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Regional

U Mario Gabelli, the biggest investor in Media General Inc., backed calls for changes to the Richmond newspaper publisher's board after shareholder Harbinger Capital Partners proposed replacing three directors. Mr. Gabelli said he hasn't decided whether to back Harbinger's entire slate of nominees to replace directors elected by common shareholders. Media General stock has fallen 51 percent in the past year.

U DiamondRock Hospitality Co., the Bethesda owner of 20 hotels in the U.S. and the Virgin Islands, said 2007 profit was lower than it expected because of slowing demand in Chicago and Boston. Funds from operations last year totaled $1.55 a share, less than the $1.58 to $1.62 projected in October, the real estate investment trust said. DiamondRock shares fell 87 cents, or 6 percent, to $13.66.

U Fannie Mae said its holdings of mortgage assets grew at a 3.3 percent annual rate last month, while souring mortgages on which the District-based company may lose money rose almost 50 percent from a year earlier. The portfolio expanded by $1.9 billion to $724 billion in December, after falling at a 15.6 percent pace in November, the sharpest monthly drop in two years.

National

U Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and 25 other underwriters of Countrywide Financial Corp., the biggest U.S. mortgage lender, were named as defendants in a lawsuit by New York state and city officials for reputedly making misleading statements about the company's prospects. State and city pension funds lost a combined $100 million because of Countrywide's declining stock price, New York City Comptroller William Thompson Jr. said.

U Shares of IndyMac Bancorp Inc., the second-biggest independent U.S. mortgage company, rose nearly 29 percent after the lender said it might post a profit this year. IndyMac stock soared the most in a decade after Chief Executive Officer Michael Perry said his Pasadena, Calif., company has a "good shot" at rebounding from losses in 2007.

U The top managers of WellCare Health Plans Inc., the Tampa, Fla., insurer being investigated by the FBI for suspected fraud, resigned. Chief Executive Officer Todd Farha, finance chief Paul Behrens and general counsel Thaddeus Bereday quit and will remain nonexecutive employees until March 31. Charles G. Berg, 50, was named executive chairman and Heath Scheisser, 40, was named president and chief executive officer.

U Chronos Asset Management Inc. and the hedge-fund adviser's founder, Mitchell Dong, will pay $2.2 million to settle regulatory claims they made market-timing trades in mutual funds that can hurt other investors.

U Merck & Co.'s application to sell the cholesterol pill Mevacor without a prescription was rejected by the Food and Drug Administration after government advisers said patients may not understand how to use it properly.

U Genentech Inc. won expanded U.S. approval of Rituxan as a treatment that can slow joint damage from rheumatoid arthritis.

U Baxter International Inc. said it is voluntarily recalling nine lots of the blood thinner heparin "as a precautionary measure" after reports of allergic reactions to the product. Some reactions may be life-threatening, the company said.

U The Federal Communications Commission is seeking to fine ABC television stations $27,500 each for a 2003 broadcast that included female nudity. Walt Disney Co.'s network and affiliates "aired material that apparently violates the federal restrictions regarding the broadcast of indecent material" with an episode of "NYPD Blue," the agency said in a Web site posting.

U The U.S. government received $3.7 billion in fourth-round bids in a sale of airwaves that would let carriers offer faster Internet access on mobile phones. The value of bids rose 16 percent from a previous round, the Federal Communications Commission said on its Web site, without revealing which companies made offers. The government expects the auction to raise as much as $15 billion.

U ITT Corp. may lose the final year of its contract to repair U.S. combat vehicles in Kuwait because of poor performance on the current job, an Army official said. ITT won the contract to repair Army Humvees, Bradley Fighting Vehicles and trucks in October 2004.

U Caterpillar Inc., the world's largest maker of bulldozers and excavators, said fourth-quarter earnings rose 11 percent to $975 million ($1.50 a share) as demand from China, Russia and South Africa helped overcome slower sales in the U.S., where recession is "a definite threat."

U Harley-Davidson Inc., the biggest U.S. motorcycle maker, said fourth-quarter profit fell 26 percent to $186 million (78 cents) as a slowing domestic economy damped sales, capping its first annual earnings decline since 1993.

U Shares of Hershey Co., the largest U.S. candy maker, fell the most in five months in New York trading after Morgan Stanley advised clients to sell the stock. Hershey dropped $1.64, or 4.6 percent, to $34.04 after reporting that fourth-quarter profit plunged 65 percent and forecasting a drop in 2008 earnings.

U Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. beef producer, said it will halt cattle slaughtering at a plant in Kansas and eliminate 1,500 jobs because of surplus production capacity and rising costs to buy livestock.

U Dow Chemical Co. must face a group lawsuit brought by residents downstream from the company's Midland, Mich., plant, a state appeals court said. A trial judge gave class-action status in 2005 to about 2,000 Saginaw County property owners who claimed Dow dumped toxins in the Tittabawasee River that lowered real estate values. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the class certification yesterday.

U Best Buy Co., the largest U.S. consumer electronics chain, was sued by a former New York employee claiming he was forced to submit to unpaid, off-duty security checks in violation of the state's labor laws. The complaint by Mark Turner seeks class-action status.

U A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employee can pursue a lawsuit claiming the company illegally retaliated against her after she told authorities about a plan to destroy documents subpoenaed in a criminal investigation, a judge ruled. U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson denied Wal-Mart's request to throw out the lawsuit, which claims Wal-Mart illegally harassed the employee, Rita Miles, after she disclosed a plan to shred documents demanded by federal authorities in a criminal probe of former executive Thomas Coughlin.

U EBay Inc., the world's biggest online auctioneer, said it will pay outgoing Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman a $600,000 annual salary after she retires.

U Liquor sales in the U.S. climbed 5.6 percent to $18.2 billion last year, better than an industry group expected, as consumers bought more-expensive vodka and single-malt Scotch whisky, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said.

International

U Brewers Carlsberg and Heineken will buy beer manufacturer Scottish & Newcastle PLC for $15.3 billion, the companies said. The price is a premium of 50.7 percent over the closing share price March 28, the day before speculation arose about a bid for S&N.

U XL Capital Ltd., the Bermuda-based business insurer, had the claims-paying ability of subsidiaries downgraded by rating service A.M. Best Co. after the company said it lost as much as $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter. The downgrade follows similar action by Fitch Ratings on Thursday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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