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BUSINESS IN BRIEF

Photo Deals for HP, Yahoo

Tuesday, March 22, 2005; Page E02

Hewlett-Packard and Yahoo each signed deals expanding their companies' portfolios into the growing area of Internet-based photo management. Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP said it will acquire online photo service Snapfish. By targeting San Francisco-based Snapfish's 13 million members, HP hopes to boost sales of its popular photo printers and ink. The Snapfish Web site contains roughly 350 million photos, which users can organize into albums and share with other members. Yahoo has agreed to acquire Flickr, a Canadian photo-sharing start-up that lets users upload digital images from computers and camera phones and publish photos in online journals. The Flickr acquisition expands Yahoo's self-publishing and "social networking" services. Terms of the two deals were not disclosed.

Former WorldCom Director Settles

Former WorldCom board member Bert C. Roberts Jr. agreed to pay $4.5 million of his own money to settle a lawsuit brought by former investors in the collapsed telecommunications company. Roberts is the last former board member of the company named in the complaint to settle with the investors. Last week, 11 others agreed to pay $20 million from their own pockets to resolve their parts of the lawsuit.


Citigroup employees will not face a criminal probe by Frankfurt prosecutors, who determined they couldn't be charged with price manipulation. Citigroup made a profit of $17.5 million on Aug. 2 when it sold $16.4 billion of European government bonds within a few minutes and then bought them back at lower prices. Under German law at the time of the trades, it was necessary to prove the traders were trying to deceive people, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor's office said. (Adam Berry -- Bloomberg News)

MORE NEWS

The Federal Communications Commission voted last week to preempt state utilities commissions from requiring regional phone companies to sell phone service separate from a high-speed Internet service, according to people at the FCC. In Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky, state commissions required regional phone companies to continue providing DSL lines, even if rival companies sold customers separate phone service over the same line. But in a 3 to 2 vote, with the two Democratic commissioners dissenting, the FCC said states cannot require the companies to sell DSL lines as a stand-alone service.

Continental Airlines has rescinded a $10 round-trip fare increase that it put in place on some flights Friday. The fifth-largest U.S. carrier did not immediately explain the change.

John B. Taylor, the Treasury Department's undersecretary for international affairs, announced that he will retire April 22 and return to the private sector. Taylor, 58, served under secretaries John W. Snow and Paul H. O'Neill. In a letter to President Bush, Taylor said he had consulted with Snow about the date "to ensure a smooth transition."

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission launched its national call center to field discrimination complaints from workers across the nation. The contract for the $4.9 million, 18-month pilot program was awarded last year to Pearson Government Solutions of Arlington. The call center, based in Lawrence, Kan., is part of a restructuring intended to reduce the number of calls that go unanswered, EEOC officials said. The public can reach the center toll-free at 800-669-4000.

Retek accepted Oracle's $643.3 million takeover offer over a competing bid from SAP. SAP dropped out of the bidding, Retek and Oracle said in a statement. Oracle boosted its bid to $11.25 a share Thursday, topping an $11 offer from SAP that Retek's board accepted earlier that day.

The Supreme Court declined to clarify how much federal law shields companies from shareholder lawsuits when they make financial disclosures that turn out to be wrong. Justices let stand a lower court ruling that allowed investors to proceed with their lawsuit against Baxter International. At issue was a "safe harbor" provision of a 1995 securities law that gives companies a defense from liability for revenue predictions if they disclose risks to investors.

T-bill rates rose. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday rose to 2.8 percent from 2.735 percent the previous week. Rates on six-month bills rose to 3.035 percent from 3 percent. The actual return to investors is 2.859 percent for three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,929.22, and 3.125 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,846.56. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for changing adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 3.31 percent from 3.24 percent last week.

Bernard B. Kerik, the former New York police commissioner who withdrew his name from consideration for secretary of homeland security, resigned as a director of Taser International. The company said Kerik, 49, was resigning "to focus on his consulting business." The day before Kerik quit, it was reported that he had made $6.2 million by exercising stock options he obtained as a board member. Taser is under federal and state scrutiny over accounting issues and the safety of its stun guns.

American International Group dismissed Howard I. Smith as chief financial officer last week because he failed to cooperate with a government probe, a company spokesman said. On March 14, Maurice R. "Hank" Greenberg stepped down as chief executive amid probes of potential earnings manipulation and bid-rigging. The same day, New York-based AIG said it was replacing Smith with Treasurer Steven J. Bensinger.

Unocal said it settled lawsuits for an undisclosed amount over alleged human rights violations committed during the construction of a natural gas pipeline in Burma. Villagers in that country charged in 1996 that the El Segundo, Calif.-based oil and gas producer was responsible for atrocities by government troops. The settlements are not likely to have an impact on Unocal's financial condition or liquidity, the company said in its annual 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Workers have filed a class-action lawsuit against Hewlett-Packard, claiming the company wrongly classified them as contractors instead of employees. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boise, claims that the misclassification denied benefits such as health insurance, vacation and sick leave to more than 3,000 HP workers throughout the United States. The suit seeks more than $300 million in damages. An HP spokeswoman said the company "believes this case has no merit."

Verizon Communications chief executive Ivan Seidenberg's compensation fell 9.4 percent, to $17.3 million, in 2004 from a year earlier as the value of his stock options declined, according to regulatory filings, but his bonus and restricted stock awards grew because of the company's higher sales and reduced debt. Seidenberg received $1.56 million in salary, $3.38 million in bonus, $6.3 million in restricted stock, options worth $4.2 million and other compensation of $1.83 million.

Blockbuster chief executive John F. Antioco will give up about $750,000 in deferred compensation as part of cost-control efforts by the nation's largest movie-rental chain, the company said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

INTERNATIONAL

The European Union demanded clarification on whether Washington was still interested in resolving a dispute over subsidies given to aircraft manufacturers Airbus and Boeing. E.U. Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson was "frankly surprised" the United States threatened to cut off talks Friday, a spokeswoman said. Richard Millsa, a spokesman for the U.S. trade representative, said the United States remains committed to the talks.

British Broadcasting Corp. will shed 2,050 more jobs in a second wave of downsizing, the corporation said. The cuts include employees in such divisions as news, sports, entertainment, drama, regional operations and educational programming. The cuts are in addition to an earlier announcement of 1,730 jobs slashed from administrative services. The total amounts to 19 percent of the BBC workforce.

The European Central Bank said it was "seriously concerned" about the impact of a proposed European Union agreement to loosen some strictures on member governments' deficit spending. The bank said the deal must not undermine confidence in the framework that supports the shared euro currency. The proposal is up for ratification at an E.U. summit that begins today.

LOCAL BUSINESS

The Federal Trade Commission announced a settlement of consumer-fraud charges against AmeriDebt of Germantown. According to the FTC, AmeriDebt touted itself as a nonprofit credit-counseling service but channeled proceeds to for-profit entities, deceiving "consumers into paying at least $170 million in hidden fees." The FTC's order bars AmeriDebt from credit counseling, debt management and credit education. AmeriDebt filed for bankruptcy protection in June 2004. The settlement includes a $170 million judgment that the FTC said would be collected through the AmeriDebt bankruptcy proceedings. An AmeriDebt official wasn't immediately available for comment.

Fannie Mae said its investment portfolio shrank in February to the lowest level since August 2003. The mortgage-financing giant is slowing growth to rebuild capital in the wake of accounting errors. The investments, which account for two-thirds of the company's profit, dropped $15.6 billion, to $875.2 billion, representing an annualized decrease of 19.1 percent, the company said.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers.


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