Business Digest

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 05, 2004

In The Region

Sylvan to open new campus in Guadalajara

Sylvan Learning Systems Inc. will open a new campus in Mexico in time for the fall semester, the Baltimore higher-education provider announced yesterday.

The company is acquiring a 21-acre property used as a telecommunications facility that requires minimal renovations to become the Guadalajara campus of Universidad del Valle de Mexico, which Sylvan owns.

UVM is Mexico's second-largest private university, and Guadalajara is the country's second-largest city.

Humphrey hotel chain declares dividend of 5 cents

Humphrey Hospitality Trust Inc. said yesterday that its board of directors has declared a cash dividend of 5 cents a share for the first quarter of 2004.

The Columbia real estate investment trust said it would pay the dividend April 30 to shareholders of record March 31.

Humphrey specializes in limited-service lodging. It owns 74 hotels in 16 Midwestern and Eastern states.

Elsewhere

SEC subpoenas ex-NYSE directors over Grasso's payout

The Securities and Exchange Commission subpoenaed as many as 65 former New York Stock Exchange directors going back to 1995 for records about former NYSE Chairman Richard A. Grasso's pay package, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News reported yesterday, quoting unnamed sources familiar with the investigation.

Sources told AP that the subpoenas, from the Securities and Exchange Commission, targeted directors who were involved in approving Grasso's $187.5 million compensation package. The furor over his pay led to his resignation in October.

The subpoenas expand the SEC's involvement in the Grasso pay probe and ensnare some of the biggest names on Wall Street, including Bear Stearns Cos. Inc. Chief Executive Officer James E. Cayne, Morgan Stanley CEO Philip J. Purcell and Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. chief executive Richard S. Fuld.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer may go to court next month to seek the return of $120 million from Grasso, and is considering suing former NYSE directors who approved the compensation, Bloomberg said.

Up to 24 NYSE specialists traded illegally, sources say

As many as two dozen individual specialists working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange were involved in alleged illegal trading that led to a $240 million settlement on the part of five specialist firms, sources close to the matter confirmed yesterday to the Associated Press.

The firms are working with the Securities and Exchange Commission to complete the settlement, reached last month. Part of it includes releasing the names of 24 stocks that were the subject of the questionable trades, three people close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.

The specialists have been accused of putting their own trades ahead of customer trades to make money. Specialist trades occur only when other buyers and sellers aren't available at a given price, something that happens about 10 percent of the time, according to previous NYSE statements.

So far, the people haven't been named, and neither have the stocks that were affected.

Creditors oppose ISG offer to buy Weirton Steel Corp.

A group of creditors owed $118 million by bankrupt Weirton Steel Corp. objected yesterday to the proposed buyout by International Steel Group, arguing that the Ohio company's bid is "fatally flawed."

In documents filed with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wheeling, W.Va., attorneys for the Informal Committee of Secured Noteholders said the sale undervalues Weirton's assets and won't generate enough money for creditors.

ISG has offered to buy Weirton for $255 million. The sale agreement suggests anyone seeking to outbid ISG be required to beat the current offer by $7.9 million, for a total of $263 million. A $6.37 million "breakup fee" would be paid to ISG in addition to that.

A hearing on the proposed sale agreement, the time line and the mandatory solicitation of counteroffers is set for March 8 in Wheeling.

Target to phase out smart Visa card

In a blow to "smart card" technology, Target Corp. said yesterday that it plans to phase out chip-embedded credit cards that allow cardholders to download coupons.

About 9 million customers have the Target smart Visa card, which contains a chip that lets users get discounts by swiping it through an electronic reader attached to their computers or at in-store kiosks.

Although Target will keep its Visa card program, new cards won't have the chips, which got limited use, a spokeswoman said, adding that the loyalty discounts will be offered in some other way.

Target's was the largest use of the technology by a major retailer nationwide, according to Catuity Inc., the Detroit company whose software runs the system for Target.

Delta Air raises fares $10 on some roundtrip flights

Delta Air Lines Inc. raised its fares yesterday as much as $10 on roundtrip flights that require a connection, to cover passenger fees charged by U.S. airports.

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