Friday, October 23, 2009

Fortune Brands 3Q profit falls, raises outlook

Fortune Brands Inc., a seller of consumer goods ranging from faucets to bourbon, said Friday that its third-quarter profit dropped 63 percent as the prior-year's results included a hefty gain related to the termination of a joint venture.

Despite the lower earnings, shares rallied to a 52-week high as adjusted results soared past estimates.

The company earned $124.1 million, or 82 cents per share, for the three months ended Sept. 30. That's down from $335.9 million, or $2.21 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding restructuring charges and other items, profit was 77 cents per share. Fortune Brands said the impact of the weaker dollar hurt earnings per share by 7 cents.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, whose estimates normally exclude one-time items, called for earnings of 61 cents per share.

Year-ago results included a gain of 94 cents per share related to the end of the Future Brands U.S. spirits distribution joint venture and other items.

Sales fell 10 percent to $1.72 billion from $1.92 billion on essentially flat sales of spirits as well as golf and home product sales declines. The results still managed to surpass Wall Street's estimate of $1.63 billion.

Fortune Brands said that new products such as Red Stag by Jim Beam, eco-friendly Moen faucets and a new line of Titleist golf balls contributed to its quarterly results.

The company boosted the low end of its full-year earnings guidance, citing its quarterly performance and signs of stabilization in the U.S. new home construction market. It now expects a profit of $2.10 to $2.30 per share. Fortune's prior forecast was for earnings of $2 to $2.30 per share.

Analysts predict 2009 profit of $2.23 per share.

In midday trading, shares of Fortune Brands rose 17 cents to $43.30. Earlier the stock traded at $46.77, its highest level since October 2008.

Bernanke urges Congress to overhaul financial regulatory system

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke prodded Congress Friday to enact legislation overhauling the nation's financial regulatory system to prevent a repeat of the banking and credit debacles that had thrust the country into crisis.

"With the financial turmoil abating, now is the time for policymakers to take action to reduce the probability and serverity of any future crises," Bernanke said in prepared remarks to a Fed conference in Chatham, Massachusetts.

For its part, the Fed has been taking steps to strengthen oversight of banks, sharpen consumer protections and on Thursday unveiled a sweeping proposal to police banks' pay policies to make sure they don't encourage top executives and other employees to take reckless gambles.

But Congress needs to step in and close regulatory gaps and make other changes that only lawmakers have the power to do, Bernanke said.

At the top of the Bernanke's list: Congress must set up a mechanism - along the lines of what the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. does with troubled banks - to safely wind down big financial firms whose failure could endanger the entire financial system.

And, the costs for such a mechanism shuold be paid through an assessment on the financial industry, not by taxpayers, the Fed chief said.

Moreover, Congress needs to step better systems for regulators to monitor risks lurking in the financial system.

The Obama administration has proposed such action as part of its revamp of financial rules. Its plan would expand the Fed's powers over big financial institutions but reduce it over consumers. Congress, however, is leery of expanding the Fed's reach because it and other regulators failed to crack down on problems that led to the crisis.

A House panel on Thursday approved a piece of the Obama plan create a federal agency devoted to protecting consumers from predatory lending, abusive overdraft fees and unfair rate hikes. Doing so, strips some powers from the Fed.

Bernanke, in his remarks Friday, talked about the Fed's efforts to bolster consumers protections. And, he said the Fed is working on rules to better safeguard consumers from abusives when it comes to overdraft protection, reverse mortgages and gift cards.

US probes pilots who overshot airport by 150 miles

US aviation officials and the FBI probed Friday how pilots of an airplane with 149 people on board managed to overshoot their destination by 150 miles (240 kilometers), prompting fears of a hijacking.

The US National Transportation Safety Board said controllers lost radio contact late Wednesday with the Northwest Airlines flight heading from San Diego, California to Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) spokesman in Minneapolis confirmed to AFP that the agency had launched its own investigation into the incident, but declined to comment further.

Passengers reported being unaware of any mishap until police boarded the plane when it eventually landed at Minneapolis Airport more than an hour behind schedule.

"The crew stated they were in a heated discussion over airline policy and they lost situational awareness," the safety board said, although a source close to the investigation said the crew had not yet been independently interviewed.

The plane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder are being sent to Washington for analysis. Northwest Airlines reportedly suspended the pilots from flying as the probe got under way.

During the 78-minute radio silence officials initially feared the pilots were in distress or the plane had been hijacked.

"When you aren't speaking to a commercial airliner, that's a big issue for us," said Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Tony Molinari told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"We see them on the radar, but not being able to talk to them is a problem."

The Star-Tribune reported that military fighter jets were readied to chase down the plane, which was travelling at its highest cruising altitude of 37,000 feet (11,300 meters), before contact was reestablished.

"The descent to the airport normally begins about 150 miles before the airport and they flew 150 miles behind it, so that is very curious," former federal aviation investigator Bill Voss told AFP.

"Many people are skeptical about the pilot's explanation that they were in heated arguments. There would have been many visual cues on the flight director ... Another possibility, of course, is fatigue and they could have fallen asleep."

Voss said Wednesday's drama brought to mind a February 2008 incident in which a Go! Airlines plane overshot Honolulu's main airport by 15 miles (24 km). The pilots were later fired after they admitted they fell asleep.

Photo's of the week: Trenton Streets

Boy hurts himself on his bike and brother helps him.....

By Daryl Mikell Brooks

Priest found slain in rectory of his NJ church

<Father Edward Hinds, the pastor of St. Patrick Church in Chatham, was found dead inside the rectory Friday morning, officials said. (FILE)
Scene outside Saint Patrick's Church Photo

CHATHAM, N.J. (WPIX) - Authorities are investigating the death of the pastor of a northern New Jersey church after he was discovered dead Friday morning, officials confirmed.

The body of Father Ed Hinds of Saint Patrick's Church in Chatham was found inside the church's rectory, dressed for mass. Officials say the pastor was scheduled to preside over an 8 a.m. service, but never showed. A parishioner later discovered Hinds' body in the rectory kitchen.

The church, which is located on 41 Oliver Street, remains closed as police investigate. The Morris County Prosecutor's Office tells PIX News that authorities are treating the death as a homicide.

Local and county police officers have closed off several blocks around the church. Students from neighboring Saint Patrick's school are being sent home for the day, church officials said. The school reportedly has nearly 400 students enrolled.

"We are deeply saddened by the unexpected death of such a great and giving pastor,"Bishop Arthur Serratelli with the Diocese of Paterson told reporters outside of St. Patrick's Church. "We are praying for the repose of his soul."

CHATHAM, N.J. — Authorities say a priest was found slain in the rectory of his northern New Jersey parish one day after police held a public safety seminar there.

Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said Friday that the body of the Rev. Ed Hinds (HYNDZ') had wounds "consistent with a homicide."

The prosecutor would not say how the priest was killed, and no one has been arrested.

The clothed body of the 61-year-old priest was found in the morning at St. Patrick's Church in Chatham. That's about 10 miles west of Newark.

Police held a safety seminar at the church Thursday in which they fingerprinted and photographed young children.

Blasts Take More Than 20 Lives in Northwest Pakistan

Police in Pakistan say three explosions in the northwestern part of the country have killed more than 20 people. Friday's violence comes as the military finishes the first week of its offensive against Taliban extremists near the Afghan border.

Police say a suicide bomber struck a checkpoint Friday morning near a key military air base.

The Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, northwest of the capital Islamabad, is a major site for Pakistan's air force maintenance and research.

A police official says there was adequate security to stop the bomber at the first checkpoint leading to the complex. He also says there were several pedestrians in the area.

Hours later, authorities in the northwestern city of Peshawar say a car bomb exploded outside a restaurant.

The head of the bomb disposal squad told reporters that officials believe the car bomb was triggered remotely. He said authorities have found the car's engine number, which can be used to help hunt down the attackers.

Shortly after the explosion, officials in the Mohmand tribal region said a blast struck a passenger bus, killing civilians - including women and children - on their way to a wedding.

In recent weeks, suspected Taliban militants have launched a series of attacks, hitting police centers, the army's headquarters, a United Nations office and an Islamic university.

There have been at least five instances of violence since the Pakistani military began its offensive against the Taliban in South Waziristan.

Authorities have tightened security across the country, as well as closed educational institutions.

Pakistani peace activist Natasha Kamal tells VOA there is a general fear of where the next attack might occur.

"This is exactly what these terrorists are looking for, to scare everybody to make all of us just sit tight in our homes, do not let our children go to school or college or even anywhere else and us not going outside or having a normal life," said Kamal.

Army officials say troops have killed at least 128 militants in the South Waziristan tribal region, while 18 soldiers have died in the intense fighting.

There is no independent confirmation of the tolls, as the region is closed to outsiders and is dangerous even for local reporters to visit.

IAEA says Iran needs more time to review nuke deal

VIENNA — The International Atomic Energy Agency says Iran needs more time to decide whether to back a plan that would ship most of the country's uranium abroad for enrichment.

The Vienna-based nuclear watchdog says Iran told IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei that it is "considering the proposal in depth and in a favorable light, but needs until the middle of next week to provide a response."

The draft proposal was put forth Wednesday after three days of talks between Iran and world powers.

The plan was seen as a way to curb Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon. The United States, Russia and France have already endorsed the deal.

Global “Thriller” Dance-Off Goes Down This Weekend

Have you ever wanted to break a world record? How about an awesome world record? Well, this weekend is your chance. On Sunday at 12:30 am GMT (for New Yorkers, that’s Saturday at 8:30 pm), meet up with a group of Michael Jackson fans and aspiring zombies in your area to participate in the biggest simultaneous “Thriller” dance ever. The annual “Thrill the World” event is now in its fourth year, but I have to imagine it will be especially popular (and poignant) this year, given, well… you know. If you want to join one of many officially registered, public events, you can find the one closest to you here. Don’t know the dance yet? Don’t despair! It seems many organizers are also running lessons to learn the all-important choreography. If you’d prefer to learn on your own, the folks at “Thrill the World” also provide unbelievably detailed instructions. And if you’re interested to see what this whole shindig looks like, be sure check out the video of last year’s event, posted below.

Meanwhile, in other “Thriller” news, New York magazine’s Vulture blog is reporting that the forthcoming Jackson doc This Is It will also feature “brand-new, reimagined versions of the videos for ‘Thriller,’ ‘Man in the Mirror,’ and ‘Earth Song.’ MJ made the videos to serve as transitions to the live performances during the This Is It concerts in London.” Of course, it’s kind of alarming to hear about a remake of what might be the best music video of all time. But never fear, superfans: choreographer Travis Payne avers that “We didn’t touch what we considered the sacred inside of it.”

Magic Johnson blindsides Isiah Thomas in new book

So Isiah Thomas–former Detroit Piston and now headline making b-ball coach–is mad about a book his rival Magic Johnson is putting out that could expose him in some way. Magic accuses Isiah of spreading rumors in the NBA that Magic is gay:

Magic’s most shocking accusation is that Thomas was responsible for spreading rumors that Johnson was gay or bisexual after Johnson tested positive for HIV, forcing his retirement
at age 32. “Isiah kept questioning people about it,” Magic says. “I couldn’t believe that. The one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts. It was like he kicked me in the stomach.”

And Magic popped off about why he and Michael Jordan and others blackballed Isiah:

“Isiah killed his own chances when it came to the [1992] Olympics. Nobody on that team wanted to play with him. … Michael didn’t want to play with him. Scottie [Pippen] wanted no part of him. Bird wasn’t pushing for him. Karl Malone didn’t want him. Who was saying, ‘We need this guy?’ Nobody.”

Isiah’s response:

“Magic acted and responded off some really bad information that he got,” Thomas went on. “Whatever friendship we had, I thought it was bulls— that he believed that. Let me put it to you this way: If he and I were such close friends, if I was questioning his sexuality, then I was questioning mine too. That’s how idiotic it is.”

I’m glad that he’s finally had the nerve and the courage to stand up and say it was him, as opposed to letting Michael Jordan take the blame for it all these years. I wish he would have had the courage to say this stuff to me face to face, as opposed to writing it in some damn book to sell and he can make money off it.”

Beyonce, Maxwell and Keri Hilson Lead the Nominations for the CENTRIC PRESENTS: 2009 SOUL TRAIN AWARDS SHOW Premiering on Sunday, November 29 at 9:00

Hosted by Academy Award-nominated actors Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, the CENTRIC Special Will Also Feature Performances by Toni Braxton, Erykah Badu, Trey Songz, Robin Thicke, Fantasia and Many More

NEW YORK, Oct. 22 /PRNewswire/ -- CENTRIC announces a prestigious list of nominees to be recognized in the Network's first special, CENTRIC PRESENTS: 2009 SOUL TRAIN AWARDS SHOW. Grammy Award-winner Beyonce, R&B diva Keri Hilson, and soulful crooner Maxwell lead the pack with four nominations each. Hosted by Academy Award-nominated actors Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, the return of the Soul Train Awards promises to be a soulful music event acknowledging R&B music's finest. Taping at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia on Tuesday, November 3, the show will premiere on both CENTRIC and BET in a special simulcast on Sunday, November 29 at 9:00 PM*.

(Logo: )

The show will honor the longstanding careers and musical influences of legendary artists Chaka Khan, Charlie Wilson, L.A. Reid and Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds in special music tributes. The special will also showcase a Motown Records 50th Anniversary musical celebration. The show will also recognize the outstanding musical work of selected artists in ten prestigious music categories and will honor the phenomenal star power and showmanship of the late Michael Jackson with the special Entertainer of the Year Award.

Featuring a star-studded lineup of performers, including Toni Braxton, Trey Songz, Erykah Badu, Robin Thicke, Fantasia, Ryan Leslie, Chrisette Michelle, Raheem DeVaughn, Karyn White, Boyz II Men, Ledisi, Chico Debarge, Angie Stone, Brian McKnight, Ginuwine, Melanie Fiona, and Johnny Gill among others, the show is guaranteed to take viewers on a soul-stirring ride. The CENTRIC PRESENTS: 2009 SOUL TRAIN AWARDS brings the Love, Peace and Soul with an unforgettable evening showcasing the present and future to celebrate the past.

Low black-voter turnout threatens Dems in Va., N.J. races

Voter doldrums - especially among blacks far less energized than they were for Barack Obama's historic presidential bid last year - pose problems for Democrats struggling in the governors' races in Virginia and New Jersey.

Pollsters and election analysts expect a steep drop-off of black voters - who historically back Democrats - in the nation's two gubernatorial contests and in congressional races Nov. 3, and they predict it is likely to cast a shadow in 2010 over at least 10 House Democrats with large black constituencies.

It is part of a broader trend of waning enthusiasm among Democratic voters as the country grapples with continued job losses, a mounting federal deficit and uncertainty about Mr. Obama's plan to restructure the health care system.

About 15 percent of New Jersey voters are black. Mr. Obama got about 12 percent to turnout in 2008 but polls predict black turnout as low as 8 percent for the upcoming election. The governor's race is so tight - neck-and-neck two weeks before Election Day - that a blip in black turnout could decide the contest between incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine and Republican challenger Chris Christie.

Full Story

Where are the Black NFL Owners?

October 21, 2009) - Conservative political commentator Rush Limbaugh has dominated media headlines the last two weeks with his participation in a group interested in buying the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams.

The highly controversial radio talk show host was a topic of discussion almost everywhere, until the group announced its plans to continue its bid for the owner’s box without him.

But there’s one fact related to the Limbaugh/Rams story that hasn’t been mentioned in many headlines.

According to an article, one of the six groups interested in buying the Rams is led by African-American businessman Donald Watkins.

While not a well-known name, Watkins has made a major imprint in the business world.

The AFRO has learned Watkins is one of the wealthiest Black people in the country. Although he may not be as popular as Oprah or former BET owner Bob Johnson, the Birmingham Business Journal once reported Watkins is believed to have a net-worth of nearly $2 billion dollars, although he has never discussed or confirmed how much money he has.

“It's bad business to publicize your net worth because when you move to do the next deal, people know your limitations and you can't negotiate effectively,” Watkins told

The Birmingham, Ala,, native comes from a family of wealth in education. His father, Levi Watkins Sr., served as a longtime president of Alabama State University, while his eldest brother, Levi Jr., is an associate dean at Johns Hopkins University and a world renowned heart surgeon who performed the world’s first human implantation of an automatic heart defibrillator in 1980.

But Donald isn’t short on achievements himself. Watkins won 40 of 41 cases as a lawyer representing the city of Birmingham during the 1980s and 1990s. CBS News reported in 2002 that Watkins earned $10 million during his years as a trial lawyer in the ‘90s, and invested much of his wealth into the energy technology industry. He also founded his own state-chartered, full-service bank in Alabama, and currently serves on the board of directors of State Mutual Insurance Company in Rome, Ga.

Watkins told CNN he dreamed of owning an American sports franchise for more than 20 years, and came close to purchasing the Minnesota Twins of Major League Baseball in 2002.

Watkins had big plans for the Twins, envisioning them to become the most dominate sports franchise of the future.

“The Twins will become America’s team,” Watkins said, according to a 2002 USATODAY article. “We will market the team globally and dominate the sport…People think the Yankees dominate now? That’s nothing compared to the way we’ll dominate. Remember how John Wooden used to dominate with UCLA in the ’60s? Minnesota will experience that same euphoria. We’ll be the Tiger Woods of baseball.”

Yet according to the Birmingham Business Journal, Watkins passed on the opportunity of buying the Twins when his friend, Richard Scrushy, former CEO of HealthSouth Corp., faced a $2.7 billion fraud and conspiracy charge.

Scrushy was found not guilty, thanks to Watkins serving as his lead attorney. And now it appears the 62-year-old is ready to continue pursuing his dreams of becoming a major American sports franchise owner.

“Any doubts about my ability to buy a team have been removed,” Watkins told the BBJ in 2005. “Since winning the Scrushy case, I have removed all questions about credentials and credibility.”

But the last time a Black man came close to becoming an NFL majority owner he ended up settling for less. According to The Associated Press, in 2005, African-American businessman Reggie Fowler agreed to buy the Minnesota Vikings for $635 million, but had to settle as only a limited partner because he couldn’t provide adequate proof of his financial stake in the ownership group. He took that role to avoid losing a $20 million deposit, and owns 40 percent.

German businessman Zygi Wilf and his family own the other 60 percent.

Fowler is one of three known African Americans who serve as limited partnership owners. In other sports arenas, tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams recently purchased a small percentage of the Miami Dolphins.

But how long will we have to wait before we see the first Black majority owner?

If Watkins’ credentials and credibility are as impeccable as his record suggests, it won’t be long at all.