How to beat Charlotte's surging gas prices

Plus: Elevation pastor's $1K sneakers; BofA's Moynihan braces for hot seat; Odds rise on NC sports betting

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Good morning! Today is Wednesday, April 10, 2019. Here are today’s big stories in Charlotte-area business news:

Gas prices up, just in time for spring break:

Gas prices are soaring, spiking by more than 10% in the last month, AAA reports. The average gallon in the Charlotte area costs $2.60 for regular, up from $2.34 a month ago.

But it could be worse: You could live in California, where gas prices are pushing $4 a gallon.

Here’s why: The culprits, experts say, are rising oil prices and refinery maintenance. Some of the increase is seasonal, as refineries gear up for the different gas blends that some states require in summer months.

If you’re hitting the road soon for spring break or Easter weekend, the trip is going to cost a little more.

But here are some strategies for saving on gas expenses:

  1. Fill up in South Carolina. This tried-and-true tactic is less effective than it used to be, since the Palmetto State raised its gas tax in 2017 for the first time in 30 years. Yet prices in York County are still about 16 cents per gallon cheaper than in Charlotte, AAA says.

  2. Harris Teeter Fuel Rewards. If you happen to shop at Harris Teeter and use your VIC card, you probably have unused fuel-discount credits you can use at area BP stations that can slice off $1 a gallon. That can be a substantial savings. You get the lower price by entering your phone number at the gas pump, which links your fuel purchase to the VIC card. But you might have to go out of your way to find a BP. They are scarce in south Charlotte:

    South Charlotte is mostly a BP wasteland. Ballantyne and Matthews might be options.

    (Full disclosure: My wife works for Harris Teeter.)

  3. Find the cheapest gas stations. The website and app GasBuddy allows users to enter prices, so you could check there before fueling up. RaceWay and QuikTrip tend to be cheap, as does Costco (though you have to be a Costco member, $60/year).

  4. Use the right credit card. Some cash-back credit cards give you extra money when you use them at gas stations, like the Bank of America Cash Rewards card and American Express Blue Cash Everyday card. Exxon, Shell and other gas companies also have cards that can save you a few cents per gallon. Getting a card just to save a few cents per gallon might be more trouble than it’s worth. But if you have a card that gives bonuses for gas purchases, use it.

D.C. bank smackdown, take 2

Sequels are almost never as compelling as the originals, but that could change today in front of the House Financial Services Committee, when bank CEOs submit to their ritual grilling by politicians. A month ago, you might recall, Wells Fargo CEO Tim Sloan endured nearly four hours of loaded questions, misrepresentations and political attacks. That didn’t work out too well for him.

So we will see how the politicians comport themselves today, with the taste of fresh kill still in their mouths. On the panel will be the CEOs of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, State Street, Bank of New York Mellon and Goldman Sachs.

Brace for outrage: The committee, chaired by Democrat Maxine Waters, has given an indication where this is all going, in case you can’t surmise that on your own. The hearing is entitled “Holding Megabanks Accountable,” and the background memo announcing it is filled with charts of executive pay and lists like “[U.S. global systemically important banks] made $780 billion in Profits last 10 years while paying at least $167 billion in Fines.” Atop the list is Charlotte’s own Bank of America, listed as paying fines of $76.1B.

BofA started the PR offensive early, positioning itself as a responsible corporate citizen — unlike those greedy profiteers at other banks — by announcing Tuesday that it would pay all employees at least $20 an hour, or $41K a year.

The bank with a big heart: In prepared testimony by Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan, the bank also emphasized the importance it places on people over whatever-else-it-is-that-the-bank-happens-to-be-doing-in-those-big-bank-towers. It’s hard to know what that might be, since the 17-page document does not include the word “profit.” Somehow, the bank’s laser-like focus on helping people happened to result last year in an annual profit that’s bigger than the gross domestic products of nearly half the world’s countries.

The bank highlighted several priorities, including promoting diversity and inclusion, providing fair employee pay and health coverage, financing affordable housing and investing in sustainable energy. That’s all swell.

But good luck thinking that’s going to appease politicians looking to claim another scalp.

‘Bulletproof vests,’ ‘murder boards’: One Washington banking consultant warned bankers last week: “Bulletproof vests covered with fire-retardant suits may not protect the banks.” The LA Times reports:

Wednesday’s hearing has consumed big banks’ lobbying and public relations operations for weeks. The banks have compiled thick briefing binders on issues such as small-business lending and minority hiring, readied responses to pointed questions about pay and inequality, and conducted “murder boards” — practice sessions in which CEOs are cross-examined by a team pretending to be hostile members of Congress. 

The spectacle starts at 9am. It should go for several hours. Can stream it here.

It’s gotta be the shoes

The Christian Post reported this week that there’s a fast-growing new Instagram account that is calling out pastors of mega-churches for their expensive shoes — including Elevation Church’s Steven Furtick.

The evangelical Christian publication notes:

The juxtaposition of pictures of pastors sporting pricey, trendy sneakers alongside the prices of those things has resonated with an audience. The photos raise questions about how the money donated to these pastors’ churches is being used.

The Instagram account, @preachersnsneakers, has zoomed to more than 107,000 followers in just a couple weeks.

One post from March 25 shows a 2015 photo of Furtick, who appears to be wearing a pair of retro Nike Jordan 1’s that sell online for just shy of $1,000, with the comment: “The dude @stevenfurtick legit wearing my favorite pair of SBB Jordan 1’s. Tithe-to-drip ratio ANOTHER LEVEL.” (“Drip” is slang for having fashionable style.)

Elevation Church’s Steven Furtick is among the pastors with a taste for expensive shoes, or “kicks,” according to an Instagram account. Instagram commenter replies that Furtick is a “hype beast.”

The account posted a second Furtick photo yesterday of the pastor wearing another pair of Nikes that sell for more than $500: “Super fresh pastor Steven Furtick keeping it mega clean in the Off White Prestos.”

Furtick leads Elevation, which has more than 25,000 regular attenders at nine locations in the Charlotte area and an additional seven in the Southeast. He has come under fire before for his lavish lifestyle, including what the Observer in 2015 said was his “16,000-square-foot gated estate in Weddington.”

In a rare interview, Furtick in 2015 told WCCB-TV: “In my personal lifestyle, I know that we have to have integrity. And I know that we have to be generous, and I know the extent to which that is true of me and [wife] Holly.”

The Christian Post speculates that perhaps the pastors don’t pay for the expensive shoes:

One possible explanation is that because of their public profile, the pastors acquire the items for free and [it] is part of being an influencer, what is sometimes called brand collaboration.

For his part, the anonymous creator of the Instagram account says he thinks Jesus today would wear “open-toe Birkenstocks on a standard day. Then maybe if he was hanging around the house he’d be wearing some Air Max 1’s that he bought from the outlet.”

Last year’s N.C. venture deals were Epic

Fortnite is doing more than dominating the screen time of teenage boys. It also propelled North Carolina to have its best year ever in venture-capital funding, according to a new report.

Epic Games, the Cary-based company that created Fortnite, scored the county’s biggest venture deal when it landed $1.25B in funding last year and pushed North Carolina to a record total of more than $2.7B on the year, according to the report from the Council for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), a Triangle nonprofit that helps high-growth companies.

Venture capital pulled the trigger on investment deals with N.C. companies at a record level in 2018.

That’s more than double the amount from 2017, when a handful of Charlotte companies — led by AvidXchange ($300M) and SmartSky Networks ($176M) — dominated venture deals.

By the numbers:

  • 2017: 173 companies, 224 deals, $1.1B

  • 2018: 176 companies, 207 deals, $2.7B

What it means: “Investors believe this is a great state to invest in high-growth, high-impact companies. And entrepreneurs should be excited to be building their businesses here and that investors are paying attention.” — Jay Bigelow, director of entrepreneurship, CED

Bigelow tells the Ledger that the Triangle is strong in tech and biotech, but that Charlotte has a “strong fintech ecosystem” that is growing.

Quote of the Day

“If the proposed project really had a positive-sum economic impact of $3.8 billion, it would soon be or would already have been undertaken by the private sector — Carolina Panthers in this case — a long time ago, without the false prioritization and economic redistribution effects of government policy.” — John Vrooman, a sports economist at Vanderbilt University, discussing a South Carolina report that shows big economic gains if the Panthers move their offices south of the border. Quoted in the Biz Journal.

Carolinas & Beyond

  • Business tax cut ahead? A proposal in the General Assembly would cut the N.C. franchise tax by one-third, WRAL reports. Republicans favor the measure, while Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper seems opposed.

  • Over/under on when this passes? Harrah’s Cherokee Casino would be able to take bets on college and pro sports and horse racing, under a bill that passed the N.C. Senate overwhelmingly on Tuesday, according to the N&O.

  • Too many funerals: A single Charlotte funeral home — Rosadale Funeral Parlor on the eastside — has buried 22 of the city’s 37 homicide victims this year. (Spectrum News)

Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • Hellboy (R): Superhuman battles ancient sorceress

  • Little (PG-13): Tech mogul becomes teen

  • Missing Link (PG) (90% on Rotten Tomatoes): Animated gorilla takes journey

  • After (PG-13): College student meets brooding rebel

Highly rated movies now playing:
  • Us (R) (94% on Rotten Tomatoes)

  • How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World (PG) (90%)

  • Shazam! (PG-13) (92%)

  • Captain Marvel (PG-13) (78%)

  • Pet Sematary (R) (58%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Easter weekend: Charlotte to Orlando, $76 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), April 20-22.

  • Charlotte to Boston, $146 round-trip on American (nonstop), April 25-29.

  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $76 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), May 8-15 (also other Wednesdays in May)

  • Charlotte to San Jose, Costa Rica, $312 round-trip on United (one-stop), May 6-14.

  • Farther out: Charlotte to Baltimore, $86 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), various dates in September

  • Farther out: Charlotte to Newark, $84 round-trip on Spirit, various dates in late August/September

  • Farther out: Charlotte to London, $401 on United/Lufthansa (one-stop), various dates in October/November

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

Got a news tip? Think we missed something? Drop me a line at editor@cltledger.comand let me know.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.