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Business today

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 6, 2001


LOWER ORANGE HARVEST EXPECTED: Florida's orange harvest is on track to be 4.3 percent smaller than last year because of dry weather, analysts said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture probably will leave its estimate of the 2000-2001 Florida crop unchanged at 223-million boxes Tuesday, according to the average estimate of five analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News. That would be down from 233-million boxes for the 1999-2000 crop year. "We've gotten some nice rains lately, but it's too late to help this year's crop," said Chet Townsend, who owns 100 acres of groves in La Belle.

RETAILERS PROJECT TOUGH SPRING: Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom warned March sales fell below expectations. The Neiman Marcus Group, citing a "challenging retail environment" and "volatile financial markets," said its fiscal third-quarter profit is projected to fall well below Wall Street estimates as a result of disappointing sales this spring. Nordstrom Inc. said sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales, were down 1.1 percent, which was slightly below what analysts expected. Several other major merchants, including Wal-Mart, Target and Sears, said same-store sales are trailing expectations.

FORMER CENDANT EXECS CONTEST FRAUD CHARGES: Two former executives pleaded innocent to charges they falsely inflated the value of a Connecticut company involved in the merger that created Cendant Corp. Walter Forbes, former chairman of Cendant, and E. Kirk Shelton, a former executive vice president, both face one conspiracy charge and one count of wire fraud from a Feb. 28 indictment. Each charge carries up to five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. Cendant's disclosure three years ago of the accounting fraud led to a one-day, $14-billion stock meltdown and triggered a huge class-action lawsuit by aggrieved shareholders.

WINSTAR TO CUT STAFF: Winstar Communications Inc. will shed 2,000 jobs and halt network expansion this year to save cash. A spokesman refused to give a breakdown of the job cuts, which involve 43 percent of the New York telephone company's work force. Winstar wouldn't say how much money it will save or specify the size of the charge it expects to take for severance and other costs. Winstar borrowed heavily to finance its wireless network and showed $3.66-billion in long-term debt at year's end.

COMAIR SHUTDOWN EXTENDED: Delta Air Lines Inc.'s Comair commuter carrier said it canceled flights through 9 a.m. April 13 as a strike by the regional airline's pilots moved toward a third week with no talks scheduled. The second-biggest U.S. commuter airline began halting service March 26 when contract negotiations with the Air Line Pilots Association broke down over pay, pensions and work rules. Analysts estimate the walkout will reduce results at Delta, the third-largest U.S. airline, 1 cent to 2 cents a share daily.

AGILENT IMPOSES PAY CUTS: Agilent Technologies Inc. lowered its second-quarter outlook and is slashing all 48,000 employees' pay by 10 percent to help weather a worsening slowdown in demand. Agilent, a Hewlett-Packard spinoff that makes test and measurement equipment, said the pay cuts were being imposed to avoid layoffs. The cuts began Sunday for Agilent's senior management and will extend to the rest of the work force May 1. They will last at least through July 31. Agilent expects the pay cuts will save about $70-million per quarter. In addition, the company has stopped hiring, reduced the use of temporary workers and consultants and limited travel and discretionary spending. Shares of Agilent rose $2.53, or 9 percent, to $30.62.

YAHOO JOINS MUSIC RACE: Yahoo Inc. struck an alliance with Duet, the online music distribution company backed by Sony Corp. and French media conglomerate Vivendi Universal. The Duet service is expected to launch this summer, letting users pay a fee to hear thousands of songs on the Internet. The deal follows similar announcements from AOL Time Warner Inc. and Viacom's MTV division and Rioport.com Inc. "The only reason we are getting this flurry of activity is because (the recording companies) are scared," CIBC World Markets analyst John Corcoran said. "They are still way behind. They've seen this coming for a while and the only thing they've done is sued Napster."

TIMES, EBAY IN TALKS: Times Publishing Co., publisher of the St. Petersburg Times, confirmed it is negotiating a joint classified advertising partnership with eBay Inc., the online auction Web site. The deal would enable eBay to offer its online customers the option of buying a classified ad in the Times.

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