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Business Today

By Compiled from Times wires
Published September 5, 2003

PRODUCTIVITY, NOT JOBS: America's businesses pumped out more with fewer employees last quarter in a big boost for productivity, and new claims for unemployment benefits are rising. Productivity - the amount an employee produces for each hour of work - soared at an annual rate of 6.8 percent in the April-to-June quarter, marking the largest increase since the first quarter of 2002, according to revised figures released Thursday by the Labor Department. Meanwhile, new applications for jobless benefits rose last week by a seasonally adjusted 15,000 to 413,000, the highest point since the middle of July.

VIACOM OUTDOOR FACES SUIT: The former general manager of Viacom Outdoor's Tampa office filed a federal lawsuit against the billboard company Thursday, alleging she was paid less than her male counterparts in other cities. Tampa attorney Jonathan Alpert said his client, Patti Blass, might also file a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Alpert said executives at the New York company, a division of media giant Viacom Inc., routinely said they were going to "Barnes & Noble" as code for visiting strip clubs and temporarily demoted Blass after she complained about treatment. Blass, who resigned Thursday, is seeking three years' back pay and double damages. A Viacom Outdoor official declined to comment.

WESTSHORE GETS NEW GM: Glimcher Realty Trust, the new owner of WestShore Plaza, named Jed Reichard, 48, general manager of the 1.1-million-square-foot Tampa mall. Reichard replaces Frank Barrios, a longtime fixture in the Tampa Bay area retailing scene, who still works for General Growth Properties Inc., which previously managed the mall. Reichard was manager of the River Valley Mall in Lancaster, Ohio.

BROWN & BROWN BUYS 2: Brown & Brown Inc. is buying two small insurance agencies in Washington state. The general insurer, which has dual headquarters in Tampa and Daytona Beach, said it is buying Canfield and Associates Inc. and Canfield Insurance Services Inc., an agency in Ephrata, Wash., that has about $4.4-million in annual revenues. Brown is also buying Washington Insurance Services, an agency based in Woodinville, Wash., that has about $2.2-million in annual revenues. Terms were not disclosed for either deal.

SEC FOLLOWS SPITZER: The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission is sending letters asking fund companies and brokerages to detail their procedures for preventing after-hours trades, said Lori Richards, director of the SEC's office of compliance inspections and examinations. The letters also will ask the funds to explain their policies on allowing frequent trading or "market timing," she said. The SEC's action follows yesterday's announcement by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer of a $40-million settlement with hedge fund Canary Capital Partners LLC and its manager Edward Stern.

CALLAWAY GETS TOP-FLITE: Callaway Golf Co., the maker of golf clubs, won approval to proceed with its purchase of Top-Flite Co. after it outbid Germany's Adidas-Salomon AG. Callaway will pay $169-million cash for the assets of Top-Flite, the golf ball unit of Spalding Holdings Corp. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Walrath approved the sale at a hearing Thursday in Wilmington, Del.

SHAREHOLDERS SETTLE: Physicians Corporation of America Inc., now owned by Humana Inc., has agreed to pay $10.2-million to settle a shareholders lawsuit claiming the stock price was inflated. Attorneys for the company and shareholders filed settlement papers in Miami last week calling for a total recovery of 81 cents per share, or 44 cents per share after expenses, for the owners of 12.6-million shares of common stock. The papers said the former Miami company denied any wrongdoing.

BIG MAC SUIT DISCARDED: For a second time this year, a federal judge threw out a class-action lawsuit Thursday that blamed McDonald's for making people fat. U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet said the plaintiffs failed to show that the fast-food chain misled consumers into believing its food was nutritious and part of a healthy diet. Sweet tossed out an earlier version of the lawsuit in January that claimed McDonald's food causes health problems in children.

MORTGAGE RATES CLIMB: Rates on 30-year mortgages climbed this week to the highest level since last summer. The average rate rose to 6.44 percent for the week ending today, up from 6.32 percent last week, Freddie Mac, the mortgage giant reported Thursday in its weekly nationwide survey. This week's rate was the highest since the week ending July 19, 2002, when 30-year mortgages averaged 6.49 percent, Freddie Mac said.

ANALYST PREDICTS HEWLETT BREAKUP: Hewlett-Packard Co., the world's No. 2 computer maker, probably will be broken up because it is being "squeezed" by IBM Corp. and Dell Inc., according to Merrill Lynch & Co. analyst Steven Milunovich. Hewlett-Packard is unlikely to overtake IBM in corporate sales of computers and services, Milunovich wrote in a note to clients. Milunovich said he lacks confidence in the ability of Hewlett-Packard's managers to compete against IBM.

SENATE PANEL BLOCKS FCC: The Senate Appropriations Committee voted to block the Federal Communications Commission from spending money, for one year, to enforce a rule that would raise the cap on a company's ownership to include television stations reaching 45 percent of the nation's TV homes, up from 35 percent. The full House has approved a similar measure. The Senate committee vote came one day after a federal appeals court delayed Thursday's scheduled implementation of the new FCC ownership rules.

CIGNA SETTLEMENT OKAYED: A federal judge in Miami gave preliminary approval Thursday to an agreement requiring Cigna Corp. to spend $540-million to settle claims that the insurance company chronically skimped on payments to the nation's 700,000 doctors. Cigna joins Aetna in settling racketeering lawsuits against managed care industry leaders.

CHECKERS FRAUD SUIT DISMISSED: Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. said Thursday that a judge had dismissed for lack of evidence a class-action lawsuit against Rally's Hamburgers Inc. alleging securities fraud in the early 1990s. The suit was filed by six individual shareholders against executives of the Clearwater company and Arthur Andersen LLP. It accused them of hiding financial information from investors in an attempt to "artificially inflate" Rally's stock price for insiders' personal gain, according to the ruling.

2 "FIRED' AT FREDDIE MAC: The millions of dollars in compensation granted to former Freddie Mac chairman and CEO Leland Brendsel and chief financial officer Vaughn Clarke could be reduced after officials in the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight said the two will be fired. The two had resigned from the mortgage giant amid accounting turmoil and federal investigations.

Earnings

Albertsons Inc.: The sluggish economy and intense competition sent second-quarter profits down 37 percent, the nation's second-largest food and drug retailer said Thursday. But net income still exceeded Wall Street projections, and chairman Larry Johnston indicated sales trends were finally beginning to swing up.

[Last modified September 5, 2003, 04:53:59]

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