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Business today

By Wire services
Published September 25, 2003

ENRON SUES BANKS, BROKERS: Enron Corp. is suing a string of banks, brokerage firms and their subsidiaries that financed its deals and partnerships, accusing them of participating in deliberately murky transactions for millions of dollars in fees that helped create the failed energy company's facade of success. Defendants in the lawsuit filed late Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York include banking titans J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc., two of Enron's largest creditors. Also among defendants is Merrill Lynch & Co., Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Deutsche Bank AG and Barclays Bank PLC.

PASCO PLANT MAY HIRE 225: Opinicus Corp., whose products include simulators for DC-9 jets, has outgrown its two buildings in Clearwater and has targeted Pasco County for its new plant. Company vice president Jennifer Frame said the decision to move to Pasco isn't final. The company has qualified for $1.13-million in tax refunds through the state's Qualified Target Industry program, which amounts to $5,000 for each of 225 new jobs it expects to create with the plant.

ANCHOR IPO GETS $120-MILLION: Anchor Glass Container Corp. of Tampa raised $120-million Wednesday through an initial public offering, selling 7.5-million shares at $16 each, on the low end of the $16 to $18 price range previously projected by the company. Credit Suisse First Boston and Merrill Lynch & Co. managed the IPO. Anchor, the third largest U.S. maker of glass containers, was bought in September 2002 by Cerberus Capital Management LP for $400-million after emerging from its second bankruptcy reorganization. Anchor is expected to begin trading Thursday on the Nasdaq.

AARP WANTS LATER HEARING: AARP has asked the Florida Public Service Commission to schedule an additional public hearing in St. Petersburg on the applications by Verizon, Sprint and BellSouth to sharply increase their local basic phone rates in exchange for a reduction in the access rates they charge long-distance carriers for instate calls. The advocacy group for seniors also asked the PSC to reschedule a public hearing in the Hillsborough County Center in Tampa from 1 p.m. Oct. 3 to 6 or 6:30 p.m. to accommodate working people.

FRASER, CULBERTH ACQUIRED: Cherry, Bekaert & Holland LLP, a regional accounting firm with headquarters in Richmond, Va., has expanded its presence in the Tampa Bay market with the acquisition of Fraser, Culbreth & Co. in St. Petersburg. Partners Wayne N. "Skipp" Fraser and Henry "Buddy" Culbreth remain with the combined firm, which employs about 30 people in St. Petersburg. One of the St. Petersburg office's specialties is working with not-for-profit organizations.

KAZAA SUES RECORD COMPANIES: Turning the tables on record labels, makers of the popular Internet song-swapping network Kazaa are suing entertainment companies for copyright infringement. Sharman Networks Ltd. filed a federal lawsuit Monday accusing the entertainment companies of using unauthorized versions of its software in their efforts to root out users. Entertainment companies have offered bogus versions of copyright works and sent online warning messages to users. Sharman said the companies used Kazaa Lite, an ad-less replica of its software, to get onto the network. The lawsuit also claims efforts to combat piracy on Kazaa violated terms for using the network.

MSN SHUTS CHAT ROOMS: Microsoft Corp. is shutting down Internet chat services in most of its 34 markets in Europe, Latin America and Asia and limiting the service in the United States, Canada, Japan and Brazil to help reduce criminal solicitations of children through online discussions. The changes also should help Microsoft shed some nonpaying users that have dragged on profits, said an analyst who follows the software giant. The changes take effect Oct. 14.

FARMERS DROPS MALPRACTICE: Farmers Insurance Group said Wednesday it will stop selling medical malpractice insurance in the 18 states it serves, including Florida, where it has a minimal presence, narrowing an already tight market for physicians. Farmers Insurance lost more than $100-million last year on malpractice policies, said Michelle Levy, a spokeswoman for the insurance group. Farmers Insurance stopped writing new medical malpractice policies Friday and plans to halt renewals Jan. 1, subject to the approval of insurance regulators in each state.

MUTUAL FUND ADS REGULATED: Investors will get more information in ads for mutual funds and more up-to-date performance data under rules adopted Wednesday by members of the Securities and Exchange Commission. They approved rules to require more complete disclosure in mutual fund ads "to encourage advertisements that convey balanced information to prospective investors, particularly with respect to past performance." In addition, mutual funds will have to provide current information about their returns through toll-free telephone numbers or on the Internet. The Investment Company Institute, the mutual fund industry's lobbying group, had no immediate comment.

T-BILL YIELDS DROP: Yields declined at the U.S. Treasury's monthly auction of two-year notes. The Treasury sold $25-billion of the notes at a yield of 1.695 percent, down from 2.040 percent on Aug. 27, for the lowest since 1.510 percent on July 23. Tuesday, the Treasury sold $12-billion of its four-week bills at a discount rate of 0.860 percent, down from 0.870 percent last week and the lowest since 0.840 percent July 15.

SEC STOPS MESSIER PAYOUT: The Securities and Exchange Commission won a court order blocking a $22.9-million severance payment to former Vivendi Universal SA chief executive Jean-Marie Messier while the agency probes the world's No. 2 media company. U.S. District Judge Kevin Duffy in New York on Wednesday barred Vivendi from transferring funds to Messier, ordering the company to put the payment in an escrow account. A New York state judge earlier ordered Vivendi to comply with an arbitration panel's ruling and pay Messier the severance.

LIBERT BUYS BACK DEBT: Liberty Media Corp., which acquired home shopping television network QVC from Comcast Corp. last week, bought back $500-million in three-year notes that it had issued to Comcast as part of the deal. Liberty, controlled by cable television investor John Malone, bought Comcast's 57 percent stake in QVC for $7.69-billion in cash, stock and three-year notes. Comcast, the cable-TV operator, said Wednesday that Liberty had bought back $500-million of the $4-billion in Liberty notes that Comcast had received.

TENET EXEC ARRESTED: Tenet Healthcare Corp., under investigation by at least three U.S. government agencies, said Mina Nazaryan, associate administrator at Tenet's Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in San Diego, was arrested and may become the second executive indicted in a kickback probe. Prosecutors said Nazaryan got improper payments and obstructed their probe. Tenet faces probes into financial disclosures, billing and payments for some Medicare patients.

UNITED NARROWS ITS LOSSES: United Airlines narrowed its net loss in August and posted a $105-million operating profit in what its chief financial officer called a "very encouraging month" in its effort to get out of bankruptcy. Despite the progress, the $46-million net loss put the carrier on track for a 13th consecutive quarterly deficit - including three since it filed for Chapter 11 last December. The nation's No. 2 airline had lost $112-million in July after being $1.96-billion in the red for the first half of 2003.

VIVENDI LOSSES NARROW: Vivendi Universal SA reported a narrower loss for the first half of the year and stronger results in its media and telecommunications divisions Wednesday in a sign of recovery after the French conglomerate came close to bankruptcy a year ago. Vivendi reached a preliminary deal in early September to merge its Universal movie, cable and theme parks with General Electric Co.'s NBC for $3.8-billion cash and a debt reduction. Vivendi lost 632-million euros ($723-million) in the January-June period in contrast to a loss of 12.31-billion euros in the first half of 2002.

EARNINGS

Darden Restaurants Inc.: The Orlando owner of the Olive Garden and Red Lobster chains reported a 4.6 percent drop in fiscal first quarter earnings and said second quarter profit will also fall because sales aren't meeting expectations. Second quarter profit will be 15 cents to 18 cents a share, the company said in a statement. Profit was expected to rise to 22 cents, the average estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

[Last modified September 25, 2003, 01:34:29]

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