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Business Today

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2003

JOBLESS CLAIMS UP AGAIN: The number of Americans applying for unemployment insurance last week increased by 3,000 to 422,000 last week from a revised 419,000, the Labor Department said in Washington. Economists had forecast a drop to 400,000, according to the median estimate. Some economists consider 400,000 the dividing line between job market expansion and contraction. Claims were last this high in the week of June 30.

KIMMINS MAKES WAY: Kimmins Contracting Inc. plans to move from its location near the Port of Tampa and eventually build condominiums, office space and a hotel on the 5-acre site. Chairman Fran Williams said he hopes to move the company's trucking operations to east Tampa next summer, followed by its heavy vehicle maintenance and administrative offices. The construction and earth-moving company has been at 15th Street and Adamo Drive for 20 years.

McCRAW TAKES SOUTHTRUST REINS: Roy McCraw Jr., a 30-year veteran of the financial services industry, is returning to banking as chief executive of the Tampa/St. Petersburg market for SouthTrust Bank. The job has been vacant since May when Lee Moncrief moved to a similar post in Mobile, Ala. McCraw, 57, will oversee a market that includes 48 branches. McCraw has spent the past five years with the financial services firm Allen & Co. SouthTrust is based in Birmingham, Ala.

U.S. SUES RX DEPOT: The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Thursday in Oklahoma to shut down Rx Depot Inc. and Rx of Canada LLC, which operate 85 stores, including one in New Port Richey, that help senior citizens purchase cheaper prescription medicines from Canada. The suit says that under U.S. law, only pharmaceutical manufacturers can import their products from abroad. Carl Moore, who runs the stores, said he would fight the charges.

2 ORLANDO HOTELS CLOSE: Two long-established Orlando hotels, the Four Points Sheraton and Orlando Hyatt, which together have more than 1,200 rooms, are closing, their employees have been told. The owner of the hotels, Orlando Hyatt Hotel Associates, has been in bankruptcy court. More than 4,000 new hotel rooms are expected to be added by the end of next year in metro Orlando, which already has 110,000 rooms.

SARASOTA COMPANY'S ASSETS FROZEN: The U.S. District Court in Tampa froze the assets of a Sarasota company and its principals based on a Securities and Exchange Commission complaint accusing them of operating a $61-million investment scam. The court issued a temporary restraining order against Charles Douglas York; Robert Kingston Coyne; Viatical Capital Inc., which operates under the name Life Settlement Network; and Life Investment Funding Enterprises, a Nevada company. The SEC said the men raised money from 1,900 investors nationwide by misrepresenting Viatical Capital's life insurance investments. The SEC said the men diverted money to a boat-leasing venture they owned. York and Coyne could not be reached for comment.

TRADE GAP WIDENS: Record imports from China pushed America's trade deficit higher in July, but U.S. exports also went up in a bit of good news for manufacturers that analysts said may also signal gains in the slumping economies of U.S. trading partners. The Commerce Department's latest snapshot Thursday of the country's trade activity showed that the trade gap grew by 0.7 percent in July to $40.3-billion. Imports of goods and services came to $126.5-billion in July, the second-highest level on record, and represented a 1.6 percent increase from June.

SIMON MAY LOSE MALL: A federal judge in Minneapolis has given the developers of the Mall of America the chance to purchase control of the mall from its partner, Simon Property Group, and ordered Simon to turn over a share of its profits from the mall for the past four years. The Ghermezian family of West Edmonton, Alberta, had claimed in a lawsuit that it was improperly squeezed out by Simon and a third partner in 1999. Simon, which operates the Tyrone Square mall in St. Petersburg, said it will appeal.

AIG FINED $10-MILLION: American International Group, one of the biggest U.S. insurance companies, agreed Thursday to pay a $10-million fine to settle the Securities and Exchange Commission's allegations that it helped another company falsify its earnings report and hide losses. AIG also failed to provide documents subpoenaed during the SEC's investigation of cellular phone distributor Brightpoint Inc., the SEC said. AIG also is forfeiting a $100,000 fee paid by Brightpoint.

HARRAH'S BUYS HORSESHOE: Harrah's Entertainment Inc. is buying Horseshoe Gaming Holding Co., owner of casinos in Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana, for $917-million. The Las Vegas gambling giant also will assume $533-million in debt. Harrah's intends to keep the Horseshoe names at Horseshoe Gaming casinos in Bossier City, La., Hammond, Ind., and Tunica, Miss. Harrah's will sell its Shreveport casino to reduce its presence in Louisiana but said no deal had been reached.

CHIHUAHUA'S EXPENSES RISE: A federal judge in Grand Rapids, Mich., has ordered Taco Bell to pay an extra $11.8-million in interest to two Michigan men who sued the restaurant chain, which they accused of stealing their idea for an advertising campaign featuring a talking Chihuahua. The ruling, filed Wednesday, brings the total award in the five-year legal battle over creative ownership of the mascot to $41.9-million. Taco Bell spokeswoman Laurie Schalow said the company plans to appeal.

WORLDCOM ENTERS PLEA: WorldCom pleaded innocent Thursday to the first criminal charges brought against the telecommunications company in an $11-billion accounting fraud that Oklahoma prosecutors say violated state securities law. After entering the plea in Oklahoma County District Court, Carol Petren, WorldCom deputy general counsel, released a statement criticizing Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson for pursuing the case. She also said that new management and internal controls at the company, which has changed it's name to MCI, will help prevent a repeat of the problems that led to the nation's largest-ever accounting fraud and bankruptcy.

2 TERMINATED AT BofA?: Bank of America Corp. has apparently begun firing employees suspected of having been involved in improper mutual fund trading that is being investigated by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the bank has dismissed Charles Bryceland, former head of a brokerage and private-banking office that catered to wealthy clients. The bank had no comment on the report even when told that a woman answering the phone in Bryceland's office said, "He is no longer with the firm." A second employee named in the investigation, broker Theodore Sihpol, also is "no longer with the company," according to a woman who answered his phone Thursday at the bank's New York brokerage.

McCORKLES GET 24 YEARS: A federal judge in Orlando has again sentenced informercial guru William J. McCorkle and his wife, Chantal, to 24 years in prison for swindling customers with a get-rich-quick real estate scheme. The pair received the same sentence in 1999 after their convictions on 151 counts of fraud, money laundering and false statement charges, But a federal appeals court dismissed the sentences last year because of a missed step.

MORTGAGE RATES DOWN: After a fairly steady upward climb since late June, mortgage rates edged down this week. The average rate on 30-year mortgages declined to 6.16 percent for this week, compared with last week's 6.44 percent, Freddie Mac reported in its weekly nationwide survey. For 15-year fixed-rate mortgages, a popular option for refinancing, rates fell to 5.46 percent from 5.77 percent. Rates for one-year adjustable mortgages dipped to 3.87 percent from 3.98 percent.


Campbell Soup Co.: The soup maker reported a 35 percent profit increase for the latest quarter Thursday as improved results from its North American beverage and sauce divisions and its international operations offset a decline in North American soups. But the company said its earnings for its first quarter and all of fiscal 2004 would be lower than analysts expected.

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