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9/11 Insurance Ruling

Tuesday, December 7, 2004; Page E02

A federal jury ruled that the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center by a pair of hijacked planes counted as two occurrences for insurance purposes, meaning that leaseholder Larry Silverstein could collect as much as $4.6 billion. Silverstein's exact recovery is to be decided by a three-person arbitration panel that will set the value of the 110-story twin towers and two smaller buildings at the time of their destruction, according to Silverstein's attorney Herbert Wachtell. Silverstein lost a first trial on the issue earlier this year. The developer said before this trial that it would cost about $7.5 billion to replace all 10 million square feet of offices lost in the attack. The insurers are expected to appeal the decision.

FCC to Postpone Vote on Digital TV

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Michael K. Powell plans to postpone a vote on his plan to convert the U.S. television system to digital technology by January 2009, aides said. Powell (R) had planned a Dec. 15 vote on giving TV stations a deadline to return airwaves to the government for redistribution. The chairman expects to submit the plan to a vote by March, an aide said. Some analysts said the delay shows that political momentum for the plan has slowed. Broadcasters such as Walt Disney Co.'s ABC television network have lobbied against the proposal.


Dell cut prices on its some of its equipment for U.S. business clients by as much as 22 percent because it is paying less for components, the world's largest computer maker said. Dell will pass on savings on components such as memory and liquid crystal displays to its business customers, according to a spokesman for the company, which is based in Round Rock, Tex. Dell emerged as a top PC maker by slashing prices to take sales from rivals such as No. 2-ranked Hewlett-Packard and No. 3 International Business Machines. (Jack Plunkett -- Bloomberg News)

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The SEC is stepping up its investigation, begun in April, of transfer agents who hunt for lost shareholders on behalf of public companies, probing potential conflicts of interest and kickbacks between the transfer agents and search firms hired to look for the lost investors. Investors tracked down by search firms through a deep-search process are told they have an unclaimed asset but receive few details until they sign a contract agreeing to a finder's fee for the search firm, sometimes 30 percent or more of what they are owed.

Morgan Stanley was fined $100,000 for failing to disclose key information to buyers of municipal bonds. The NASD, formerly known as the National Association of Securities Dealers, said Morgan Stanley failed to disclose that certain bonds could be called before their maturity dates. The New York firm must also offer to repurchase as many as 171 municipal bonds, the NASD said.

Clear Channel Communications chose Fox News Radio to be its primary source of national news for most of its news and talk stations, officials said. In return, Fox News Radio will have access to news produced by San Antonio, Tex.-based Clear Channel's news network. The five-year agreement initially covers more than 100 radio stations. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

A former HealthSouth executive told investigators Richard M. Scrushy was at the center of a scheme to overstate earnings of the rehabilitation chain. William T. Owens, who was HealthSouth's chief financial officer, said Scrushy personally told management to bring per-share earnings to $1 in 1999 -- double the amount they should have been -- and that he refused subordinates' requests to end the burgeoning fraud for fear of hurting stock prices. Owens is expected to be a key government witness in Scrushy's fraud trial next month.

Wal-Mart Stores' second-highest executive, Vice Chairman Thomas Coughlin, a 25-year veteran of the company, will retire next month as the company experiences sluggish same-store sales. Coughlin's duties, which include overseeing Wal-Mart's U.S. divisions and operations such as logistics, will be divided among other executives.

An Internet company whose software downloaded itself onto computers and dialed up pornographic Web sites while billing $4.99 per minute will forgive at least $17 million in customers' bills as part of a settlement with the government. An additional $22 million in bills from Alyon Technologies are subject to dismissal if customers dispute them. In exchange, the Federal Trade Commission will stop its investigation of the New Jersey company, which must obtain verifiable consent from customers before billing, let them know of their right to dispute charges and stop downloading programs or spyware to their machines.

A judge sealed the courtroom on the 16th day of deliberations in the accounting fraud trial of former Cendant executives Walter Forbes and E. Kirk Shelton. The U.S. district judge held a 40-minute hearing behind closed doors with prosecutors and defense attorneys to handle a "sensitive" matter involving a juror. No jurors were dismissed, and they continued deliberations after the court reopened. The nature of the matter was not revealed.

T-bill rates were mixed. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday rose to 2.210 percent from 2.195 percent last week. Rates on six-month bills fell to 2.380 percent from 2.395 percent. The actual return to investors is 2.253 percent for three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,944.14, and 2.442 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,879.68. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 2.62 percent last week from 2.60 percent the previous week.

Mirant, a power producer that filed for bankruptcy last year, will pay a $12.5 million federal fine to settle allegations that it falsely reported natural gas trades and attempted to manipulate fuel prices. A unit of the Atlanta company knowingly reported false information on gas trades to industry publications from January 2000 to December 2001, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said in a statement. Mirant traders in the western United States tried to use such false reports to manipulate gas prices, the commission said.

Circuit City Stores said same-store sales declined 4.3 percent in the third quarter, largely because of weak sales of music and movie software. Overall sales at the electronics retailer increased 3.8 percent, boosted by international sales. The Richmond company reported revenue of $2.5 billion for the quarter ended Nov. 30, compared with $2.41 billion during the same period a year ago.

Bisys Group said it is cooperating with a Securities and Exchange Commission investigation of payments for the marketing and distribution of certain mutual fund shares. The New York-based company provides administrative services to financial firms.

Amazon.com, Borders and other retailers won dismissal of a lawsuit accusing them of impermissibly using patented technology that enabled them to customize shopper visits to their Web sites. A federal judge said Pinpoint didn't have standing to sue because it didn't own the patents when the suit was filed in July 2003. Two of the inventors were professors at the University of Pennsylvania, which sponsored the inventors' work. The judge said the university owned the patents at that time.


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