The term “penny stock,” while commonly used in reference to any publicly traded company whose shares sell for less than $5, more accurately applies to small-cap companies which are considered to be speculative investments. Legitimate information on penny stock companies can be difficult to find and, as such, shares can theoretically be easily manipulated, increasing risks for investors.

Signalife, a one-time darling of the South Carolina media, would be categorized by most investment analysts as a penny stock, and the difficulty in tracking down information about the company points to some of the problems inherent in following a penny stock company.

Singalife was a Greenville, SC-based medical device company until the middle of last year, when it apparently relocated to Studio City, Calif. It’s not certain when the move took place because Signalife doesn’t appear to have issued a formal statement regarding the move. Once known as Recom Managed Systems, it had moved to downtown Greenville in 2005.

The only way one can tell there was a change in headquarters is the fact that in May of last year the company listed its base of operations on an SEC filing as being Greenville, while two months later it was using Studio City, outside Los Angeles, as its headquarters on information sent to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The move may have coincided with Lowell Harmison, president and chief executive officer, leaving the company in either late May or early June 2008, but again it’s difficult to tell because the company filed no information with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Typically, public companies file documents with the SEC when there’s a significant change in management.

Signalife was delisted from the American Stock Exchange last September. On Sept. 19, 2008, it effected a 1-for-4,500 reverse stock split and began trading on the OTC Bulletin Board. That means if you had 90,000 shares of the old Signalife stock, you wound up with 20 shares of new stock.

According to Yahoo! Finance, in the past 52 weeks, Signalife stock has fluctuated from a high of more than $6,600 a share to a low of $1 a share. It current trades at $4.50.

In November, it announced it would change its name to HeartTronics, Inc., and named former National Football League standout Willie Gault co-chief executive officer. It doesn’t appear any formal filing was made with the SEC regarding the name change, although the company did issue a press release.

In February, Heartronics ended its relationship with SC-based auditing firm Elliott Davis. At the same time, interim chief financial officer Kevin Pickard left the company. In addition, other directors have departed over the past year.

For the nine months ended Sept. 30, 2008, the company lost $11.7 million and, according to an SEC filing “incurred losses since inception resulting in an accumulated deficit of $60,423,275.”

The company added that its financial difficulties “raise substantial doubts about the company’s ability to continue.”

Just last week, the company told the SEC that it would not be able to file its 2008 10-K annual report by the March 31, 2009, deadline.

Unfortunately, little of this would have been gleaned from reading The Greenville News or other SC newspapers. These days, the media’s idea of business coverage appears to involve little more than rewriting company press releases when good news is put out. 

More importantly, trying to keep tabs on Signalife/HeartTronics over the past year illustrates perfectly the importance of Rule No. 1 when dabbling in penny stocks: Caveat emptor.


UCI Medical Affiliates recently appointed longtime Columbia executive Joe Boyle executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Boyle, 55, had served as interim CFO of the publicly traded company since last December, according to Securities and Exchange documents.

Columbia-based UCI provides non-medical management and administrative services for a network of approximately five dozen freestanding medical centers.

Services UCI provides include treasury and capital planning, financial reporting and accounting, pricing decisions, patient acceptance policies, setting office hours, contracting with third party payers and various administrative services.

Boyle has served as chief executive officer of Columbia-based Affinity Technology Group since 2000 and as its chairman since 2001. Affinity filed for bankruptcy last year.

Boyle, a certified public accountant, served as Affinity’s chief financial officer from 1996-2000 and as chairman and CEO of Affinity subsidiary Surety Mortgage from 1997-2001.

Boyle also served as chief operating officer of Community Resource Mortgage from January 2005 to June 2006. He has also worked for Elliott Davis and Price Waterhouse.


First National Bancshares, the holding company for Spartanburg-based First National Bank of the South, could go out of business if it is unable to raise capital this year, a banking industry expert told The Spartanburg Herald-Journal Friday.

First National expects to report a loss of $37.3 million for 2008 — much of it from an accounting charge from writing off portions of the purchase of Columbia-based Carolina National Bank.

The bank is in violation of three loan covenants and is awaiting approval of an extension of a waiver of defaults on that credit line, which would carry through to the end of the year., according to The Herald-Journal.

“It’s a very difficult situation, but it’s certainly not unique. We have sick banks all over the Carolinas,” said Tony Plath, associate professor of finance at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. “We’re going to have to see how (First National) does, but they need capital to survive.”

First National has delayed filing its year-end financial reports because it is negotiating with Nexity Bank of Birmingham, Ala., to avoid defaulting on a loan it used to purchase Carolina National in February 2008.

First National has grown rapidly since it was founded in 1999. Its stock has traded as high as $10.45 a share over the past year and as low as 91 cents. It closed Friday at $1.25 a share.


As much of the US population rushes headlong to embrace President Obama’s New Deal, it’s might be prudent to remember that Franklin Roosevelt’s policies not only did little to improve life for the average American during the Great Depression, it actually made things worse for many. 

According to economist Thomas J. DiLorenzo, “FDR and his advisors mistakenly believed that the Depression was caused by low prices, therefore, high prices—enforced by threats of violence, coercion and intimidation by the state—would be the “solution.” 

In fact, FDR, in the midst of one of the bleakest periods of US economic history, actually signed laws that forced businesses to charge above-market prices for everything.

Jim Powell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, details here how Roosevelt, seen by many as the savior of the common man, worsened the lot of the average American by making discounting prices a crime.

Powell identifies some of the vehicles Roosevelt used in his misguided efforts to jump-start the economy through government fiat.

  • The National Industrial Recovery Act authorized the president to establish cartels via executive orders. FDR established some 500 cartels, and one of the things they did was fix prices above market levels.
  • The Agricultural Adjustment Act aimed to raise prices of agricultural commodities above market levels, in an effort to raise farm incomes.
  • The Robinson-Patman Act aimed to protect small grocery stores from price competition offered by A&P and other chain stores.
  • The Miller-Tydings Retail Price Maintenance Act was a related effort to protect small businesses from competition with larger, more efficient firms.
  • The Civil Aeronautics Act, which established the Civil Aeronautics Authority. It enforced a cartel, protecting existing airlines from new competition.

In addition to outlawing discounting, Powell writes, FDR indirectly forced prices above market levels by signing the National Labor Relations Act. When it was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1937, labor union monopolies developed in mass production industries.

That year, in the midst of the Depression, average labor costs surged 11 percent, Powell says. This put strong upward pressure on the prices of things made with union labor, until the labor cost surge helped trigger a recession that undermined demand. Powell adds that:

“FDR did what private businesses cannot do by themselves, namely use the law to enforce above-market prices. As long as businesses are free to enter any market, somebody who charges above-market prices is likely to attract competitors who will drive prices down. Competitors could be start-up businesses or established businesses entering a new market, and such competitors could come from within the country or overseas. The most famous private ‘monopoly,’ John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil, lost market share despite having cut the price of its principal product 90 percent, because it wasn’t backed by the force of government. Perhaps the most intriguing question is why “progressives” continue to view FDR as savior, giving him a free pass as a price-gouger.”

And how did Roosevelt’s policy’s work? Not so well, Powell says. Consider:

  • U.S. Census Bureau statistics show that the official unemployment rate was still 17.2 percent in 1939 despite seven years of interference from the Roosevelt administration (the normal, pre-Depression unemployment rate was about 3 percent);
  • Per capita GDP was lower in 1939 than in 1929 ($847 vs. $857), as were personal consumption expenditures ($67.6 billion vs. $78.9 billion), according to Census Bureau data;
  • Net private investment was minus $3.1 billion from 1930–40.


Sixty years ago today, the Spanish Civil War officially ended as General Francisco Franco declared victory in a radio speech, days after Madrid and Valencia surrendered to his Nationalist forces.

The brutal conflict increased tensions in Europe in the late 1930s and was seen as a trial run for World War II, with Communist Soviet Union, Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany playing key roles in the war. 

It’s believed at least 500,000 individuals were killed during the three-year conflict, including at least 100,000 of whom were executed.

Tens of thousands more were killed after Franco took over as dictator, a position he retained until his death in 1975.

The political and emotional reverberations of the war far transcended those of a national conflict, for many in other countries saw the Spanish Civil War as part of an international conflict between—depending on their point of view—tyranny and democracy, or fascism and freedom, or communism and civilization, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.

The conflict was largely overshadowed by World War II, which broke out months later, but scars, both physical and psychological, remain throughout the country today.

GM Wagoner

Apparently not satisfied with efforts to nationalize banks, the Obama Administration is getting more involved in other industries, as well.

Sunday it was revealed that General Motors Corp. Chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner would step down immediately at the request of the White House. The news comes as President Barack Obama prepares to unveil additional restructuring efforts designed to save the domestic auto industry.

Obama is to announce measures to restructure GM and Chrysler today in exchange for additional government loans. The companies have been living on $17.4 billion in government aid and have requested $21.6 billion more, according to The Associated Press.

So, either Wagoner disagreed with the Administration regarding GM’s future direction or the Administration simply wanted him out so it would have a free hand in telling company officials how to run the company.

One thing you can count on: All GM’s future problems, no matter who’s responsible, will be attributed to Wagoner. He’s now the official fall guy.


A piece of American history was sold Saturday. An 1861 Springfield rifle carried during the War Between the States by W.A. Reynolds of the 55th Georgia regiment was auctioned off in Edgefield, SC, for $2,800 to an undisclosed buyer.

According to research done by Murrell’s Auction Co., Reynolds served as a private in Company D of  the 55th Georgia regiment, which was organized at Camp Randolph, Ga., in July 1862 and made up of men from Hall County, Ga., called the Hall Volunteers.

The 55th Georgia was sent to east Tennessee and later marched into Kentucky before returning to Tennessee. After surrendering at Cumberland Gap in September 1863, the 55th had the misfortune of being sent to Camp Douglas, in Chicago, Ill.

Camp Douglas was among the most notorious of the Union prisoner of war camps, with at least 6,000 Confederates dying in captivity between 1862-65.

Many Southern soldiers who died there were buried in a mass grave, which today is considered the largest in the western hemisphere. Camp Douglas eventually came to be called the North’s “Andersonville” for its inhumane conditions.

Some members of the 55th were later exchanged and returned to Confederate service, but it’s not clear what became of W.A. Reynolds.

The Springfield rifle musket was the most frequently used rifle of the Civil War. It was a single-shot, muzzle-loading gun detonated with a percussion cap. It had a rifled barrel, which dramatically increased accuracy over a smoothbore musket, and fired a .58 caliber Minié ball – an inch-long, bullet-shaped projectile – rather than a round ball as used in older muskets, according to Wikipedia.

The 38-inch-long rifled barrel made it possible to hit a target from as far away as 500 yards. By the end of the war, approximately 1.5 million Springfield rifle muskets had been produced by the Springfield Armory and 20 subcontractors, according to Wikipedia.


Jim Leventis, who with Mike Crapps helped build First Community Bank into one of the premier community banks in South Carolina, will retire as chairman of holding company First Community Corp. in May, it was announced Thursday.

Leventis, who helped found the bank in 1995, was named chairman emeritus and will remain on the board.

He will be succeeded as chairman by Mitchell Willoughby, a First Community board member and, like Leventis, an attorney.

“Jim was the Chairman when we organized First Community in 1995 and has been our only Chairman in our fourteen year history,” Crapps said in a company press release. “He has been a role model to all of us in exemplifying servant leadership and true commitment to our community.

“We will miss his guidance as Chairman, but are delighted that we will continue to enjoy the benefit of his wisdom as he remains an important member of our Board of Directors,” Crapps added.

Today, First Community has 11 offices and $650 million in assets. First Community has always been a first-class operation, due in no small part to the Leventis’ efforts over the years.


As part of a settlement involving a pair of shareholder lawsuits brought against The South Financial Group, founder and chief executive officer Mack Whittle will resign from the board of the Greenville, SC-based financial services company and South Financial will enact significant corporate governance reforms.

According to a Securities and Exchange Commission document filed Wednesday, South Financial has reached an agreement in principle to settle suits filed Nov. 7, 2008, by Vernon A. Mercier, and Nov. 26, 2008, by John S. McMullen.

The suits were filed in the weeks after Whittle “stepped down” from South Financial, the company he began in 1986, but not before taking a golden parachute estimated to be worth at least $12 million.

The suits alleged that South Financial’s board “improperly accelerated the retirement of and approved excessive compensation” for Whittle.

Whittle had originally been scheduled to retire by year-end, but that date was moved up to October 27, in order that South Financial might get $347 million in federal bailout money and Whittle would still be able to retain his lucrative buyout. Whittle’s payout would have been in excess of federal guidelines if he’d not left the company before South Financial received the government money.

South Financial lost $569 million in 2008 and saw its stock price fall from $15.67 a share to $4.31. It closed Wednesday at $1.20.

Under terms of the settlement Whittle will resign from the company’s board, effective as of the date court approval of the settlement becomes final and he will contribute $250,000 to assist South Financial in settling this matter.  

Other highlights include:

  • South Financial agrees that it will not nominate a former CEO of the company to its board for a period of two years after the departure of the CEO from South Financial;
  • The board shall add an additional independent director to its board, one with a background in financial services;
  • Fully 75 percent of South Financial’s board shall consist of independent directors;
  • The chairman shall be independent, be elected by secret ballot of the board annually and shall be limited to four consecutive years of service as chairman;
  • The board shall amend South Financial’s corporate governance guidelines so that the positions of chairman and chief executive shall be held by two different people. Whittle held both positions between 2005-2008.

In addition to Whittle, other defendants named in one or both of the suits were: Darla D. Moore, John C.B. Smith Jr., William P. Brant, J.W. Davis, M. Dexter Hagy, Michael R. Hogan, William S. Hummers III, Challis M. Lowe, John W. Pritchett, H. Earle Russell Jr., Edward J. Sebastian, William R. Timmons III, David C. Wakefield III, and William P. Crawford Jr.

As part of the settlement, $500,000 will go to cover plaintiff’s court costs, split between $300,000 cash and $200,000 worth of company stock, to be paid from the company’s Directors & Officers insurance policy.

So, if one reads this correctly, and that’s no mean feat given the legalese involved, Whittle made off with at least $12 million for helping run South Financial into the ground, and his punishment was getting kicked off the board and having to pay $250,000? Sweet work if you can get it.


Of 238,380 prisoners interned by the Nazis at the Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II, just eight escaped.

The last of those, Jack van der Geest, died Thursday in Rapid City, S.D., 66 years and two days after he eluded his German captors by hiding among dead prisoners for nearly half a day, then overpowering a guard. He was 85.

In all, 56,545 individuals are believed to have died at Buchenwald, or nearly one in four internees.

For much of his life, van der Geest didn’t discuss his wartime experiences as a member of the Dutch underground, his capture and that of his parents, the murder of his father at Dachau, the horrible conditions and treatment suffered at the hands of the Nazis and his escape from Buchenwald, according to his obituary in The Rapid City Journal.

“That changed in the 1990s, after van der Geest heard someone deny that the Holocaust had occurred. Van der Geest decided to start talking about his life story and wrote a book in 1995, “Was God on Vacation?’” the paper reported.

After World War II, van der Geest became a U.S. citizen in 1953 and joined the U.S. Air Force.

Those who knew him marveled at his depth of character in the face of so many struggles, The Rapid City Journal reported.

“He did not become a victim. He became a victor,” Dan Gammeter told the paper. “And it was his strength of character and belief in God, and the joy of his belief in God just shined through his entire life. Just an amazing light.”