Illinois Public Media News
Sara Lee Corp. said Thursday that its fiscal fourth-quarter profit fell 41 percent as it continued to sell-off businesses even as revenue rose on strong results from its North American segments and international beverages unit.
The results of the Downers Grove, IL. food company, which is shedding units as it works to split into two businesses, met analysts' expectations, but the company gave fiscal 2012 adjusted earnings and revenue outlooks below Wall Street's estimates. Its stock fell $1.31, or 7.6 percent, to $16 on the news.
Sara Lee's results continue to be affected by its ongoing plan to become leaner by shedding some operations before it splits into two businesses by early next year -- one focused on coffee and the other largely on meat. Just two days ago, Sara Lee said that it will sell its North American refrigerated dough business to Ralcorp for $545 million. Sara Lee said it's planning to realize $180 million to $200 million in costs savings during fiscal 2012 and 2013 as it prepares for the spinoff.
"Our objective of building two simpler, faster and more entrepreneurial businesses is being realized," Executive Chairman Jan Bennink said in a statement. "We have defined the organizational framework for our new companies and are continuing to build and restructure our teams for the future."
Like other food companies, Sara Lee's results were also impacted as it raised its prices to cope with higher ingredient costs. The company has increased prices across nearly all of its product lines and previously announced that it plans to make price increases all year. Sara Lee's leaders have said that they expect a stronger second half of the year as those price hikes take effect and the company releases new products.
During the current quarter, the company's units benefited from the price hikes. Total revenue rose 9 percent to $2.3 billion from $2.11 billion, topping Wall Street's projected $2.28 billion.
North American retail revenue rose 4 percent mostly because of higher prices. Revenue for the North American food service division climbed 9 percent on increased prices and experienced strong sales of Jimmy Dean breakfast sausages, pre-sliced pies and cakes and branded meats distributed through convenience stores.
The international beverage unit reported a 14 percent revenue increase partly on higher prices and increased green coffee export sales from Brazil. International bakery revenue fell 8 percent on competition in Spain and difficult economic conditions.
Sara Lee earned $111 million, or 19 cents per share, for the period ended July 2. That's down from $187 million, or 28 cents per share, a year ago. Adjusted earnings from continuing operations were 20 cents per share.
For the year, Sara Lee earned $1.29 billion, or $2.06 per share. That compares with earnings of $506 million, or 72 cents per share, in the previous year. Annual revenue rose to $8.68 billion from $8.34 billion.
Looking ahead, Sara Lee expects fiscal 2012 adjusted earnings of 89 cents to 95 cents per share on revenue of $8.5 billion to $8.75 billion. The guidance excludes the international bakery segment, which the company plans to sell. Analysts predict earnings of $1.07 per share on revenue of $9.35 billion.
(AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
A new report suggests Illinois' rate of home foreclosure fell 3.5 percent between June and July. The RealtyTrac Group said the foreclosure rate is now almost 50 percent lower than last year.
But there is still some bad housing news: a report from the Illinois Association of Realtors said that home prices are actually down 18 percent.
"The thing that we have continued to be fighting over the last several years is consumer confidence....And it was shaken by our budget talks," said Sheryl Grider Whitehurst, president of the IAR.
"So we need to get some stability out there in those marketplaces for people to feel comfortable again to move ahead with other major purchases," Whitehurst continued. "I know we personally had one buyer who backed out of looking at a home because she did receive Social Security checks and she said, 'I don't know if I'm going to receive my checks.'"
Whitehurst said it is best to compare this year's housing market with figures from 2009, not 2010, because buyers in 2010 benefited from a tax credit. The IAR predicts housing prices in the Chicago region will catch up with their 2010 levels in September.
The mayor of Villa Grove says the future of the Douglas County community's downtown remains a question mark after fire destroyed a 100-year old building Wednesday night.
Seventeen different departments fought the blaze, many of them staying throughout the night. There were no injuries. The State Fire Marshall is still investigating the cause. Villa Grove Mayor Thelma 'Boots' Blaney said the building was vacant, and most businesses on the north side of downtown, across Main Street, are open. But she said it will take some time for a local bar, beauty shop, and jewelry store to clean up from smoke and water damage.
Blaney said the firewall around the structures did its job, or the entire block would have been lost. She says those helping out overnight Wednesday motivated each other.
"The businesses just stepped up to the plate," she said. "We have pizzas and all kinds of drinks and ice. People were donating. Businesses were donating. You know, they all just stepped up to the plate, and the firefighters helped them keep going too."
Fire departments helping out included those from St. Joseph, Broadlands, Tuscola, Savoy, Philo, and Comargo.
"Right now, our main concern is getting it cleaned up and the safety of everyone, and trying to go from there," Blaney said. "I mean, it's just like everywhere else, you know, Villa Grove has been struggling. Lord knows what's going to hold up for the future."
Villa Grove Police say the buildings that were destroyed formerly housed the local Moose Lodge and a Chinese restaurant, but the structures had been empty for at least 10 years.
The West Nile virus has been discovered in Champaign County.
The Champaign-Urbana Public Health District said one of its mosquito samples from Urbana tested positive for the blood-borne disease. The Public Health District's Jeff Blackford said their test results were confirmed by the Illinois Natural History Survey.
Blackford said that with this evidence of West Nile Virus in Champaign County, it's time for residents to take precautions against catching the disease from a mosquito bite.
"Now is the time to take general precautions when you're protecting yourself when you're out by using EPA-registered insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and long pants whenever weather permits," Blackford said. "And if it at all possible, avoid being outdoors at dawn, dusk or early in the evening, when mosquitoes are most active."
Blackford also recommends changing standing water in bird baths, wading pools and water dishes twice a week, and throwing out old tires and other objects that can collect standing water, as a way to reduce the mosquito population around the yard.
Champaign County is the 12th Illinois county to find a bird or insect sample with the West Nile Virus so far this year. Macon County is also on the list. To date, no human cases of the disease have been reported in Illinois in 2011.
Governor Pat Quinn's press secretary is discounting a charge from Republican John Bambenek that the Quinn administration's appointments to many state boards and commissions violate rules setting out how many members of each party may serve on a panel.
Bambanek said many of the governor's Independent appointees are actually Democrats, according to their voting records in primary elections. Among the examples he cites are Illinois Human Rights Commissioner Terry Cosgrove -- who Bambenek said has always voted in Democratic primaries. He also cites University of Illinois trustee Lawrence Oliver, who was appointed as an Independent in 2009, and voted in a Democratic primary in 2010.
But Quinn press secretary Brooke Anderson said those appointed as Independents to boards and commissions by the governor declared themselves as independents when they first applied.
"Each candidate for an appointment goes through a thorough application interview and comprehensive vetting process," Anderson said. "The majority of the governor's appointments have gone to individuals who applied to our website. Political affiliation is evaluated at the time of the appointment, based on the self-declaration of the candidate, and an additional review of the candidate's voting records."
Anderson also questions the credibility of Bambenek's charges, because his list of examples contains errors and includes several appointees held over from previous governors. In reply, Bambenek said his list is based on information on the Quinn administration's appointments as listed on the state appointments website, as of Aug. 1. He said the website was updated after he released his allegations.
Bambenek said that by appointing Independents who are actually Democrats, the Quinn administration is allowing several boards and commissions to have more Democrats than partisan balance rules allow. He said the practice raises questions about the legal status of those bodies that may have to be resolved by a judge.
Bambanek is running for the Republican nomination for state Senate in the 52nd District, against Champaign County Board member Alan Nudo. On the Democrats' side, incumbent Senator Mike Frerichs is seeking re-election.
Illinois Comptroller Judy Barr Topinka is showing her love for animals by helping shelters seek out homes for them, and cut down a little on Illinois' deficit.
Her trek around the state to promote the 'Comptroller's Critters' program included a stop Wednesday at the Champaign County Humane Society. Pictures of dogs, cats, and other animals from 70 shelters are now part of Topinka's web site. She calls the program one-stop shop for potential pet owners without spending more money.
"That web site already exists," Topinka said. "We don't buy any new programs. We don't hire any new people. We don't get any computers. There's no extra cost to the taxpayers that's already not out there."
Between housing the animals, and euthanizing them if they aren't found a home, it costs $250 to $300. Topinka said it is not close to Illinois' multi-billion dollar debt, but it's a start.
"But billions of dollars and trillions of dollars don't just start clean out of the box," she said. "They start at hundreds. They start at tens. They start low, and work their way up. And if all these taxing bodies in the state of Illinois get hit up, of which we have close to 80, it's still the same pair of pants, different pocket."
The Humane Society of Central Illinois, based in Normal, also is participating in Comptroller's Critters. As of Tuesday, more than 60 dogs, cats, and other pets have been adopted through the comptroller's new program.
The White House has announced new fuel standards for trucks and buses. They will require trucks built between 2014 and 2018 to drastically reduce fuel consumption.
The new standards mean big changes for companies like Illinois-based truck manufacturer Navistar International Corporation, said Basili Alukos, an equity analyst with Morningstar.
According to Alukos, trucks have mostly removed their dangerous emissions. Now, 18-wheelers at Navistar will get their turn at better gas mileage.
"They typically do about a 150,000 miles a year and they get roughly six miles a gallon," Alukos said. "So I mean, it's ridiculous. If your car got that it'd basically make you broke."
Certain big-rigs will be required to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 20 percent by 2018. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transporation, this would save four gallons of fuel for every 100 miles traveled.
Navistar has not yet announced what changes they will be making to their new trucks.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
A coalition of groups, including the Chicago-based national YMCA, has issued the first-ever comprehensive national nutritional and physical activity guidelines for camps and after school programs.
The standards were issued Tuesday by the Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition and coordinated by the YMCA, the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College.
They include a common sense-approach including serving fruits and vegetables instead of more sugary, fatty treats; and offering water rather than juices or soda. Half-day programs should offer at least half an hour of physical activity; full-day programs should offer at least an hour.
"Energy balance and appropriate physical activity are critical to good health and preventing childhood obesity, which is reaching record numbers in this country," said project co-leader Ellen S. Gannett, director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. "If out-of-school programs can influence smart choices for children when they're away from home and out of the classroom, they will be an important component in the campaign to fight childhood obesity."
The new standards have already been adopted by the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), and local YMCA's will begin the process of adopting the standards this year.
According to the coalition, more than eight million children nationwide participate in out-of-school programs for at least three hours a day.
Attorneys for torture victims of former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge are trying to put some political pressure on the Illinois Supreme Court.
Their attorneys are planning to file a brief Wednesday morning in the case of Stanley Wrice. Former Illinois U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson and former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson are joining congressmen, aldermen and prominent attorneys in signing the document that asks the Supreme Court to order a review of the Wrice case, and the cases of 14 other alleged torture victims who are still in prison.
Wrice says in 1982 he was beaten by police under former commander Jon Burge until he confessed to a brutal rape. He raised the issue in court in 1983 but the officers testified they didn't beat him and the courts ruled against Wrice.
But now there is a long string of evidence - including Burge's conviction - to show that torture did occur, giving Wrice's claims added weight they didn't have 30 years ago. Attorneys aren't asking for Wrice to be freed, but they do want all Burge torture victims to have new hearings in light of all the new evidence regarding police torture.
(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)
Gov. Pat Quinn flexed his veto power Wednesday by rewriting legislation in a way that would end the long practice of letting Illinois legislators hand out scholarships to state universities.
Quinn's amendatory veto now compels lawmakers to make a choice about whether to give up the perk as federal prosecutors investigate scholarships awarded by one of their former colleagues.
Because the scholarships are technically tuition waivers, state universities wind up eating the cost of educating the people who receive them. The waivers sometimes have gone to the children of legislators' friends and political allies.
"You can't put perfume on a skunk. This system has had too many problems for too many years and it's time to abolish the legislative scholarship program," Quinn said at a press conference in Chicago.
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed records regarding scholarships that former state legislator Robert Molaro granted to a supporter's children, according to copies of two subpoenas obtained by The Associated Press. He awarded them to the children of a campaign donor, although it's not clear that they lived in his district, one of the requirements for receiving the scholarships.
Molaro did not return a call for comment Wednesday.
Quinn insisted Wednesday that taxpayer-funded scholarships should be based on financial need and merit.
"Education should not be a political thing where if you know some politician and you're a family member of a donor or something like that," Quinn said.
Under the program, General Assembly members have been allowed to give constituents free tuition each year that equals two, four-year scholarships at a state-funded university. A 2009 Associated Press analysis of the scholarships and state political contribution records found that between 2004 and 2009, at least 41 scholarships went to relatives of someone who gave money to the lawmaker awarding the waiver and at least 42 more went to relatives of other politically connected people, such as donors to other politicians, lobbyists, party officials and others.
Lawmakers have placed restrictions on legislative scholarships over the years, but have rejected Quinn's previous calls for ending the program.
Quinn's amendatory veto doesn't force lawmakers to take action, but it does create a high-profile decision for them to make. They can do nothing and let the bill die, they can override Quinn's changes and keep the scholarships or they can accept the veto and end the scholarship program.
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan's spokesman Steve Brown said Madigan has previously voted to abolish the program. Illinois Senate President John Cullerton's spokeswoman Rikeesha Phelon said they would evaluate Quinn's veto action "to make sure that it is compliant."
Republican Senate leader Christine Radogno of Lemont praised Quinn's action.
"I have long championed ending the legislative scholarship program which has become rife with abuse and a financial drain on our higher education system. ... Perhaps with the governor's intervention, the legislature will finally realize it is time for this program to end," she said in a statement. Radogno's office said she has opted out of the scholarship program, instead recommending other higher education assistance programs to families.
Quinn said in his veto message that lawmakers should voluntarily stop awarding scholarships until they are barred by law. He also noted that the state's Monetary Award Program scholarship lacks money to cover everyone who qualifies.
"Because of my firm belief in the power of education to uplift and expand opportunity, I believe we must offer the opportunities that scholarships create to those that are the most deserving," he said.
(AP Photo/Seth Perlman, File)
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