Moody's Keeping

Watch on MedStar

MedStar Health's bond rating may be downgraded, affecting $583.5 million of insured outstanding debt.

Moody's Investors Service said it placed MedStar Health on its watch list because the company has reported deficits in its operations that are "larger than we expected" for a second year. In addition, Moody's said it is keeping tabs on MedStar's pending acquisition of Georgetown University Medical Center.

Moody's expects to conclude a review of the company's losses and its management's actions in February. MedStar Health is a nonprofit health system that owns Washington Hospital Center and several Baltimore area hospitals.


LifeMinder Plans

To Sell More Shares filed a registration statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission Friday to sell 3.85 million shares of common stock, 850,000 of which will be sold by insiders.

LifeMinders first sold stock to the public in November, raising more than $67 million. It went public at $15 a share, then quickly shot up to $62 a share in mid-December. It closed Friday at $34.

LifeMinders is an online service that sends personalized e-mails to its members to help them keep track of events in their lives.

The company intends to use the proceeds of the stock sale for working capital and marketing initiatives.


US Airways to Take

4th-Quarter Charge

US Airways Group Inc., in a filing last week with the Securities and Exchange Commission, said it would take a pretax fourth-quarter charge of $64 million because it was retiring several aircraft from its fleet.

The airline also said it would post a pretax gain of $7.3 million from selling its 34 percent stake in Equant NV, a Dutch data network company. Analysts expect US Airways to report a loss of 63 cents a share when it releases its fourth-quarter results on Wednesday.


Buffett Company

To Buy Cort

Cort Business Services Corp. late Friday said it would be purchased by Wesco Financial Corp., a California subsidiary of Warren E. Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

Fairfax-based Cort, a nationwide office furniture rental company, has had a turbulent year for stockholders. The Buffett deal brings to a close a saga that pitted management against many shareholders and included an aborted management buyout attempt.

Wesco said it would buy Cort for $28 a share in cash, or about $467 million (a figure that includes $83 million in assumed debt). Wesco will commence a tender offer for the shares Jan. 24. Citicorp Venture Capital, which owns 44 percent of Cort, has already committed to selling at that price.

The price of $28 a share is the same price top executives of Cort offered to pay shareholders last spring to take the company private. Institutional investors, led by mutual fund company T. Rowe Price, killed the deal, saying the price was too low. T. Rowe Price officials couldn't be reached for comment.

For his part, Buffett was more than happy at the price he paid.

"Cort is the kind of 'best in class' business that Charlie and I like to add to the Berkshire group of companies," he said in a statement, referring to Charles Munger, chairman of Wesco.


Banker's Holiday

Bernard Clineburg first emerged on the local banking scene in the early 1980s as part of a young, aggressive crew of commercial lenders at the National Bank of Washington.

In the 15 years since then, he's cut a wide swath through the region's community banking circles, swimming through the real estate crisis of the early 1990s that forced so many of his friends out of the business. Eventually, he rose to become CEO of the most successful community bank in Northern Virginia, George Mason Bank.

Friday, two years after selling George Mason to West Virginia's United Bank, Clineburg is stepping down as United's local CEO and as the president of its holding company. And, for the first time in his career, he won't have a day job.

"I'm calling it a referee's timeout," said the 51-year-old Clineburg. "It's time to move on to new causes and new ventures."

Clineburg calls his parting "very friendly," but said it was time for him to move on. The bank will name a new CEO in late February.

Clineburg has a six-month no-compete provision to his contract, so he's going to take a month's vacation in Florida, pay attention to some charities he's involved in and play some regular golf. After that, he plans to reemerge.

"I certainly plan to come into a business somewhere," he said.

Our bet: Look for Clineburg to emerge at another local community banking operation.

-- Terence O'Hara


Halifax Contracts

Business is on an upswing for Halifax Corp., the Alexandria-based information technology firm that announced three multi-million-dollar contracts so far this month.

Last week, the company announced a one-year, $2.5 million computer maintenance contract with Newport News Shipbuilding Inc., a publicly traded naval contractor, which the company says will serve as a steppingstone to getting other business in southeastern Virginia.

That announcement comes in the wake of two contracts for similar services awarded to Halifax the week before: a three-year, $4 million contract with the State of New Jersey and a $2 million agreement with a nationwide group of travel agencies.

Last spring, the company discovered a $15 million embezzlement scheme by one of its former employees, and is still seeking to recover damages from banks, accounting firms and other parties Halifax says are responsible for enabling the crime.

Halifax employs 650 employees worldwide and generated revenue of $81.8 million last year.

-- Yuki Noguchi