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Business today

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 27, 2001


JOBLESS CLAIMS HIT FIVE-YEAR HIGH: The number of U.S. workers filing new applications for state unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level in more than five years. The Labor Department reported first-time jobless claims increased by 18,000 to 408,000 in the week ended April 21. Since the start of the year, claims have averaged 362,125, up from last year's weekly average of 302,800 and the most since 407,800 in 1992. The four-week moving average for new claims, which takes out some of the volatility in the weekly figure, rose to 394,500 from 383,750 and was the highest since October 1992.

WAGES, BENEFITS CLIMB: Americans' wages and benefits in the first quarter posted their biggest gain in a year, the Labor Department reported. The employment cost index, a closely watched gauge of inflation, rose a seasonally adjusted 1.1 percent in the January-March quarter, up from a 0.9 percent rise in the previous quarter. For the 12 months ended in March, Americans' wages and benefits rose 4.1 percent, compared with a 4.3 percent rise for the same period a year ago.

SARA LEE EXTENDS JOB CUTS: Sara Lee Corp. said it will dismiss 1,300 to 1,400 workers due to sluggish demand for women's underwear. The cuts come on top of Sara Lee's announcement three months ago that it would fire 7,000 employees to lower costs. The job cuts affect apparel factories in Central and South America and represent less than 1 percent of Sara Lee's 154,000-employee work force. Sara Lee, which gets more than 40 percent of its sales and earnings from intimate apparel and underwear, has been cutting costs in response to slumping retail sales and price cutting by competitor Fruit of the Loom. Sara Lee shares closed at $19.94, down 32 cents.

DILLARD'S TO ACQUIRE WARDS STORES: Dillard's Inc. has agreed to pay $21-million for eight former Montgomery Ward & Co. stores, including one in Gulf View Square Mall in Port Richey. The location would be Dillard's eighth in the Tampa Bay area market. The 144,000-square-foot Port Richey store is owned by Chicago-based Wards, which is being liquidated in a bankruptcy proceeding. Dillard's already has a store in Gulf View Square but plans to move into the larger Wards space.

WEBVAN RETRENCHES: Internet grocer Webvan Group said it will cut 885 jobs, stop service in Atlanta and have a reverse-stock split as part of a plan to stay in business. The job cuts amount to about 25 percent of its work force. The company, one of the last Internet-only grocers, said the reverse split also will support its effort to raise the Webvan share price above Nasdaq's $1-a-share listing requirement. The company also said its first-quarter loss more than doubled to $217-million, or 46 cents a share, from $101.3-million, or 23 cents, a year earlier.

JUNO HIGH-SPEED SERVICE COMING: Juno Online Services Inc. will begin offering high-speed Web access over AOL Time Warner Inc.'s cable unit's lines later this year. The service will begin once Time Warner Cable finishes modifications to allow its lines to carry multiple service providers. As part of the agreement, both companies will be free to market the service independently. Time Warner signed a similar agreement with EarthLink Inc. last year. Time Warner has 12.8-million subscribers and Juno has 15.9-million.

UPS TARGETS NEW MARKET: United Parcel Service Inc. has acquired two businesses and created a third to move into what it said is a $15-billion market to process, sort and gather electronic and physical mail. United Parcel declined to say how much it paid for two closely held companies: Mail2000, based in Bethesda, Md., and Global Management Services LLC of Reno, Nev. The company also wouldn't disclose sales or profit projections for its mail services business, which includes UPS Presort in Georgia.

INCOME RISES AT RAYMOND JAMES: Raymond James Bank said net income increased 34 percent in the second quarter ended March 31 thanks largely to a shift in assets from mortgages-backed securities to higher-yielding loans. Net income was $1.3-million, up from $935,108 for the same period a year ago. Assets grew 16 percent to $875.2-million. Deposits rose 12 percent to $749.9-million as more investors opted for the safety of CDs.

TECO UNIT MAKES PURCHASE: A TECO Energy subsidiary that designs and builds energy-saving improvements for businesses and institutional clients bought a Fort Lauderdale contracting company to expand its South Florida presence. TECO BGA purchased the assets of AMSI Inc. and will open a new Fort Lauderdale office. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. AMSI's clients include municipal governments, state agencies and school districts. TECO BGA has South Florida offices in Miami and West Palm Beach.

KB TOYS TO BUY ETOYS INVENTORY: KB Toys Inc. agreed to pay about $5.4-million for the inventory of bankrupt Web retailer EToys Inc. Closely held KB Toys won bidding for seven of 11 lots of inventory and will sell the items at a discount on KBkids.com and at KB Toy Outlet and KB Toy Works stores, spokesman John Reilly said. KB Toys is interested in other assets, including EToys' Web address, he said. EToys' assets were put up for auction after the Santa Monica, Calif., company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month. EToys, founded in 1996, never made a profit and shut down after failing to get funding to stay in business.

WORKPLACE FATALITIES DROP: Workplace deaths in the United States have dropped by nearly half over the past two decades, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The CDC said 5,285 workers died from on-the-job injuries in 1997, the latest year for which figures are available. That is a rate of 4.1 deaths per 100,000 workers -- down 45 percent from 1980, when it was 7.4. Officials credited new technology, stricter safety regulations and a shift in the economy toward safer service-industry jobs for the decrease. Mining was easily the most dangerous sector, with 30 deaths per 100,000 workers over the two decades.

NASDAQ GOING PUBLIC: Nasdaq said it plans to become a public company, putting shares of the electronic stock market in the hands of investors as early as next year. In becoming the country's first for-profit stock exchange, the Nasdaq said it expects to achieve greater flexibility to expand and compete with other stock markets in the United States and abroad. Nasdaq chairman Frank Zarb offered few details of the move, including how large the initial public offer will be or when it will take place, other than that it likely will be next year.

CRAZY HORSE LAWSUIT SETTLED: With seven horses, 32 blankets, some tobacco and sweet grass -- and an apology -- a brewery is settling with American Indians who sued over its marketing of Crazy Horse malt liquor. Seth H. Big Crow Sr., administrator of the Crazy Horse estate, said John Stroh III, chairman of SBC Holdings Inc., was to read a letter of apology to descendants of the 19th century warrior and other American Indians at a ceremony. The settlement does not include money. SBC felt the settlement "was the right thing to do under the circumstances," attorney George Kuehn said. A second lawsuit against another company, Hornell Brewing of Brooklyn, N.Y., alleges Hornell used the Crazy Horse name without permission.

TREASURY BUYBACK: The U.S. Treasury purchased $2-billion in government bonds from investors at an average yield of 5.816 percent. The Treasury received offers to tender $7.138-billion in face value for the bonds, with maturity dates between February 2019 and February 2023, and paying interest rates from 7.125 percent to 8.875 percent.

Earnings

IMRglobal Corp.

The Clearwater information technology consultant, which is being bought by CGI Group of Montreal, rebounded from a fourth-quarter loss. Its net income for the first quarter ended March 31, however, was down 56 percent from the year-ago period.

Franklin Resources Inc.

The parent of Franklin Templeton Investments said net income fell 8 percent during the quarter ended March 31. Average assets under management also were down 8 percent, to $215.7-billion, which reduced management fees. In addition to a decline in market values, the company saw $2.1-billion flow out the door as shareholder redemptions exceeded new investments. The San Mateo, Calif., company has an operations center in St. Petersburg.

Bausch & Lomb Inc.

Slowing demand for contact lenses and laser eye surgery equipment in the United States cut into earnings for the Rochester, N.Y., company. Bausch also cut its profit forecast by 23 cents a share to $2.11 to $2.13 a share for all of 2001. Results are for the three months ended March 31.

WorldCom Inc.

Net income fell 49 percent, with severance packages and foreign currency fluctuations hitting the telecommunications giant hard. Despite the decline, results for the three months ended March 31 met Wall Street's expectations. WorldCom laid off about 6,000 U.S. employees, or roughly 7 percent of its worldwide work force, two months ago. WorldCom also expects to finish its acquisition of Tampa-based Intermedia Communications Inc. and take control of Digex Inc. in June.

BankAtlantic Bancorp Inc.

The Fort Lauderdale parent of BankAtlantic, Levitt Corp. and Ryan Beck reported an 11 percent increase in net income for the first quarter ended March 31.

Healthsouth Corp.

Income rose 15 percent in the quarter ended March 31. The Birmingham, Ala., company is the biggest U.S. operator of outpatient rehabilitation clinics.

Superior Uniform Group

The Seminole company blamed the economic downturn and severe weather in many of its markets for essentially flat sales in the quarter ended March 31. Superior makes uniforms, career apparel and accessories.

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