Analyst upgrades First Financial

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First Financial Holdings of Charleston, SC, was upgraded Monday by analyst SunTrust Robinson Humphrey to a “buy” from a “neutral” position.

Stock in First Financial responded by rising 33 cents, to $9.44 a share.

First Financial earned $3.1 million during the quarter ended March 31, despite having to set aside nearly $13 million for potential bad loans.

That compares to a loss of $6.5 million for the three months ended Dec. 31, mostly attributed to the recession and a $2.1 million write-down on three fixed-income investments that had fallen in value, according to The Charleston Post and Courier.

The upgrade by SunTrust Robinson Humphrey comes a little less than two years after the company downgraded First Financial to “neutral.”

Evangelist who got incentives builds big

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Inspiration Networks’ chief executive David Cerullo, who moved his ministry to South Carolina after receiving state incentives, has invested about $4 million in a lakefront home under construction in South Carolina, according to The Charlotte Observer.

The religious network leader’s new house includes more than 9,000 heated square feet, along with a 2,000-square-foot screened porch, and sits on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains west of Greenville in a gated community that overlooks Lake Keowee, according to The Observer.

This is of particular interest to South Carolinians because in 2006 South Carolina offered the broadcaster incentives worth up to $26 million to move his City of Light campus to Lancaster County from Charlotte.

According to The Observer, “Taxpayer advocates question the deal, particularly in light of Cerullo’s salary and real estate holdings. ‘If they’ve got these kinds of assets, does the state really need to offer… tax breaks?’ asked Don Weaver, president of the S.C. Association of Taxpayers.”

In addition, Inspiration is fighting for an exemption from property taxes on its 92-acre site, despite a ruling by the S.C. Department of Revenue that it must pay them.

Cerullo’s fast-growing religious network is drawing scrutiny for the money it collects from donors. The broadcaster has raised tens of millions, largely by telling viewers that God brings financial favor to those who donate, the paper reported.

“As the nonprofit network has grown – with revenues expected to approach $100 million this year – so has Cerullo’s salary.

“With compensation exceeding $1.5 million a year, Cerullo is the best-paid leader of any religious charity tracked by watchdog groups, The Observer reported last month.”

Flogging the past in Little Rhody

Providence Plantations

Here’s a history tidbit for you: The country’s smallest state has the longest official name: “State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.”

However, that may not be the case for much longer.

A push to drop “Providence Plantations” from that name advanced farther than ever on Thursday when House lawmakers voted 70-3 to let residents decide whether their home should simply be called the “State of Rhode Island,” according to The Associated Press.

That’s a positive for those who believe the formal name conjures up images of slavery, while opponents argue it’s an unnecessary rewriting of history that ignores Rhode Island’s tradition of religious liberty and tolerance.

The bill permitting a statewide referendum on the issue next year now heads to the state Senate.

Rep. Joseph Almeida, an African-American lawmaker who sponsored the bill, said the move is long overdue.

“It’s high time for us to recognize that slavery happened on plantations in Rhode Island and decide that we don’t want that chapter of our history to be a proud part of our name,” he said.

Rhode Island’s unwieldy name reflects its turbulent colonial history, a state that consisted of multiple and sometimes rival settlements populated by dissidents, according to The Associated Press:

Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his unorthodox religious views, minister Roger Williams set out in 1636 and settled at the northern tip of Narragansett Bay, which he called Providence Plantations. Williams founded the first Baptist church in America and became famous for embracing the separation of church and state, a legal principle enshrined in the Bill of Rights a century later.

Other settlers made their homes in modern-day Portsmouth and Newporton Aquidneck Island, then known as the Isle of Rhodes.

In 1663, English King Charles II granted a royal charter joining all the settlements into a single colony called “The Colony of Rhode Islandand Providence Plantations.” The name stuck. Rhode Island used that royal charter as its governing document until 1843.

Opponents of the name charge argue that “plantations” was used at the time to describe any farming settlements, regardless of slavery.

Rhode Island merchants did, however, make their fortunes off the slave trade. Slaves helped construct Brown University in Providence, and a prominent slave trader paid half the cost of its first library.

By all means, let’s drop anything that has a politically incorrect association with the past.

That will certainly do wonders for blacks who suffered under the lash of Rhode Island farmers more than 200 years ago and will also show those whites who profited so handsomely from the “peculiar institution,” won’t it?

Georgia hit by two more bank failures

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Georgia continues to be beset by bank failures as regulators last Friday shut down two more institutions in the Peach State, bringing to 14 the number of banks in Georgia that have failed since the beginning of last year, more than in any other state.

By comparison, there have been no bank failures in South Carolina during the same period and just two in North Carolina, both in Wilmington.

In all, five banks nationwide were closed last Friday, bringing to 45 the number of failures this year of federally insured banks.

In Georgia, Community Bank of West Georgia, based in Villa Rica, and Neighborhood Community Bank, located in Newnan, were seized by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Most of the Georgia failures have involved banks in the Atlanta area, where the collapse of the real estate market brought economic dislocation, according to The Associated Press.