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Banks Settle WorldCom Suits

Friday, March 11, 2005; Page E02

Deutsche Bank agreed to pay $325 million to settle a lawsuit by WorldCom investors who claimed it should have known, as the company's bond underwriter, that WorldCom's books were fraudulent. Two other banks, WestLB and Caboto Holding, reached settlements totaling $112.5 million involving similar allegations. If approved by a federal judge, the accords would bring the WorldCom investor lawsuit settlements total to a record $4 billion.

Oregon Stops Sale of Enron Unit

Oregon regulators blocked Enron's proposed $2.35 billion sale of Portland General Electric to a group of private investors. Fort Worth-based Texas Pacific Group tried to build support for the electric utility's acquisition for more than a year despite widespread criticism and resistance in Oregon.

Florida will have its smallest orange crop in 13 years, forecasters said in a monthly prediction, lowering their estimate by 9 million boxes (90 pounds each), to 153 million. Last year's hurricanes contributed to smaller fruit and left more of it on the ground, as seen in this grove in Haines City, Fla. The state's grapefruit forecast is unchanged at 13 million 85-pound boxes. That would be the smallest grapefruit crop since 1935-36. (Peter Cosgrove -- AP)


The jury in the fraud trial of former WorldCom chief executive Bernard J. Ebbers ended its fifth day of deliberations without reaching a verdict. Ebbers is accused of conspiracy, securities fraud and seven counts of lying to the Securities and Exchange Commission. He faces 10 years in prison if convicted of the fraud charge and for each of the false-statement counts. He faces five years on the conspiracy charge.

Investment analysts found HealthSouth's numbers unsettling but had no idea of the massive accounting fraud until it unraveled, a Merrill Lynch official testified during the trial of ousted chief executive Richard M. Scrushy. A.J. Rice said HealthSouth's capital spending was twice the industry average from 1999 through 2001. Previous testimony indicated that company executives placed millions of dollars fraudulently into the capital expenditures account, contributing to a $2.7 billion overstatement of earnings.

Microsoft said it plans to acquire collaboration software company Groove Networks and select its founder, Ray Ozzie, as Microsoft's chief technical officer. Financial terms of the acquisition weren't immediately disclosed. Ozzie, a creator of Lotus Notes, would report directly to Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates.

Former Walt Disney Co. directors Roy E. Disney and Stanley P. Gold asked the company's board to keep chief executive Michael D. Eisner out of job interviews with his potential successors. Chairman George J. Mitchell last month repeated that the company would name a new chief executive by June. Eisner, a member of the board, is leaving the company in September 2006.

Rates on 30-year mortgages were the highest in seven months, reflecting four straight weeks of rising rates, Freddie Mac said in its weekly national survey. Rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages averaged 5.85 percent this week, up from 5.79 percent last week. Rates on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages rose to 5.38 percent from 5.33 percent. Rates on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages climbed to 4.24 percent from 4.14 percent.

Initial jobless claims rose to 327,000 for the week ended March 5, from 310,000, the Labor Department said. The four-week average of claims, a less volatile measure, increased to 312,500, from 306,750, which was the lowest in more than four years. Claims are down from a weekly average of 343,000 last year.

A French judge placed Continental Airlines under investigation for manslaughter in the July 2000 crash of the supersonic Concorde that killed 113 people. The action is one step short of a formal charge.

Revlon shares dropped 15 cents, or 5.1 percent, after the company disclosed a $1.2 million accounting error in its sales-return estimate. In an annual report submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission, Revlon said it had identified a "material weakness" in its internal financial controls and "implemented additional controls and procedures in order to remediate this deficiency."

Microsoft and Burst.com said they have agreed to settle Burst's lawsuit that accused Microsoft of stealing its technology for high-speed Internet broadcasting of sound and video. Burst, a California software provider, had accused Microsoft of patent infringement and antitrust violations. The two companies refused to divulge details of the settlement, saying it hadn't been completed.

Krispy Kreme violated federal laws requiring "prudence" in administering 401(k) and profit-sharing plans, a company employee claims in a federal lawsuit. The suit says Krispy Kreme workers have lost more than $17 million in retirement and profit-sharing savings since 2002 because management lied about falling sales. The SEC and a U.S. attorney's office are investigating the company's accounting practices.

The Treasury sold $9 billion of 9-year, 11-month notes at a yield of 4.504 percent, the highest in nine months. The bid/cover ratio, which compares the number of bids with the amount sold, was 2.35.

Consumer spending on online content such as music, dating sites and business and investment information grew 14 percent last year, to $1.8 billion, the Online Publishers Association reported. The group, working with ComScore Networks, said the biggest gain came in spending on entertainment, which jumped 90 percent, to $413.5 million.

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