Congaree slows losses in 2009

Congaree Bancshares trimmed its losses by two-thirds in 2009 and cut its loan loss provisions by nearly half.

The parent of Congaree State Bank posted a deficit of $1,142,922 for the 12 months ended Dec. 31, 2009, compared to $3,302,939 the previous year.

The company’s provision for loan losses was $717,937, down from $1,391,090 in 2008, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Net charge offs rose to $907,840 from $254,850.

Congaree’s outlay for compensation and benefits in 2009 was less than $2.4 million, down from more than $3.1 million a year earlier, with the decrease primarily related to staff reductions.

Congaree went from having 38 fulltime employees and four part-timers at the end of 2008, to 27 fulltime employees and four part-timers at the close of last year.

Stock in Cayce-based Congaree Bancshares is trading for $2.99 a share, down from $10 a year ago.

Earth Hour: Avoiding reality at all costs

Another “Earth Hour” has come and gone as millions of people around the world took part in the feel-good gesture of turning out their lights for one hour earlier this week.

Individuals, businesses and government officials in 4,000 cities across 125 countries turned out for Earth Hour, calling for a cleaner, safer and more secure future for the planet, according to World Wildlife Fund.

Of course, a good portion of the world doesn’t have electricity, making turning off lights a moot point for them.

But Don Boudreaux of Cafe Hayek is so much more eloquent in his look at Earth Hour. Here’s a letter he wrote to World Wildlife Fund President Carter Roberts:

Earlier this week your organization sponsored another worldwide “Earth Hour,” an event in which people demonstrated their commitment to the environment by turning off their lights for one hour.

In light (no pun intended) of your dark view of industrial and commercial activities, I recommend that the WWF create a special Lifetime Achievement Award for North Korea’s Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il.  As this nighttime photograph of the Korean peninsula (above) makes plain, the Dear Leader – like his father before him – works tirelessly to keep his nation’s carbon footprint to a bare minimum; in fact, if you look carefully you can see what is likely his, and only his, office light glimmering in Pyongyang.

North Koreans show their reverence for mother nature not with a mere Earth Hour but, rather, with an entire “Earth Lifetime.”  That’s true commitment!  Indeed, you might want to invite Mr. Kim to join your board.

Donald J. Boudreaux

There’s no regime like a puppet regime

Seventy years ago today, Wang Jingwei (above) was officially installed by Japan as head of a puppet state in China.

The Wang Jingwei Government was one of several Japanese puppet states during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), and its goal was to rival the legitimacy of Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Wang had broken away from Chiang’s government in March 1940 and defected to the Japanese invaders.

Claiming to be the rightful government of the Republic of China, the Wang Jingwei Regime flew the same flag and displayed the same emblem as Chiang Kai-shek’s National Government, with an extra pennant demanded by the Japanese.

The Wang Jingwei Government declared war on the Allies on Jan. 9, 1943. Wang died in November 1944 and his regime was done less than a year later, with the end of World War II.

Today, Wang’s name in China is now a term used to refer to a traitor, similar to the American English “Benedict Arnold” or European “Quisling,” according to Wikipedia.

A puppet state is an entity whose government – though largely of the same culture as the populace it governs – owes its existence to being installed, supported or controlled by a more powerful entity, often a foreign power.

While puppet state regimes were popular in the 20th Century, particularly during the First and Second World Wars, the idea of a puppet state dates back at least six centuries, to when England effectively controlled the de facto crown of France during its control of Paris in the latter stages of the Hundred Years’ War.

John of Lancaster, 1st Duke of Bedford served as the “regent” until his death in September 1435.

Goodwill charge hurts FCCO’s earnings

First Community Corp., one of South Carolina’s stronger performing community bank companies, posted a $25.2 million loss for 2009.

While that was up sharply from a $6.8 million deficit the previous year, the poor showing in 2009 is attributable to a non-cash goodwill impairment charge of $27.8 million, according to information filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

The loss “represents the complete write-off of our goodwill intangible,” Lexington-based First Community reported.

Goodwill arises from business acquisitions and represents the value attributable to unidentifiable intangible elements in the business acquired. First Community chose to write down its goodwill after evaluating its value in the ongoing economic downturn, the company reported.

“Industry-wide, market capitalization and acquisition multiples have significantly declined since 2004 and 2006, which are the dates of the acquisition of Dutchfork Bankshares and DeKalb Bancshares, respectively,” it reported. “Our company has experienced the same trend, with a decline in its market price per share and an extended period of time trading at a discount to book value and tangible book value. This non-cash charge is the accounting recognition of these events.”

The expense has no adverse impact upon First Community’s regulatory capital, liquidity position, operating performance or its prospects for future earnings.

Stock in First Community closed Monday at $6.20 a share.

Sneaky and duplicitous – with your money

No one seems to doubt that most politicians tell a lie or two when it suits their needs. However, it is rather surprising when an elected official is caught lying to his fellow lawmakers, as happened recently in the S.C. House of Representatives.

The Nerve detailed Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, offering a budget proviso last month for a $10 million loan to the Heritage PGA golf tournament next year if a new sponsor isn’t found for the event, held in Hilton Head.

But the proviso doesn’t mention the Heritage tournament and when White’s colleagues on the House Ways and Means subcommittee tried to get specifics, he replied with vague answers, according to The Nerve:

Does somebody put up something to guarantee they’re gonna pay that money back?” asked Rep. Harry Ott, D-Calhoun. “Is this a gift?

Ott also asked White directly, “Can you give me an example of what they (Beaufort County) might do with the money? … Build a golf course?”

White didn’t give any direct answers.

Members of White’s own party also appeared confused about the proviso language. Said House Majority Leader Kenny Bingham, R-Lexington, “I really don’t understand. … Tell me about the Beaufort County portion of it.”

White responded with another vague answer: “This allows Beaufort County basically … to borrow this money to promote tourism in their area. They can do so, and they have to guarantee it back out of accommodation taxes.”

White deflected other questions about why the money was going only to Beaufort County, saying that other counties already received “destination-specific” tourist money, and that any funds to Beaufort County would have to be approved by the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism.

White said Beaufort County could repay any loan, noting, “They are a huge donor to the state; they pay a ton of accommodations taxes.”

But White never mentioned that the money was for the Heritage golf tournament.

Perhaps not surprisingly, White did not respond when The Nerve attempted to ask his why he was evasive with his colleagues.

The proviso eventually passed the House during a marathon session on the budget. 

So, while lawmakers continue to threaten to turn prisoners loose and cut funding for education because of a lack of money, they somehow think giving a professional golf tournament a $10 million loan is a sound idea. And it’s so sound, they can’t even be forthright with their fellow legislators. Ah, government we can all be proud of.

‘Profits? No, we’re not in it for the profits’

Officials with a Florida-based development company were all smiles Thursday after the S.C. Senate passed a bill that would give them incentives to build an upscale mall near Hardeeville.

While Sembler Co. would receive local incentives under the the bill – rather than a state handout as it originally sought – company President Jeff Fuqua hailed the amended version as “a great victory for economic development” in the area, according to a report in the Greenville News.

“… (The bill) gives our company the ability to continue with plans for a high-end shopping mall that not only creates jobs but attracts new tourism dollars and expands the tax base,” Fuqua said in a press release.

How magnanimous of Sembler! It’s main motivation in building the mall appears to be creating jobs for folks in the Lowcountry, bringing in tourists to benefit South Carolina and growing the tax base.

Sembler and the South Carolina legislators who voted for this foolishness can dress up it up any way they want, but, as Waldo Lydecker so succinctly put it, it’s just another example of a “cheap land, cheap labor and tax bribes economic development package.”

Sembler likely stands to make a healthy profit if this projects succeeds, and there’s nothing wrong with that. However, taxpayers shouldn’t be expected to cover the developer’s costs or assume its risks.

If this luxury mall is such a good idea it shouldn’t require a government handout, whether it be state or local. 

And if Sembler isn’t willing to build without a government handout, then the mall shouldn’t be built.

Charlois: Asteroid whiz, bad with in-laws

One hundred years ago today, a French astronomer was killed by his brother-in-law, who, unhappy the man had remarried, murdered the scientist at his observatory.

In was an inauspicious ending for Auguste Honoré Charlois, who, beginning in 1887, discovered 99 asteroids.

He later photographed 433 Eros, the first so-called Near-Earth asteroid to be discovered, on the same night as Gustav Witt, but was not able to act quickly enough before Witt announced his find.

Although Charlois started searching for asteroids in the era of visual detection, by the 1890s he was using astrophotography, which dramatically sped up the rate of detection of asteroids.

Interestingly, one of the asteroids Charlois discovered was later included in a song by the famed rock band The Police. In “Wrapped Around Your Finger” is the line: “You consider me the young apprentice/Caught between the Scylla and Charybdis.’

Charybdis, also known as Asteroid 388, was spotted by Charlois on March 7, 1894. Scylla is Asteroid 155, and was discovered by Johann Palisa in Vienna on Nov. 8, 1875.

According to the Dictionary of Minor Planets, Asteroid 388 was named for a daughter of Poseidon and Gaea who was thrown into the sea off Sicily by Zeus where by swallowing and spewing water she created a whirlpool.

Odysseus, famed hero of Homer’s epic The Odyssey, was concerned with avoiding Charybdis, and in the process lost six of his men to the monster Scylla.

Later, stranded on a makeshift raft, Odysseus was swept back toward Scylla and Charybdis again. This time, he passed near Charybdis and his raft was sucked into Charybdis’ maw. But Odysseus survived by clinging to a fig tree.

On the next outflow of water, his raft was expelled and Odysseus was able to recover it and paddle away to safety.

Both Charybdis and Scylla are located between Mars and Jupiter.