H-E-B expanding its Burleson store

San Antonio-based grocery chain H-E-B today said it is spending $14 million to upgrade its four-year-old Burleson store into an H-E-B Plus.

The store opened in 2010 with 88,000 square feet but is now increasing that to 115,000 square feet in order to accommodate the expanded departments.

The store, 165 NW John Jones Drive, will feature new products and variety when the expansion is completed in February.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us and our customers,” said Eli Daniel, the store’s general manager, in a statement.

In addition to groceries, H-E-B Plus stores offer electronics, toys, housewares, grilling and outdoor furniture, apparel, party supplies, cell phones and tablets, and home décor.

It will have an expanded bulk items section with 600 new products and well as more fruits, vegetables and organics, for example.

The store will also double its space for beer and wine.

H-E-B reports annual sales of more than $20 billion at its 350 stores in Texas and Mexico.

_ Sandra Baker


Area home prices up 8 percent in May, says CoreLogic report

Fort Worth-Arlington home prices rose 9 percent in May compared to a year ago, said CoreLogic market data firm said Tuesday.

On a month-over-month basis, prices rose 1.3 percent in May from April.

Nationwide, home prices rose 8 percent in May. And on a month-over-month basis, prices increased 1.4 percent in May over April, CoreLogic said.

Texas was among 10 states to see new home price highs, CoreLogic said.

“Home prices are continuing to climb across most of the country which has both positive and negative implications for the housing market," said Anand Nallathambi, CoreLogic’s president and CEO.  "While the rapid rise in prices over the past two years has lifted many homeowners out of negative equity, it has also become a negative factor in buying decisions for prospective purchasers weighing affordability concerns. As we move ahead, a moderation in home price increases over the next twelve months should help cool things down a bit and keep the housing recovery going."

_ Sandra Baker


Lewisville-based ER operator goes public

Adeptus Health, the Lewisville-based operator of First Choice emergency rooms with 15 free-standing facilities in North Texas, began trading today on the New York Stock Exchange after being priced at $22 a share, at the top end of its estimated range. The company sold 4.9 million shares (ticker: ADPT), which opened at $25 and were trading at $25.70 in early morning. The company has been growing rapidly, with 37 ERs in Texas and Colorado and plans to operate 53 by year's end, according to its regulatory filings. Last year Adeptus reported a $3 million loss on $115 million in revenue.

CEO Tom Hall, who rang the opening bell on the NYSE Wednesday morning, told us in a telephone interview that the company fills a need in markets where "emergency rooms are just overrun with patients, the waiting times are so long." He said the average wait time at a First Choice ER is four minutes and draws especially high marks from patients.

The company's model is not without critics, who maintain that too often patients who could have been treated at an urgent care center or other lower-intensity facility instead incur the higher costs of an ER. As a 24/7 facility, First Choice ERs and similar facilities generally receive for higher reimbursements from insurers. According to a 2012 report by the Urgent Care Association of America, freestanding ERs averaged between 35 and 40 patients a day, compared to 100-150 at hospital-based ERs, and realized about triple the net revenue per patient compared to an urgent care center.

Hall said First Choice treats appropriate patients and has an agreement with Concentra, an urgent care chain owned by Humana, the big health insurer, to refer patients who don't need the level of service offered by an ER. First Choice also last year signed an agreement with the HCA hospital chain to refer patients needing hospitalization to HCA facilities. About 3-5 percent of patients seen by First Choice ERs require hospitalization, he said. Freestanding ERs are a trend. HCA, Texas Health Resources and Baylor Scott & White, the largest hospital networks in North Texas, all have built stand-alone ERs, typically in growing suburban areas that might not yet require a full-service hospital.

-- Jim Fuquay 



Area's mortgage delinquency and foreclosure rate still falling

Fewer Fort Worth-Arlington area mortgage holders are falling behind on payments as the area’s foreclosure rate continues to decrease, according to CoreLogic data firm.

In Fort Worth-Arlington, which includes Tarrant, Johnson, Parker, Wise, Hood and Somervell counties, 3.76 percent of all the mortgages were at least 90 days delinquent, compared to 4.17 percent in April 2013, CoreLogic said.

The area foreclosures among outstanding mortgage loans was 0.78 percent for April, a decline of 0.44 percentage points from April of 2013, when the rate was 1.22 percent.

The rates are well-below the national averages, CoreLogic said.

The 90-day delinquency rate was 4.54 percent in April, compared to 5.78 percent in April 2013. The national foreclosure rate was 1.77 percent in April, compared to 2.66 percent in April 2013.

_ Sandra Baker


Pier 1 shares move down on lower profits, forecast

Profits declined by 25 percent at Pier 1 Imports in the first quarter despite higher sales as promotions ate into margins.

But the news wasn't all bad.

Sales totaled $419.1 million, a 6.1 percent increase from a year ago, and comp-store sales -- at stores open at least a year -- increased 6.3 percent.

Alex W. Smith, president and chief executive officer, said online sales showed strong growth and reached 9 percent of total sales. The company now projects that e-commerce sales will reach at least $200 million in this fiscal year and at least $400 million next year.

Still, the Fort Worth-based home furnishings retailer lowered its profit forecast for the year to a range of $1.14 to $1.22 a share, down from previousl guidance of $1.16 to $1.24. The company's stock was down 10 percent, or $1.89, at $16.37 in early trading.

Here's what Smith had to say in the press release:

“We achieved company comparable sales growth of 6.3% in the first quarter, reflecting strong traffic to the Pier 1 Imports brand. We are pleased to see increasing strength in e-Commerce, which exceeded our plans and reached 9% of sales for the quarter. At the same time, our stores continue to serve as an important and productive gateway to Pier1.com, with approximately one-quarter of our online transactions originating at the store and one-third of orders placed at home being picked up in-store. Given the momentum we are experiencing, we now anticipate that sales through Pier1.com will exceed $200 million in fiscal 2015. Nevertheless, the retail environment remains highly promotional and is pressuring gross profit in the near-term. As a result, we are adjusting our full-year earnings forecast accordingly.”

“Our expanded spring and outdoor assortments resonated with customers and were buoyed by a strong marketing message. Our talented merchants continue to curate exceptional merchandise which, combined with our ‘1 Pier 1’ strategy, creates an engaging shopping experience. We believe this is an exciting time to be a retailer – we’re seeing a profound shift in the shopping behavior of our customers. Our timely transformation from a brick-and-mortar retailer to one with full omni-channel capabilities has us well positioned to seize upon this change and drive brand growth.”

The company has a conference call scheduled for this morning.

-- Steve Kaskovich




Fewer Fort Worth-Arlington mortgage holders underwater, CoreLogic says

The percentage of FortWorth-Arlington residential properties with a mortgage that is underwater in the first quarter dropped to  3.3 percent from 4.3 percent in the same time period a year ago, according to CoreLogic.

Locally, that means 13,028 residential properties with a mortgage were in negative equity by March 31. Last year, the number was 16,704 properties, said CoreLogic, a global property information, analytics and data-enabled services provider.

In addition, 1.7 percent, or 6,554 residential properties, was in near negative equity in the first quarter, compared to 2.4 percent, or 9,120 in the fourth quarter of 2013, CoreLogic said. 

Nationwide, CoreLogic found that about 6.3 million homes, or 12.7 percent of all residential properties with a mortgage, were still in negative equity as of March 31, compared to 9.8 million homes, or  20.2 percent, a year ago.

Negative equity occurs when borrowers owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. Negative equity can occur because of a decline in value, an increase in mortgage debt or a combination of both.

"Despite the massive improvement in prices and reduction in negative equity over the last few years, many borrowers still lack sufficient equity to move and purchase a home," said Sam Khater, CoreLogic’s deputy chief economist, in a statement. "One in five borrowers have less than 10 percent equity in their property, which is not enough to cover the down payment and additional costs associated with a conventional mortgage."

_ Sandra Baker


Fort Worth-Arlington existing home prices up 8.7 percent in April

Fort Worth-Arlington existing home prices increased 8.7 percent in April compared to a year ago, according to the latest CoreLogic market report released today.

On a month-over-month basis, local home prices increased by 1.4 percent in April from March, CoreLogic said.

Nationwide, home prices increased 10.5 percent in April, representing 26 months of consecutive year-over-year increases, CoreLogic said.

“Home prices are continuing to rise as we head into the summer months,” said Anand Nallathambi, CoreLogic’s president and CEO. “The purchase market continues to suffer from a dearth of inventory which we expect will continue to drive prices up over the year.”

_ Sandra Baker


First phase of Motorola Mobility layoffs set for August

Flextronics, which operates the Motorola Mobility smartphone assembly plant at Alliance in Fort Worth that will close by year's end, will begin laying off its employees on or about Aug. 1, it says in a notice to the state. Layoffs are expected to be complete by January 2015. The company said 223 of its employees will be affected by the site's closing.

When Motorola Mobility said on Friday that it intended to  shutter the facility, it indicated that about 700 people were working at the 450,000-square-foot plant, down from a high of about 3,500. According to past news reports, a recruiting and staffing services firm, Aerotek, did significant hiring for Flextronics.

Disappointing sales of Motorola's Moto X smartphone, assembled at the plant, led to the move, company officials said Friday. The Fort Worth factory went into full-scale production in August 2013 and held an official opening in September, an affair that was attended by  Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, which owns Motorola. Goggle bought Motorola Mobility in 2012 and in January agreed to sell the handset maker to Beijing-based Lenovo.

-- Jim Fuquay

Texas needs to cut carbon emissions 39 percent under EPA proposal

Carbon emissions from electricity generation would need to decline by 39 percent by 2030 under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's proposed greenhouse gas reduction proposal today. The agency on average calls for a 30 percent reduction nationally. Texas would need to reduce its carbon emissions from 1,298 pounds per megawatt-hour, the rate in 2012, to 791 pounds per mw-h. EPA officials said the standards are based on the  2012 "state of the fleet" for each state's generation capacity, taking into account previous efforts to cut emissions through energy efficiency programs, renewable energy standards and other programs. According to EPA, Texas got about half its power in 2012 from natural gas, 32 percent from coal, 7.5 percent from wind and 8.9 percent from nuclear.

"It will be up to the states to define their plans ... to meet the goals," one of several senior EPA officials said on a conference call with reporters this morning. "Ultimately if a state doesn't set a plan the EPA will set one," said another EPA official. It could be a carbon tax or other system, they said, "and states will make their own choices of what makes sense for them."

-- Jim Fuquay


Range Resources CEO was paid $10.6 million last year, among tops in North Texas

Only one Tarrant County CEO appears on a list of 337 chief executives at S&P 500 companies included in a study of executive compensation by The Associated Press and Equilar: Jeff Ventura at Range Resources, the Fort Worth-based oil and gas producer.

Jeff VenturaAccording to an AP database, Ventura's pay package last year totaled $10.6 million, including nearly $8.2 million in stock options and awards. That was 40 percent higher than in 2012.

Two other area oil-and-gas leaders made more: Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson, whose $28.1 million pay package ranked him 12th nationwide; and Scott Sheffield at Pioneer Natural Resources, with a package worth $13.25 million.

Here are the North Texas execs on the list.

Rex Tillerson (ExxonMobil, Irving): $28.1 million, up 3 percent

Trevor Fetter (Tenet Healthcare, Dallas): $22.7 million, up 180 percent

Randall Stephenson (AT&T, Dallas): $20.7 million, up 10 percent

Richard K. Templeton (Texas Instruments, Dallas): $13.7 million, up 4 percent

Scott D. Sheffield (Pioneer Natural Resources, Irving): $13.25 million, up 15 percent

David T. Seaton (Fluor, Irving): $12.5 million, down 29 percent

Thomas J. Falk (Kimberly-Clark, Dallas): $11.9 million, down 1 percent

Jeffrey L. Ventura (Range Resources, Fort Worth): $10.6 million, up 40 percent

Larry D. Young (Dr. Pepper Snapple, Plano): $9.03 million, up 6 percent

Mark A. Blinn (Flowserve, Irving): $7.26 million, up 15 percent

Ralph W. Babb, Jr. (Comerica, Dallas): $6.5 million, down 10 percent

Phil Rykhoek, (Denbury Resources, Plano): $6.16 million, up 33 percent

Gary C. Kelly (Southwest Airlines, Dallas): $4.04 million, down 5 percent

-- Steve Kaskovich


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