CoreLogic: Birmingham area foreclosure activity decreases

fclose.jpgCoreLogic says foreclosure activity in the Birmingham area dipped in November.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Foreclosure activity declined in the Birmingham metro area in November, and mortgage delinquencies dropped, a research firm says.

CoreLogic said the rate of Birmingham-Hoover area foreclosures among outstanding mortgage loans was 1.58 percent in November. That’s down from 1.81 percent in the previous year.

The figure is far below the U.S. average of 3.41 percent for November.

CoreLogic also said the area’s mortgage delinquency rate has decreased. The firm said 6.22 percent of area mortgage loans were 90 days or more delinquent in November, down from 6.64 percent in the prior year.

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Hyundai’s Alabama plant, employees to be featured in Super Bowl ad

Nearly 200 employees of Hyundai’s Montgomery auto plant will be featured in a TV spot to air during this Sunday’s Super Bowl.

The Korean automaker, in its fifth consecutive year as a Super Bowl sponsor, has used the big stage to show off its Alabama employees and products in previous years.

This year’s ad, one of a slate of five overall, is called “All for One.” It features the theme song of the movie “Rocky,” and the company used a vocal coach to train the Montgomery workers.

Another ad is all about the Elantra, the Montgomery-made compact sedan that won the North American Car of the Year award at this year’s Detroit auto show.

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Regions says employee 401k data lost when auditor Ernst & Young mailed flash drive and code key together

Regions Bank-0131.jpgRegions Financial says auditor Ernst Young lost employee 401k data stored on computer flash drive. (The Birmingham News / Joe Songer)BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Personal
information about Regions Financial Corp. current and former
employees was lost in November when a flash drive with the data came up missing
after being mailed by outside auditor Ernst Young in the same envelope as
the decryption code.

this time, we have no indication that any fraud has occurred due to this
situation,” Regions said in a letter explaining the data loss to
employees. ¶

Regions informed employees of the missing data in a letter dated January 23,
which the company shared after inquiries by The Birmingham News.

The company
also shared a copy of a letter sent to its employees by auditor Ernst
Young, which mailed the package with information about 401k retirement plan participants to another of its offices, with the flash drive
and the decryption code together. ¶

the package arrived, the flash drive was gone, but the page with the decryption
code was still there, the companies said in their letters. ¶

Young takes the security and privacy of personal information very
seriously, as does Regions, and we deeply regret that this incident
occurred,” reads the letter from the auditor to the Regions employees.
“Ernst Young is taking steps to prevent this issue from reoccurring,
including providing additional training to the Ernst Young team that
works with Regions regarding the proper handling of confidential
information.” ¶

didn’t say how many 401k participants were listed in files on the flash drive.
The company employs about 27,000 people in 16 states, including about 6,000 in
Birmingham, making it the metro area’s largest private employer. Regions,
operator of about 1,700 branches, said the flash drive contained names and
social security numbers and might have included dates of birth. ¶

Young said in the letter to Regions employees that is has arranged for
them to receive one year of free credit monitoring. The auditing firm also said
employees can arrange for a fraud alert with credit reporting companies, and
encouraged them to “remain vigilant for incidents of fraud or identity
theft” by reviewing account statements carefully. ¶

Ernst Young spokesman Charles Perkins said the security and
confidentiality of client information is important to the firm and that it regrets any inconvenience or concern the incident may have caused.

“We do not believe that the data has been accessed or misused in any
way,” Perkins said. “We are
closely with Regions Financial to contact the individuals whose personal
information was on the flashdrive.”

The firm is the
one of the Big Four global accounting firms and in 2010 was ranked as the ninth
largest private U.S. company, with $21.3 billion of revenue.

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Be aware that EITC means real money (Turner)

Say “April 15,” and people immediately think of taxes.

But how many of you knew that this past Friday was EITC Awareness Day across the U.S.?

EITC — short for Earned Income Tax Credit — isn’t a household phrase. Still, there are millions of reasons that people along our part of the Gulf Coast should take notice.

K.A. Turner column sig.jpgK.A. Turner writes a weekly column. You may write her at the Press-Register, P.O. Box 2488, Mobile AL 36652-2488, call her at 251-219-5644 or e-mail Follow her on Facebook.

The tax credit helps low- and moderate-income families keep more of what’s in their paychecks.

Last year, according to IRS figures, 16,088 Mississippi taxpayers in Jackson and George counties qualified for the tax credit, which varies by income, family size and filing status. For those taxpayers alone, EITC meant about $39.7 million.

The numbers are even bigger in Mobile and Baldwin counties: 69,254 taxpayers netting in excess of $185.8 million.

The IRS says EITC awareness is necessary because there’s a lot of turnover in eligibility every year — maybe up to one-third of the eligible population changes annually. One in five of those eligible, the IRS says, don’t claim the credit.

Particularly likely to overlook the credit are those who live in rural areas or are self-employed, working singles without children or grandparents raising their grandchildren, the IRS said.

Because eligibility varies with so many factors, it is not easy to say who qualifies.

Generally speaking, though, workers who earned about $49,000 or less should check, because it could mean an almost $500 credit for people without children and $5,000 or more for those with three or more kids.

And, the IRS notes, unlike most tax credits, the EITC is refundable, even if the people collecting the credit owe no tax.

But such people will have to file a return. And that’s why a bunch of volunteers is important.

Through a variety of groups and in a lot of different places, these volunteers stand ready to advise and aid low- and moderate-income and older people with their returns.

The IRS said last week that, between Mississippi and Alabama, it had more than 1,600 people assisting with free returns.

Even if you failed to take note of EITC Awareness Day on Friday, you can still perform a valuable service.

If you know of people who might qualify for a tax credit, encourage them to seek help with their returns, which this year are due by April 17.

The IRS says the easiest way to find help is by calling 1-800-906-9887. Another option, in both Alabama and Mississippi, is the 2-1-1 information line. 

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ThyssenKrupp’s new CEO takes over in tumultuous times

thyssenkrupp-christian-dohr.JPGChristian Dohr, the new CEO of ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, is interviewed Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2012, in Calvert, Ala. (Press-Register/Mike Kittrell)

MOBILE, Alabama — As managing director for ThyssenKrupp AG’s tailored blanks division, Christian Dohr helped grow the business from one shop employing 60 people to 14 facilities in eight countries employing more than 800.

Now Dohr has an even bigger task. As chief executive officer of ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, he oversees the company’s carbon steel mill in north Mobile County that employs 1,600 workers.

“We have great equipment here, we hired great people, now it’s really about building a great company out of those two things,” said Dohr, who took over Jan. 1.

ThyssenKrupp has spent $5 billion building the carbon steel mill and a separate stainless steel facility at the site. With construction nearing completion, ThyssenKrupp announced in December it would replace former CEO Chris Lackinger — an engineer — with someone who had more experience in sales.

Dohr is taking over in tumultuous times. Thyssen- Krupp announced in December that its Steel Americas division, which includes the Mobile carbon steel plant and a facility in Brazil, had an operating loss of 3.1 billion euros ($4.1 billion) in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. The result included a 2.1 billion-euro impairment charge blamed on cost overruns in Brazil and weak markets in the U.S.

And earlier this month, company officials denied rumors that they were considering selling the mills in Brazil and Mobile. On Friday, one rumored buyer, Vale SA — ThyssenKrupp’s minority partner in Brazil — said it had no interest in upping its stake in the mill.

Dohr, in a recent conversation with the Press-Register, said he believes that the mill can become “the prime steel supplier” in the market defined by the North America Free Trade Agreement. He also said he’s excited about being in Mobile and looking forward to his first taste of Mardi Gras.

Q: How does your experience in sales help your management ability?

Dohr: I was one of the first engineers at ThyssenKrupp to go to sales — it was uncommon at the time. What interested me most was that in sales, you have the role to identify market opportunities and also see what the company’s capabilities are. You try to manage those to really take advantage of your strategic opportunities.

Q: How did running ThyssenKrupp’s laser-welded steel blanks division prepare you for this job?

Dohr: We grew that company from about 60 people in one location in Germany to 800 people working in 14 locations in eight countries over a period of 10 years. It was a big success story for Thyssen- Krupp.

The last three years in that role I managed five plants, three in Mexico, and two in the U.S. I oversaw the ramp-up of our business to a very high level, then we found out we were in a different product phase, kind of a saturation. We shifted from managing the ramp-up to managing being at saturation, where you still try to find market opportunities.

Before I came to the U.S., we identified an opportunity in Sweden and took over production for a customer who did tailored blanks in-house. We told them, “Outsource it to us, we can do it better.” In 2010, we managed to take over Nissan’s in-house production in Tennessee. So managing both phases, the ramp-up and the stable market, is what I have experience in.

For this company, we have an expectation of where we should be in three or four years. I want to make that visible to all employees, so we all really know where we have to be.

Q: What are your expectations?

Dohr: For ThyssenKrupp Steel, it’s to become the prime steel supplier in the NAFTA market. Now we kind of need to fill the word ‘prime’ with some more details. We want to sell a product to the customer where we exceed their expectations. We want to ship it on time, so quality and delivery are certainly our main objectives here. We also want to offer a product that no one else can do.

You want all employees to know what the goal of the company is, what’s the objective. You want to manage by objectives, and give everyone the right resources and some autonomy to achieve those objectives.

Q: What are some important markets for you?

Dohr: Automotive is one that’s always being mentioned; it’s very important. I think it’s very good for Alabama and the southern part of the U.S. that there’s a growth in automotive. The new domestics will grow by 60 percent in the next four years, and that’s all happening in the southern part of the U.S.

So auto is one we’re focusing on, but we really want to make sure we create a one-stop shopping destination. We really want to make sure we cover several industries. We want to maximize our equipment, the capabilities we have, which are unique, because it’s the most modern mill in the U.S.

Q: How is the mill here affected by construction delays at the mill in Brazil?

Dohr: It does not influence our ramp-up very much. There are issues down there in Brazil, and they’re on track to fix those. For the U.S., it’s important we get the slabs we need. It’s a complex ramp-up, and we reduce the complexity by separating the two and making sure material flowing between the two is right.

Q: Do economic uncertainties in Europe make what you do here more important for the future of the company?

Dohr: It’s challenging all over the world. A weak euro and stronger dollar might not be in our favor because it will favor imports. It’s not black and white. The general idea of having a steel mill in the U.S. is still the right concept because you want to be where your customers are, you want to be in the currency of your customers, you want to make sure that you create manufacturing where the consumer is.

Q: What should be ThyssenKrupp’s role in the community?

Dohr: The biggest involvement we have is by employing this large number of people. We want to be the employer of choice. The way we treat employees, the values we live with are very important. Trust and respect are two of those that are very important for our company.

That’s the most significant influence. We stay very close to all the local agencies and councils and make sure we know the community’s needs, they know our needs, and we find the best way to create a good future for us.

Q: What are your first impressions of Alabama?

Dohr: Very nice, warm, welcoming. Coming from the cold of Detroit in the winter proved the right time to move. My wife came down a few days ago, and she will be looking for a place for us to live. Friendly people. I look forward to enjoying Southern hospitality.

Q: Has anyone told you about Mardi Gras?

Dohr: I have no clue. I’ve heard about it; I think I have some kind of an idea.

I’m sure it will be a nice surprise.

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Report: ThyssenKrupp Stainless sold to Finnish firm.

steel 093454444.jpgThyssenKrupp Stainless USA in Calvert.

MOBILE, Alabama — The Wall Street Journal is reporting that ThyssenKrupp AG has agreed in principle to sell its stainless steel business to Outokumpu Oyj of Finland for 2.7 billion euros ($3.6 billion).

ThyssenKrupp’s stainless unit operates part of the company’s $5 billion steel mill in north Mobile County. It employs 550 people locally.

Officials with ThyssenKrupp Stainless USA declined to comment immediately. Officials with ThyssenKrupp and Outokumpu declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal.

Troy Wayman, the vice president for economic development at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, said the group is optimistic about the new owners. 

“I can’t imagine anybody purchasing those types of assets simply to do away with them,” he said. “It just adds another flag to the international cultlure that we boast.”

The company announced in May that it would seek to divest itself of the more volatile stainless steel unit. In September, it renamed the unit Inoxum. Last week, a ThyssenKrupp spokesman said the company was negotiating with Outokumpu.

It’s unclear what the sale would mean to the local stainless business. ThyssenKrupp executives last year told German unions that it will keep a minority share in the stainless business and ensure that a future owner avoids mass layoffs.

The stainless business is the smaller of two units using the mill in Calvert. ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, which produces carbon steel, employs 1,600 people.

Christian Dohr, the chief executive officer of ThyssenKrupp Steel USA, said last week that the company already has a clear understanding of how it will deal with shared infrastructure should the stainless business be sold.

ThyssenKrupp received about $1 billion in incentives and tax breaks to locate in Calvert.

Larry Wettermark, an attorney for Mobile’s city government, said last week that ThyssenKrupp has thus far met all of its requirements in the deal. The company has a right to assign future tax breaks to any subsidiary that it has a majority stake in, he said.

But if the company sells the plant to a different company, he said government agencies would have to agree to the change to allow the incentives to change hands. 

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YellaWood parent Great Southern Wood acquires competitor

rane.jpgJimmy Rane in a YellaWood commercial. (Business Wire.)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Alabama-based Great Southern Wood Preserving Inc. has acquired the assets of Rocky Top Building Products, a major competitor. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal adds three production plants and new brands including ProSelect and Vista Decking to Great Southern’s portfolio. The Abbeville-based company, which is perhaps most commonly known as the “YellaWood” company, now serves 27 states, from Florida west to Texas and north to Canada.

“This represents the combination of two leaders in the building products industry,” Jimmy Rane, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Great Southern, said in a prepared statement. “There are many similarities between our two companies, but our distribution footprints are adjacent although they don’t overlap. Bottom line, this is a good fit for both organizations and our customers.”

Carey Garst, chief executive of Rocky Top, said the deal would benefit Rocky Top’s customers.

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Hibbett Sports: Chief Finance Officer Gary Smith to retire

hibbett-sports-earnings.jpgHibbett Sports said CFO Gary Smith has decided to retire.

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Hibbett Sports Inc. said today that Gary A. Smith, its finance chief since 2001, has decided to retire on June 1.

The retailer said it has launched a search “with the goal of ensuring a smooth and orderly transition.”

When Smith joined Hibbett in April 2001, the Birmingham-based company had 282 stores in 19 states, predominantly in the Southeast. Today, Hibbett has over 800 stores in 26 states.

Before he joined Hibbett, Smith served in senior financial positions with Birmingham’s Parisian for most of his career.

“Gary has been a key contributor to our growth and success over the past 12 years. He has built an exceptional financial organization at Hibbett, and his successor will inherit a very capable team,” CEO Jeff Rosenthal said in a statement.

Smith said he looks “forward to watching Hibbett Sports continue to grow and prosper.”

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Brownell Travel raises $150,000 for tornado relief

Brownell tornado donation post.JPGA destroyed home is shown in Argo, Ala., Friday, May 6, 2011. Clean up and recovery continues in the Walker County town in the aftermath of the April 27 tornado outbreak. (The Birmingham News/Mark Almond)Birmingham’s Brownell Travel has donated more than $150,000 to ongoing relief efforts in the wake of the deadly April 2011 tornadoes.

The gift, made to mark the firm’s 125th anniversary, will benefit Jefferson, Walker, Tuscaloosa and Marshall counties through the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham.

The Brownell Tornado Recovery Fund — World Travel for Relief — at the Community Foundation is the result of a partnership of travel companies and clients. Sponsor companies from six continents donated travel packages that were auctioned as part of a fundraising effort by Brownell.

“We’ve been helping clients discover more about our world through travel for 125 years, but Alabama is the destination we call home,” Brownell Travel President Troy Haas said in a prepared statement. “Thanks to our luxury travel partners from all over the world and the generous response of the successful bidders, we can help the Community Foundation bridge the gaps and help people rebuild their homes and their communities.”

Sponsors that donated travel packages included Abercrombie Kent, Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, Orient-Express, Seabourn Cruises, St. Regis Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and United Travel Service of Turkey.

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New downtown Birmingham Barons ballpark has businesses in on deck circle for luxury seats

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama– The Birmingham Barons organization has already received solid corporate support for a planned downtown baseball stadium, even though the team doesn’t officially start selling luxury seating until Thursday’s groundbreaking, the team’s co-owner says.

Stan Logan, managing partner for Birmingham Barons LLC, said so many businesses and individuals have expressed interest in buying luxury suites and club-level seating that the Barons have hired a full-time person to handle calls and sales three months ahead of schedule.

“What we’re seeing is a lot of pent-up demand for this park to come to fruition,” said Logan, son of Barons co-owner Don Logan.

The Barons are relocating from Regions Park in Hoover to the stadium adjacent to Railroad Park on Birmingham’s Southside.

Logan said the Barons organization has already received commitments for more than half of the planned 26 luxury suites. The $64 million stadium is expected to open in time for the start of the Barons’ April 2013 baseball season.

There has already been strong interest in the 400 club suites that go on sale beginning with the 11 a.m. ground-breaking Thursday, Logan said. The club-level seating will allow baseball fans to either sit outside and watch Barons games, or go inside to a large bar area.

“It will be the area where people will go to mingle and network with corporate, city and community leaders,” Logan said.

Information on pricing and pictures of what the stadium will look like will be on the team’s web site beginning Thursday, he said.

Mayor William Bell said he is not surprised to see the business community enthusiastically back the Barons move to the downtown stadium.

“My goal is to be the bridge that brings neighborhoods, the community and businesses together,” the mayor said. “Our corporate partnership through our neighborhood initiative, One 2 One, has been a huge success, partnering companies with neighborhoods throughout the city. I expect nothing less from the corporate community but to be a great partner in this baseball park as they have been in the past.”

Logan said the Barons aren’t quite ready to begin soliciting title sponsorship for the stadium and other aspects of the project.

“We want to take our time and research pricing and other options,” said Logan, adding the Barons and Birmingham city officials studied 30 baseball stadiums across the country in developing plans for the project.

“A lot of elements from each one will be incorporated into this,” he said.

Bell said the baseball stadium will serve as the new home for the Barons, unite people in metro Birmingham and inspire “countless youth in the city to pursue their dreams.”

Birmingham City Councilman Johnathan Austin, whose District 5 includes Railroad Park, said the baseball stadium is serving as a catalyst to draw more businesses to the park area and other parts of downtown.

“When you look at revitalizing your community, it’s important to have a thriving downtown,” Austin said. “The baseball stadium and Railroad Park will be an economic driver for downtown. We’re not just building a baseball stadium, but investing in our inner-city infrastructure. The commitment the mayor and council has made in this park will pay off.”

Birmingham Councilwoman Lashunda Scales of District 1, who chairs the council’s economic development committee, is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the baseball stadium project.

“At this time, no additional information has been shared with me as the economic development committee chair nor my committee,” Scales said. “If corporate sponsorship will serve as a key component of this project, it will make financial sense for the city. If it doesn’t, then the city will be right back where we started from.

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