Tyson Foods said about 600 workers will be laid off and several dozen poultry growers will be without contracts as it phases out operations at its Berlin, Md., poultry complex. Springdale, Ark.-based Tyson said it planned to close the lower Eastern Shore plant by the end of the year, putting an end to its operations in Maryland. The world's largest meat company said it will begin reducing operations immediately at the plant, which processes about a million chickens a week. Tyson said it has signed a letter of intent to sell its feed mill in Westover, Md., to Mountaire Farms Inc. of Selbyville, Del. Neither company disclosed the terms. Mountaire said it expects to sign contracts with half or more of the 155 Tyson poultry growers now supplying the Berlin plant.

RealNetworks Buys Listen.com

RealNetworks, a Seattle maker of software that plays Internet audio and video, said it will buy closely held Listen.com for $36 million in cash and stock to obtain Rhapsody, an Internet service that provides consumers access to 320,000 songs that they can legally download from the Internet. RealNetworks will pay $17.3 million in cash plus 4.1 million shares, or 3 percent of its outstanding stock, for the San Francisco-based company.

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National Steel won bankruptcy court approval to sell its assets to U.S. Steel for $1.05 billion in cash and assumed debt. U.S. Steel was chosen as the winning bidder after a two-day auction last week. It beat a higher offer by AK Steel Holding that didn't include an agreement with the Steelworkers union, with whom U.S. Steel has negotiated a collective-bargaining agreement.

HealthSouth's former treasurer, Malcolm McVay, has agreed to plead guilty to accounting fraud charges and become the 10th executive to cooperate in a probe of fired chief executive Richard Scrushy. McVay, 41, is the fourth ex-chief financial officer charged with inflating earnings and assets at the Birmingham-based company, the largest U.S. operator of rehabilitation hospitals.

Homeowners insurance costs jumped a median of 13 percent last year, with mold claims blamed as the leading cause, the Consumer Federation of America reported.

An indicator of where the U.S. economy is heading fell in March for a second straight month. The Conference Board said its index of leading economic indicators fell 0.2 percent last month, to 110.6, pushed down by worries over higher oil prices, the war in Iraq and potential terrorist attacks. But the Conference Board said the bigger threat to economic stimulation comes from consumers' lower expectations.

T-bill rates were mixed. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday fell to 1.16 percent, from 1.165 percent last week. Rates on six-month bills rose to 1.185 percent from 1.175 percent. The actual return to investors is 1.182 percent on three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,970.70, and 1.212 percent on a six-month bill selling for $9,940.10. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield on one-year constant maturity Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 1.33 percent last week from 1.25 percent the previous week.

White House cybersecurity adviser Howard Schmidt announced his resignation, the second person to leave the post in three months.

The New York Stock Exchange fined FleetBoston Financial's specialist trading unit $150,000 four days before the firm suspended its market-maker in the stock of General Electric. The penalty, disclosed in a Fleet filing with the National Association of Securities Dealers on April 10, didn't name any individuals at Fleet Specialists. The bank on April 14 suspended David Finnerty after saying it found unspecified irregularities in his trades.

Williams Cos. has agreed to sell its controlling stake in Williams Energy Partners for $1.1 billion, the second major asset sale in a week for the struggling energy giant.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Allegheny Energy, which owns utilities in five states, will close its New York trading office and offered 30 traders the option of working at its operations near Pittsburgh. The trading group, formerly known as Allegheny Energy Global Markets, will be known as Allegheny's Asset Optimization and Hedging division and trade strictly around the Hagerstown company's 19 plants totaling 11,000 megawatts in the Mid-Atlantic.

Washington Real Estate Investment Trust, a Rockville real estate company that owns 60 retail, office, industrial, retail and multifamily properties in the region, said it earned $11.2 million (28 cents per share) in the first quarter, down from $16.3 million (42 cents) in the first quarter of 2002.

LaSalle Hotel Properties, a D.C.-based company that owns and operates 16 luxury hotels in 12 U.S. metropolitan areas, said it lost $3.8 million (34 cents per share), compared with a loss of $2.4 million (17 cents) in the first quarter of 2002.

EARNINGS

Sprint reported higher first-quarter net income, boosted by a $1.31 billion gain from the sale of its directories business. Net income was $1.67 billion, up from $140 million a year earlier.

Southwest Airlines reported earnings of $24 million in the January-March period, its 48th consecutive profitable quarter. The profit was up 14.3 percent from a year earlier, the low-fare carrier said.

Merck said its first-quarter profit rose about 5 percent, to $1.71 billion, on higher sales of its top drugs.

MeadWestvaco, a maker of coated paper for magazines and catalogues, reported a first-quarter loss of $76 million, citing higher energy, wood and maintenance costs. A year earlier, the company posted a loss of $415 million, which included costs for an accounting change.

Whirlpool said it swung to a profit in the first-quarter on record North American revenue and improved performances in Europe and Latin America. Net income was $91 million, compared with a loss of $529 million a year earlier, when the company booked acquisition and severance costs.

Hasbro posted a first-quarter profit of $1.19 million after reducing costs and increasing sales. The profit compared with a loss of $262.8 million a year earlier.

LendingTree, an Internet-based loan service provider, reported first-quarter earnings of $5.1 million, compared with a loss of $2.8 million in the same period a year earlier, because of rising demand for home loans.

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

Staples opened its first store in Harlem yesterday and dedicated it to Tom "Satch" Sanders, NBA executive, former basketball player and Harlem resident, to honor him for his service to the neighborhood's business community. With Sanders outside the new store on 125th Street is Thomas G. Stemberg, founder and chairman of Staples.