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Centennial Investors helps fund Nasopure expansion

BeWell Health, LLC, a local company that makes the Nasopure nasal washing device, has received funding for an expansion from “angel investors” within the Centennial Investors organization and from two physicians.

Nasopure’s founder, Dr. Hana Solomon, said members of Centennial Investors agreed to provide $152,384 in funding and other investors are providing $169,000. Sales of the Nasopure kits have doubled in the past few years, reaching 20,000 in 2007, and are projected to triple this year, Solomon, a Columbia pediatrician, said. The plastic bottles are made in Kansas City, the boxes are made in St. Louis and the products are assembled at a sheltered workshop in Columbia, Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprises.

The funding, she said, will be used to “accelerate our business model,” including boosts in manufacturing, distribution and marketing of Nasopure products (www. nasopure.com) and launching new products. The company expanded into drug stores and other outlets in the Kansas City and Topeka markets two years ago and plans to move into St. Louis this year.

In December, Solomon teamed with The Incubation Factory of St. Louis, which is taking care of accounting and some other operational needs. Solomon hired George Zimny as director of sales a year ago and hired Mark Larsen as vice president of business development in January.

University gets big endowment fund yield, but downturn on horizon

The University of Missouri System’s endowment had an 18 percent rate of return in fiscal 2007 and produced a $38.9 payout, up $4.2 million from the previous year, said Nikki Krawitz, vice president of finance and administration. More than half of the annual endowment payout goes to the Columbia campus.

The 18 percent total return beats the one-year average rate of return for university endowments by about one percentage point, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ 2007 Endowment Study.

The Board of Curators uses a hybrid of market indexes as a benchmark to gauge investment success. The endowment rate of return was 0.7 percent below the benchmark.

The university’s endowment fund, worth about $1 billion, includes thousands of donations toward scholarships, technology, research and other purposes, which are pooled together and invested. Each year, approximately 5 percent of the trailing 12 quarter average market value is distributed and pays for the scholarships, research, or other purposes the donors intended.

In the long term, the endowment’s goal is a 9 percent total return. Annual returns fluctuated in the last decade. Last year’s return was the highest since 2003.

“We had very high returns in the late ‘90s,” Krawitz said. “2000 was the IT bubble burst. We did better than the benchmarks on that. My guess is that in 2008, if the market continues as it does right now we’ll have a negative year.”

For the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, the endowment’s biggest gains came from a 46.2 percent yield on emerging markets investments and a 21 percent rate of return on investments in the real estate markets.

Fund manager’s economic assessment: gloomy

The nation’s huge debt burden, job losses and other economic data indicate the United States is entering a recession could experience a lengthy slowdown, a bank fund manager told a group of Columbia’s business leaders.

Scott Colbert, the director of fixed income with Commerce Bank in St. Louis, discussed economic conditions and investment opportunities during a luncheon at the Reynolds Alumni Center on Thursday attended by more than 100 people. Colbert has investment responsibilities for more than $7 billion in fixed income assets and is on a team managing the bank’s Asset Allocation Fund.

Colbert said there are opportunities for making profitable investments during the economic downturn and offered suggestions for stock purchases. He recommended investors stick with blue chip companies with high capitalization and his top picks were General Electric, a basket of big pharmaceutical companies, Sallie Mae, Microsoft and Cisco.

After regional Commerce Bank President Teresa Maledy gave an overview of the local economy and introduced Colbert, he said of the Midwest, “this is about the best part of the world right now.”

But overall Colbert said the national economy “is fading” and the odds are better than even that it will enter a recession, and could already be in one. “To think we will not get there (enter a recession) is probably grossly optimistic,” he said.

Charts and graphs he presented showed the gross domestic product and leading economic indicators are at their lowest levels since 2002, when the nation was coming out of the last recession.

But the “huge headwind” holding back economic growth is the household debt burden, he said.

Household debt as a percentage of personal income is above 16 percent, and personal income isn’t keeping pace, he pointed out.

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