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Business Today

By wire services
Published January 6, 2004
[Last modified January 6, 2004, 01:33:37]

TIME SELLS TIME LIFE INC.: Time Inc. sold its music and video direct marketing arm, Time Life Inc., to privately held Direct Holdings Worldwide LLC on Monday. Financial terms were not disclosed. As part of the deal, Direct Holdings bought an exclusive, long term, global license for the Time Life brand in the direct marketing of music, video, books and educational software. The sale does not include Time Customer Service, which has about 1,400 workers handling magazine subscription accounts in Tampa.

TROPICAL SPORTSWEAR SHARES DROP: Shares in Tropical Sportswear Int'l Corp. closed at an all time low of $2.06 on Monday, down 10 cents. The results came after the troubled Tampa apparel maker asked the SEC for an extension to file an earnings report for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 27 while it negotiates with its lenders. In an SEC filing, the company disclosed it expects to report a loss of $130-million for the fiscal year, which compared to net income of $2.3-million in 2002.

TROPICANA OPENS NEW LINES: Tropicana Products Inc is unpeeling a sub-line of five orange juices and beverages aimed at specialized health concerns. Among the new Pure Premium Essentials, produced at the company's plant in Bradenton, are Low Acid, Immunity Defense (which has three antioxidants said to boost immune systems) and Light 'n Healthy (which has a third fewer calories and less sugar.) The 64-ounce packages should roll into stores this month and will be the same price as other Pure Premium Products.

WALTER HOMES GETS PRESIDENT: Walter Industries of Tampa has named Larry Comegys president of its homebuilding subsidiary, Jim Walter Homes. Comegys, 52, headed Pulte Homes' Florida operations from 1997 to 2001, joined WCI Communities Inc. in 2001, and most recently was a partner at the Wilherst Group, a Tampa developer. He replaces retiring Jim Walter Homes president Mike Roberts. The homes division sells approximately 4,100 modestly-priced houses a year.

EBAY RAISES LISTING FEES: EBay Inc., the Internet auctioneer, is raising the listing fees it charges sellers using its U.S. sites and making changes to fee structures in 10 other countries to fund improvements. The U.S. fee increases will take effect in February and are already included in the company's 2004 sales forecast, said Hani Durzy, a spokesman for EBay. They will run as high as 45 percent for the highest-priced auction items. Most fees will rise by 9.1 percent. EBay last raised listing fees in January 2001.

KMART REPORTS NET PROFIT: Kmart Holding Corp., which emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy in May, said it expected net income to exceed $250-million for the key months of November and December despite a 13.5 percent drop in its same store sales. The retailer said that strong inventory management and the reduction of unprofitable promotions were behind the improved performance in its fiscal fourth quarter. It said income before interest and income taxes for November and December is expected to top $350-million, excluding gains on real estate transactions of about $75-million.

T-BILL RATES RISE: The Treasury Department auctioned $17-billion in three-month securities Monday at a discount rate of 0.920 percent. An additional $16-billion in six-month bills was auctioned at a discount rate of 1.020 percent. The three-month rate was up from 0.885 percent last week and was the highest since three-month bills averaged 0.925 percent on Dec. 1. The six-month rate was up from 0.995 percent last week and was the highest since 1.030 percent on Dec. 1. The Federal Reserve said Monday that the average yield for one-year constant-maturity Treasury bills rose to 1.29 percent last week from 1.28 percent the previous week.

STEWART INDICTMENT REWRITTEN: The government filed a new indictment Monday against Martha Stewart and her former stockbroker, Peter Bacanovic, accused of concocting a false story about why Stewart sold nearly 4,000 shares of ImClone Systems Inc. stock a day before a negative government report sent its share price tumbling. Prosecutors changed some of the language, substituting the phrase "false and misleading" for "false" when referring to explanations that Stewart gave investigators for her ImClone sale. Potential jurors in the trial will gather at a Manhattan courthouse today to fill out questionnaires. Prosecutors and defense lawyers then will spend two weeks examining the papers before reconvening Jan. 20 to decide on a panel.

FANNIE MAY, FANNY FARMER SOLD: Archibald Candy Corp. announced Monday that it is selling its Fannie May and Fanny Farmer businesses to an unidentified buyer and shutting down its decades-old plant in Chicago, putting 625 employees out of work. The 84-year-old candy maker made the announcement after informing representatives of its five labor unions. The new owner will supply the candy to keep the Fannie May and Fanny Farmer brands going, Archibald spokesman Ron Bottrell said. But no buyer could be found for the aging plant.

GOOGLE IPO TAKES SHAPE: Google Inc. hired Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to arrange its initial public offering, a sale that may raise as much as $4-billion, Bloomberg News reported. The sale by Google, the Internet search engine, would be the biggest IPO since CIT Group Inc.'s $4.87-billion deal in July 2002. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs will lead a group of underwriters that includes Citigroup Inc., Credit Suisse First Boston, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., Thomas Weisel Partners LLC and WR Hambrecht + Co., Bloomberg reported, quoting sources it did not name. The sale is expected in April.

PARMALAT EX-CFO GRILLED: Prosecutors looking into the missing millions at dairy giant Parmalat on Monday grilled former Parmalat chief financial officer Fausto Tonna, who previously acknowledged that management systematically manipulated balance sheets. Meanwhile, a business-turnaround team led by Enrico Bondi that has taken control of the conglomerate was seeking a fast infusion of $125-million from bankers to keep Parmalat operations going.

Earnings

Walgreen Co.: A still-booming prescription drug business and stronger-than-expected pharmacy sales at the start of flu season boosted Walgreen to double digit increases in quarterly profits and sales Monday despite lingering concerns about the slowing pace of prescription sales growth. The nation's largest drugstore chain reported a 10 percent increase in first quarter earnings that amounted to 15 percent when taking into account a substantial tax gain from a year earlier.

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