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Business Today

By wire services
Published January 14, 2005


BUSH APPROVES $4.75-MILLION FOR TOURISM: Gov. Jeb Bush on Thursday approved spending $4.75-million more out of the budget to help make sure tourism doesn't drop off this year because of the four hurricanes that hit the state last year. The money will largely be used to provide "weather warrantees" for groups planning conventions during this year's hurricane season, said Dale Brill, chief marketing officer for Visit Florida, the state's private-public tourism marketing agency. If conventions or meetings have to be canceled because of the weather, the state would help cover increased costs of rescheduling, such as higher room rates, lost registration fees or reprinting brochures or other material, Brill said.

TECO SELLS POWER STATION: TECO Energy Inc. has agreed to sell the oil-fueled power station Commonwealth Chesapeake on the Delmarva Peninsula in Virginia to a unit of Tenaska Inc. for $89-million to raise cash for debt reduction. The sale is expected to close by the end of March, TECO said.

MOLSON, COORS SWEETEN OFFER: Molson Inc. and Adolph Coors Co. said Thursday they will sweeten their offer to Molson stockholders in hopes of winning shareholder support for their $6-billion merger. The brewers said they would increase the special dividend it had planned to offer Molson shareholders to $5.44 per share Canadian, up from $3.26 per share under an earlier offer. The companies also pushed back shareholder votes on the deal from Wednesday to Jan. 28 for Molson and Feb. 1 for Coors.

VENDORS CHARGED WITH INFLATING ROYAL AHOLD EARNINGS: Nine food vendors were charged Thursday with helping inflate the earnings of a U.S. subsidiary of Dutch grocery giant Royal Ahold by signing false audit confirmation reports. The charges come six months after prosecutors accused four executives of the subsidiary, U.S. Foodservice Inc., of inflating earnings by $800-million by reporting fake rebates from the vendors. Most of the nine men are expected to plead guilty, Manhattan U.S. Attorney David Kelley said.

EX-AMERICA ONLINE EXEC PLEADS GUILTY: The former chief of human resources at America Online pleaded guilty to fraud Thursday for a scheme in which he allowed himself to profit from a sham consulting contract. Court records indicate that Gregory Horton, 38, of Weston also defrauded two former employers - AutoNation and Qwest Communications - of more than $2-million in similar schemes. Horton faces up to 20 years in prison when he is sentenced April 22.

HOME DEPOT TO CONTINUE TO EXPAND: The Home Depot Inc.'s core strategy of store modernization and expansion into new markets here and abroad will not change any time soon, CEO Bob Nardelli said Thursday as he outlined strong earnings and sales expectations for 2005. The comments came as the nation's largest home improvement store chain said it will add 175 stores in fiscal 2005 and projected sales growth for the year of 9 to 12 percent and earnings per share growth of 10 to 14 percent.

ANOTHER HOME SHOPPING CHANNEL AHEAD: WSS Media Inc. plans to launch a home shopping channel to 12-million DirecTV satellite subscriber homes next month, said chief financial officer Mark Payne. WSS, or Worldwide Shopping Source, will use the same business model as its rivals, including HSN. Its product mix will emphasize jewelry, watches, leather outerwear, collectibles, loose gemstones and health-and-beauty goods. The difference, Payne said, is that manufacturers will provide WSS with merchandise directly, keeping product prices low for consumers. The suppliers also will help finance the venture, he said, declining to be more specific.

CINGULAR TO PAY BACK WAGES: Cingular Wireless LLC, the largest U.S. mobile-telephone operator, will pay $5.11-million in back wages to 25,351 customer-service employees to settle government charges that it violated federal overtime laws. Cingular, which didn't admit liability, agreed to the settlement after a U.S. Labor Department investigation at a call center in Springfield, Ill., found the company failed to keep track when employees started work before their scheduled shifts or continued to work after the shifts ended.

GOOGLE SETTLES CHARGES: Google Inc. settled charges Thursday that it repeatedly broke the law by improperly issuing $82-million in employee stock options, dealing a blow to the online search engine leader's do-good image. The company and its general counsel, David Drummond, resolved the Securities and Exchange Commission allegations by signing a cease-and-desist order without admitting or denying the allegations. Regulators didn't impose fines or penalties.

EARNINGS

Sun Microsystems Inc.: The server and software maker posted a small profit for its fiscal second quarter Thursday, but year-over-year sales continued to slide as the company struggled to gain back business it lost after tech collapse in 2001.

[Last modified January 14, 2005, 00:49:19]


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