CommunitySouth posts $18.3 million loss

CommunitySouth Financial Corp. of Easley, the parent of CommunitySouth Bank & Trust, reported a staggering $18.3 million loss in 2009, it reported Friday.

The loss was substantially more than the $3.35 million deficit posted in 2008.

Chief executive Allan Ducker said in a press release that CommunitySouth’s management team recognized the signs of the downturn in 2008 and proactively began adjusting its strategic plan to better weather the challenging road ahead.

Given the results of the past year, one wonders if the company would have better off if management hadn’t “proactively began adjusting its strategic plan.”

During the quarter ended Dec. 31, the company lost $15.3 million, up from $2.4 million the previous year.

CommunitySouth was hurt by loan losses last year, setting aside $10.7 million for problem loans in the fourth quarter.

Stock in the company is trading at $1.25 a share.

Provident sees losses swell

Rock Hill-based Provident Community Bancshares reported Friday it lost $7.4 million in 2009. That’s up sharply from 2008, when it posted a $397,000 deficit.

The parent of Provident Community Bank was hurt by a poor showing in the fourth quarter, when it lost $4.6 million, up from $1.4 million in 2008.

Loan loss provisions more than doubled to $8.7 million in 2009, and nonperforming assets stood at $26.8 million as of Dec. 31, 2009, compared to $16.7 million a year earlier.

According to an obtuse press release put out by Provident: “Operating results for the current period were impacted by a compression of the net interest margin caused by declining market interest rates and a decrease in non-interest income due to an other than temporary impairment charge of $1.9 million related to investment securities.”

Provident stock closed Friday at $2.25 a share.

Russia to free World War II prisoners?

Here’s a story that raises far more questions than it answers:

Under the headline “Russia may free 45,000 prisoners of second world war,”  the Russian Information Agency Novosti, a state-owned news agency, reported Friday that the country “could release 45,000 people imprisoned in the country since the second world war and grant amnesty to 300,000 convicts to mark the 65th anniversary of its Victory Day May 9.”

The amnesty, to be declared by the Russian parliament, would come into effect May 9, when the country celebrates the 65th anniversary of its victory over Nazi Germany in the World War II, the news agency reported.

War veterans, the disabled and those convicted of minor crimes could be eligible for the Victory Day amnesty, it added.

So, if one reads this story correctly, Russia has at least 45,000 individuals it has imprisoned since 1945? That’s seems not only remarkable, but utterly improbable.

It’s unlikely the US, by comparison, has even a single person who has been behind bars for 65 straight years. The closest appears to be William Heirens, imprisoned since 1946 for murder. 

Afterall, someone who has been behind bars since 1945 has to be at least 65 years old, even if they began their imprisonment on the day they were born. An individual incarcerated as a teen would now be in their 80s.

And for all the US prison system’s woes, it’s a walk in the park compared to the old Soviet gulag, where many of these folks would have spent a good bit of their sentence.

One has to suspect something was lost in the translation of this story from Russian to English.

Cotton looking up for 2010

After a rough 2009, US cotton industry officials are expecting the industry to rebound this year.

Cotton growers were hurt by weather woes, a trade war with Brazil and prices uncompetitive with other crops, National Cotton Council chairman Jay Hardwick said during the group’s annual meeting in Memphis, Tenn., earlier this month. 

U.S. cotton seems poised to be “stronger and more prepared for the future,” Hardwick told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Cotton production in 2009 was hampered by fall rains, which caused some $750 million in overall crop damage last year in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In addition, government subsidies for grain — mainly corn for ethanol — increased corn prices. Farmers responded by switching from cotton to corn, which put cotton-industry infrastructure like gins and warehouses in a slump, according to the Commercial Appeal.

“This temporarily distorted all (agriculture) markets, but market forces are coming into play and some of these imbalances are getting corrected,” Arkansas cotton producer Larry McClendon told the paper, noting cotton prices should be competitive with corn this year.

The industry is expecting word this month from the World Trade Organization on the award Brazil will receive to settle alleged cotton market losses due to U.S. agriculture programs. In August, a WTO panel awarded Brazil nearly $294 million for the alleged losses. However, Brazil is expected to ask for more than $800 million.

Also, McClendon noted that a  U.S. supply of 8 million to 10 million bales of cotton has slowly whittled away to about 4 million bales. Also, he said, the worldwide demand for cotton is returning after the recession.

“All of these are reasons for optimism,” he told the paper. “The numbers are coming together in cotton.”

Down and out in Port Royal

Officials in Port Royal are cautiously optimistic about having landed a buyer for the town’s port and adjoining land – to the point of hyperbole, it would seem.

The S.C. State Ports Authority signed a letter of intent Feb. 5 to sell the property, though officials have declined to release the potential buyer’s name and other details until after the deal has been finalized.

Officials put the timetable for completion of the sale, which was mandated by the state legislature in 2004, at six to nine months.

But town leaders are wary about getting their hopes up.

“For the last 100 years, every time Port Royal has been on the cusp of something big something has happened,” Port Royal Town Manager Van Willis told the Charleston Regional Business Journal. “We’ve had a famine or a hurricane, and, during the last sale attempt, we were hit with the economic downturn.”

Famine? Did Port Royal, or anywhere in South Carolina, for that matter, have a famine sometime in the past century and I missed it?

Not saying it didn’t happen, but famines are generally pretty well reported upon and a cursory search through the Internet doesn’t show anything regarding famines in Port Royal or the surrounding areas anytime recently.

WIS – Where time stands still

Apparently, the good folks at WIS-TV don’t get out much.

How else to explain the photo that ran Tuesday with the television station’s story about a pair of legislative bills that would add a fee to prepaid cell phones cards and Internet phone lines to help pay for local 911 service?

The lead article, it was accompanied by a photo of the State House dome, complete with American, South Carolina and Confederate flags waving.

The problem is, it’s been nearly a decade since the Confederate flag was taken off the dome and moved to a spot out front of the State House. In other words, WIS-TV is sprucing up its lead story with a file photo nearly a decade old.

WIS’s studios are slightly less than half a mile from the state capitol, according to Mapquest, so it’s even harder to fathom why the station can’t be bothered venturing over to update its photo files.

Last Canadian WWI vet dies at 109

John Babcock, Canada’s last-known World War I veteran, died last week, closing the book on a costly and memorable period in the country’s history.

Babcock signed up for the military as a teenage volunteer, but ended up digging ditches in Canada initially.

Frustrated, Babcock later lied to military staff while volunteering in Halifax and told them he was 18, when in fact he was two years younger, according to CTV News.

“When they asked me how old I was, I said 18. Well, when we got to England you had to be 19 to go to France,” recalled Babcock in an interview with The Canadian Press in 2007.

“I was waiting to be 19 and my service record came through, and they found out I was 16, so they put me in the young soldiers’ battalion.”

Babcock, one of 1,300 underage soldiers, endured hours of drill training as he waited for his chance to prove himself in battle.

By the time the war ended in 1918, however, Babcock had yet to serve.

He may have been disappointed at the time, but eight decades later, hindsight had given Babcock a different perspective, CTV News reported.

“I might have got killed,” he said. “If the war had lasted another year I would have fought.”

The conflict proved a pivotal point in Canadian history. When war broke out in the summer of 1914, all Dominions of the British Empire, including Canada, were called upon by Great Britain to fight on her behalf.

Canada’s sacrifices and contributions to the war changed its history and enabled it to become more independent, but it also opened a rift between the French- and English-speaking populations.

For the first time in its history, Canadian forces fought as a distinct unit under a Canadian-born commander. Battles such as Vimy Ridge, Second Battle of Passchendaele and the Battle of the Somme are still remembered today by many as part of Canada’s founding myth.

Out of the approximately 600,000 Canadians who served in the war, some 67,000 died.

Among those was George Lawrence Price, who was killed two minutes before the armistice took effect at 11 am. on Nov. 11, 1918. He is traditionally recognized as being the last of more than 15 million soldiers killed on the Great War’s battlefields.

California bank buys into FNSC

A privately held West Coast bank begun just a few years after the California Gold Rush is apparently betting that embattled First National Bancshares of Spartanburg can weather its current troubles.

California-based Bank of Stockton recently either fully purchased or increased its holdings in First National to 450,000, or 5.77 percent of outstanding shares, according to a recent US Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The filing doesn’t state whether the Bank of Stockton had owned any shares of First National prior this event, which took place in early December. Stock in First National is currently selling for around 85 cents a share.

First National has struggled for more than two years. It hasn’t released its annual earnings report for 2009, but through the first three quarters had lost $1.36 million. That came on the heels of a staggering  $44.8 million loss in 2008.

The Bank of Stockton, based about an hour south of Sacramento, was begun in 1867, when 29 businessmen pooled $100,000 in gold coins, according to information found on the company’s website.

Today, it has nearly $2 billion in assets, though it has never expanded beyond the borders of the Golden State.

Octagon house ruins found in Lowcountry

Archeologists believe they may have discovered the nation’s first octagonal home, along the May River in the South Carolina Lowcountry.

William McKimmy owned an 18th-century, 900-acre plantation where the foundations of an octagonal building were recently discovered. The 900-square-foot structure is believed to have been built around 1790, archaeologist Heather Cline told the Hilton Head Island Packet.

That would predate other octagonal buildings such as the Octagon House of Portsmouth, N.H., built in 1813, and Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, built in the 1820s near Lynchburg, Va.

McKimmy emigrated from Scotland to Charleston around 1768 and worked as a barrel maker. He later bought Beef Island – known today as Myrtle Island – and the 900-acre tract in present-day Palmetto Bluff, according to the Island Packet.

McKimmy never married, and he owned about 75 slaves when he died of palsy in 1799. The slaves are thought to have built the octagonal structure, Cline told the paper.

The house was never lived in again after McKimmy died. In his will, he left the plantation to a nephew, but the heir never settled there and the property was sold at auction. The house is believed to have been destroyed by a hurricane in 1804.

Fed gives Beach First 60 days to submit plan

Beach First National Bancshares was told by the Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday to halt payment of dividends and to submit a new plan to maintain adequate capital.

In a written agreement between the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond and Myrtle Beach-based Beach First, the Fed said the bank holding company shall not declare or pay dividends, purchase or redeem shares or take any other actions that reduce the capital of Beach First National Bank without regulatory approval, according to Reuters.

The Fed said Beach First had 60 days to submit to the Richmond Fed an acceptable written plan to maintain sufficient capital at Beach First on a consolidated basis.

The plan needs to take into consideration the bank’s classified credits, concentration of credits, allowance for loan and lease losses and projected earnings and asset growth, the Fed said. Beach First must submit quarterly progress reports to the Fed, Reuters reported.

The Fed order comes just over three months after another regulator, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, ordered Beach First to submit a revised three-year capital plan.

Beach First announced earlier this month that it lost a staggering $30 million in 2009. That’s a substantial increase over 2008, when it lost $3.7 million.

Over the past year, Beach First has seen its assets decline more than 8 percent, to $613 million, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Stock in Beach First is trading for around $1.10 a share.

The company replaced CEO Walt Standish earlier this month on an interim basis with John S. Poelker.

Standish retained the title of president of both Beach First National Bancshares and Beach First National Bank.