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Business Today

By wire services
Published September 25, 2004

INSURERS BRACED FOR JEANNE: Insurers in Florida have enough funds and reinsurance to pay for another storm as Hurricane Jeanne heads toward the state, credit rating company A.M. Best Co. said. Jeanne, which may make state history this weekend as the fourth hurricane in two months, doesn't threaten the solvency of the roughly 100 Florida insurers analyzed by A.M. Best, the largest credit rater focused exclusively on the insurance industry. Allstate Corp. is among companies that have bought additional reinsurance to help pay for losses. "I don't see significant rating actions," A.M. Best analyst Anthony Diodato said. "No one is going bare without reinsurance."

ANOTHER AIRLINE HIKES FARE: Continental Airlines has matched a fare increase initiated by rival American Airlines, but it was uncertain whether the hike would remain in place if not all carriers follow suit. Blaming higher jet fuel costs, Fort Worth, Texas-based American announced Wednesday it was immediately raising most of its fares within North America by $5 one way and $10 on round trips. The airfare increase has also been matched by Northwest Airlines, but it remained unclear what many low-cost carriers would do.

ODYSSEY EXPECTS 38 PERCENT PROFIT: Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. of Tampa issued preliminary financial results for the quarter ending Aug. 31, saying it expects earnings of $2.4-million, or six cents per share, on revenues of $6.2-million. Odyssey, which hunts shipwrecks for buried treasure, said recent hurricanes had interfered with its operations, but the company did not quantify the impact.

STORMS DAMAGE PROGRESS EARNINGS: Progress Energy on Friday estimated its total damage from Florida hurricanes this season at more than $300-million and cut its earnings estimates for 2004 due to a drop in synthetic fuel production. The parent of Progress Energy Florida said total damage from hurricanes Charley, Frances and Ivan is between $310-million and $330-million, with the vast majority in Florida. The utility also cut its earnings guidance for this year to between $2.95 and $3.10 per share, down from the range of $3.50 to $3.65 per share. With synthetic fuel production down, the company had to reduce the future cash-flow benefits that it expected to realize after the synthetic fuel tax credits expired in 2007. "We have never experienced such a significant reduction to our estimated tax liability as we have this year as a result of the catastrophic loss due to hurricane damage," Geoff Chatas, chief financial officer, said in a statement.

STATE WORKPLACE DEATHS DOWN: Florida workplaces had seven fewer fatal accidents in 2003 than the previous year, according to a joint federal and state survey released Friday. The Florida Department of Financial Services and U.S. Department of Labor reported a total of 354 work-related fatalities statewide in 2002, compared to 347 in 2003. Fatalities among Hispanic workers decreased from 99 in 2002 to 90 last year. The construction industry continued to record the highest number of fatal injuries, but the number of deaths in the industry dropped from 99 to 93.

IN PRISON, ON PAYROLL: Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. will continue to pay founder Martha Stewart a salary of $900,000 a year under a five-year employment agreement reached last week, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

AID TO FARMERS SET: The United States expects to provide more than $500-million in emergency aid to help Florida's farmers, ranchers and citrus growers recover after being hit by three hurricanes since mid August, the Agriculture Department said.

[Last modified September 25, 2004, 01:12:14]

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