The Closing Bell: Insurance giants prep for court battles; local coffee now delivered; Moonshine U dubbed life-changing; and more

Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Insurance giant says merger would increase affordable health care

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Health insurance giant Anthem said in court filings this week that its proposed acquisition of Cigna would give more consumers access to affordable health care.

The U.S. Department of Justice had filed suit against the insurers on July 21, the same day it filed a similar suit to block the proposed merger between Aetna and Louisville-based Humana.

The DoJ had said that Anthem’s acquisition of Cigna would be “the largest merger in the history of the health insurance industry … (and) would substantially lessen competition, harming millions of American consumers, as well as doctors and hospitals.”

While Aetna and Humana have said they will vigorously defend their merger against the government’s lawsuit, Anthem and Cigna appear to be of two minds. Anthem said in an SEC filing that it remains “fully committed to challenging the DOJ’s decision in court but we will also remain receptive to any efforts to reach a settlement.”

Cigna, however, said in filings with the SEC that it was “evaluating all of (its) options” because of “the nature of the issues raised by the DoJ.”

In the lawsuit, the DoJ said allowing Anthem to acquire Cigna would reduce competition in numerous markets, including on the public health exchanges and for the country’s largest employers, which rely on big insurers and their nationwide networks.

Humana_logoIn a response to the DoJ complaint, Anthem said the DoJ’s allegation about the proposed merger’s impact on public health exchanges relies on misleading and out-of-context quotes from Anthem and Cigna personnel. The company said it also denies the DoJ’s allegation that the merger would harm large-group employers.

The insurer said that contrary to the government’s allegations, the company believes the planned acquisition of Cigna “will result in substantial efficiencies and other procompetitive effects that will directly benefit consumers in greater access to affordable healthcare.”

As of Thursday evening, neither Aetna nor Humana had filed a response to the DoJ’s lawsuit, though attorneys for each company had filed notices of appearance in the United States District Court in Washington, D.C. Humana has hired Washington, D.C.-based law firm Crowell & Moring to handle the case.

Interesting tidbit: One of the two lead attorneys who will be handling the case for Aetna is John M. Majoras, a partner with law firm Jones Day. Majoras recently handled another antitrust case with local impact: In December, he represented Swedish appliance maker AB Electrolux after the DOJ filed suit to stop the company from acquiring General Electric’s Louisville-based appliance division. GE pulled the plug on the deal before the trial was concluded.

Aetna will release second-quarter earnings on Tuesday. Humana will post results a day later. Boris Ladwig

Good Folks Coffee Co. launches new subscription service

image001Good Folks Coffee Co., formerly roasters Argo Sons, is getting in on the trendy “subscription boxes” market. Coffee lovers can pick the timing and roast of their favorite coffee beans to be delivered to their door by signing up online.

According to the website, you can pause, change or redirect your order whenever you want, something that many other subscription services make unwieldy.

“Whether it’s a preferred blend sent weekly or a surprise single-origin offering of the roaster’s choice monthly, Good Folks has a subscription box for anyone starting at $14 per 12-ounce bag,” Good Folks said in a news release. The most popular is a roaster’s-choice single origin bean. Shipping is a flat rate of $5. —Melissa Chipman

FirstBuild to launch Indiegogo campaign for rapid cold brew coffeemaker

Prisma | Photo by FirstBuild

Prisma | Photo by FirstBuild

FirstBuild — the microfactory and lean design studio created by the University of Louisville, Local Motors and GE Appliances — is launching an Indiegogo campaign next Tuesday for its cold-brew coffeemaker, Prisma. The coffeemaker reduces the hours-long process of cold brewing coffee to just 10 minutes.

Cold brewing has been trendy of late and produces a more mellow, less bitter brew.

Last month, Prisma took home a couple of awards, including “People’s Choice,” at Coffee Fest 2016.

FirstBuild knows their way around a solid Indiegogo campaign. Their Opal nugget ice maker raised $2,771,569 from 6,453 backers, which was 1,700 percent of its $150,000 goal last year. —Melissa Chipman

National Geographic calls Moonshine U one of ‘100 Places That Will Change Your Life’

NatGeo-x650xThis month in a special issue of National Geographic, Louisville’s Moonshine University was ranked No. 20 in a list of “100 Places That Will Change Your Life.” The shout-out sits between “Explore the Roman Forum in Italy” (No. 19) and “Fly a hawk in Ireland” (No. 21), and it reads:

“Bourbon? Rum? Absinthe? Name your poison, and the master distillers at Moonshine University in Louisville will school you in how to coax it out of corn, molasses, or wormwood.”

Moonshine University is the educational division of the Distilled Spirits Epicenter and offers workshops and hands-on learning on various aspects of distilling. It attracts both novices and industry professionals alike and is located downtown at 801 S. Eighth St.

Insider has sat in on two classes: a Bourbon Making Workshop and the certification program for the Stave & Thief Society. Click on the links if you’d like to read more. —Sara Havens

Homearama ends Sunday, but furniture sale begins Monday

An example from a previous Homearama | Courtesy of Homearama

An example from a previous Homearama | Courtesy of Homearama

While Homearama 2016 is nearing an end, that doesn’t mean it’s over. The event, being held at Norton Commons here in Louisville and River Crest in Bullitt County, features the latest and greatest in home design, and many attendees go just to browse and generate ideas for their own homes.

Homearama closes on Sunday, July 31, but the Furniture Sale featuring many of the items staged in the houses starts on Monday, Aug. 1. The participating Homearama houses will be open from 1-6 p.m., and you’re encouraged to bring cash or checks if you’d like to purchase anything. Not everything will be for sale, and each interior designer operates separately, so it may be different at each house.

To see some of the featured houses, click here. —Sara Havens

Macaron Bar will be open for the NuLu Block Party this weekend

They're so cute! | Photo by Macaron Bar

They’re so cute! | Courtesy of Macaron Bar

Cincinnati-based Macaron Bar will be opening its doors this weekend in NuLu. The new store, across the street from Garage Bar at 707 E. Market St., sells French-style baked macarons in traditional flavors with some seasonal additions. The company was founded in 2014 by Patrick Moloughney and Nathan Sivitz. Mark Santanello joined in 2015.

I don’t eat sweets on a general basis, but an Insider brought back a selection of macarons after a business meeting with the owner. I ate the lemon one, and it was super sweet but really good.

In addition to macarons they also brew pour-over coffee and freshly infused teas from local partners. All macarons are gluten free.

So far there are no plans to teach macaron-baking in the Louisville store like they do in Cincy.

The store will only be open from Thursday through Sunday, so they’re calling it a pop-up shop. Here are the hours:

  • Thursday: noon-8 p.m.
  • Friday-Saturday: noon-10 p.m.
  • Sunday: noon-5 p.m.

Pricing is $2.25 a piece, $13 for a six-piece box and $25 for a 12-piece box. And here’s a fun fact: They give a student discount, just show them your ID. —Melissa Chipman

Ford: Auto sales are flattening

Ford 2017 Super Duty.

Ford 2017 Super Duty.

Ford Motor Co. shares plunged 8 percent Thursday after the automaker reported flattening sales in North America, weaker demand in China and challenges in other markets.

In addition, Ford expects a weaker than normal second half of the year and will struggle to achieve the results it previously expected. The company also said it will lower production to match the falling demand. The launch of the all-new Super-Duty, made in the Kentucky Truck Plant, also will depress third-quarter results, the automaker said.

Second-quarter revenues improved nearly 6 percent, to $39.5 billion, but pre-tax profits, of about $3 billion, were down nearly 11 percent compared to the second quarter of last year.

Ford said it achieved record pre-tax profits in Europe in the second quarter, and record adjusted pre-tax profits in North America for the first six months of the year.

In North America, the company’s largest market, vehicle sales in the second quarter declined slightly compared to the second quarter of last year, while revenues rose slightly thanks to a higher per-vehicle transaction price. However, pre-tax profit, at $2.7 billion, fell $135 million, in part because the company provided higher incentives to buyers.

The automaker warned that sales in the U.S. were “maturing,” while markets in Brazil, China and Russia were continuing to struggle.

Ford logoIn Europe, the automaker’s second-largest market, vehicle sales improved nearly 16 percent and pre-tax profits nearly tripled to $467 million. However, profits were dragged down $66 million by the weak British pound, which plunged after voters in the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.

Ford said in a press release that it expected to lower production in the second half of the year, but the company could not be reached Thursday to provide any details or how it expects the actions to affect the Louisville plants.

CEO Mark Fields said in the release that the company expects to deliver strong profits this year “even as we address some new risks and market challenges around the world.”

Ford shares closed at $12.71 on Thursday, down 8.16 percent. The S&P 500 recorded a slight gain. Boris Ladwig

Good news: Kennedy Bridge improvements are on schedule

Improvements to the Kennedy Bridge are on schedule. | Courtesy of Ohio River Bridges Project

Kennedy Bridge improvements are on schedule. | Courtesy of Ohio River Bridges Project

According to the Ohio River Bridges Project, major improvements being made to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge are on schedule, and the bridge is set to reopen in the fall. There’s even a fancy new video of the progress, which you can view here.

Currently, a new floor system is being built on top of the existing floor beams, and they’re adding new stringers, bearings and diaphragms as well. More than 3.5 million pounds of steel are being replaced, according to the release, and the improvements will add decades onto the life of the 52-year-old bridge.

Now, about this tolling … —Sara Havens

Back-to-school $5 shoe sale to benefit WaterStep

waterstepStudents from the YMCA Y-Corps are hosting a back-to-school shoe sale this Saturday, July 30, from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at WaterStep. All of the shoes — and there will be more than 1,000 pairs — are new, in youth sizes and only $5 each.

The shoes came from the G & K Shoe Co., formerly at 639 W. Main St., which closed recently. The owner gave tractor trailers of new shoes to both WaterStep and Soles4Souls because they believed in the mission of both organizations.

Y-corps is a service-learning program. Members are required to perform 50 hours of service in their local communities and perform philanthropy by fundraising for their Scholarship Fund. The program culminates with an eight to 10 day service trip around the region.

WaterStep is a nonprofit that provides methods to produce safe water and deliver health education to communities around the world. It’s located in Old Louisville. –Melissa Chipman

Brown-Forman partners with Habitat for Humanity

HabitatBrown-Forman Corp. will join forces with Habitat for Humanity of Metro Louisville on Saturday to repair and beautify homes in west Louisville.

Volunteers participating in the “Love Your Neighborhood” project will conduct low-cost exterior repairs and improve the streetscape in the Park Hill neighborhood to increase neighborhood pride, safety and health.

Habitat said in a press release that it expects the participation of hundreds of volunteers from Brown-Forman and the community at large. At a similar in event in April, more than 300 volunteers helped improve the Smoketown-Shelby Park neighborhoods.

Rob Locke, CEO of Habitat in Louisville said in the release that the organization has built more than 450 homes in the metro area, but it also helps repair homes for the same purpose: to change lives.

“The ‘Love Your Neighborhood’ initiative expands our traditional partnership with new homeowners and volunteers to include neighbors and local organizations for a far greater impact on the community,” Locke said.

Karen Krinock, employee program coordinator for Brown-Forman, said the partnership with Habitat gives employees a chance “to make a profound and deep impact close to home. As a significant employer in the area, we’re deeply invested in helping to make Louisville a robust, dynamic city to live, work, and raise families in.”

Planned projects for Saturday include painting, landscaping and repairing siding, gutters and fences. Community-based art program Building Blocks will work with volunteers to paint basketball backboards, posts and bleachers in St. Louis Park.

People who want to contribute must be at least 14 and sign in at the meeting location, the 2000 block of Wilson Avenue, between 8 and 8:30 a.m. Individuals and organizations that want to participate can contact Habitat’s volunteer coordinator, Allison Raque at 502-805-1665 or [email protected].  —Boris Ladwig