All of the eight metro areas in or connected to Arkansas had jobless rate declines in September compared to August, and were all down compared to September 2011. During September, the lowest metro jobless rate was in Northwest Arkansas with 4.9 percent and the highest rate was 8.4 percent in the Memphis/West Memphis metro. The Northwest Arkansas metro area fell below a 5 percent jobless rate for the first time since November 2008. The central Arkansas metro area fell below 6 percent for the time since December 2008.
El Dorado-based Murphy Oil saw its earnings fall to $226.7 million in the third quarter, a big drop-off from its $406.1 million quarterly profit one year ago. Revenue dropped by a substantially smaller percentage to $7.122 billion just 1.4 percent below the previous year’s third quarter revenue of $7.22 billion.
Lower natural gas prices and weaker margins were blamed for the declines. Murphy Oil is in the process of dividing its company into a pure-play exploration and production company and a separate refining and marketing business entity.
Arkansas Best Corp. reported third quarter profits of $6.5 million on rising revenue of $577.55 million despite a “tenuous economy,” according to its CEO. One year ago, Fort Smith-based Arkansas Best posted a $12.27 million quarterly profit on revenue of $510.89 million.
“Arkansas Best’s results reflect weakness in the economy that contributed to reduced customer business levels and lower profitability at ABF. The slowing business environment also reduced the demand for expedited services at Panther,” said Arkansas Best President and CEO Judy R. McReynolds.
Falling revenue from weak demand and some one-time items doomed USA Truck’s third quarter profitability. The Van Buren-based trucking firm posted a third quarter net loss of $6.4 million, a big uptick from one year ago when the company posted a $4.3 million quarterly loss.
USA Truck cited costs related to increases in accrued reserves for workers’ compensation and health claims and a write off of deferred debt issuance costs associated with its prior credit facility for the quarterly loss.
Metropolitan National Bank said it posted a third quarter net loss of $1.24 million as the Little Rock-based bank continues trying to right its financial ship. One year ago, privately-held Metropolitan recorded a $1.58 million loss.
Metropolitan was hit hard during the recession with a multitude of real estate deals and an aggressive expansion in Northwest Arkansas that stretched the bank’s resources thin. The bank has been under an order from federal bank regulators to improve its capital ratios, which it said were improving.
Issue No. 2, a legislatively-referred proposed constitutional amendment this November, doesn’t have a cheerleading group or a set of detractors and that has left voters undecided and unsure of its fate.
Issue No. 2 would:
• Authorize cities and counties to create districts for development and redevelopment projects that would be funded by bonds tied to a sales tax collected within the district.
• Authorize a municipality or county to issue bonds and levy a local sales and use tax for the purpose of retiring unfunded liabilities of closed local police and fire pension plans.
— Provide that annual principal and interest payments on short-term financing obligations from cities and counties could be paid for by general revenues or special revenues.
The latest Talk Business-Hendrix College Poll finds 35% support the proposal, 35% oppose it, and 30% are undecided.
Supporters of a temporary half-cent sales tax increase to help aid and expand the state’s four-lane highway system promoted their cause with the help of a national transportation group on Tuesday. The Road Information Program, a Washington, D.C.-based national nonprofit transportation research group funded by insurance groups and other businesses involved with highway construction, released a report identifying the 40 transportation projects most needed to support Arkansas’ economic growth. Construction under the bond program, which appears on the November ballot as Issue No. 1, would focus primarily on creating a statewide four-lane grid and adding capacity to existing four-lane highways.
In about two weeks, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) will present his balanced budget to the Arkansas General Assembly, but balancing a potential $400 million Medicaid shortfall will be a tough act. Beebe said he foresees two pots of money helping to shore up the Medicaid deficit, but neither will close the gap completely.
“I think we’ll be able to give them [Medicaid] two more pots of money, Beebe said on Wednesday. “One is some increase in general revenue, which is ongoing money, which is what you want. But we’ll have to give them some one-time money, which as you know, I don’t like to do, but sometimes you have to do for temporary purposes and to fill gaps.
Beebe said the one-time money will come from last year’s $145 million budget surplus. He has also emphasized that he does not see a tax increase as a viable option to generate more Medicaid revenue.
Space Photonics Inc., a Genesis Technology Incubator client at the University of Arkansas, announced Thursday that it has entered into an exclusive licensing agreement with SCHOTT North America Inc. for the commercialization of its patented LaserFire Free Space Optical Communications Systems for military and intelligence customers.
The covert optical wireless communications technology enables uninterrupted, secure high-capacity communications, including building-to-building, ship-to-shore, vehicle-to-vehicle and other platforms where detectable and lower capacity microwave is not effective, and where high-capacity fiber-optic cable is not available or has been damaged.
Roby Brock, a freelance journalist based in Little Rock, writes weekly for the Arkansas News Bureau. His weekly television program airs at 10 p.m. Sundays in Central and Northwest Arkansas. His e-mail address is email@example.com; his Web site address is www.talkbusiness.net.