LEGAL: Federal ruling opens doors to Canadian tariffs

A federal ruling favoring U.S. paper mills means a tariff on paper coming from the Port Hawkesbury Paper mill in Nova Scotia could begin this week, a move officials say will help protect jobs at Madison Paper Industries.

On Tuesday the U.S. Department of Commerce issued a preliminary ruling in response to a complaint from the Coalition for Fair Paper Imports, made up of Madison Paper Industries and Verso Corp. The complaint alleged that Nova Scotia’s provincial government has been providing illegal subsidies to Port Hawkesbury Paper in Nova Scotia. The subsidies have created unfair market conditions and are in violation of international trade law, the two companies say.

Tuesday’s ruling means the Canadian mill will have to pay a 20 percent tariff on shipments of the paper entering the U.S. and that future duties could be imposed if the decision is upheld this fall. The tariff could be imposed as early as this week, according to a news release from U.S. Rep. Bruce Poliquin. Read the story.

ENERGY: Gas prices continue fall

National gas prices have declined for 12 days straight, giving most drivers in the United States the lowest July gas prices since 2009. AAA officials said Tuesday that national prices have declined seven cents in the last month, to a national average price of $2.70 per gallon. It’s the longest consecutive decline since January. Maine’s average price was $2.71 per gallon for self-serve regular gas on Tuesday, which is 5 cents lower than one week ago and 95 cents lower than one year ago. Prices in major markets range from $2.60 in Bangor to $2.74 in Portland, AAA reported. GasBuddy, a company that compiles and analyzes gas data, said it expects prices will average below $2 per gallon across the country by Christmas. Read the story.

Energy companies duke it out for customers in Portland suburbs

Neighborhoods in Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth have become ground zero in a battle for new natural gas customers. Where Summit Natural Gas of Maine is installing gas lines, salespeople in helmets and company T-shirts are riding the streets on Segways, hoping to engage homeowners and convert them to natural gas. A weekly newspaper that serves the three communities features colorful ads run by Summit touting stable gas rates and low air emissions, while guaranteeing that new customers will enjoy prices at least 15 percent lower than oil for a year. Meanwhile, a lobbying group largely made up of oil and propane dealers has launched its own ad campaign, highlighting falling oil prices and warning that natural gas prices appear to be on their way up. Summit plans to have gas lines in front of 3,544 homes and businesses in the three towns by the end of the year. More than 40 percent of those owners, a total of 1,417, are expected to convert to gas, the company estimates. This conversion rate has turned the three towns into a battleground for oil dealers. Read the story.

HEALTH CARE: Bottom line of nonprofit insurer bucks national tide

A Maine nonprofit health insurance co-op established under the Affordable Care Act was the only one of its kind in the country to earn a profit last year, a government audit shows. Others are awash in red ink and many have fallen short of their sign-up goals. Formed in 2013 under President Obama’s signature health care law, the co-ops were provided with $2.4 billion in taxpayer loans to get off the ground. Last year, only one of the 23 co-ops – Maine Community Health Options – made money, said the report released Thursday. “We hit all the right notes from the very beginning,” said Kevin Lewis, CEO of Lewiston-based Community Health Options. The Maine co-op has captured about 80 percent of the Affordable Care Act’s 75,000 people in the state’s individual insurance market, and has been so successful that it expanded into New Hampshire in 2015. Read the story.

BANKING & FINANCE: Bank merger clears hurdle

Camden National Bank and The Bank of Maine announced Monday that they have received the shareholder and regulatory approvals needed for Camden National Bank to purchase The Bank of Maine. The $135 million deal, announced in March, is expected to close Oct. 16 and will make Camden National Bank the state’s largest locally owned bank. When the deal closes, the combined bank will have about $3.6 billion in total assets, about $2.4 billion in total loans and about $2.6 billion in total deposits, according to a news release from Camden National Bank announcing the approvals. Additionally, the bank reported second quarter earnings of $7.2 million, an increase of 14 percent compared to the same quarter in 2014. Net income increased to $12.8 million, a 6 percent increase over the same period last year. Read the story.

Northeast Bank posts strong gains

Northeast Bancorp, parent company of Lewiston-based Northeast Bank, reported year-end net income of $7.1 million compared with $2.7 million over 2014. As of June 30, total assets were $850.8 million, an increase of $88.9 million, or 11.7 percent compared to June 30, 2014. The increase was attributable to gains in the bank’s loan portfolio, especially in its loan acquisition and servicing group, which posted net growth of $99.9 million compared with last year and helped offset a $4.2 million decrease in its community banking loan division. Deposits were also up 17.5 percent, spurred by the bank’s online-only ableBanking division. Read the story. 

GENERAL BUSINESS: Lottery sales, commissions, prizes set records

The improved economy and lower gas prices have likely contributed to a record sales of Maine lottery tickets in the past year. People spent $251.9 million on Maine lottery tickets in the fiscal year that ended on June 30, easily beating the previous record of $230 million set in 2007. Players also set a record, receiving $156.2 million in winnings, before taxes, from the lottery’s draw and instant win games. Retailers in fiscal 2015 earned $16.8 million in commissions – also a record high. The lottery contributed a record $54 million to Maine’s General Fund; since 2005, the average transfer has been $50 million. Read the story.

Despite gas prices, WEX earnings beat projections

Fluctuations in fuel prices affect the company’s earnings from processing such payments. WEX’s earnings declined 9 percent in the second quarter of the year, but still beat analysts’ expectations. The company said Wednesday morning that net income decreased to $48.3 million from $53.1 million during the second quarter of 2014. On a per share, non-GAAP basis, earnings declined from $1.36 a year ago to $1.25 a share during the most recent quarter. Analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research had forecast that the South Portland-based company would earn $1.19 a share. Revenues increased 6 percent, to $213.7 million from $201.6 million a year ago, the average number of vehicles serviced increased 24 percent to 9.8 million, total fuel transactions processed grew by 5 percent and payment-processing transactions increased 11 percent. However, the average expenditure per transaction declined 27 percent to $2.74, reflecting lower fuel prices. Read the story.

Bank executive named head of Maine Development Foundation

Yellow Light Breen, an education activist and senior executive at Bangor Savings Bank, has been named the new chief officer of Maine Development Foundation. The foundation’s board made the announcement Tuesday, hailing Breen, who has served on the economic development foundation’s board and led Realize Maine, a foundation program to attract, retain and support young professionals. Breen will assume the president and CEO’s role of the foundation Aug. 10. He has served as executive vice president and chief strategic officer at Bangor Savings Bank for the past 12 years. Founded in 1978 by statute, the Maine Development Foundation works to drive long-term sustainable growth for the state. Among its initiatives is compiling and publishing Measures of Growth, an annual assessment of key data and indicators that reflect the well-being of Maine’s economy. Breen will replace Harold Clossey, who resigned unexpectedly in April for health and personal reasons. Read the story.

Exchange rate dampens Idexx earnings

Idexx Laboratories reported increased earnings for the second quarter, despite a negative impact on revenues from a strong exchange rate for the dollar. The Westbrook-based company said earnings per share were 60 cents, an increase of 9 percent over the earnings for the same period a year ago. A survey of analysts conducted by Zacks Investment Services had forecast earnings per share of 58 cents. The company said earnings per share would have risen 18 percent if exchange rates had not been unfavorable. Idexx said revenues grew 6 percent to $413 million in the second quarter, compared to the same period a year ago, but the strengthening value of the dollar reduced that increase by 7 percent. Read the story.