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Business Today

By wire services
Published March 11, 2005


SCRIPPS STICKS WITH ORIGINAL SITE: Scripps Research Institute has rejected Palm Beach County's offer of an alternate location for its permanent campus, saying it wants to build at Mecca Farms despite legal delays. In a letter to county commissioners, Scripps' board said moving to Florida Research Park could trigger the same kinds of challenges and lawsuits that have erupted over the nearby Mecca location. Both sites are in western Palm Beach County. Environmental and antisprawl groups have sued to stop development at Mecca and county officials say lawsuits could delay the project at least 18 months. Palm Beach County, which has committed more than $200-million toward the construction of the Scripps Florida campus, is under contract to turn over a 100-acre parcel at Mecca for construction in early April.

CHECKERS SETTLES SUIT: Checkers Drive-In Restaurants Inc. will pay $206,000 to two female managers who claimed a male company manager sexually harassed them, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said. The lawsuit, filed in March 2003 by the managers of separate Tampa restaurants, alleged that Checkers corporate management knew about the harassment but did nothing to stop it. The restaurant chain also agreed to implement new training and monitoring procedures to prevent other such incidents at its Tampa area outlets.

FORD RETIRING THUNDERBIRD: Ford Motor Co. said the 2005 model year will be the last for the current-generation Ford Thunderbird, a retro-style convertible that went on sale in August 2001. Ford planned to discontinue the Thunderbird after the 2005 or 2006 model year but told employees production will end in July. The Thunderbird first went on sale in 1954, and went through numerous design changes over the decades before going on hiatus in 1997.

EX-BOEING CHIEF FORFEITS MILLIONS: Former Boeing chief executive Harry Stonecipher forfeited as much as $37.7-million in stock when he resigned because of an affair with a female employee. Boeing had planned to award Stonecipher 251,625 performance shares for 2005 before he was ousted Monday, spokeswoman Anne Eisele said. The shares, which expired in 2010, would have vested to as much as 125 percent of the amount awarded if the average price of the stock reached $119.71, according to a regulatory filing. Shares of Boeing closed Thursday at $57.98, up 23 cents.

SMALL ORANGE CROP EXPECTED: Florida's orange crop will be the smallest in 13 years, forecasters said in their monthly prediction, lowering their estimate by 9-million boxes to 153-million. Each box weighs 90 pounds. The decline is due to smaller fruit sizes and continuing fruit droppings caused by last year's hurricanes.

FLORIDA JOBLESS RATE LOWER THAN NATION'S: Florida's unemployment rate continued below the U.S. average in January, at 4.3 percent compared with 5.2 percent nationwide. The state's jobless rate also reflected a continuing decline, down from 4.9 percent a year ago and 4.6 percent in December. The Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater area ranked second, behind Orlando, in job creation in January, adding 37,000 jobs over the previous year. The Tampa bay area's unemployment rate was 4.4 percent for the month, down from 4.9 percent in January 2004.

CELL PHONE CARRIERS MUST DISCLOSE FEES: Cell phone companies will have to disclose government-mandated fees under a new federal order that seeks to make customer bills easier to understand. The Federal Communications Commission also transferred oversight of the rule to the federal government from the states, prompting criticism from both Democratic commissioners. Consumer-rights advocates say the bills often lump together U.S.-mandated surcharges with discretionary fees, using catchall categories to disguise hidden fees.

GREENSPAN SAYS BUDGET DEFICITS A RISK: Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said future budget deficits pose a bigger risk to the economy than record trade imbalances and the country's extremely low savings rate. Greenspan said in prepared remarks to the Council on Foreign Relations in New York that the budget deficit is a problem because it is projected to rise significantly as a wave of baby boomers start to retire in 2008. "Our fiscal prospects are, in my judgment, a significant obstacle to long-term stability," Greenspan said.

JOBLESS CLAIMS RISE: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose 17,000 last week to 327,000, the highest level in two months, the Labor Department said. The worse-than-expected showing was blamed in part on unemployment offices being closed for a holiday the previous week. The increase pushed the four-week moving average, intended to smooth out week-to-week fluctuations, to 312,500, up from 307,750 the previous week, which was the lowest in more than four years.

MORTGAGE RATES HIT 7-MONTH HIGH: Rates on 30-year mortgage rates hit the highest level in seven months, a national mortgage survey reported. Freddie Mac said its weekly survey showed that rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.85 percent this week, up from 5.79 percent last week. It was the fourth consecutive weekly increase after 30-year mortgages had fallen six straight weeks.

PURCHASE OF ENRON UTILITY BLOCKED: Regulators blocked an investment firm's proposed $2.35-billion purchase of Enron Corp. subsidiary Portland General Electric, saying it was not in the public interest. The Oregon Public Utility Commission had been considering the decision since it heard closing arguments Dec. 14 on a deal to sell the utility that serves about 755,000 customers to Texas Pacific Group of Fort Worth, Texas. The commission's major concerns were a large debt burden and short-term ownership likely by the Texas company. The decision set the stage for a possible takeover by the city of Portland.

MICROSOFT TO BUY GROOVE: Microsoft Corp. agreed to buy Lotus Notes creator Ray Ozzie's software company, Groove Networks Inc., and to hire Ozzie as a chief technical officer. Ozzie's Notes, one of the earliest document-sharing e-mail programs, changed the way businesses managed projects. The deal gives Microsoft programs that let people in different locations view and make changes to documents over the Internet in real time, the company said. Microsoft will use the products to build up its Office set of business applications.

DISSIDENTS SAY EISNER SHOULDN'T INTERVIEW CANDIDATES: Two prominent shareholders of The Walt Disney Co. questioned the process being used to find a successor for departing CEO Michael Eisner, urging the board in a letter not to allow Eisner to attend interviews with candidates. Former board members Roy E. Disney and Stanley Gold said they had been told by two credible sources that Eisner will be present at all interviews. Disney declined to comment, citing a previous promise by board chairman George Mitchell to conduct the succession process in an independent manner and to keep the specifics private. The board has hired an independent search firm and said it will name Eisner's successor by June.

TENET TO SETTLE SUITS: Tenet Healthcare Corp. has agreed to settle some class-action lawsuits over prices that uninsured and underinsured patients were charged at hospitals owned by the chain's subsidiaries. The operator of acute-care hospitals said it has established a $30-million reserve to cover costs of the settlement. It is subject to court approvals, and not expected to become final for several months. Class-action lawsuits are pending against Tenet hospitals in other states, including Florida. If a nationwide settlement is approved by a California court, the cases will be subject to dismissal.

GM ADDS REBATES: General Motors Corp. is adding rebates of $1,000 on models sitting unsold on dealer lots for more than four months after sales fell 10 percent in the first two months of this year. The new incentives, which run through March 31, are in addition to rebates that range from $500 to $3,500 on most models, GM spokeswoman Deborah Silverman said. Cadillac models that are slow to sell get an additional $1,500 in rebates, she said.

MOTOROLA DELAYS ITUNES-ENABLED PHONE: Motorola Inc. postponed plans to unveil a cell phone that can buy and play songs from Apple Computer Inc.'s iTunes download service, a sudden decision that may reflect tensions with cellular companies who also want to sell music to mobile phone users. A Motorola spokeswoman said the company remains in discussions with wireless carriers regarding the first iTunes phone.

EARNINGS

Borders Group Inc.: The No. 2 bookstore chain said earnings for the quarter ended Jan. 23 rose 3.2 percent, helped by higher international sales during the holiday season.