WELLS FARGO PICKS UP STRONG: Banking giant Wells Fargo & Co. snapped up the scandal-ridden mutual fund company Strong Financial on Wednesday, just days after Strong and its founder settled allegations of improper trading. Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, will acquire a total of $34-billion in assets under Strong Financial's management. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but Wells will end up paying less than $700-million by the time the deal is completed in seven to 10 months - a bargain, given that Strong's assets might have fetched more than $1-billion a year ago, said Hoefer & Arnett analyst Richard Bove.
NEW MUTUAL FUND RULES OKAYED: Mutual fund companies will have to provide clear information to investors on potential commission discounts under changes approved Wednesday by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC voted 4-0 to improve disclosure about discounts on upfront sales charges for broker-sold mutual funds. Fund companies often reduce front-end sales loads for big investments, setting reductions at preset investment amounts known as "breakpoints." SEC chairman William Donaldson said the SEC's approach "will help to ensure that investors understand the breakpoints that are due to them."
DuPONT GRANTED NEW TRIAL: Florida's 3rd District Court of Appeal erased a $26-million award Wednesday against the DuPont Co. in a lawsuit by two Costa Rican plant growers who claimed the discontinued fungicide Benlate caused widespread plant damage on their farms. The Miami court said "it is virtually impossible to reconcile" the size of the award for lost profits with the evidence, saying the dollar amount "must be established with a reasonable degree of certainty." The three-judge panel sent the case back for a retrial without the growers' racketeering claims and without a special instruction telling jurors they could hold against DuPont its destruction of testing results.
AMSOUTH NAMES AREA CHIEF: AmSouth Bank has named Brett D. Couch as area executive for the west coast of Florida. Couch, 40, is currently an executive vice president with the Birmingham, Ala., bank. He replaces Stan Kryder, who has left AmSouth. Kryder was named area executive just three months ago after Susan "Susie" Martinez was elevated to run AmSouth's $6.7-billion Florida operation. As west Florida executive, Couch will oversee 90 branches in a region extending from the Tampa Bay area to Naples. He had been the bank's area executive for Mississippi.
FLORIDA GETS ANTI-SPAM LAW: Under legislation signed Tuesday by Gov. Jeb Bush, the attorney general may go after anyone in Florida who sends e-mail that carries a deceptive subject line. The law gives the attorney general the authority to bring civil action against the sender, or anyone helping the sender, and impose $500 fines for each occurrence.
UNITED TRIES FUEL SURCHARGE: United Airlines raised the fuel surcharge that it adds to tickets by $10 per round trip Wednesday to a total of $30 on all North American flights. The move came just days after United said in a U.S. Bankruptcy Court filing that it expects its fuel costs for 2004 to run $750-million higher than it estimated six months ago. "This one may have a chance of succeeding, just because of common sense," said Terry Trippler, an airlines analyst.
WAL-MART WINS 1 CHICAGO STORE: Wal-Mart Stores Inc. won City Council approval Wednesday by a vote of 32-15 to build in a 150,000-square-foot store in a poor, largely black and Hispanic neighborhood on Chicago's West Side after months of delay and intense lobbying by the chain's foes and supporters. In a second vote, the council rejected a huge store that Wal-Mart wanted to build in a largely middle class South Side neighborhood. The action means Detroit and the five boroughs of New York City are the only top-10 urban markets without a Wal-Mart store or approval to build one.
TRUMP CASINOS TO MEET DEADLINE: Donald Trump's financially troubled casino company expects to make good on a critical $73.1-million bond payment this week, company officials said Wednesday. The interest payment on $1.3-billion in Trump Atlantic City Associates bonds was due May 1, but Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts Inc. has a 30-day grace period in which to pay. Meanwhile, negotiations are continuing between Trump Hotels, DLJ Merchant Banking Partners III and Trump's bondholders for a proposed $400-million bailout.
STEWART HIRES 3 NEW LAWYERS: Martha Stewart is expanding her defense team with new top lawyers, including the Las Vegas attorney David Chesnoff, who helped Britney Spears wiggle out of her quickie marriage. Also joining the team is Walter Dellinger III, who once was acting solicitor general under President Clinton, and Martin Weinberg. The trio will help Stewart ask for a new trial based in the recent arrest of a prosecution witness on charges of perjury.
PEOPLESOFT SAYS "NO' AGAIN: Business software maker PeopleSoft Inc. rejected its relentless suitor Oracle Corp. for a fourth time Wednesday. PeopleSoft's board unanimously voted against Oracle's latest offer of $7.7-billion, or $21 per share, after concluding the revised bid "is inadequate and does not reflect PeopleSoft's real value." PeopleSoft disclosed it had settled all the shareholders suits filed against a company program guaranteeing customer refunds up to five times the sales amount if significant product changes are made under a new ownership. The Department of Justice is seeking to block the proposed deal for antitrust reasons in a trial scheduled to begin June 7 in San Francisco.
Tech Data Corp.: The Clearwater computer equipment distributor said revenues rose more than 23 percent for the quarter ended April 30, in part because of strong sales in Europe as well as improved results in the Americas. Europe now accounts for 57 percent of worldwide sales.