Advance America CEO subject of probe

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The chief executive officer of Advance America Inc. is the subject of an ongoing insider trading investigation by US Securities and Exchange Commission, according to a report in The Spartanburg Herald-Journal.

Ken Compton, who is also president of the Spartanburg-based payday lender, has denied making any improper trades or engaging in any wrongdoing or “other improper activity,” the paper reported.

In a filing with the SEC on Wednesday, Advance America said it was informed on July 22 that Compton, and “certain individuals who are not officers, directors or employees” of Advance America received Wells Notices from the SEC, according to The Herald-Journal.

A Wells Notice is a notification from a regulator that it intends to recommend that enforcement proceedings be commenced against the prospective respondent.

According to the filing, the company did not receive a Wells Notice and does not believe it is the subject of this investigation.

The company said it understands SEC staff plans to recommend civil action alleging insider trading involving about $20,000 in losses avoided by third parties selling company stock during 2007, the paper added.

Peoples extends executives’ contracts

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Peoples Bancorporation of Easley, SC, announced that it has extended its employment agreement with William B. West and subsidiary Peoples National Bank has extended the contract of Andrew Westbrook III, both for an additional year.

West is executive vice president and a director of Peoples Bancorporation while Westbrook is president and chief executive of Peoples National Bank and executive vice president of retail banking and a director of Peoples Bancorporation.

The pair originally had rolling three-year employment terms, but on Aug. 1, 2008, Peoples notified several top executives, including West and Westbrook, that their employment agreements would cease, as of that date, to automatically extend, and would terminate on Aug. 2, 2011, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Peoples offered to replace each of the existing agreements with a new agreement that provided for a one-year term that could be extended for an additional year each year at the discretion of the board, and provided somewhat different benefits from those provided by the original agreements.

West and Westbrook accepted the offer of substitute employment agreements and on Sept. 2, 2008, Peoples entered into a substitute agreement with West, and Peoples National Bank entered into a substitute agreement with Westbrook.

Peoples lost more than $8 million in 2008, but managed to post a $558,000 profit during the first three months of this year. Earlier this year, the company was approved by the US Treasury for $12.66 million under the Treasury Capital Purchase Program.

Stock in Peoples is currently trading for $2.70 a share.

Cotton crop falling short of estimates

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Halfway through the 2009 US cotton season, analysts say the crop is shaping up to be between 12.42 million and 12.56 million bales, which is about 750,000 bales less than the USDA’s July 10 estimate, according to Southeast Farm Press.

There remains considerable uncertainty about the crop in Texas — which depends largely on adequate moisture falling on its dryland crop, the publication reported.

“Over 3 million acres of the 4.9 million acres planted in Texas is dryland, said Carl Anderson, extension specialist emeritus, Texas A&M University. “Because of dry planting conditions and extremely hot temperatures in early July, blowing sand and hail, I’m estimating that at least 1.35 million acres, or 27 percent of the 4.9 million acres planted, is apt to be abandoned.”

In the Southeast, Georgia is projected to be the region’s largest producer at 1.6 million bales, with North Carolina second, at a projected 600,000 bales. Overall, the Southeast is projected to produce about 3.1 million bales.

“For most Southeast and Mid-South states, we’re in a little bit better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” said O.A. Cleveland, an economist and professor emeritus, Mississippi State University.

Provident sees sharp drop in stock price

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Provident Community Bancshares, which earlier this week announced it lost $685,000 during the quarter ended June 30, saw it stock price fall nearly 25 percent Wednesday.

The Rock Hill, SC-based parent of Provident Community Bank lost 97.5 cents a share in light trading to finish at $3.03. The company’s 52-week high is $13.67.

A year earlier, Provident posted a profit of $316,000 for the three months ended June 30. The company has lost $2.4 million through the first six months of 2009.

Loan loss provisions for the first half of the year were $3.6 million, up from $675,000 a year earlier, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.