Knoxville-based SmartBank boosts 4th quarter income and other business news

Staff file photo by Dave Flessner / A SmartBank automatic teller machine is shown in Chattanooga.

SmartBank boosts 4th quarter income

SmartFinancial Inc., on Monday reported higher fourth-quarter earnings as the Knoxville-based banking company boosted loan volume by 17% over last year.

The parent company of Smart Bank, which operates one of Chattanooga's biggest banks, reported fourth quarter operating earnings of $12.9 million, or 76 cents a share, up from $8.7 million, or 52 cents per share, earned in the same period a year ago.

The results matched Wall Street expectations.

"We wrapped-up 2022 with another record revenue quarter while continuing to gain operating leverage and build on the great work being done to diversify revenue, build out our ancillary lines of business, and maintain outstanding credit metrics," SmartFinancial CEO Billy Carroll said in a report released after the market closed Monday. "The core momentum our team is building is outstanding and will position us well as we enter 2023."

For the year, the company reported profit of $43 million, or $2.55 per share. Revenue was reported as $165.2 million.

"The bank continues to show excellent credit, solid growth and strong profits," SmartFinancial Chairman Miller Welborn of Chattanooga said in Monday's earnings announcement.

Chick-fil-A gives free sandwiches with app

Chick-fil-A restaurants in the Chattanooga area are giving away a free chicken sandwich to those with the Chick-fil-A App all this week.

The promotion, which is limited to one sandwich per person, began Monday and continues through Saturday at local Chick-fil-A sites, including those at UTC, Erlanger Health System, Brainerd Village, Northgate Mall, East Ridg, Gunbarrel Pointe, Oak Park Town Center in Hixson and Fort Oglethorpe.

"We want to start this new year in a special way," said Terry O'Neal, local restaurant operator of Chick-fil-A in Fort Oglethorpe. "We are treating our loyal customers to a free sandwich as a sign of our gratitude for their support."

To claim the offer, guests must be registered with the Chick-fil-A app and open the app to redeem the reward.

Spotify lays off 600 employees

The music streaming service Spotify said Monday it's cutting 6% of its global workforce, or about 600 jobs, becoming yet another tech company forced to rethink its pandemic-era expansion as the economic outlook weakens.

CEO Daniel Ek announced the restructuring in a message to employees that was also posted online.

As part of the revamp involving a management reshuffle, "and to bring our costs more in line, we've made the difficult but necessary decision to reduce our number of employees," Ek wrote.

Big tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google announced tens of thousands of job cuts this month as the economic boom that the industry rode during the COVID-19 pandemic waned.

Stockholm-based Spotify had benefited from pandemic lockdowns because more people had sought out entertainment when they were stuck at home. Ek indicated that the company's business model, which had long focused on growth, had to evolve.

The company's operating costs last year grew at double its revenue growth, a gap that would be "unsustainable long-term" in any economic climate, but even more difficult to close with "a challenging macro environment," he said.

EU sanctions Iranian groups

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on dozens of Iranian officials and organizations, including a government minister, regional governors and lawmakers, suspected in the security crackdown on protestors, but did not add Iran's Revolutionary Guard to its terror group blacklist.

At a meeting in Brussels, EU foreign ministers agreed to slap a travel ban and asset freeze on Iran's Sports and Youth Minister Hamid Sajjadi, accusing him of pressuring Iran's athletes into silence, including an Iranian climber who competed without Islamic headdress at a competition in Seoul. The Iranian Special Police Forces were also targeted, accused of using "excessive violence and lethal force against unarmed protestors, including women and children ... by firing automatic weapons at protestors."

Another asset freeze was imposed on the Headquarters for Enjoining Right and Forbidding Evil, an Iranian government institution that the EU believes is responsible "for determining and enforcing excessively strict behavioral models in society."

Companies linked to cyber security, spyware, social media filtering, and the production of security equipment allegedly used in the crackdown were also hit. Restrictive measures were slapped on senior officers from the Revolutionary Guard and some of its regional units.

The 27-nation bloc had already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iranian officials and organizations -- including ministers, military officers and Iran's morality police -- for human rights abuses over the protests that erupted in Iran in mid-September over the death of Mahsa Amini.

— Compiled by Dave Flessner