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Business digest

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 8, 2002

WEEKLY JOBLESS CLAIMS EASE: New claims for state unemployment insurance dropped by 15,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 376,000, the Labor Department said. The decline for the work week ended Feb. 2 followed a revised 31,000 jump in claims the week before. Jobless claims slowly have been declining since peaking Oct. 20 at 507,000. The more stable four-week moving average of new claims, which smoothes out week-to-week fluctuations, fell last week to 380,500, the lowest level since Aug. 18.

CARNIVAL REFUSES TO BACK DOWN: Carnival Corp. made its fourth hostile offer for P&O Princess PLC, as it tries to prevent the cruise line from merging with rival Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. The $5.4-billion package requires 15 percent of P&O shareholders to pledge by today to vote for an indefinite delay on the merger Feb. 14. If 15 percent don't come forward, the offer reverts to a rejected $5.1-billion bid. P&O had no immediate response.

WORLDCOM CEO'S OBLIGATIONS: WorldCom's chief executive Bernie Ebbers confirmed what some have cited as a factor in the company's spiraling stock price -- he owes the company $340-million. Ebbers said he has more than enough assets, excluding his holdings in WorldCom, to repay those obligations. WorldCom shares have lost about 50 percent of their value since Jan. 1, although they rebounded somewhat Thursday to close at $7.52, up 83 cents. Ebbers statement came as WorldCom reported fourth-quarter income fell 64 percent to $258-million.

BOTTLER TO OPEN BRANDON OFFICE: Coca-Cola Enterprises will open its North American accounting support office in Brandon on Monday in a facility being shared with the Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co., the soft drink bottler's independently owned, Tampa-based operating company for most of the state. The companies expect to house "hundreds" of accounting-related jobs at the center, many of which will be filled locally, said bottling company spokeswoman Michele Springer. The center's opening ceremony will include an appearance by Gov. Jeb Bush.

METLIFE TO TAKE CHARGE: MetLife Inc. said it will take a $250-million pretax charge against earnings to cover costs stemming from class action lawsuits and a regulatory inquiry over allegations of race discrimination. The lawsuits allege MetLife's Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. charged black customers higher premiums for less insurance coverage than it charged whites. The suits also allege the firm urged construction of race-based mortality tables. MetLife has denied the charges, which surfaced two years ago.

EXECUTIVE CHANGES AT BUSCH: Veteran Busch Gardens executive Jim Atchison has been promoted to vice president of marketing for SeaWorld Adventure Parks in Orlando. He replaces Thom Stork, who leaves the Busch Entertainment Corp. payroll to pursue other interests effective Feb. 15. Stork, who earlier had been marketing director at Busch Gardens for more than 20 years, is a candidate to return to Tampa as director of the Florida Aquarium.

SYPRIS WINS NSA CONTRACT: Sypris Electronics of Tampa has received a three-year contract to produce encryption devices for the National Security Agency. The initial order is valued at $4-million, with options for a maximum of $22-million in orders. Sypris Electronics, formerly Group Technologies, is a subsidiary of Sypris Solutions of Louisville, Ky. About 114 members of Teamsters Local 79 at the Tampa plant have been on strike since October. The union has questioned security at the local facility since the strike began.

PAYPAL IPO DELAYED AGAIN: Online payment provider PayPal Inc. postponed its much-anticipated initial public offering of stock again Thursday, giving the company more time to provide investors with its response to a patent infringement lawsuit. The company hoped to sell 5.4-million shares of its stock at $12 to $14 per share on Wednesday, but delayed the offering after receiving word of the civil lawsuit filed by CertCo Inc. PayPal's decision to hold off on the IPO means the sale won't be completed until sometime next week.

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