises three lodging properties and a restaurant in the Wells-Ogunquit area, has earned industry honors from leading travel companies such as Trip Advisor and Expedia.

 The Shep Lee Community Service Award, named for one of the founders of the Institute for Family-Owned Business, went to Geaghan’s Pub and Craft Brewery, a popular Bangor restaurant and brewery. The business was recognized for its community support, including dozens of nonprofit and civic organizations. Geaghan’s received the Governor’s Award for Business Excellence and the Maine Restaurant Association Restaurateur of the Year in 2016.

 Highland Avenue Greenhouse of Scarborough received the Maddy Corson Small Business Award, presented to an exemplary business with fewer than 25 employees. The nearly 70-year-old company was acknowledged for the ways it has continued to evolve, adding services that provide value and convenience to customers and adopting new approaches to make its business more environmentally friendly and sustainable, such as switching to biological pest control in the greenhouse and adding a commercial kitchen at its farmstand to produce baked goods, soups, sandwiches and prepared to-go meals.

 Capozza Tile and Floor Covering Center was named the Renys Large Business of the Year, designated for companies with more than 25 employees. The company, founded in 1974 by Joseph Capozza Jr., is now run by the third generation of Capozzas and has grown to three locations, including its newest one in Lewiston. The company provides a full range of flooring services for residential and commercial customers throughout southern and central Maine.

]]> 0, 18 May 2017 21:02:48 +0000
With post-recession climb, Maine real estate economy reaches 11-year high Thu, 18 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Over the past two years, Maine’s real estate economy has grown to a level of activity not seen since the market’s previous heyday in early 2006, according to a biannual report to be issued Thursday.

The MEREDA Index, an indicator of the strength of Maine’s commercial and residential real estate markets, reached a new post-recession high of 95.7 in the first quarter, up slightly from 95.67 in the third quarter of 2016, according to the report, from the Maine Real Estate & Development Association.

The index compares the market’s current strength to its previous high point, in the first quarter of 2006. An index score of 100 would mean that market activity was roughly identical to the first quarter of 2006.

The index fell sharply from 2006 to 2010 and then remained relatively flat for three years before rising sharply through 2014 and 2015. Since then, it has continued to rise but at a declining rate.

Commercial real estate activity helped buoy the MEREDA Index in the first quarter. The commercial component, which comprises 50 percent of the overall index, increased by 8.6 percent from the third quarter of 2016 to reach a score of 101. That means it actually surpassed the first quarter of 2006. The commercial component is based on data pertaining to sales and leases of office, retail, industrial and investment properties such as apartments.

The residential component, which comprises 40 percent of the index, remained unchanged from six months earlier at a score of 89. It is based on residential building permits, mortgage originations, housing inventory and home sales volume and median price.

The estimated quarterly median home price rose to $195,000, equivalent to the first-quarter 2006 figure on which the index is based, but permits for new housing units dropped by nearly 17 percent from six months earlier.

The construction component, which comprises 10 percent of the index, increased by 8.6 percent from six months earlier to a score of 93. It is based on construction employment, which MEREDA said grew at its highest rate since before the recession.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 estate, rentals and leasing performed particularly well during the second quarter in Maine,Wed, 17 May 2017 21:27:17 +0000
Shares of CVS, Walgreens sold off as Amazon weighs pharmacy sales Thu, 18 May 2017 00:40:18 +0000 Investors sold off shares of pharmacy giant CVS Health and Walgreens on Wednesday amid renewed speculation that Amazon would enter the business of selling prescription drugs.

As the stock market suffered its biggest loss since before the November election, shares of CVS and Walgreens closed down more than 3 percent, to $76.34 and $81.73, respectively.

CNBC reported Tuesday that the online retail giant is considering wading into the complicated retail pharmacy market. The report said Amazon is hiring a general manager to lead a team to explore the idea, but hasn’t made a final decision.

An Amazon spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Amazon chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Selling prescription drugs is a big business in the United States – retail pharmacy is a $400 billion industry, according to an analysis by Adam Fein, president of Pembroke Consulting. The top 15 pharmacies – including CVS, Walgreens, Express Scripts and Wal-Mart – accounted for about three-fourths of all prescriptions by revenue in 2016, Fein said.

Fein said he could see Amazon most easily entering the market for patients who pay cash, such as for generic drugs or brand-name drugs with discount coupons from manufacturers. Those patients may choose to pay for the drugs themselves because they’re uninsured or they’re looking for a better deal than what they would get through their insurer, which could force them to pay the full list price before they hit their deductible.

The pharmaceutical industry has been criticized for lacking transparency. Drug list prices do not reflect what most people eventually pay for the medicines, and secret rebates and discounts flow between various middlemen in the industry. Many patients who go to fill a prescription have little idea what price they’ll be charged at the pharmacy counter or whether they could get that drug cheaper elsewhere.

“Having a new competitor in the market would be great. Having a competitor that would potentially be transparent would be potentially even more interesting,” said Kevin Schulman, a professor of medicine at Duke University who has studied the web of financial relationships between drug companies and patients.

]]> 0 Wed, 17 May 2017 20:40:18 +0000
Stocks fall on political drama Thu, 18 May 2017 00:16:07 +0000 The growing political drama in Washington rattled Wall Street Wednesday, knocking the Dow Jones industrial average down more than 370 points and giving the stock market its biggest single-day slump in eight months.

Investors worried that the headline-fueled political turmoil that has enveloped the White House may hinder President Trump’s plans to cut taxes, roll back government regulations and other aspects of his pro-business agenda.

The steep drop ended an unusually long period of calm for the markets, which had been hovering near all-time highs.

Financial stocks, which had soared in the months since the election, declined the most as bond yields fell sharply. Bonds, utilities and gold rose as traders shunned riskier assets. The dollar fell.

“When you are at these valuations, the market has to reassess whether or not the agenda is actually going to be implemented,” said Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial. “What you’re seeing is a classic run toward safety.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index had its biggest drop since September, sliding 43.64 points, or 1.8 percent, to 2,357.03. The Dow lost 372.82 points, or 1.8 percent, to 20,606.93. The Nasdaq composite index, coming off setting two consecutive record highs, gave up 158.63 points, or 2.6 percent, to 6,011.24.

Small-company stocks fell more than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index sank 38.79 points, or 2.8 percent, to 1,355.89. Those companies would stand to benefit even more than large ones from corporate tax cuts Trump is proposing. They also had risen sharply in the months following the election.

The sell-off snapped an unusually long period of calm after hitting a series of record highs. On Tuesday the S&P 500, the benchmark favored by professional investors, marked its 15th straight day of moving up or down by less than 0.5 percent. It closed at its latest record high on Monday.

Bond prices rose sharply. The 10-year Treasury yield fell to 2.21 percent from 2.33 percent late Tuesday, a large move.

The seeds of Wednesday’s steep market sell-off were present late Tuesday, when a published report revealed that Trump allegedly made a personal appeal to now-fired FBI Director James Comey to drop the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. The White House denied the report.

Trump had already been facing pointed questions about his discussions with Russian diplomats during which he was reported to have disclosed classified information.

“The controversy is not new, but this one really seems to be sticking,” said Erik Davidson, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. “The Trump economic program is either going to be delayed by this turn of events or possibly be derailed, that’s why investors are acting the way they are.”

The latest headlines ratcheted up the market’s unease. The VIX index, a measure of how much volatility investors expect in stocks, rose to its highest level since April 13. Investors shifted into U.S. government bonds, pushing yields lower, and into gold. The precious metal jumped 1.8 percent, climbing $22.30 to settle at $1,258.70 per ounce.

Among the hardest-hit stocks Wednesday are in sectors that benefited most from the post-election rally as investors banked on Trump to cut taxes, boost infrastructure spending and relax regulations that affect energy, finance and other businesses.

Banks fell sharply as bond yields declined, which will mean lower interest rates on loans. Bank of America slid $1.42, or 5.9 percent, to $22.57.

Unease over the potential implications of the latest political fallout in Washington weighed on the dollar Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1150 from $1.1095. The dollar dropped to 111.11 yen from 113.03 yen.

Benchmark U.S. crude rose 41 cents, or 0.8 percent, to close at $49.07 per barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, gained 56 cents, or 1.1 percent, to close at $52.21 per barrel in London. In other futures trading, natural gas fell 4 cents to $3.19 per 1,000 cubic feet. Wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.60 per gallon. Heating oil rose 2 cents to $1.53 per gallon.

Among other commodities, silver added 16 cents to $16.85 per ounce. Copper was little changed at $2.54 per pound.

Markets overseas were also mostly lower.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX fell 1.4 percent. The CAC 40 in France slid 1.6 percent. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares dipped 0.2 percent. Asian markets mostly fell. Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.5 percent, while South Korea’s Kospi dipped 0.1 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index slipped 0.2 percent.

]]> 0 Rodriguez sweeps the trading floor after the closing bell of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The steep drop Wednesday was the market's worst since September and ended an unusually long period of calm.Wed, 17 May 2017 20:16:07 +0000
Ford to slash jobs as sales level off Thu, 18 May 2017 00:15:55 +0000 DETROIT – Ford is getting leaner as it faces an onslaught of challenges, from slowing U.S. sales to high-tech challengers to its own disgruntled shareholders.

The 114-year-old automaker said Wednesday it is cutting 1,400 non-factory jobs in North America and Asia Pacific. The company will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to around 10 percent of its salaried workers in departments such as sales, marketing and human resources. It expects the actions to be complete by the end of September.

The cuts are the biggest to Ford’s U.S. white collar staff since 2007, when 7,200 workers took voluntary buyout packages.

In an email to employees, Ford said it wants to strengthen its core business and invest aggressively in new opportunities. “Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work,” the company wrote.

Ford isn’t the only automaker looking to slim down. Last month, General Motors Co. Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said GM was considering cuts to its white collar staff in order to rein in costs.

Ford’s problems aren’t entirely unique. After seven straight years of growth, U.S. sales are starting to slow down, which will hurt automakers’ profits. Sales in Asia are volatile and not as profitable. Turbulence in other markets, like South America, hasn’t helped.

Automakers are also investing heavily in self-driving cars and other new technology. Ford, which has promised an autonomous vehicle by 2021, bought a shuttle service and invested $1 billion in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup. Such investments may not pay dividends for years, but automakers can’t risk being left behind by non-traditional rivals like Google and Uber.

But some of Ford’s problems are of its own making. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas says Ford should consider exiting unprofitable vehicle lines, like small cars, or markets, like India.

Ford’s U.S. sales are down in part because it doesn’t have offerings in popular segments like subcompact SUVs and midsize pickups. And Ford hasn’t kept up with rivals in the electric car market. GM’s Chevrolet Bolt electric car, with 238 miles of range, went on sale last year; Ford is working on an electric SUV with 300 miles of range, but it’s not due out until 2020.

Ford also recently embarked on an expensive, 10-year plan to remake its Dearborn campus.

Ford’s offer will be open to around 15,300 workers, including 9,600 in the U.S., 1,000 in Mexico, 600 in Canada and 4,141 in Asia. The company says it will release more details to employees in June.

Certain areas of the business won’t be targeted, including Ford’s product development and credit divisions. Factory workers and white-collar employees in Ford’s plants won’t be affected. Ford also isn’t likely to cut jobs in its emerging businesses, such as its research center in Palo Alto, California. Ford said last August it planned to double its Palo Alto staff, which would mean hiring more than 100 researchers and engineers.

Jonas said he was impressed with Ford’s decisive action to cut jobs, but he still thinks Ford stock is overvalued. He has a $10 price target on the shares.

Ford’s shares dropped 2 percent to $10.72 in afternoon trading.

Ford’s stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent in the three years since Mark Fields became CEO. Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford told investors at the company’s annual meeting last week that he’s as unhappy as they are about the decline.

“We’re frustrated, but our business is performing well. We’re making investments for both today and tomorrow, and I believe that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Barclay’s analyst Brian Johnson, who has a $15 target on the shares, said Ford’s stock has suffered because the company isn’t making splashy moves, like GM’s investment in Lyft or Fiat Chrysler’s tie-up with Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit.

But Johnson said Ford has a solid strategy and is making quiet moves that could pay off, like introducing a plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle in Europe.

There was no immediate comment from President Donald Trump, who has needled Ford about taking jobs to Mexico but celebrated the company’s U.S. investments.

Ford has been hiring steadily in the U.S. since the recession as vehicle sales roared back to reach record highs. Ford hired more than 15,000 factory workers between 2011 and 2015. In March, it hired 400 engineers from BlackBerry Ltd. to work on connected cars.

But in other regions, it has taken the same strong medicine it’s now taking at home. Ford offered voluntary buyouts to hundreds of European salaried workers last year as it worked to get that region back to profitability.

]]> 0, 17 May 2017 21:18:34 +0000
As sales slide again, Target looks to gain from rivals’ bankruptcies Thu, 18 May 2017 00:13:28 +0000 MINNEAPOLIS — As he looks to revive Target Corp.’s faltering business, CEO Brian Cornell said Wednesday the retailer will more aggressively pounce on opportunities to profit from the large number of store closings and retail bankruptcies that have been rocking the distressed industry.

“We know there’s going to be billions of dollars up for grabs,” he told reporters after the Minneapolis-based retailer reported its fourth straight quarter of lower sales.

In fact, Target projects there could be as much as $60 billion in sales available for the taking as weaker players exit the industry. Gordman’s, HHGregg, BCBG, Payless ShoeSource, Rue21, American Apparel, The Limited and Wet Seal are among those who have filed bankruptcy and closed some or all of their stores this year.

“Ultimately, that’s going to position us to take advantage of this market share opportunity,” Cornell said.

The strategy is an underpinning of Target’s new road map unveiled in February that calls for remodeling hundreds of stores, launching a dozen new brands, opening new smaller-format stores and overhauling its supply chain.

Target already has seen some success in this area. After Victoria’s Secret said it was going to exit the swimwear business last year, Target quickly worked with a vendor to roll out within five months the new brand Shade & Shore.

The line – which is Target’s first foray into bra-cup sizing in the category and was launched in all stores in January – has further bolstered its No. 1 market share position in swimwear, executives said.

“We didn’t rest on our laurels,” Mark Tritton, Target’s chief merchandising officer, told analysts. “We looked at this market with declining players and saw an opportunity to win even further.”

Executives noted that Target also has seen an uptick in sales at stores nearby Macy’s, Sears and J.C. Penney locations that have closed in recent months.

Still, Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones, noted that these store closings and bankruptcies also will create headwinds at the same time, because the liquidation sales will likely draw some shoppers away from Target.

“That pressure is not going to go away for a while,” he said. “It’s going to continue” as more retailers continue to file bankruptcy.

In addition to hopping on competitors’ stumbles, Target executives also told analysts Wednesday that they are working to simplify and better market the retailer’s move toward everyday low pricing. This year, Target is lowering its margins by $1 billion to invest in initiatives such as cutting prices to be more competitive with Wal-Mart and Amazon.

It recently launched a new ad campaign called “TargetRun and Done” to highlight its pricing on essentials and encourage customers to swing by for fill-in trips. Executives hope that will help consumers give Target more credit for its pricing.

“We believe consumer perceptions of value at Target have not reflected how low our out-the-door prices really are,” said Cornell, who noted that is something that will take time to change.

Target’s stock, which has fallen more than 20 percent this year, got a little boost Wednesday when the retailer reported that sales and profits in the first few months of the year were not as bad as the company – or analysts – had feared. Its shares rose 1 percent.

In the quarter, the retailer continued to struggle in its battle with Wal-Mart and Amazon as it once again saw shoppers make fewer visits to its stores and had lower sales in grocery and household essentials.

Still, it came as a relief to investors when Target reported only a drop of 1.3 percent in same-store sales in the February-to-April quarter, because analysts had projected a decline of 3.6 percent.

The results stood out in contrast to major department stores such as Macy’s and Kohl’s that saw bigger drops in first-quarter sales, leading to a selloff of retail stocks last week as investors grow increasingly concerned about how traditional retailers are faring amid the shift to online shopping. Wal-Mart will report its results Thursday.

“Against a tumultuous retail backdrop, this is not a so terrible performance,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, said in a research note Wednesday about Target’s results. He said Target is not as “broken” as many other retailers because it has plenty of room to improve, such as in finding more ways to draw customers, especially millennials, to its stores. It’s only getting harder to do so as more customers opt to shop online.

“We’re not doing high-fives,” Cornell told analysts Wednesday morning. “We have a lot of work to do.”

Target will soon begin testing a new service called Target Restock that offers customers next-day delivery of a box of household essentials.

Later this month, it will launch a new line, one of a number of new brands set to be rolled out over the next two years. Aimed at Target’s core demographic of new mothers, Cloud Island is a nursery decor line.

Cornell hinted to reporters that a new athletic leisure brand may also be in the works.

]]> 0 Wed, 17 May 2017 20:13:28 +0000
On the Move Wed, 17 May 2017 21:52:50 +0000 NEW HIRES
Camden National Bank hired Victoria Gray as vice president, commercial banking officer.
Gray brings over 35 years of industry experience. Most recently, she served as vice president, treasury management sales officer at Citizens Bank.


Amy Taylor joined NBT Bank as vice president and cash management sales representative. Taylor is based at NBT’s regional headquarters at 254 Commercial St. on Merrill’s Wharf in Portland. She brings 12 years of experience.
Most recently, she was treasury management sales officer at TD Bank in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Kathryn Beaule was named vice president of sales and service at Town & Country Federal Credit Union.
Beaule, of Mechanic Falls, brings many years of sales, marketing, lending, technology and customer service experience to her position. She previously worked for Credit Union National Association Mutual Group.

Embrace Home Loans has hired Angela Levesque as a senior loan officer in its South Portland office. Levesque previously worked for Franklin American and Wells Fargo.


Community Credit Union hired Richard Grondin as a member representative.
Grondin, of Auburn, will assist members with daily transactions, primarily from its branch in Lewiston.


Ed Powell joined Mechanics Savings Bank as vice president, commercial loan officer.
Powell, of Buxton, will be based out of the Windham branch. He brings more than 30 years of banking experience, including 20 years in commercial banking.


Bath Savings Institution has announced management changes to its Freeport and Falmouth offices.
Vice President Andrea Martin has been named the branch manager of the Falmouth office.
Martin, of Yarmouth, has been with Bath Savings for 12 years, where she most recently managed the Freeport office.


Michelle Barker has been promoted to Freeport branch manager.
Barker, of Lisbon, joined the bank in 2006 as a teller in Freeport. She was promoted to customer service representative and later assistant branch manager.


CEI Capital Management LLC promoted Aimee Cates to investment officer and Elizabeth “Libby” Chenevert to asset and relationship manager.
Cates began her career at CCML in 2011 as a compliance assistant before being promoted to asset and relationship manager in 2015.
Chenevert began her career at CCML in 2015 as a compliance assistant.

Naomme Paris was promoted to business banking officer at Biddeford Savings in Kennebunk.
Paris joined Biddeford Savings in 2015 as assistant vice president, commercial loan portfolio officer II. She brings over 20 years of banking experience including commercial real estate financing.

Joseph Leland was named branch manager at Norway Savings Bank in Falmouth.
Leland joined Norway Savings in 2012 as a teller before working his way to assistant branch manager of the Scarborough office in 2015.


The Maine Credit Union League received the prestigious national Youth Financial Education Award from the Credit Union National Association.
It’s the 14th consecutive year they received the national award.
Maine’s credit unions reached more than 17,000 Maine high school students during the 2015/16 school year.

F.L.Putnam Investment Management Co. announced that senior vice president and portfolio manager Robertson P. Breed was named to Barron’s Top 1,200 Financial Advisors list.
Breed was one of just six advisers in Maine to make the list. He started his career at E.F.Hutton and joined F.L.Putnam in 1991. He now serves as the most senior portfolio manager on the F.L.Putnam investment team.

Monique Gorey joined Town & Country board of directors. Gorey, of Scarborough, was assistant branch manager for Town & Country and now works for the Scarborough School Department as an ed tech III in the guidance office.


Tim Nightingale, executive vice president and senior loan officer at Camden National Bank, was named to serve on the board of directors for the Finance Authority of Maine. He brings more than 35 years of commercial banking industry experience to the board.


Joshua Broder, chief executive officer of Tilson in Portland, joined the board of directors of Skowhegan Savings.
Broder, who grew up in Cumberland, was recently named a “Top Young Professional” in New England by Engineering News-Record. A former Army signal officer, Broder was awarded the Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan. He replaces Roger Gifford, who stepped down from the board after 26 years of service.

]]> 0, 17 May 2017 16:29:36 +0000
Ford to cut 1,140 non-factory jobs Wed, 17 May 2017 21:30:11 +0000 DETROIT – Ford is getting leaner as it faces an onslaught of challenges, from slowing U.S. sales to high-tech challengers to its own disgruntled shareholders.

The 114-year-old automaker said Wednesday it is cutting 1,400 non-factory jobs in North America and Asia Pacific. The company will offer voluntary early retirement and separation packages to around 10 percent of its salaried workers in departments such as sales, marketing and human resources. It expects the actions to be complete by the end of September.

The cuts are the biggest to Ford’s U.S. white collar staff since 2007, when 7,200 workers took voluntary buyout packages.

In an email to employees, Ford said it wants to strengthen its core business and invest aggressively in new opportunities. “Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work,” the company wrote.

Ford isn’t the only automaker looking to slim down. Last month, General Motors Co. Chief Financial Officer Chuck Stevens said GM was considering cuts to its white collar staff in order to rein in costs.

Ford’s problems aren’t entirely unique. After seven straight years of growth, U.S. sales are starting to slow down, which will hurt automakers’ profits. Sales in Asia are volatile and not as profitable. Turbulence in other markets, like South America, hasn’t helped.

Automakers are also investing heavily in self-driving cars and other new technology. Ford, which has promised an autonomous vehicle by 2021, bought a shuttle service and invested $1 billion in Argo AI, an artificial intelligence startup. Such investments may not pay dividends for years, but automakers can’t risk being left behind by non-traditional rivals like Google and Uber.

But some of Ford’s problems are of its own making. Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas says Ford should consider exiting unprofitable vehicle lines, like small cars, or markets, like India.

Ford’s U.S. sales are down in part because it doesn’t have offerings in popular segments like subcompact SUVs and midsize pickups. And Ford hasn’t kept up with rivals in the electric car market. GM’s Chevrolet Bolt electric car, with 238 miles of range, went on sale last year; Ford is working on an electric SUV with 300 miles of range, but it’s not due out until 2020.

Ford also recently embarked on an expensive, 10-year plan to remake its Dearborn campus.

Ford’s offer will be open to around 15,300 workers, including 9,600 in the U.S., 1,000 in Mexico, 600 in Canada and 4,141 in Asia. The company says it will release more details to employees in June.

Certain areas of the business won’t be targeted, including Ford’s product development and credit divisions. Factory workers and white-collar employees in Ford’s plants won’t be affected. Ford also isn’t likely to cut jobs in its emerging businesses, such as its research center in Palo Alto, California. Ford said last August it planned to double its Palo Alto staff, which would mean hiring more than 100 researchers and engineers.

Jonas said he was impressed with Ford’s decisive action to cut jobs, but he still thinks Ford stock is overvalued. He has a $10 price target on the shares.

Ford’s shares dropped 2 percent to $10.72 in afternoon trading.

Ford’s stock price has fallen nearly 40 percent in the three years since Mark Fields became CEO. Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford told investors at the company’s annual meeting last week that he’s as unhappy as they are about the decline.

“We’re frustrated, but our business is performing well. We’re making investments for both today and tomorrow, and I believe that’s the right thing to do,” he said.

Barclay’s analyst Brian Johnson, who has a $15 target on the shares, said Ford’s stock has suffered because the company isn’t making splashy moves, like GM’s investment in Lyft or Fiat Chrysler’s tie-up with Waymo, Google’s self-driving car unit.

But Johnson said Ford has a solid strategy and is making quiet moves that could pay off, like introducing a plug-in hybrid commercial vehicle in Europe.

There was no immediate comment from President Donald Trump, who has needled Ford about taking jobs to Mexico but celebrated the company’s U.S. investments.

Ford has been hiring steadily in the U.S. since the recession as vehicle sales roared back to reach record highs. Ford hired more than 15,000 factory workers between 2011 and 2015. In March, it hired 400 engineers from BlackBerry Ltd. to work on connected cars.

But in other regions, it has taken the same strong medicine it’s now taking at home. Ford offered voluntary buyouts to hundreds of European salaried workers last year as it worked to get that region back to profitability.

]]> 0 Motor Co. said it plans to cut 10 percent of its salaried jobs in North America and Asia Pacific this year in an effort to boost profits.Wed, 17 May 2017 18:31:47 +0000
Stocks have worst day since before Trump’s election Wed, 17 May 2017 20:17:14 +0000 The stock market on Wednesday took its biggest dive since before President Trump’s election, as investors began to grapple with the increasing possibility that Washington would be consumed with chaos and fail to enact policies to boost the economy.

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 368 points, or 1.8 percent to 20,611, as a broad array of other indexes all lost ground. Meanwhile, a widely followed measure of volatility known as the VIX, which had been remarkably subdued in recent months, spiked by a dramatic 21 percent, suggesting sharply growing anxiety by investors about a sense of rising political risk in Washington.

The developments are a stark interruption to the slow-and-steady rise in in stock market values since before Trump’s election. While the night of his surprise win in November created immediate uncertainty, with foreign markets selling off, they quickly regained their footing and resumed their years-long climb. Investors cited new hopes that a Washington unified by Republican control would deliver an overhaul of the tax system and a large increase in spending on U.S. infrastructure – two of corporate America’s top policy goals.

The White House embraced the notion of a “Trump Rally,” and cited the gains as evidence of its immediate effect on the economy.

But the disarray emanating from the White House now threatens to undermine those gains, as lawmakers, analysts and investors increasingly worry that it impede the Republican agenda.

“Right now, we have a Congress that is likely to be consumed with other priorities,” said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer at Commonwealth Financial Network.

Stocks dropped and foreign currencies gained against the U.S. dollar on Wednesday after reports that Trump reportedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop his investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s relationship with Russia.

The Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was off 1.8 percent, Nasdaq was down 2.6 percent and the Russell 2000 gave up 2.5 percent in trading Wednesday. The turbulance comes amid near-record highs following an eight-year bull run fueled by strong earnings, especially in the technology sector. The stock market has been on a tear since the November election.

“The latest controversy involving the Trump administration erodes confidence in his administration’s ability to enact tax reform,” said Michael Farr, who runs a Washington investment firm. “The prospect of significant tax reform has been buoying markets since President Trump was elected. We’ve had many controversies, but nothing has gotten the market’s attention. But once you start to go after tax reform, you are going to have the market’s full attention.”

Some have drawn comparisons between Trump’s troubles and those that brought down President Nixon.

Investor unease over then-President Nixon’s future as Watergate storm clouds gathered sent the stock market tumbling in early January 1973. The S&P 500 didn’t fully recover for nearly eight years.

Back then, however, the scandal was relatively advanced. Two top Nixon hands had already been indicted by a federal grand jury. The market topped out two days after the trial began for the seven men accused of breaking into Democratic party headquarters in the Watergate complex.

“There was tangible proof then that the White House was under serious pressure,” said Kim Wallace, head of Washington policy research at Renaissance Macro Research. “We haven’t seen that tangible proof, yet.”

McMillan said the current noise out of Washington alone is unlikely to derail the bull market.

“This is static,” he said. “From a historical perspective, it is just noise. To get a big pullback, typically you need a recession, the Federal Reserve raising rates or you need a spike in oil prices.”

Peterson said that despite the distractions out of Washington and the possibility that there is a loss of confidence in Trump, long-term market themes are positive.

“Earnings season has been very strong, both domestically and overseas,” he said. “This changes the calculus of how dependent the market has been on policy, when earnings have been so much better than what were pretty aggressive estimates.”

Tory Newmyer contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Anthony Carannante, center, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 368 points, or 1.8 percent to 20,611, as a broad array of other indexes all lost ground.Wed, 17 May 2017 16:17:14 +0000
H&M opening at new location in Maine Mall Wed, 17 May 2017 20:16:29 +0000 Trendy apparel retailer H&M intends to open at a new location at the Maine Mall on Thursday.

The new location is directly across from its original location, in space formerly occupied by The Gap and Lane Bryant stores.

The retailer, known for offering trendy clothes at reasonable prices, will offer collections for adults and teens, accessories and the H&M Kids collection for newborns to 14 year olds.

H&M offers a global garment recycling program whereby customers can help save natural resources and contribute to a reduced environmental impact by donating unwanted pieces of clothing from any brand while in the store. Customers will receive a voucher for 15 percent off their entire purchase for each bag of donated clothing. In 2016, H&M U.S. diverted over 2 million pounds of unwanted textiles from landfills, according to the release.

Discount passes will be offered to the first 200 shoppers when the store opens at noon.

This story was updated at 10:16 a.m. May 18 to better describe the new store’s location.

]]> 0 Thu, 18 May 2017 10:18:24 +0000
JCPenney to sell appliances to bolster sales Wed, 17 May 2017 18:57:43 +0000 The JCPenney store at the Maine Mall will unveil its newest product line Friday: appliances.

The 115-year-old department store chain rolled out appliances at 500 of its stores last year as a test to see whether shoppers would respond. The pilot program was successful enough that the retailer is planning to extend it to another 100 stores this spring, including the store in South Portland.

“JCPenney has renovated its home department to accommodate a 1,000-square-foot major appliance showroom featuring refrigerators, ranges, dishwashers, washers and dryers from brand names including Samsung, LG and GE,” said a company release announcing the renovation.

JCPenney and other bricks-and-mortar retailers have been struggling to shore up revenues as more shoppers turn to online retailers to buy wares. On Monday, JCPenney stock fell 8 percent after lackluster first quarter earnings were released Friday. Losses increased from $68 million last year to $180 million in the first quarter of this year.

Additionally, the company reported that same-store sales — a strong indicator of a retailer’s health — fell 3.5 percent versus a year ago.

Other retailers such as Macy’s, Kohl’s and Sears have also seen their share prices decline this year.

]]> 0 Wed, 17 May 2017 18:30:49 +0000
Rep. Pingree working on bill to expand organic research funding Wed, 17 May 2017 18:21:11 +0000 U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, is among three lawmakers who want to more than double funding for a key U.S. Department of Agriculture organic research program.

Pingree is working with Rep. Dan Newhouse, a Washington Republican, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, a California Democrat, on the Organic Agriculture Research Act. The legislation increases the funding of the Organic Research and Extension Initiative from $20 million to $50 million annually.

The program helps pay for research projects that help organic farmers improve operations and meet consumer demand. Pingree cites the fact that sales of organic food have doubled in the U.S. in the last 10 years as evidence that the added funding is needed.

The bill has the backing of the Organic Trade Association and other organic industry groups.

]]> 0 Wed, 17 May 2017 18:12:41 +0000
Three Maine finalists vie for $100,000 entrepreneur prize Wed, 17 May 2017 17:19:11 +0000 Three Maine startups have won the right to compete for $100,000 prize to further the development of their companies.

Surge Hydro of Belfast, Bluet of Damariscotta and Herbal Revolution of Union are the finalists in the “Greenlight Maine” TV series, a show in which Maine entrepreneurs pitch their companies in front of a panel of judges who decide the winner of the grand prize. The finalists will spar on June 6 at 7 p.m. at Thomas College’s Ayotte Auditorium in Waterville.

Paul Fullam, spokesman for the show, said the competition among the 13 companies chosen to participate in this season of “Greenlight Maine” “was intense and extremely close.”

Last year, Portland’s Garbage to Garden composting service won the competition.

Surge Hydro is a clean-tech company developing technologies to modernize dams and hydropower facilities. Bluet is a company that makes sparkling wine from Maine’s wild blueberries. Herbal Revolution makes herbal teas, tonics and elixirs from organic and wild herbs.

The show will be broadcast on June 17 at 7:30 p.m. on WCSH6.

Greenlight Maine is also soliciting entrants for its third season. Interested entrepreneurs need to submit a three-to-five-minute video pitch by May 26. Details are available at

]]> 0, 17 May 2017 17:22:16 +0000
Lewiston liquor bottler says ending nips sales would have ‘drastic impact’ on company Wed, 17 May 2017 16:21:30 +0000 AUGUSTA — Tiny liquor bottles are at the center of a growing political debate in Augusta involving millions of dollars in revenue, more than 100 jobs, and litter.

One day before Gov. Paul LePage threatened to remove the miniature liquor bottles from store shelves in a disagreement over the costs of a recycling bill, the CEO of the producer of Maine’s most popular brand of “nips” had told a legislative leader that such a move would have a “drastic impact on our company and our employees.”

Sazerac Co. chief executive Mark Brown wrote that he was withdrawing his support for a compromise on a 5-cent deposit on nips after hearing that LePage would threaten to end sales of the 50-milliliter bottles in Maine. Brown’s May 15 letter to Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, contrasts with LePage’s assertion that a 5-cent deposit under consideration by the Legislature would increase business costs and “put the state’s financial health at risk.”

“While we could have lived with a 5-cent redemption sticker if the state really thought that would solve the littering problem, we can no longer support the legislation while under the threat of having 50 mls delisted,” wrote Brown, whose company produces Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey, which accounts for more than 40 percent of nips sales in Maine. “Such a move would be detrimental to the state’s finances as this is one of the fastest-growing sectors in Maine.”

Sazerac employs 130 people at its Boston Brands facility in Lewiston – formerly known as White Rock Distillery – where workers finish and bottle Fireball and other spirits.

Lawmakers are considering a bill, L.D. 56, that would require retailers, beginning in 2019, to collect a nickel deposit on every 50-milliliter bottle as a way to encourage recycling. Sales of the miniature liquor bottles – and particularly Fireball – have soared in recent years, but so has roadside litter by people who toss back a drink and then throw the empty nips out of the car window or to the curb.

On Tuesday night, LePage issued a statement vowing to veto the 5-cent deposit bill and to instruct the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations to begin the process of ending sales of the nips. The governor made the statements hours after the Maine Senate voted 32-3 to support the bill, and days after the Maine House voted 111-34 to support the 5-cent deposit, both veto-proof margins. The bill faces additional votes.

LePage cited the estimated $1 million cost of incorporating nips into the bottle-deposit law and accused lawmakers of supporting the anti-litter measure without caring “if it cuts funding to other state programs or increases costs for companies that do business here.” The governor said “the severe impact of this bill leaves me no choice” but to ask the beverage bureau to end nips sales.

“This is yet another anti-business vote that threatens jobs, increases costs to do business and puts the state’s financial health at risk,” LePage said.

But Brown, whose Louisiana-based company is the nation’s largest distiller, suggested in his letter to Thibodeau that ending sales of nips – not the 5-cent deposit – posed the biggest threat to the company. As a result, Brown withdrew support for a compromise he negotiated with Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton, to reduce the proposed bottle deposit from 15 cents to 5 cents.

“Under that compromise, we concluded that we could incorporate the 5-cent deposit into our costs without passing it onto the consumer and without negatively impacting any of the 130 jobs in Lewiston,” Brown wrote in the letter obtained by the Portland Press Herald. “Unfortunately, the situation in Augusta has changed and it has caused us to re-evaluate our position.”

Brown said the company “cannot support L.D. 56 or any other legislation that would have such a drastic impact on our company and our employees.”

Nips sales are exploding in Maine, as is the popularity of cinnamon-flavored Fireball, which has the slogan “Tastes like heaven, burns like hell.”

The beverage bureau sold an estimated 8.4 million nips bottles to agency liquor stores last fiscal year and is expected to surpass 12 million bottles this year, according to agency data. Fireball accounted for 42 percent of all nips sales in Maine.

Fireball nips were the fourth most-popular spirits product sold in Maine during fiscal year 2016. Shoppers purchased 2.1 million of the tiny bottles, worth an estimated $2.8 million. Larger, 1.75-milliliter bottles of Allen’s Coffee Brandy, Orloff Vodka and Captain Morgan’s Spiced-Barrel Rum were the three most popular spirits products in Maine that year, according to the beverage bureau.

All told, the nearly 7 million nips bottles sold in Maine generated more than $7.3 million in revenue in fiscal 2016 and represented 5 percent of total liquor sales. Although it was unclear Wednesday how much revenue that product generated for the state, liquor profits have averaged $46 million during the first two years of the bureau’s new liquor contract with Pine State Spirits, which handles warehousing, distribution and marketing of spirits for the state.

Supporters of L.D. 56 describe the bill as a way to reduce roadside litter by using Maine’s successful bottle-deposit bill to encourage recycling. And Sazerac has a vested interest in protecting nips sales and addressing the litter issue in Maine.

Brown, Sazerac’s CEO, declined an interview request from the Portland Press Herald on Wednesday, saying the company was still “evaluating the situation.” But in his letter to Thibodeau, Brown said the company worked with Saviello, who co-chairs the Legislature’s Environment and Natural Resources Committee, on the compromise to reduce the proposed deposit to 5 cents.

“Like you, we are concerned about the apparent littering problem as it pertains to the 50 mils,” Brown wrote in his letter to Thibodeau. “In fact, in the spirit of being a good corporate citizen, we reached a compromise with Senator Tom Saviello.”

But after LePage’s threat to end nips sales, Brown said that “unfortunately we see L.D. 56 as a threat to the goodwill we have come to expect from our relationship” with the state.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0 "nips" bottles are displayed Monday during the hearing on a bill to apply a 15-cent deposit on them.Wed, 17 May 2017 23:51:41 +0000
Wider ban on laptops would cost passengers $1 billion, airline group warns Wed, 17 May 2017 14:51:29 +0000 The widening of a U.S. ban on carrying electronic devices aboard aircraft to include flights from Europe would cost travelers more than $1 billion, the head of the airline industry’s global lobby group said.

Extending the curbs, which currently apply only to some U.S.-bound services from the Middle East and North Africa, would obstruct travel and might not be the best way of countering the threat, International Air Transport Association Chief Executive Officer Alexandre de Juniac said in an interview Wednesday.

“Traveling with your laptop is part of everyday life,” de Juniac said, predicting that further measures will cause “significant” disruption in the trans-Atlantic business market. “We are not sure that this ban is adapted to the threat. We don’t know what is the basis or intelligence that justifies this measure.”

While the Mideast moratorium affects 350 U.S.-bound flights per week, extending it to the 28 European Union states plus Switzerland, Norway and Iceland would impact 390 a day, or more than 2,500 a week, IATA reckons. The measure would cost passengers $655 million in terms of lost productivity, $216 million from longer travel times, and $195 million for the rental of loaner devices on board, it calculates.

Among passenger potential costs of a wider laptop ban, the International Air Transport Association, would be $655 million in lost productivity, $216 million from longer travel times, and $195 million for the rental of loaner devices on board. Reuters/Lucas Jackson

Some businesses will also choose to cancel trips rather than hand over laptops loaded with confidential information, according to the industry group, which represents 265 airlines around the world. Carriers themselves would incur costs from departure delays, additional handling of hold luggage and liability for damaged or stolen devices, while traveler numbers, fares and ultimately frequencies could all decline, it says. At the same time, flights may become less safe as more lithium battery-powered devices are stowed in holds.

IATA needs to be told more about U.S. concerns in order to contribute to developing a solution, de Juniac said, adding: “We can provide appropriate advice when it comes to security and protection measures for passengers. What we have said to the U.S. and U.K. authorities and to the Europeans is, please, if you want to take this measure, work very closely with the industry.”

IATA wrote to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly and European Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc on Tuesday expressing “serious concern” regarding an expanded ban and detailing the estimated passenger costs, according to a copy of the letter seen by Bloomberg.

If governments agree that wider curbs are necessary they should consider applying measures to enhance security while avoiding the concentration of devices in holds, the communication says. That could include the increased use of explosives detectors and sniffer dogs, closer visual scrutiny of devices, the deployment of behavioral detection officers, and the implementation of trusted-traveler programs to help identify lower-risk passengers, it says.

While there has been some U.S. consultation with airlines that has allowed the industry to at least express its concerns – in contrast to the “badly implemented” Mideast ban – more detail needs to be provided, de Juniac said.

The comments from the IATA chief, who was previously CEO of Air France-KLM Group, come as U.S. and European Union officials prepare to meet in Brussels Wednesday to discuss the widening of the ban, which also covers tablets and games consoles while excluding smaller devices such as phones. The EU has no information on the reasons for the move, officials have said.

Bloomberg’s Chris Reiter contributed.

]]> 0, 17 May 2017 11:24:13 +0000
Portland declines 10-year contract with state pier concert group Wed, 17 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Portland city officials have rejected an offer by Waterfront Concerts to enter into a 10-year contract to stage pop music shows on the Maine State Pier, saying they want to explore permanent development options for the 7-acre pier.

What that means for the future of concerts on the pier beyond the 12 scheduled for the rest of this year – including The Disco Biscuits, Pat Benatar, Slightly Stoopid and Primus – is unclear.

Waterfront Concerts has staged more than 50 shows there in the past two summers. City Manager Jon Jennings said officials would be happy to see the Bangor-based promoter continue to operate there, under the type of short-term agreements used recently.

The head of Waterfront Concerts, Alex Gray, did not return phone calls and emails Monday and Tuesday. The company’s production manager, Jon Dow, said only Gray could comment on the matter.

Waterfront Concerts gave its proposal to city officials at a meeting Friday, including a list of improvements that the company would make if granted a long-term contract, such as adding grandstand seating and possibly a roof over the audience area. Shows at the 3,000-capacity pier now offer folding chairs and standing room.

“In the meeting, they gave us every indication they were very interested in continuing to have concerts in Portland in the future, either at the pier or another location,” Jennings said. “They understood why we weren’t able to talk about a long-term agreement.”

Jennings said Tuesday that city officials, led by the City Council’s economic development committee, are in the midst of determining the best permanent future use of the city-owned pier and the adjacent 90,000-square-foot Portland Ocean Terminal, a shed-like building with whales painted on the side that’s been used for a variety of marine purposes over the years. The pier is mostly a vacant, park-like space except for when it’s filled with concert-goers.

Jennings stressed that the decision had nothing to do with noise complaints from residents when concerts happen at the pier, including 45 lodged with the city in 2016. He also said the decision has nothing to do with Gray’s arrest in March after he allegedly assaulted his girlfriend in Portland. He was charged with domestic violence assault, a misdemeanor, and was released on $750 cash bail. He is scheduled to appear in court May 24 in Portland.


About a decade ago, two developers offered proposals for the pier area that included shops, restaurants, hotel space and offices – each estimated to cost more than $90 million. Neither of those proposals worked out, for a variety of reasons, and the economy took a downward turn. But construction along the east end of the waterfront, near the pier, has been brisk lately, and officials think the time is right to start planning for its inevitable development.

Local businesses have appreciated that shows by Waterfront Concerts have brought people into the area to eat at restaurants and stay at hotels, said Casey Gilbert, executive director of Portland Downtown, a business improvement group. From a business standpoint, Gilbert said, the best use of the pier as a way to attract customers is probably a mixed-used development with residential and retail components.

“Waterfront Concerts has brought some great acts to the city, and certainly it’s brought people in to eat and shop, and that’s a benefit,” said Gilbert. “However, I trust that the city is looking to find the best use of that property for the greater good.”

Robyn Violette, general manager of the nearby Fore Street restaurant, said parking on concert nights continues to be a problem, adding to traffic congestion. But she would not want concerts on the pier to go away completely.

Besides the economic activity it helps create, the concerts provide some revenue for the city. In 2016, the city made about $87,000 from the shows, said Communications Director Jessica Grondin, including rent for the pier plus a portion of ticket and concession sales. The city took in about $255,000, but expenses such as cleanup and maintenance totaled about $168,000.

In its six-page proposal to the city, Waterfront Concerts said it already had invested $1.3 million to make the pier a better venue, but Jennings said those are temporary items that can be moved, including the stage and dressing room structures. The proposal said the company would make major improvements in the next three to five years, including stadium seating in grandstands that could accommodate 1,000 people or more.

The company also proposed building a better stage, either permanent or mobile, with more areas for rigging equipment overhead, and possibly adding a roof over much of the pier for weather protection and to minimize noise. The proposal doesn’t say how much the improvements would cost.

The proposal cited the length of a potential city agreement as “the one factor that will guide investment.” It suggested options for a 10-year agreement, with one or three 10-year renewals. With the longest possible term, Waterfront Concerts would fully develop the pier with a tensile roof, stage house and fixed grandstand.


The Maine State Pier concert series has brought major pop music acts to Portland just about every week in the summer for the past two years. Before Waterfront Concerts’ first large slate of shows on the pier in 2015, the city hosted maybe one or two major outdoor concerts a summer. Major acts routinely bypassed Portland for Bangor on summer tours, where Waterfront Concerts has been hosting outdoor shows at the city-owned Darling’s Waterfront Pavilion for about seven years. The capacity there is more than 15,000.

Other shows booked for the state pier this summer include Kid Ink with French Montana and Khalid, Billy Currington, 311, Lifehouse and Switchfoot, Dark Star Orchestra, Gov’t Mule, Joe Bonamassa and the Goo Goo Dolls.

Some of the acts that performed at the state pier last year included Jackson Browne, The Beach Boys, Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt and Blues Traveler.

Portland added another outdoor concert venue in 2015 at Thompson’s Point, where concertgoers set up their chairs in a grassy field along the Fore River. There are more than a dozen shows scheduled there for the rest of this year, including The XX, Ween, The Shins, Michael Franti, My Morning Jacket, Elvis Costello, Wilco, Alabama Shakes, Guster and Trey Anastasio Band.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

Twitter: RayRouthier

]]> 0 Concerts, which has staged more than 50 shows on the Maine State Pier in the past two years, offered to improve the venue if the city agreed to a 10-year contract.Wed, 17 May 2017 17:50:15 +0000
Fidget spinner a toy craze that spun out of nowhere Wed, 17 May 2017 01:35:47 +0000 NEW YORK — Stores can’t keep them in stock. Parents are scrambling to find them. And some schools have banned them.

The mania for fidget spinners – the 3-inch twirling gadgets taking over classrooms and cubicles – is unlike many other toy crazes. They’re not made by a major company, timed for the holiday season, or promoted in TV commercials. They’re more easily found at gas stations or 7-Eleven than at big toy chains.

“It just took off,” said Richard Gottlieb, a consultant at Global Toy Experts in New York.

Fidget spinners have been around for years, mostly used by kids with autism or attention disorders to help them concentrate. But they exploded in popularity this spring.

Shannan Rowell, a sixth-grade special education teacher, said that after a weeklong break in late April more than half of her 25 students suddenly had one.

“They seem to be taking over classrooms,” said Rowell, who lives in North Grafton, Massachusetts.

Gottlieb thinks it’s likely that a kid brought one to a playground and the craze spread from there. Recent YouTube videos of people spinning them on their noses, foreheads and shoes also helped.

Helen Holden heard about fidget spinners last month when her 7-year-old twins demanded she stop at a 7-Eleven to buy them. “I thought it was a drink,” said the bank vice president and blogger from Los Angeles.

That store was sold out, and so were several other 7-Eleven locations that she called. The chain said spinners have “been flying off the shelves” since they went on sale in March.

Holden’s kids said they needed them before school on Monday so they could practice spinning them. So she signed up for Amazon Prime, paid $5.99 for one-day shipping and had two $15 fidget spinners delivered on a Sunday.

“I totally got suckered by my kids,” she said.

At Funky Monkey Toys, owner Tom Jones said he got a phone call about the fidget spinners in April. About 30 minutes later, another person called. “I said, ‘Whatever they are, I need to get them.’ ”

Now the phone has been ringing 20 to 30 times a day with people checking if they’re in stock. His shop in Oxford, Michigan, can sell up to 150 in a day.

“We run out of them frequently,” said Jones, who recently got a shipment of 2,000.

On, 18 of the top 20 best-selling toys and games were fidget spinners, ranging from ones that cost just a few dollars to $12 versions touting stainless steel bearings.

Toys R Us flew fidget spinners in this month from China, rather than wait for ship transport. It said Rubik’s Cubes, yo-yos and other toys to occupy restless hands have been hot sellers since the beginning of the year. It also started selling $12.99 fidget cubes – the items that made up the rest of the Amazon best-sellers – which fit in the palm of a hand and have clickers, wheels and switches on the sides.

Despite being marketed as a concentration aid, some teachers say fidget spinners have become a distraction.

Rowell, the sixth-grade teacher, said students twirled them too fast, banged them against desks, or tried to whirl them on top of each other. She lets students bring them into the classroom, but only if they spin them under their desks and follow the rules she hung on the wall: “You must be looking at the teacher,” “You must be looking at your work” and “You must be discreet.”

Some schools have banned them. A middle school in Williamstown, New Jersey, wrote that spinners needed to stay in backpacks because they were a distraction in classrooms, hallways and during lunch periods. An elementary school in New York told parents to keep the gadgets at home because they were twirling into children’s faces.

It’s not just kids spinning them. Gottlieb thinks adults are reaching for spinners because they are more stressed out. “People don’t smoke as much, so they have to figure out a way to work out their stress,” he said.

Kim Juszczak, a lawyer from New York, whirls her red-and-black spinner on the subway or while she’s thinking up legal arguments for a case.

“I’m naturally kind of fidgety,” said Juszczak, who used to bend paperclips in her hand.

She first saw a spinner on Instagram, and got hers for about $6 on Amazon. Then she bought six more for friends and relatives.

“They’re addictive,” she said.

]]> 0 Daversa, 4, plays with a fidget spinner at the Funky Monkey Toys store in Oxford, Mich. Many stores are having a hard time keeping them in stock and parents are going crazy trying to find them.Tue, 16 May 2017 22:26:04 +0000
Millionaire tells young adults: To save for a home, skip the avocado toast Wed, 17 May 2017 00:22:07 +0000 Australian millionaire Tim Gurner offered some controversial advice to millennials struggling to save for a home: Give up your avocado toast.

Gurner, a 35-year-old real estate mogul from Melbourne, said on the Australian show 60 Minutes Sunday that he wasn’t splurging that way when he was younger and trying to save for a house. “When I was buying my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for 19 bucks and four coffees at $4 each,” he said on the program.

He also said young people should lower their expectations for travel and lifestyle in general. “The expectations of younger people are very, very high,” he said. “They want to eat out every day, they want travel to Europe every year.”

The tips were not well received.

Some people took to social media to ridicule the idea that they were blowing their down payments on lattes and brunch. Instead, they pointed to some of their bigger – and necessary – bills as their biggest obstacles: Rent. Student loan payments. Health insurance.

Freelance writer David Rudin created an online calculator to help people figure out how long it would take to save for a down payment if they gave up lattes or avocado toast. A person hoping to buy a $1 million home in New York would have to give up 20,440 avocado toasts at $10 each to have enough for a 20 percent down payment. In other words, it would take a very, very long time.

Financial experts say young people saving for a home need to think bigger if they really want to see their savings accumulate.

Here are some tips experts offer for people trying to save a down payment for a house. (None of them require you to abandon your avocado toast completely, though of course it may be smart to enjoy it in moderation.)

Reduce your rent. For many young workers, the rent bill is their biggest monthly expense and reducing that can be one of the main ways to substantially increase savings. Some people may save by moving back in with mom and dad, if that’s an option, says Joseph Kirchner, senior economist for, a real estate listing website. For other people, it may mean getting roommates, he adds.

 Sell your car. Getting rid of your car can reduce your monthly bills by hundreds of dollars a month once gas, insurance costs and loan payments are factored in, Kirchner says. Of course, this may not be feasible if you live somewhere with limited public transportation. But couples with two cars may consider downsizing to one car if they can pull it off.

 Get financial help. You may qualify for down payment assistance through your employer or your state, says Tracey Shell, a spokeswoman for, a site that tracks homeownership programs. For example, some buyers will qualify for grants if they agree to live in the home for a set amount of time, such as five years. Other buyers may be able to receive low-cost loans that they can use for the down payment.

 Make more money. Whether it’s asking for a raise or taking on a side job, increasing your pay can be an obvious way to find more cash to save.

Know the ins and outs of different mortgages. There are benefits to providing a 20 percent down payment, but you don’t always need to provide that much money down when buying a home, Shell says. For some buyers, it may make more sense to buy a home using a loan that is secured by the Federal Housing Administration. Those buyers can provide down payments of 3.5 percent, but would need to pay mortgage insurance, which could increase overall costs of the home.

]]> 0 - This Jan. 26, 2016 file photo shows a "For Sale" sign hanging in front of an existing home in Atlanta. Short of savings and burdened by debt, America's millennials are struggling to afford their first homes in the face of sharply higher prices in many of the most desirable cities. Surveys show that most Americans under 35 lack adequate savings for down payments. The result is that many will likely be forced to delay home ownership and to absorb significant debt loads if they do eventually buy. (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)Tue, 16 May 2017 22:28:28 +0000