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Business Today

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

PARADYNE NAMES CHAIRMAN: Paradyne Networks Inc. said president and chief executive Sean Belanger has been named chairman of the board. The Largo maker of high-speed Internet access equipment said Belanger replaces Thomas Epley, who remains on the board. Epley was appointed chairman in 1996, the year Texas Pacific Group, a Fort Worth investment firm, led a partnership that purchased Paradyne from Lucent Technologies. Texas Pacific Group currently holds a 26 percent stake in the company.

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BILINGUAL TALKING ATMS INSTALLED: Bank of America has installed more than 300 bilingual talking ATMs in Florida as part of its rollout of more than 7,000 talking ATMs coast-to-coast by the end of 2005. Fifty-eight of the machines are in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties. The talking ATMs, which deliver instructions and information in English and Spanish through headsets, are intended for the use of blind customers and those with limited vision. Some of the nation's biggest banks began rolling out English-only talking ATMs in 2000.

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SHOPPING CENTER DEVELOPER BEING BOUGHT: Equity One Inc. agreed to buy rival southeastern strip shopping center developer IRT Property Co. for $730-million in stock and assumed debt. Equity One, of North Miami Beach, will also assume $297-million of debt. IRT's strip center holdings in the Tampa Bay area range from Chelsea Place in New Port Richey and Carrollwood Center in Tampa to Bay Point Plaza in St. Petersburg.

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SUIT FILED IN TAKEOVERS: Clearwater lawyer Gregory Schultz filed suit against a group of state and federal investigators, asking for $300-million in damages on behalf of investors in Millennium Investment Inc. and the Stonehedge Group. Schultz said state investigators acted illegally in taking over the two companies' operations in 1999, destroying valuable documents. The state accused the companies of securities fraud. Schultz said federal investigators conspired with the state workers. Stonehedge and Millennium bought stock in small public companies.

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VENTURE CAPITAL FIRM DISTRIBUTING GLOBAL IMAGING SHARES: Global Imaging Systems Inc. said Chicago venture capital firm GTCR is distributing 1-million shares of Global Imaging common stock to the limited partners of its Golder, Thoma, Cressey, Rauner Fund IV, LP. GTCR was the Tampa office-equipment provider's first venture-capital backer and after the distribution will retain 3.2-million shares of Global Imaging stock, or about a 15.2 percent stake. Global Imaging's shares closed Tuesday at $19.03, down 67 cents, or 3.4 percent.

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MESSIER TENURE AT VIVENDI INVESTIGATED: French prosecutors have opened an investigation into whether Vivendi Universal under former chairman Jean-Marie Messier misled investors with falsified financial reports to buttress the media giant's beleaguered shares. The investigation was prompted by a complaint filed by shareholders who allege the company under Messier's leadership deliberately misled investors into buying or holding Vivendi's stock. Vivendi officials declined to comment, but a lawyer for Messier denied any wrongdoing.

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UNAXIX SHARES PLUNGE: Shares in Unaxis Holding AG, a Swiss tech company with an operation in St. Petersburg, suffered their biggest one-day fall Tuesday, a day after reporting a drop in sales. Unaxis, which makes semiconductor and data storage equipment, said orders slumped by a third from the second quarter to 328-million Swiss francs ($220-million), missing analysts' estimates of 375-million francs. Sales dropped 5.4 percent to 381-million francs. Its shares fell 19 percent, pushing the stock down 56 percent this year. "Unaxis is experiencing the second downturn -- or double dip -- of the semiconductor industry," said Michael Foeth, a Lombard Odier Darier Hentsch & Cie analyst who advises investors to buy the shares. The company has 210 employees at its St. Petersburg unit, originally called Plasma-Therm, which makes equipment used to make semiconductors.

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HOMESTORE EXEC PLEADS GUILTY TO INSIDER TRADING: A former vice president at Homestore Inc., an online real estate technology company, pleaded guilty to a federal insider trading charge and faces up to 10 years in prison. John Desimone is expected to be sentenced April 21 in Los Angeles. Two other former Homestore executives pleaded guilty this month to federal charges for their role in a scheme to inflate the company's earnings.

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ENRON SUES BOFA: Enron Corp. sued Bank of America Corp., claiming the third-biggest U.S. bank unlawfully took more than $123-million from its bank account as the energy company spiraled into insolvency. Bank of America denied Enron access to its bank accounts, refused to answer questions and failed to provide an explanation until months later, the suit says. A bank spokeswoman said the bank has not seen the lawsuit and cannot comment on it. In January, Bank of America fired three employees who oversaw the bank's dealings with Enron.

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WORLDCOM RETENTION BONUSES OKAYED: A bankruptcy judge approved $25-million in bonuses for WorldCom Inc. employees, designed to keep them from leaving the crippled telecommunications company. Under the program, a total of 325 senior employees -- divided into three groups -- will receive bonuses ranging from $20,000 to $125,000, equal to 35 percent to 65 percent of their annual base salaries. The four top positions at WorldCom are excluded from the plan.

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SPAMMER SILENCED: One of the world's most prolific purveyors of bulk e-mail, or spam, has been barred from sending messages to Verizon customers under a legal settlement. Under the agreement, parts of which are secret, Verizon's 1.64-million Internet customers in 40 states will no longer receive spam from Alan Ralsky, whose Michigan-based company, Additional Benefits LLC, is considered one of the largest sources of bulk e-mail. Verizon filed its lawsuit against Ralsky in March 2001, saying Ralsky's company would send e-mail solicitations for online casinos, diet pills, and companies that promise to fix bad credit, among others.

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PATENT SUIT AGAINST MARTHA STEWART DROPPED: A company that sells pumpkin-carving kits has dropped its patent infringement lawsuit against Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. Attorneys for Denver-based Pumpkin Masters moved to dismiss the case Thursday, a day after it was filed in U.S. District Court. Lawyers declined comment, saying "it's an ongoing matter."

EARNINGS

Walter Industries Inc.

Amid continued weakness in the water-pipe business and lower margins in new petroleum-coke supplier contracts at its Applied Industrial Material Corp. unit, Walter said it expects fourth-quarter earnings of 28 to 33 cents a share, sharply below the Wall Street consensus estimate of 44 cents. The company now expects full-year 2002 net income of $1.62 to $1.67 a share. Walter Industries reported net income of 28 cents a share in the fourth quarter 2001 and 95 cents a share for the year

BankAtlantic Bancorp. Inc.

The Fort Lauderdale company reported a 194 percent increase in net income and a 21 percent increase in operating income for the quarter ended Sept. 30.

Clear Channel Communications Inc.

The San Antonio, Texas-based radio and outdoor advertising giant said it swung to a profit for the quarter ended Sept. 30, topping Wall Street's expectations.

ATA Holdings Corp.

The low-fare airline had a loss for the quarter ended Sept. 30 as revenue fell and costs rose.

Procter & Gamble Co.

The consumer products giant said earnings increased by 33 percent for the fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30, beating Wall Street's expectations on improved performance from its health care, beauty care, and fabric and home care businesses.

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