President Bush signed legislation that will establish a national "do not call" list to help consumers block unwanted telemarketing calls. The bill also allows the Federal Trade Commission to collect fees from telemarketers to fund the registry, which is expected to begin operation by summer. Consumers can enroll in the free service via the Internet or a toll-free phone number.
AOL Software Takes Aim at Pop-Ups
America Online plans to unveil "Pop-Up Controls" software today that will enable subscribers to block most online pop-up ads and will count the number of ads blocked during each session, officials say. AOL subscribers have complained about pop-ups, calling them annoying intrusions into their online experience. "With a single click, AOL members now have the power to stop the pop," said AOL Executive Vice President David Gang. The new software does not block in-house pop-ups from America Online itself, which users may opt out of separately. AOL rival EarthLink already has pop-up controls in place.
Ford's president and chief operating officer, Nick Scheele, rescinded an order to consolidate the firm's multibillion-dollar advertising business with a sole agency, although the plan is still under consideration, the company said. Ford's human resources chief opened an inquiry last month after Scheele ordered all of Ford's marketing and advertising business directed to London-based WPP Group, company officials said. Questions were raised about the order because Scheele is friends with WPP's chairman, and his son works in the firm's New York office.
Spiegel, the parent of Eddie Bauer, Newport News and the Spiegel Catalog, said it will file for bankruptcy soon unless new financing emerges. It also said its private-label credit cards are no longer being accepted at its merchant businesses as a result of its financial difficulties.
Farm and consumer groups petitioned the Agriculture Department to halt development of genetically engineered wheat until it can determine whether it would hurt wheat exports overall if put on the market. Monsanto, the company that manufactures the Roundup herbicide, is developing a variety of hard red spring wheat that would withstand its weedkiller. The groups said that the new variety could lead to grain mix-ups in the field and in shipments, and that farmers growing conventional crops fear their plants may become pollinated by biotech crops.
Sotheby's and Christie's, moving to clear the legal mess left behind by a price-fixing scandal, said they will each pay $20 million to settle class-action claims by overseas customers. A judge still must approve the deal. Sotheby's and Christie's have already split $512 million in payouts in a settlement for 130,000 U.S. customers who lost money.
Rexall Sundown, which claimed that one of its dietary supplements could erase cellulite, agreed to repay customers up to $12 million to settle federal charges of deceptive advertising. The Federal Trade Commission had accused the company of making false and unproven claims that Cellasene, a pill containing ginkgo biloba and other herbal ingredients, could erase the fatty deposits on legs and thighs. By settling, the company did not admit breaking any law. The FTC will administer a fund to repay consumers, who can call 202-326-3793 for information.
Pfizer was ordered to stop shipping E.P.T., its home pregnancy test, while it defends against a patent-infringement lawsuit by Inverness Medical Innovations. The order by a U.S. district judge doesn't affect boxes of E.P.T. already in stores. Pfizer's E.P.T. test has about 29 percent of the market, while Inverness's ClearBlue Easy has 7 percent.
Intel said 2002 net income would have been reduced by $1.17 billion, or 38 percent, had the company treated stock options as an expense. Earnings in 2002 would have been $1.95 billion, instead of the reported $3.12 billion, Intel said in its annual report to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company's 2001 profit would have been lowered by $1.04 billion, or 80 percent, to $254 million, it said.
Germany's securities regulator ordered brokerage firms and analysts to disclose possible conflicts of interest in their equity coverage to restore investor confidence. Financial institutions must disclose stakes of 1 percent or more in companies about which they provide research, the Federal Institute for Financial Services Supervision said. They also must announce whether they provide stock-trading services or participate in share sales of companies they cover.
Nokia, the world's biggest mobile-phone maker, scaled back first-quarter earnings and sales forecasts as handset sales stall and demand for base stations and switches at its network unit slumps. Network sales will drop 15 to 20 percent, leading to a "substantial" loss at the unit, Chief Financial Officer Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo said.
Afghanistan will get its first loan from the World Bank since before the Soviet invasion in 1979, the lender said, announcing $108 million to help the country rebuild its air and road transportation. The 40-year, interest-free loan, which carries a 10-year grace period, will help remove collapsed bridges, repair tunnels and resurface disintegrated roads in addition to making improvements in air traffic control.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac had their debt ratings affirmed by Moody's Investors Service, one day after St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank President William Poole said the two government-chartered mortgage giants may lack enough capital to cope with a disruption in capital markets. Among the ratings affirmed was its Aaa rating on the two companies' senior debt. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have "well structured" methods to deal with risk management and enough capital to deal with market shocks, Moody's said.
Sylvan Learning Systems of Baltimore will sell its tutoring centers and related businesses to New York-based private equity firm Apollo Management for $275 million to $300 million in cash, stock and other considerations. Sylvan said it will now focus entirely on higher education, a business it entered in 1999 when it began buying small colleges in other countries.
The Federal Reserve approved the sale of Allfirst Financial, the Baltimore-based unit of Allied Irish Bank, to M&T Bank. M&T will pay about $2.1 billion in shares and $900 million in cash for Allfirst. Allied Irish shareholders approved the sale in December, 10 months after the bank discovered losses of $691 million over five years from unauthorized currency transactions by trader John Rusnak.
Black & Decker's chief executive saw his bonus more than triple to $2.75 million in 2002, from $850,000 in 2001, according to a proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Nolan D. Archibald's salary increased to $1.27 million from $1.2 million the year before, the statement said, as his base salary was increased to $1.4 million in October.
H.J. Heinz Co. said its fiscal third-quarter profit fell 24.8 percent, to $151.6 million, mainly because of charges related to the spinoff of its tuna, pet-food and domestic baby-food brands. Sales in the quarter ended Jan. 29 rose to $2.1 billion, from $1.9 billion a year earlier.
Kroger said its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings increased 8.9 percent, to $381 million, despite sluggish holiday sales and aggressive competition. The supermarket operator's sales rose 2.8 percent, to $12.5 billion, in the quarter ended Feb. 1.
Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers