- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Regional

NASA will pay Orbital Sciences Corp. of Sterling, Va., $174 million to design a privately built spaceship that can deliver crew and cargo to orbit, possibly replacing the agency’s aging space shuttle after it is retired in 2010.

Bethesda real estate investment trust Saul Centers Inc. said net income for its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31 rose 6 percent to $7.3 million (41 cents per diluted share) from $6.9 million (39 cents) a year ago. For the year, net income rose 16 percent to $28.7 million ($1.62).

National

The boards of directors of Delta Air Lines Inc. and Northwest Airlines Corp. were expected to vote today on a combination provided their pilot unions can reach their own integration deal by then, sources said.

The Supreme Court appeared to side with power suppliers in a series of contract disputes with electric utilities stemming from the 2000-01 California energy crisis. Utilities in Washington state and Nevada are seeking to set aside long-term contracts they signed with power companies. During the crisis, electricity prices soared 15-fold.

The Supreme Court rejected Allstate Corp.’s challenge to a Texas law that restricts insurance company ownership of auto collision repair shops. Allstate sought review of its case at the high court, arguing the Texas law, which aims to protect smaller in-state collision repair companies from competition, violates the Constitution.

Merrill Lynch & Co.’s Craig Lipsay, one of two U.S. executives overseeing sales of investments linked to bonds, currencies and interest rates, left the firm as part of an overhaul of its fixed-income division, sources said. Mr. Lipsay, 44, was co-head of the Strategic Solutions Group, a 70-person unit that sold derivatives.

The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil fraud charges against former Refco Inc. CEO Phillip R. Bennett, days after he pleaded guilty to criminal charges in a scheme to mask the commodities broker’s financial health. The lawsuit charges that Bennett orchestrated a scheme to hide hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Refco by a private entity controlled by Bennett.

The European Commission has asked for information on Hershey’s pricing practices, a signal that regulators across the globe are taking a broader look into charges of an industrywide price-fixing scheme. In its annual report, Hershey Co. also said it is named in about 50 civil antitrust suits in the U.S. and three in Canada on behalf of consumers and distributors in connection with price-fixing charges.

Microsoft is crafting a plan to oust Yahoo’s board of directors after it rejected the software giant’s unsolicited $44.6 billion takeover offer, the New York Times reported. The move could be an bid to negotiate through the media or a sign that Microsoft plans to take Yahoo by force.

Hewlett-Packard said net income for its first-quarter ended Jan. 31 climbed 38 percent on strong computer sales, and it sees a brightening future. Net income totaled $2.13 billion (80 cents) compared to $1.55 billion (55 cents) a year ago. Revenue rose 13 percent to $28.5 billion.

Natural foods grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. said net income for its three months ended Jan. 20 fell 27 percent as the cost of its acquisition of Wild Oats dragged on earnings. Net income fell to $39.1 million (28 cents) from $53.8 million (38 cents) a year ago. Sales at stores open at least a year were up about 7 percent.

Delphi Corp., the bankrupt former auto-parts unit of General Motors Corp., said its fourth-quarter loss narrowed to $542 million from $853 million a year ago. The results included expenses of $595 million to write down the assets of discontinued businesses and a tax benefit of $703 million. Sales fell 3.6 percent to $5.3 billion.

Sun-Times Media Group, owner of the Chicago Sun-Times, said it agreed to outsource most of its print and online advertising production. The deal will result in an unspecified number of jobs being eliminated and save the newspaper company $3 million a year.

International

Thomson Corp. won U.S. and European regulatory approval to buy news and information provider Reuters Group PLC but must sell off several business-information databases to encourage new players to emerge, the European Commission said.

OAO Gazprom, Russia’s natural-gas exporter, said it agreed to help Iran develop “two or three” blocks of the South Pars gas field as the two countries with the biggest reserves of the fuel increase cooperation in energy. Gazprom’s oil unit, OAO Gazprom Neft, will also produce crude oil in Iran.

Exxon Mobil Corp.’s nationalized investments in Venezuela are worth less than $1 billion — far below what the company seeking as compensation, the country’s oil minister said. Courts in Britain and the United States have temporarily frozen about $12 billion in Venezuelan assets to guarantee a payoff in the event the company wins arbitration over a heavy oil project Venezuela nationalized.

Russian oil company Lukoil said it halted deliveries to Germany because of a disagreement over prices, the Ria-Novosti news agency reported, citing a Lukoil spokesman.

Iraq will place an order for 40 Boeing aircraft and for a smaller number from Canada’s Bombardier, an Iraqi official said. The Iraqi official said the aircraft will be delivered within 10 years. He did not provide any details on the Boeing or Bombardier orders, and a Boeing spokesman declined to comment.

The theft of information linked to recent and potentially massive offshore petroleum discoveries was probably corporate espionage, Brazilian police said.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

Investigators have ruled out common theft of hard drives belonging to Petrobras with information on petroleum finds potentially so great that Brazil’s envoy to Saudi Arabia has said Brazil would consider joining the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.


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