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Business today

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 29, 2003

SRI/SURGICAL SETTLES SUIT: SRI/Surgical Express Inc. of Tampa said it has settled shareholder lawsuits filed in Nov. 2001 that stemmed from the company's restatement of its financial results for the third quarter of that year. The amount of the settlement was not disclosed, though the company said the expense will be covered by its insurers. SRI provides hospitals with daily deliveries and retrievals of resuable and disposable surgical products.

TECO DECLARES DIVIDEND: TECO Energy Inc. declared a quarterly dividend of 35.5 cents a share, unchanged from the previous quarter. Despite broad gains in utility stocks, the Tampa utility's stock closed four cents lower at $13.65 a share on heavy trading amid continued concerns about the company's balance sheet. While many investors may be relieved the dividend was left intact, some analysts have said it would be more prudent for the parent of Tampa Electric to cut the quarterly payout given concerns that ratings agencies have about TECO's balance sheet and cash flow.

TIMES WRITERS FEATURED: An article by St. Petersburg Times writers Deborah O'Neil and Jeff Harrington is featured in a new book, The Best Business Stories of the Year, 2003 Edition. The annual anthology includes their article, "The CEO and His Church," a four-month investigation into Digital Lightwave of Clearwater and its leadership's strong ties to the Church of Scientology. The articles in the book were written by leading business writers from newspapers and magazines nationally and were chosen by series editor Andrew Leckey and guest editor Allan Sloan. The editors said the Times report raised "provocative and disturbing questions" about a subject usually treated "with kid gloves," and has plot twists that read "like a novel." The book is published this month by Vintage Books.

PROFIT RISES AT DRUGMAKERS: Drug maker Wyeth nearly doubled fourth-quarter profit on a huge, one-time gain that masked nearly flat income, while profits at bigger rival Merck & Co. increased 2 percent on strong sales of its mainstay drugs. Wyeth, the Madison-based maker of Chap Stick, Advil and Robitussin cold medicines reported net income of $1.57-billion, or $1.18 a share, up from $822-million, or 62 cents a share a year ago. Merck, the world's No. 3 pharmaceutical company, reported fourth-quarter profit of $1.89-billion, or 83 cents a share, up from $1.86-billion, or 81 cents a share, a year earlier.

DISNEY CUTS BOARD SIZE: The Walt Disney Co. is cutting its board of directors by four, a move that will leave the board with 13 members, including nine independent directors. The company said veteran members Sidney Poitier, Robert A.M. Stern, Reveta F. Bowers and Andrea Van de Kamp will not stand for re-election in March during its annual meeting. Last year, Disney chairman Michael Eisner pledged to cut the number of board members and strengthen the influence of independent directors -- those not employed by the company or connected financially to Disney. The company repeated that it expects earnings to rise between 25 percent and 35 percent in its 2003 fiscal year.

FREQUENT FLYERS SUE DELTA: A group of customers has filed a lawsuit against Delta Air Lines Inc., claiming it's too difficult to use frequent-flyer miles. The Delta frequent flyers contend that the airline's program, SkyMiles, started out as a "miles-flown" loyalty program, but has evolved into a larger marketing tool where Delta awards the majority of its miles to credit-card users and buyers of promotional items. As a result, Delta has adopted numerous restrictions, including blackout periods, capacity controls and expiration dates "that make it ever more difficult for plaintiffs . . . to obtain fair value for the miles credited to their accounts," the suit said.

TREASURY AUCTION: The interest rate on the Treasury's four-week bills increased at the government's weekly auction of the securities. The Treasury sold $16 billion of the bills at a discount rate of 1.155 percent, up from 1.135 percent the previous week and the highest since 1.175 percent on Dec. 31. At the auction, the return to investors was 1.174 percent for the four-week bills. The government received bids for the bills equal to 2.37 times the amount sold, down from 2.86 at the last auction and a sign of less demand. Treasury bills, which represent short-term government borrowing, are sold at a discount from maturity value. The amount paid to investors at maturity reflects the difference between the price paid and the par value.

Earnings

Xerox Corp.: A better-than-expected profit for the quarter ended Dec. 31 followed increased interest in a number of new products and the success of its DocuColor series.

AirTran Holdings Inc.: A profit in the quarter ended Dec. 31 resulted from an upswing in passenger traffic and the addition of new, fuel-efficient Boeing 717 aircraft.

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