Council on Revenues: Economic Forecast Unchanged

The Hawaii Council on Revenues voted today to keep its economic growth predication at 12 percent for the current fiscal year.

Hawaii News Now reports:

Council member Marilyn Niwao said she would feel more comfortable lowering the revenue projection to 11.5 percent.

"There’s a good possibility it will be less than 12 percent," she said. 

Niwao said she sees problems in construction and a cutback in federal funds.

Back in March, the council upgraded its forecast from 11.5 percent to 12 percent, citing an improving economy led by rebounding tourism.

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Young Bros. Sees Q1 Uptick in Interisland Cargo Volume

Interisland shipper Young Brothers says it saw a slight increase in intrastate cargo shipments during the first quarter of the year.

Overall volume between Honolulu and the six neighbor-island ports was up 2.6 percent compared to the same quarter of 2011, the company said in a statement.

Here’s a breakdown by island.

  • Kahului, Maui: 6.3 percent increase 
  • Hilo, Hawaii Island: 4.3 percent increase
  • Kawaihae, Hawaii Island: 2.4 percent increase
  • Kaumalapau, Lanai: 5.3 percent increase
  • Kaunakakai, Molokai: down 9.5 percent
  • Nawiliwili, Kauai: down 2.5 percent
  • All ports overall: 2.6 percent increase

“At this point in the year, it’s difficult to pinpoint what the specific economic drivers are because every neighbor island is unique and there are a number of variables from month to month,” Young Brothers President Glenn Hong said in a statement. “We have some optimism and, of course, we’d like to see the most recent trend of modest growth remain steady. However, we believe it will be quite some time before we again see the levels of economic activity of about five years ago.”

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Honolulu City Council Rejects Pay Raises

From Inside Honolulu:

The nine members of the Honolulu City Council’s Legislative Matters Committee have just voted unanimously to reject a 3 percent raise for themselves and Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro that would take effect July 1.

Chair Ernie Martin introduced the resolution last week. He said he…

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U.S. Chamber of Commerce to Spend Big in 2012 Elections

We’ve been following the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's local spending in the islands in support of Linda Lingle's bid for the U.S. Senate.

Civil Beat’s Chad Blair reported the group plans to spend at least $500,000 this year in support of Lingle’s campaign.

On a national scale, MSN Money reports: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which helped Republicans make big gains in the 2010 congressional elections, is planning its most aggressive push yet to send business-friendly lawmakers to Washington in the November 6 election.”

More from the story:

"Thomas Donohue, the president and CEO of the powerful business lobby, on Tuesday said the Chamber planned to get involved in 11 or 12 Senate races and 35 to 37 races for the House of Representatives."

“‘Yesterday, reporters asked me how much money we’ll spend,’ he said, adding that journalists suggested the group spent $50 million in the last election cycle. ‘It’ll be a lot of money,’ Donohue said,’This is a more important election than the last election.’”

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Hoku Lays Off 100, Pursuing ‘Restructuring Alternatives’

Honolulu-based Hoku Corp. has stopped construction at its Idaho polysilicon plant and laid off approximately 100 employees there, according to Pacific Business News.

The public company, which is majority-owned by Tianwei New Energy Holdings Co. of China, said it is pursuing ”restructuring alternatives.”

PBN reports the company “has been struggling financially amid plummeting polysilicon prices and tariffs on Chinese-made solar panels.”

Hoku CEO Scott Paul said in a statement that the company has received an additional loan, but that the proceeds “are insufficient to pay down current liabilities, resume construction, or start commercial operations.”

Regarding the lay offs, Hoku said the “reduction in force is necessary to conserve cash while the Company pursues restructuring alternatives.”

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Hawaii to Get $366M for Military Constructions Projects

Hawaii is set to get more than $366 million in federal fund for military construction projects, according to Sen. Daniel Inouye's office.

Of that amount, $181 million would help build new housing at Schofield Barracks and Wheeler Army Airfield. Another $24 million would go toward a waterfront operations center at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

The money is requested in the fiscal 2013 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Homeland Security Appropriations bills. Inouye’s Senate Committee on Appropriations approved both bills Tuesday. The measures next head to the full Senate.

Here’s a list of all funding requests for Hawaii military projects:

ARMY

Pohakuloa Training Area:

  • Automated Infantry Platoon Battle Course: $29 million

Schofield Barracks:

  • Barracks: $41 million
  • Barracks: $55 million

Wheeler Army Airfield:           

  • Combat Aviation Brigade Barracks: $85 million

ARMY NATIONAL GUARD

Kapolei:

  • Army Aviation Support Facility Ph1: $28 million

NAVY

Kaneohe Bay:  

  • Aircraft Staging Area: $14.68 million
  • MV-22 Hangar and Infrastructure: $82.63 million

AIR NATIONAL GUARD

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam: 

  • TFI - F-22 Combat Apron Addition: $6.5 million

SPECIAL OPERATIONS COMMAND

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam: 

  • SOF SDVT-1 Waterfront Operations Facility $24.289 million
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Deadline for Campaign Spending Reports Could Move Up

The deadline for the next round of campaign spending reports could move up a couple of weeks from the existing July 31 due date.

Senate Bill 2508 would change the deadline from a set date to “thirty calendar days prior to a primary election,” which is set for Aug. 31 this year. That would make the reporting deadline July 12.

The bill has been enrolled to Gov. Abercrombie.
In supporting the bill, Campaign Spending Commission Executive Director Kristin Izumi-Nitao testified that because Hawaii moved up this year’s primary to the second Saturday in August from the last Saturday in September, “candidates will have back-to-back reporting deadlines of July 3lst and August 1st to file the 1st Preliminary Primary Report and the 2nd Preliminary Primary Report, respectively.”
The last report candidates had to file covered the six months from July 1-Dec. 31, 2011.
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Hawaii Gas Prices Not Budging

While mainland gas prices have been falling, average prices here in Hawaii haven’t moved in the last week, according to the Associated Press.

Hawaii’s statewide average was at $4.53 a gallon on Sunday.

"This compares with the national average that has fallen 2.8 cents per gallon in the last week to $3.70/[gallon], according to gasoline price website HawaiiGasPrices.com,” the AP story says. “Gas prices yesterday were 24.2 cents per gallon higher than the same day one year ago and are 8.4 cents per gallon lower than a month ago.”

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Hawaii Gets $400,000 Federal Grant for Temp Jobs

Hawaii has been awarded a $400,000 federal grant to create 20 temporary jobs for dislocated workers to assit with clean-up and recovery efforts tied to damages caused by storms in March.

The U.S. Department of Labor is providing the money through the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations

The so-called National Emergency Grant is part of the U.S. secretary of labor’s discretionary fund and are awarded based on a state’s ability to meet specific guidelines, according to a press release.

“Under this grant, the people of Hawaii will receive much-need storm relief for the island of Kauai,” Jane Oates, assistant secretary of labor for employment and training, said in a statement.

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Federal Reserve Board Nominees Confirmed

The confirmation of two nominees named to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors brings the seven-member panel to full strength for the first time in six years, the Associated Press reports.

The Senate confirmed President Obama’s nominees: Harvard economics professor Jeremy Stein, a Democrat, and former private equity executive Jerome Powell, a Republican, the AP said.

The Wall Street Journal notes that “both men are seen as relatively traditional picks for the Fed board, which helps set interest rates and banking regulations.”

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Hawaii Foreclosures Drop 68% in April

Some positive economic news: Hawaii foreclosures were down significantly in April compared to the same month a year ago.

Pacific Business News reports the number of Hawaii homes in foreclosure dropped 68 percent last month, citing data from RealtyTrac.

"There were a total of 314 foreclosure filings — notices of default, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — on Hawaii properties received in April, or one for every 1,654 housing units, which was 68.19 percent fewer than the number received in April 2011," PBN reported.

Read more, including county-specific numbers.

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State, County Funds Released for Nahiku Community Center

State and county funds have been pooled to design and build a first-ever community center for residents of rural Nahiku in East Maui.

A Maui County press release says Gov. Abercrombie has released $250,000 in state funds for design and construction of the center. The county already has provided $250,000 and will request an additional $280,000.

Read the full release.

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Hawaii Man Charged in $35M International Investment Scheme

A Hawaii man has been charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for allegedly running a $35 million international stock scheme.

The SEC said Nicholas Louis Geranio “covertly set up companies and manipulated the market for their stock to profit from aggressive offshore boiler room activity.” The alleged fraudulent activity happened between April 2007 and September 2009.

Also charged in the complaint is Keith Michael Field of California. 

"Geranio pulled the strings while Field scripted the show for the boiler rooms to bring a payday to everyone but the investors," SEC official Stephen L. Cohen said in a statement.

The complaint says the boiler rooms — teams of unregistered telemarketers operating mostly from Spain — “used high-pressure sales tactics and material false statements and omissions to induce the investors (many of  them elderly and located in the United Kingdom) to buy the [stock]. Based on a structure created by Geranio, the boiler rooms directed the investors to send their money to escrow agents in the U.S.”

The SEC said those agents, under Geranio’s oversight, then paid 60 perent to 75 percent of the approximately $35 million raised to the boiler rooms as their sales markups, kept 2.5 percent as their own fee, and paid the remaining proceeds back to the companies that Geranio created.

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Hawaii Part of Skechers Settlement for Deceptive ‘Shape-Ups’ Ads

The Federal Trade Commission says shoemaker Skechers made false claims and misled consumers with its advertising for Shape-ups footwear.

Skechers has agreed to pay a $40 million fine to settle charges that it deceived customers, and Hawaii along with 43 other states and D.C., will receive some of the money.

In addition to issuing partial refunds, the company also will pay $5 million to the various states. Hawaii's share of that will be $74,907, which will be used to fund consumer education and enforcement by the state Office of Consumer Protection.

"Skechers’ unfounded claims went beyond stronger and more toned muscles. The company even made claims about weight loss and cardiovascular health," a CNN report quotes David Vladeck, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, as saying.

Customers who bought Shape-ups, Tone-ups or Skechers’ Resistance Runner shoes can visit this FTC site for more information.

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Obama Discloses Assets Worth Millions

A peek at financial disclosures released by the White House show President Obama and the first family have assets valued at between $2.6 million and $8.3 million, CNN Money reports.

"The disclosure forms, required by the Ethics in Government Act, show the president’s largest asset, by far, is U.S. debt in the form of Treasury notes and bills," the story said. "In total, the president has between $1.6 million and $6.3 million invested in Treasury debt."

Read more.

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