- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 2, 2008

Regional

U Constellation Energy and its Baltimore Gas & Electric subsidiary were placed on a negative credit watch by Fitch Ratings, days after Constellation threatened to sue the state of Maryland in a dispute over deregulation. Fitch said the dispute had elevated risk for Constellation and made it impossible to predict the final outcome.

U MAXjet Airways Inc.’s proposal to put its all-business-class airline on the auction block would give the company a “blank check” to rewrite bidding procedures as it goes along, according to the federal official monitoring its Chapter 11 case. U.S. Trustee Kelly Beaudin Stapleton filed her limited objection to MAXjet’s proposal with U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del.

U Gannett Co., the McLean newspaper publisher, said that falling revenue from broadcast and newspaper ad sales drove fourth-quarter earnings down 31 percent to $245.3 million ($1.06 per share) from $353.5 million ($1.51) a year ago.

National

U Medtronic received federal approval to sell its drug-coated stent, the first to hit the U.S. market since safety concerns sank their popularity two years ago. The Food and Drug Administration said it cleared the company’s Endeavor stent for use in patients with clogged arteries. Medtronic said it expects to ship 100,000 units to hospitals this month.

U Government regulators said the connection between Pfizer’s anti-smoking drug Chantix and serious psychiatric problems is “increasingly likely.” The Food and Drug Administration said it has received reports of 37 suicides and more than 400 of suicidal behavior in connection with the drug.

U Homebuilder Beazer Homes USA Inc. said it will no longer originate mortgages and will offer its buyers mortgage services through Countrywide Financial Corp. The Atlanta company also said it will stop building homes in several communities.

U Construction spending fell by a record 2.6 percent in 2007 — mostly reflecting record cutbacks in home-building projects by private companies. Private companies last year slashed residential projects by 18.3 percent, the largest drop on records dating back to 1993, the Commerce Department reported.

U The nation’s manufacturing sector expanded at a modest clip in January, recovering from the contraction seen in December, an industry group survey showed. After slipping to its lowest level in almost five years, the Institute for Supply Management said its manufacturing index rose last month to a reading of 50.7, up from a revised reading of 48.4 in the previous month. A reading above 50 indicates growth, and below that level indicates contraction.

U Auto parts maker Dana Holding Corp. will continue expanding in China and other developing countries but won’t give up its business with Detroit, executives said as the company emerged from bankruptcy. In nearly two years of restructuring, the Toledo, Ohio, maker of axles and brakes moved manufacturing to lower-cost countries and cut labor costs while reducing its dependence on Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., its two biggest customers.

U Dell Inc. is cutting more than 1,200 jobs, about 900 of them at a call center in Canada, as the computer maker reduces its sales and support work force.

U A senior Democratic senator said Congress this year will try to close down an Internal Revenue Service private debt collection program that he claims is not cost-effective. “We’re going to try to shut this down,” said Sen. Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota.

U Consumer groups in four states asked Congress to conduct hearings on Bank of America Corp.’s proposed $4.1 billion buyout of struggling mortgage lender Countrywide Financial Corp. Groups from California, New York, New Jersey and North Carolina sent letters requesting that lawmakers investigate the possible impact of the buyout on Countrywide borrowers.

U Shares of J.C. Penney Co. rose 2.4 percent on a published report that activist billionaire investor Carl Icahn has quietly amassed a big stake in the department store operator. The Wall Street Journal, citing people familiar with the matter, reported on its Web site that Penney is among Mr. Icahn’s five largest holdings.

U The hamburger chains Jack-In-the-Box and In-N-Out as well more than 150 school districts around the nation have banned meat from a Chino, Calif., slaughterhouse after a video showed workers brutalizing sick and crippled cows. School districts in at least 11 states have stopped using ground beef from Hallmark Meat Packing Co. and its associated Westland Meat Co. until a federal investigation is complete.

U The nation’s microwave ovens need to be fed. Leave it to Hormel. The Austin, Minn., meatpacker said it’s selling so many microwaveable meals that it plans to build a fourth plant to produce more. A new 327,000-square-foot plant will open in Dubuque, Iowa, in November 2009, the company said.

U A former Wal-Mart executive avoided a prison term when a federal judge resentenced him for tax evasion and fraud convictions. The judge added only 1,500 hours of community service to Tom Coughlin’s punishment, and Coughlin said he was grateful. In 2006, U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson had sentenced Coughlin to 27 months of home detention, five years’ probation, a $50,000 fine and $400,000 restitution.

U The Walt Disney Co. signed Chief Executive Robert Iger to a new five-year deal that will pay him a base salary of at least $2 million a year through 2013. He could also receive $10 million or more each year in bonuses.

U Motorola Inc.’s investors were placated for at least a day and sent its battered stock soaring 10.3 percent after the company signaled it may get out of its trademark cell-phone business. Analysts said the handset maker could get at least $5 billion for the troubled unit.

International

U Alcoa Inc. and Aluminum Corp. of China jointly acquired 12 percent of the shares of global mining company Rio Tinto PLC in a deal believed to be worth $14.05 billion, the companies said. It is the largest overseas investment ever by a Chinese company, Aluminum Corp. of China said.

U Tyson Foods Inc. said it is partnering with a Chinese poultry breeding company to run a chicken processing plant near Shanghai. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed, but Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson will own 70 percent of the venture.

U Shares in Spanish property giant Colonial closed sharply lower after U.S. conglomerate General Electric Co. said it was putting a bid for the firm on hold because it could not gain access to the company’s books.

U Swedish telecom group Ericsson, hit hard by a slowdown in the telecom sector, announced that its net income fell 17 percent to $3.4 billion in 2007 and it will eliminate 1,000 jobs in Sweden.

U British Airways PLC posted a 22 percent rise in net profit for the first nine months of its fiscal year amid strong demand for business class fares, but warned of rising fuel costs. BA’s faith in the premium market was underlined by its accompanying announcement that it plans to start an all-business class service next year between London and New York.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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