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Business Today

By Times wire services
Published May 7, 2003

BAY AREA INCOME LAGS: Government data released Tuesday shows that the Tampa Bay area ranked 102nd in the nation in per capita income in 2001, with its growth rate of 3.9 percent besting the national average of 3.3 percent. But the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metropolitan area continues to lag behind most of the country. The area's per capita income of $29,379 in 2001, up from $28,748 in 2000, compares to a national average of $30,413 for 2001. The estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis are compiled for 318 metropolitan areas.

MARKET STREET ENTERS TEXAS: Market Street Mortgage of Clearwater is making its first foray into Texas with the purchase of Memorial Park Mortgage Ltd., a lender based in Houston. Terms were not disclosed for the deal, which closed Monday. Memorial Park, which originated $223-million in loans last year, has about 46 employees. Market Street, a wholly owned subsidiary of Internet banking company NetBank, is one of the country's largest mortgage loan companies, originating mortgages totalling $2.5-billion last year. The company, which has more than 500 employees and offices in 33 states, recently began expanding into the Southwest.

REFUND VOTE POSTPONED: The Florida Public Service Commission has postponed its vote on the size of the refund that Progress Energy Florida is required to give consumers under a rate-reduction settlement last year. The PSC vote had been scheduled to take place Tuesday but has been rescheduled for May 20. Progress, of St. Petersburg, distributed a $4.99-million refund to its customers in March bills, but the state Office of Public Counsel contends that the refund should have totaled $23.2-million.

WALTER COMPLETES BUYBACK: Walter Industries Inc. of Tampa reported it has repurchased 1-million shares of its common stock at $10 per share under a previously announced buyback program. About half of the shares were purchased from the Asbestos Settlement Trust. The rest came in purchase from Lehman Brothers Inc. "We continue to believe that our stock is undervalued, which makes these repurchases excellent investments for the company," said Don DeFosset, chairman and chief executive of Walter.

KPMG TO STUDY CENTER: After months of discussion, the Tampa Bay Convention & Visitors Bureau has hired KPMG LLP to study the feasibility of expanding the Tampa Convention Center. The study is to be completed in August. The 600,000-square-foot center opened in 1991 and underwent a minor expansion in 2000, adding 18 more breakout rooms. Bookings dropped off after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and economic downturn, only exacerbating the problem that convention planners say they have in competing against larger venues. Convention officials could not be reached late Tuesday for comment, but in a statement, bureau president and chief executive Paul Catoe cited the center's "enormous economic impact" on the area. The statement did not address the level of taxpayer subsidy that a major expansion might require.

PUBLIX TRIES LIQUOR: Publix Super Markets, which has long cultivated its image as a conservative, family-oriented chain, is testing the waters of the liquor business. The Lakeland chain will open a prototype Publix Wine & Spirits on Saturday adjacent to its South Miami-Dade store at 14599 S. Dixie Hwy. While the store will be attached to the regular supermarket, customers will have to enter from outside through a separate entrance. Publix is the last of the major national grocery chains operating in South Florida to join the party. Winn-Dixie began testing the liquor-store concept in 2001 as a way to attract customers and boost sales. Albertsons has been the market leader, offering liquor stores adjacent to its supermarket for decades.

HARRIS TO CUT 230 JOBS: Harris Corp., the Melbourne maker of microwave, satellite and wireless-transmission equipment whose shares have dropped 19 percent over the past year, is eliminating about 230 jobs to lower expenses. The move will result in pretax expenses of as much as $35-million, or 35 cents a share, in the fourth quarter ending in June, Harris said in a news release. Harris, whose customers include radio and television broadcasters, construction companies and oil producers, said it's cutting the jobs from its headquarters and broadcast communications division. The company also is discontinuing some products, it said in the statement.

SIEGEL ASKS FOR GARDENS: Time-share mogul David Siegel threw his hat into the Cypress Gardens ring with a two-page letter to Gov. Jeb Bush expressing interest in leasing the closed attraction if the state decides to buy the entire property. "No one would be more qualified or have more incentive to operate Cypress Gardens than us," Siegel wrote. He cited his recent purchase and reopening of two bankrupt properties in eastern Polk County: the Grenelefe Golf Resort and a 1,700-acre dude ranch. Both are within a 30-minute drive of Cypress Gardens.

FORD RE-ENTERS FRAY: Financing deals and cash rebates on new cars and trucks rose to record levels last month, and Ford Motor Co. became the latest automaker to sweeten its offers Tuesday. Like its rival General Motors Corp. did last week, Ford has extended its offer of interest-free loans for up to five years on a variety of vehicles. Ford also includes a $750 military appreciation discount for active and retired members of the armed forces. At the same time, Toyota Motor Sales USA followed up its best-ever first quarter with its seventh consecutive record-setting April. American Honda Motor Co., Hyundai Motor America and Porsche Cars North America Inc. also posted record sales for April.

3-YEAR T-BILLS FALTER: Yields on newly reintroduced three-year Treasury notes fell in Tuesday's auction to the lowest level on record. The yield was 2.009 percent, down from 5.633 percent at the last auction May 12, 1998. It was the lowest rate since the government begain selling these notes on a regular basis in 1981. A total of $22-billion in notes were sold out of bids totaling $43.2-billion.

Cisco Systems Inc.

The No. 1 maker of gear for directing Internet traffic reported Tuesday that quarterly revenue dropped 4 percent but profits jumped 35 percent because of aggressive cost-cutting.

3rdQtr Year Ago Revenue $4.62-bil $4.82-bil Net Income $987-mil $729-mil Per Share 14 cent 10 cents CVS Corp.

Buoyed by strong sales, the national drugstore operator reported an 11.7 percent increase in earnings for the first quarter, matching analysts' expectations.

1stQtr Year Ago Revenue $6.31-bil $5.97-bil Net Income $196.3-mil $175.7-mil Per Share 48 cents 43 cents US Airways

A massive government-backed loan received when the airline emerged from bankruptcy allowed it to show a profit in the first three months of 2003, masking an operating loss of $282-million.

1stQtr Year Ago Revenue $1.51-bil $1.69-bil Net Income $1.64-bil -$269-mil Note to readers

Robert Trigaux's column will return soon.

[Last modified May 7, 2003, 02:16:20]

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