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Business today

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 11, 2003

WAR BAD FOR RETAIL: Fixated on the war in Iraq and worried about jobs, shoppers stayed away from the malls in March, giving the nation's retailers another month of disappointing sales. Unseasonably cool weather in parts of the country and a late Easter also curtailed demand. Department stores, particularly May Department Stores Inc., again fared badly, announcing sharp declines in sales from stores open at least a year. Gap Inc. and Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., were among the few retailers reporting solid sales gains that beat Wall Street expectations.

JOBLESS, TRADE NUMBERS: New claims for unemployment benefits fell last week but still pointed to a sluggish job market. And the U.S. trade deficit, while narrowing in February, was still the third highest on record. The Labor Department said new claims for unemployment benefits fell last week by a seasonally adjusted 38,000 to 405,000. Imports of goods and services nudged down by 0.4 percent in February to $122.8-billion as exports edged up by 0.5 percent to $82.4-billion in February.

DILLER GETS HOTELS.COM: USA Interactive will buy the rest of Hotels.com as e-commerce mogul Barry Diller bolstered his move into the travel business. Valued at $1.1-billion, the deal will increase USA Interactive's stake from about 68 percent of the discount travel Web site to the entire company. Each Hotels.com share would be exchanged for 2.4 shares of USA Interactive stock. That's a 20 percent premium to the share prices of the two companies before the deal was announced.

MAXXIM CLOSES IN VA.: Maxxim Medical Inc., a manufacturer of surgical supplies, said it will close a plant in Richmond, Va., by mid June and transfer production to its facility in Clearwater. About 241 workers in Richmond will lose their jobs. In Clearwater, Maxxim has 292 factory workers and 10 executive staff. The company, which is in Chapter 11, also has 101 employees in Oldsmar. Maxxim, which has four other factories, said its Clearwater work force could grow to 481 if demand for its surgical trays grows.

MTS GETS PATENTS: Medical Technology Systems Inc. has received a patent for a filling system used in two of the Clearwater company's newest drug-distribution machines. The innovations eliminate functions previously performed manually by health care workers. The new machines allow long-term care facilities to package individual residents' drug programs on disposable punch cards to reduce error and labor costs. MTS said about 70 percent of long-term care facilities now use punch cards to deliver medications, with more than 700 of its machines in use. The company said it expects to replace about half those machines in the next five years.

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