Business Digest

BUSINESS DIGEST

December 28, 2004

Two satellite radio firms report gains in subscribers

Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., the two big players in the emerging satellite radio business, both announced gains in subscribers yesterday as 2004 draws to a close.

XM, which has its headquarters in Washington, said it had recently surpassed 3.1 million subscribers, after starting the year with 1.3 million. Sirius, based in New York, said it has more than 1 million subscribers, nearly four times the 260,000 it had at the beginning of the year.

Competition between the two companies has been heating up fiercely, with each signing contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars for sports and talk programming. Both have enlisted help from automakers in marketing the services, under which users pay a monthly fee for coast-to-coast access to hundreds of channels, many of them commercial-free.

Sirius brought in radio shock jock Howard Stern in October with a five-year deal that is worth about $500 million. XM later announced an 11-year, $650 million deal with Major League Baseball, and Sirius has signed up the National Football League.

Retiring bank official to get $24.4 million package

Charles K. "Chad" Gifford, chairman of Bank of America Corp., the nation's third-largest bank, will get severance pay of about $16.4 million next month when he retires, as well as incentives for this year valued at about $8 million, according to a regulatory filing.

Gifford, 62, agreed to the severance package in 1999 when Fleet Financial Group Inc. bought BankBoston Corp. He'll get another $667,000 in pay for January, and the $8 million as part of an agreement with Bank of America, which bought FleetBoston in April, the Securities and Exchange Commission filing said.

For the next five years, he will be paid $50,000 a year in consulting fees, given use of a corporate jet for up to 120 hours a year and get to use company car services. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis will replace him as chairman, though Gifford will remain on the board.

Spam complaints fell 75% in 2004, AOL says

Time Warner Inc.'s America Online division said yesterday that junk e-mail, or "spam," decreased more than 75 percent this year because of improved software and new laws.

AOL members sent the service about 2.2 million reports of spam daily in November, down from about 11 million daily reports in the month last year, the company said.

The federal CAN-SPAM law, which became effective in January, and better spam-fighting tools in the AOL 9.0 security edition software have helped decrease the amount of junk e-mail users receive, AOL said.

Attempted junk e-mails sent from the Internet to AOL members have dropped 22 percent, which may be a sign that some spammers are giving up sending unsolicited e-mails, AOL said.

Gartner to acquire Meta for $162 million in cash

Market research firm Gartner Inc. has agreed to acquire Meta Group Inc. for about $162 million in cash. Both companies provide information-technology research and consulting.

Gartner said yesterday that it would pay $10 for each share of Meta, a 54 percent premium to Meta Group's closing price last Thursday of $6.48.

The boards of both companies have approved the agreement, which is subject to approval by Meta's shareholders. It is expected to close in the second quarter of 2005.

No. 1 Okla. oil-gas producer to expand reserves again

Chesapeake Energy Corp. agreed yesterday to purchase BRG Petroleum Corp. for $325 million in cash to take advantage of high oil and gas prices to bolster the company's asset base. It will be Chesapeake's 10th acquisition in 2004 for a total of $1.7 billion.

Chesapeake, already the No. 1 producer of Oklahoma oil and gas, would add to its fields and reserves in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, particularly in northwest Oklahoma's Sahara fields.

Chesapeake, based in Oklahoma City, increased its 2005 oil and natural gas production forecast by 2.8 percent and its 2006 forecast by 4.3 percent after adding BRG, a private oil and gas producer in Tulsa, Okla.

Manhattan Toys `R' Us to be Babies `R' Us store

Toys "R" Us, the nation's second-largest toy retailer, plans to convert one of its two Manhattan stores into a Babies "R" Us, giving the company a prime location for its fast-growing division that sells baby furniture, apparel and accessories.

The Union Square store will be closed in February or March for renovations. Its 50 employees have been offered positions at other Toys "R" Us stores, a spokeswoman said yesterday. Severance packages are expected for employees who cannot or choose not to relocate.

The store is liquidating merchandise in anticipation of the conversion, McLaughlin said. Toys "R" Us' flagship store in Times Square will not be affected.

Va. school to offer MBA for working executives

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