Monthly Archives: December 2009

Thursday Stocks Fall as Investors Close Out 2009

Dow now at 10,497, down 50 points. Markets will be closed Friday.

NEW YORK (AP) — The stock market looks to end 2009 on a down note as institutional investors make some last-minute adjustments to their portfolios.
News that weekly unemployment claims fell to the lowest level since July 2008 gave stocks an initial blip Thursday, but the market has given back the gains as the few traders on hand collect profits to close out their books. Many investors believe that the market, which has had its best year since 2003, has seen the bulk of its gains for a while. So those were still at their desks were moving money out of some stocks.
The Dow Jones industrial average is down 58, or 0.5 percent, at 10,489. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500 index is off 4, or 0.4 percent, at 1,122, and the Nasdaq composite index is off 6, or 0.3 percent, at 2,284.

Parker Lumber Co. to Close

By Rachel Pritchett EAST BREMERTON
One of Kitsap County’s most venerable firms, Parker Lumber Co., will soon close. In business for more than 87 years, it has fallen victim to a severely depressed lumber market.
General Manager Tim Lundberg, a 25-year employee, admits he’s sad.
“We’re really family here. We’ve worked together for years,” he said.
Sixteen people will lose their jobs after the company winds down over the next two months.
That includes Ken Schumacher, who signed on 40 years ago as a yard worker and now is behind the counter. At 63, he might just take the opportunity to retire.
“Who knows, I might get lucky and travel a little bit,” he said.
Prices for framing lumber and plywood are at 25-year lows. A load of lumber going out from the store that used to be worth $10,000 now brings $3,000, said Vice President Kyle Kincaid.
“The times are pretty tough out there,” he said.
Housing starts are way down, and when a rare project does come up, the bidding competition is very intense among lumber companies all trying to stay afloat, he explained. Said President Rick Barnes: “We certainly regret the need for this decision after so many years of success in Kitsap County, but as anyone involved in construction knows, this recession is like nothing we have ever been through before, and we don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel anytime soon.”
Kincaid said the company, with a store and yard off Wheaton Way, was able to survive previous recessions because it had its retail customers to fall back on — homeowners building decks, for example. But by the time the current recession rolled around, the big-box stores had captured that market.
Parker Lumber has built much of Bremerton and its surroundings since 1922, when Willard Parker set up business next to the Bremerton ferry terminal.
A second location soon popped up at Sixth Street and Pacific Avenue. That location burned in 1941, destroying all contents.
In 1937, Willard Parker bought the Manette Lumber Co., close to where the Narrows Apartments stand today.
Son Ike Parker signed on as manager there, earning $30 a week to start, according to company records.
Ike Parker bought the business from his father and ran it for the next 57 years.
Buying out companies such as Hogerson in Navy Yard City and Lofthus at its present Wheaton Way location, the Parker enterprise rode the ups and downs of the economy and slowly grew in the process.
Ike Parker died in 2004, and many remember him as not as a lumberman, but as a titan community supporter. He helped found the Bremerton YMCA and brought everyone together to redo the old Admiral Theatre.
“I think he wanted to leave a legacy in Bremerton. He wanted to be known as more than a lumberman or a businessman,” Kincaid said.
Company leaders say they are talking about a possible sale or lease of the Wheaton Way location. Peninsula Door & Millwork, which shares the site, will stay open.
Barnes thanked the community for its support over the years and Kincaid thanked employees for their many years of dedication.

Wednesday Stocks Fluctuate as Dollar Strengthens

Dow now at 10,533, down 11 points.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fluctuated Wednesday as good news on manufacturing helped offset a decline in commodities prices.
The market got support from a key economic indicator that signaled growth in the Midwest manufacturing industry for a third straight month. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index rose to 60 in December from 56.1 in November. The report showed that production and new orders increased and employment improved.
But the market’s gains were held back by a stronger dollar and a subsequent drop in energy and material stocks. A jump in the dollar makes commodities, and thus the shares of companies that produce commodities, less attractive to foreign buyers. It also hurts the profits of companies that do business overseas.
Some investors have been buying the dollar in recent weeks on the belief that the economy is improving and the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates in the next year. That buying interest comes after a months-long slide in the greenback.
Rock-bottom interest rates have encouraged investors this year to move out of cash and into riskier assets such as stocks and commodities that have the potential to earn bigger returns. While a rise in interest rates would be a sign that the economy is on the right track, it could hurt the stock market’s advance.
After a 24.7 percent rise in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index this year, many investors have closed their books and are making few moves ahead of the start of 2010. Fewer traders in the market can lead to more volatility.
“We’ve seen oil up and down, the dollar up and down, the market up and down,” said Frank Ingarra, co-portfolio manager at Hennessy Funds. “I don’t think we’ll see a major move one way or the other.”
At midday, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.30, or roughly unchanged, at 10,545.11. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 1.09, or 0.1 percent, to 1,125.10, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 1.76, or 0.1 percent, to 2,286.64.
The ICE Futures U.S. dollar index, which measures the dollar against other major currencies, rose 0.3 percent. Gold and other metals fell. Oil prices added 80 cents to $79.67 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Bond prices were mixed ahead of an auction of seven-year notes, the last of the government’s issuances this week. In total, the Treasury is auctioning off $118 billion of new debt. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, rose to 3.81 percent from 3.80 percent Tuesday. Interest rates on many consumer loans track the yield on the 10-year Treasury.
There were also plenty of reminders Wednesday that companies are still hurting from the blows of the recession.
The government was preparing to extend another multibillion loan to GMAC Financial Services to further stabilize the auto financing company, according to a person familiar with the matter. GMAC, instrumental to the operations of automakers General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC, has already received $12.5 billion in taxpayer money and is 35 percent owned by the federal government. The person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because discussions weren’t complete, said the bailout would be in the range of about $3 billion.
Meanwhile, health insurer Aetna Inc. said it expects to take a fourth-quarter charge of up to $65 million to cover the costs of layoffs and consolidations.
The pullback in stocks added to modest losses on Tuesday when the market ended a six-day winning streak as reports on home prices and consumer confidence failed to rally investors. While the reports showed improvement, they were largely in line with expectations and painted a picture of a slowly recovering economy.
About three stocks fell for every two that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a low 247 million shares.
In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 1.48, or 0.2 percent, to 631.70.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average fell 0.9 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.7 percent, Germany’s DAX index lost 0.9 percent, and France’s CAC-40 fell 0.6 percent.

Kitsap Mental Health Workers Say Union Has Been Too Adversarial

By Rachel Pritchett
The National Labor Relations Board may ultimately decide whether workers at Kitsap Mental Health Services still are represented by the Service Employees International Union.
While one employee said there is some division among staff over the current status of the SEIU, many employees said Tuesday they want no part of it. The union has represented KMHS employees since about 1991 under two locals, including the present one, SEIU Healthcare 1199NW.
SEIU leaders recently sent a letter to high-ranking legislators accusing KMHS of union-busting and misuse of state-appropriated funds.
A day after that news was published in the Kitsap Sun, KMHS employees gave their perspectives on the story.
Some employees aren’t ruling out other union representation in the future.
“I felt like the union wanted me to believe that the management was bad and that I needed the protection of the union,” said therapist David Secrest.
“I want a union that communicates and works with management without an adversarial relationship.”
Said clerk Jackie Fitzgerald, “I think we can do this ourselves.”
Tina D’Astoli, an office coordinator, agreed: “We’re going with no union. … We can always bring in another union; we could even be our own guild.
“It was anything but SEIU,” she said.
The trouble started last spring.
A two-year contract covering about 200 employees was to expire
March 31. Negotiations between management and the union weren’t going well.
“There was a distrust on both sides that was caustic,” D’Astoli said.
One of the issues taken up during bargaining appeared to break the camel’s back. An earlier dispute between the union and management over a state-authorized 1.4 percent pay hike that never materialized had been taken to arbitration. Management won, representatives for both sides said.
But the union resurrected the issue at the bargaining table, which D’Astoli said somehow widened the gap not only between the union and management, but the union and the employees it represented.
Negotiations continued over many months.
In November, management came up with a proposal that included maintaining health insurance premiums for one year before raising them modestly the second year; and wage increases held until July, when a 3-percent increase would begin to take effect.
It also called for a one-time $1,000 lump-sum payment for each employee, but it did not contain the 1.4 percent pay increase, according to D’Astoli.
Workers said the union never brought the contract to them for a vote. D’Astoli said the union was sore about the missing 1.4 percent increase, that the management proposal didn’t include a provision to get Veterans Day off, and there was no provision for a closed union shop.
Union representatives could not be reached Tuesday.
KMHS Executive
Director Joe Roszak was reluctant to talk Tuesday, due to the pending charge of unfair labor practices recently brought by the union to the NLRB.
Relations between some staffers and the union apparently continued to sour, with the members believing the union was too aggressive.
In early December, D’Astoli began a petition calling on management to withdraw recognition of the union. She said it was signed by 55 percent of workers covered by the previous union contract.
Regarding union allegations that management coerced staffers to sign the petition, D’Astoli and many other staffers told the Kitsap Sun that wasn’t the case.
“This was of my own volition,” D’Astoli said.
She and the staffers also said management did not use the $1,000 payments it had offered as a carrot to get them to decertify the union.
The petition was delivered to management
Dec. 11. After that, management distributed the $1,000 payments, workers said.
Meanwhile, Roszak and Tom Hyde, KMHS board president, have been trying to neutralize any impact from a memo written by union leadership on
Dec. 18 to legislators alleging unfair labor practices and illegal use of government funds for the $1,000 bonuses.
On Dec. 23, they wrote their own.
“There has been absolutely no misuse of Medicaid and/or non-Medicaid dollars by KMHS, and we have not used these or any other dollars to engage in ‘union-busting’ activities,” it stated.
As for the $1,000 payments, they wrote, “KMHS does not provide staff ‘bonuses’ (n)or did KMHS provide staff a $1,000 ‘bonus’ as an inducement to decertify the union.”
For now, workers appear to have put a certain level of trust in management, even without a contract.
“I have no problems trusting what management was doing,” D’Astoli said.

Tuesday Stocks Mixed After Housing, Confidence Data

Dow now at 10,564, up 17 points.

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks fluctuated in a narrow range Tuesday after reports on home prices and consumer confidence came in largely as expected, showing a gradual improvement in the economy.
Major indexes had risen modestly in the early going, but were mixed in afternoon trading as the dollar strengthened and tugged on commodities prices. A stronger dollar makes commodities more expensive for foreign buyers. Energy and material stocks fell in response to the drop in commodities.
Trading was quiet, as it has been in recent days. Many investors were taking vacation between Christmas and New Year’s Day. Even in light volume though, the market has managed to climb. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has posted gains for six straight days, rising 2.3 percent to reach a new high for the year.
Earlier Tuesday, the Conference Board said its index of consumer confidence rose to 52.9 in December from 49.5 in November. That was slightly better than the reading of 52 economists had forecast.
The index is still a long way from what is considered healthy. A reading of 90 or more signals a solid economy. However, the index has risen significantly from a historic low of 25.3 in February.
A report on home prices also showed a slight improvement. The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller’s home price index rose for a fifth straight month in October, edging up 0.4 percent. The index was off 7.3 percent from October last year, roughly in line with expectations.
Analysts said there were few surprises in the economic data to drive the market one way or the other.
“The reports we’re seeing broadly reinforce the expectations we’ve had,” said Jim Baird, partner and chief investment strategist for Plante Moran Financial Advisors in Kalamazoo, Mich. “It’s slow and steady; It’s not explosive improvement.”
In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones industrial average rose 0.12, or 0.1 percent, to 10,557.20. The S&P 500 index slipped 0.62, or 0.1 percent, to 1,127.16, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 2.49, or 0.1 percent, to 2,288.59.
Interest rates were little changed following a successful auction of $42 billion of five-year notes. The Treasury Department is issuing a total of $118 billion of debt this week as part of its ongoing efforts to fund its stimulus programs. With so much debt flooding the market, there’s been concern this year that demand would diminish. Most auctions though have been able to attract decent demand.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which is used as a benchmark for consumer loans, held steady at 3.85 percent.
The dollar reversed an early slide and moved higher against other currencies. Oil prices fell 4 cents to $78.73 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold prices also fell.
Reports showing an increase in durable goods orders and a decline in claims for unemployment benefits helped spur the market higher last week. On Monday, investors were encouraged by a jump in retail sales.
Tim Speiss, chairman of Personal Wealth Advisors practice at Eisner LLP in New York, said he expects to see the market build on its recent gains at the start of the new year and through the first quarter.
“We’re going to be building momentum,” he said.
Advancing stocks were roughly even with those that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to a low 303.5 million shares.
In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 0.85, or 0.1 percent, to 632.90.
Overseas, Japan’s Nikkei stock average inched up 0.04 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index gained 0.1 percent. Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.6 percent, Germany’s DAX index added 0.1 percent, and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.2 percent.

Harborside Steps Now Open to Public

By Rachel Pritchett
Construction is done, and the newly christened Harborside Steps that wind down to the Bremerton waterfront have opened to the public.
The steps, which start where Washington Avenue meets Burwell Street, offer visitors a new place to walk, relax, or eat their lunch while enjoying a 180-degree view of Sinclair Inlet.
They also offer a new way for pedestrians get around the redeveloped waterfront that today has condominiums, a hotel, the convention center, the boardwalk and the marina.
“I think it (is) comparable to any walkway in Western Washington,” said Gary Sexton, the economic-development chief for the city of Bremerton who was asked by the Port of Bremerton commission to serve as project manager for the Harborside Steps.
The steps are on property purchased this year by the port and were built with a $392,000 federal grant.
Punctuating the 12-foot-wide steps and meandering walkway below are three landings with tables and chairs, and 400 tons of turquoise-tinged granite boulders, carved and polished by Will Robinson of Elandan Gardens of Gorst.
In between are a host of exotic, mature trees brought in from private homes and nurseries from near and far.
“I spent a lot of time driving to nurseries throughout the Northwest,” Sexton said.
The smell of fresh mulch rises from around Japanese maples, shishi gashira, pseudocamellia and four rare evergreens that are tall and unusually slender.
Plantings also include rhododendrons, a gnarled pine that creeps toward the water, and 80 hydrangeas in five varieties.
“This will just explode this spring,” Sexton said during a recent walk on the steps as an occasional the steps as an occasional walker and jogger passed by. “It’s intended to have a lot of color in it.”
Furniture and light posts are similar in style to those used at the nearby Harborside Fountain Park and Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Memorial Plaza.
The rest of the 2-acre
site purchased by the port is a parking lot. The port, for its part, has spiffed up areas surrounding the
116 spaces, and added a retaining wall and fence.
The port purchased the property from the troubled Kitsap County Consolidated Housing Authority for $3.5 million.
The port’s Bremerton Marina lacked parking for its users, and the purchase allowed the port to offer some.
Port commissioners also believed that the land could be more intensely developed in the future.
To allow for that, a long sewer pipe had to be dug up and relocated under the Harborside Steps.
That and installing the steps took about three months.
“It’s a very cool deal,” Sexton said.
A dedication ceremony will take place in January on a day U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, who helped secure the grant, is available.

Union Levels Claims Against Kitsap Mental Health Services Management

By Rachel Pritchett
Labor representatives have sent a memo to top legislators accusing management at Kitsap Mental Health Services of union-busting and misusing state-appropriated funds to do it.
KMHS Executive Director Joe Roszak calls the accusations from Jonathan Rosenblum and Ellie Menzies of the Service Employees International Union “without merit.”
The SEIU represents more than 200 people who work at the county’s only public mental health agency in a wide range of capacities, including therapists, office workers and janitors. SEIU Healthcare 1199NW has been the only union at KMHS.
In the Dec. 18 memo
to legislators, Rosenblum, the union’s assistant to the president, and Menzies, its legislative director, alleged that KMHS management used a “hostile” approach last spring in its dealings with the union that involved delays, demands for large concessions and failure to keep union representatives in the loop.
Management encouraged workers to drop out of the union in the fall, according to the memo. Rosenblum and Menzies alleged management offered each employee a $1,000 bonus as an inducement.
The union representatives also alleged that the $1,000 bonuses were a misuse of state funds and suggested a state investigation.
Rochelle Doan, spokeswoman for KMHS, had no comment Monday on the alleged $1,000 bonuses.
The union memo also
suggested that KMHS management instigated a petition-gathering campaign to decertify the union. That petition, however, apparently got signatures from a majority of workers. It was submitted to management Dec. 11.
Doan suggested the petition came from below, not above.
“This was a choice of the staff. That’s the bottom line,” she said.
In a Dec. 23 e-mail to KMHS staff, Roszak stated: “It is unfortunate that SEIU has refused to honor staff’s petition for decertification that was signed by a majority of the former bargaining unit employees and presented to KMHS management. … KMHS subsequently honored the subsequently honored the petition and respected staff’s decision.”
But the union memo to legislators suggested that Roszak circumvented a legally established process to settle the question of whether KMHS staff has a union or not.
“To suggest, as Mr. Roszak has declared, that employers have the right to determine whether or not a union exists is to set labor law on its head,” it stated.
The memo to legislators came two days after the union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board. It contained similar allegations. There has been no ruling on the charge.
In his e-mail to staffers, Roszak stated it was “unfortunate that SEIU (chose) to vilify the integrity of the agency and heap baseless claims in front of the legislature.”
Roszak, Rosenblum and Menzies were not available Monday for further comment.
Kitsap Mental Health Services provides mental health, chemical dependency treatment and housing services. The Kitsap Economic Development Alliance estimates that it had 377 full- and part-time workers in 2009.