Business Digest

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 09, 2007

Maryland: Earnings

Aegon net income increases 19%

Dutch insurer Aegon NV, which runs its U.S. operations from Baltimore, said fourth-quarter profit rose 19 percent, boosted by higher sales of life insurance and pensions in the Americas and Britain. The company said net income climbed to $1.1 billion from a year earlier. Chief Executive Officer Don Shepard said he expected the U.S. portion to continue to be the dominant part of Aegon's business.

Energy

Constellation buying methane areas

Constellation Energy Partners, a limited liability company formed and majority owned by Constellation Energy Group, said yesterday it will acquire coal-bed methane properties in Kansas and Oklahoma for $115 million. The properties are located in the Cherokee Basin and are owned by EnergyQuest Resources LP, a Quantum Energy Partners company. Constellation Energy Partners was formed in February 2005 to purchase coal-bed methane reserves and production.

Paul Adams

Railroads

CSX to hire 60 conductors

CSX Transportation is in a rare hiring mode. With a significant proportion of its work force approaching retirement age, the company said Wednesday it will hire 60 new conductors for its Baltimore division, which encompasses Maryland and parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania. A conductor is considered an entry-level job where workers receive hands-on training and learn the rules and regulations of railroad freight transportation. Conductors ride in the locomotive and handle such tasks as operating switches, minor repair work and train inspections. The starting salary is $30,000.

Airlines

Southwest adds flights to 15 cities

Southwest Airlines said yesterday that it will add 18 flights in 15 cities this summer as the discount carrier expands its aircraft fleet. Starting in June, Southwest will have daily nonstop flights between Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Providence, R.I., as well as between Houston's Hobby Airport and San Diego. On June 17, the airline said it would begin five new daily nonstop round-trip flights between Denver and Oakland, Calif. By Aug. 4, Southwest will have one new daily nonstop round-trip between Baltimoreand Oklahoma City, as well as an additional daily nonstop round-trip between Baltimore and St. Louis, for a total of five daily.

Defense

Lockheed loses part of Navy bonus

Lockheed Martin Corp. lost 48 percent of its potential bonus to date on a program to build a new U.S. warship designed to operate close to shore. Lockheed lost $3.4 million of $7.2 million available through July 2006 because of delays on the project, the Navy said. The loss can't be recovered and the outlook for future bonuses isn't promising. In January, the Navy said the cost of the first vessel is now at least $350 million or 86 percent over the target of $188 million set in December 2004.

Nation: Regulation

New Century halts loan applications

Subprime lender New Century Financial Corp. halted all loan applications yesterday as it struggled to obtain financing amid market speculation that a bankruptcy filing was possible. In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, New Century said that it was only able to fund some of its loans this week and that its capacity to fund new loans has been "substantially limited" because of problems obtaining financing from lenders. Aside from deteriorating credit quality, the subprime lender faces investor lawsuits and an investigation by federal prosecutors.

Regulation

SEC suspends spam-promoted firms

The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday suspended trading in 35 penny stock companies whose shares were promoted in e-mail spam campaigns. The SEC said it took the action to protect investors from fraud, because the accuracy of information in the e-mail about the companies was questionable. The SEC did not identify who had sent the e-mails or say whether any of the companies was responsible. The suspensions are part of an SEC effort called "Operation Spamalot," which began last fall. The suspensions will last for 10 business days, through March 21.

Retailing

McDonald's sales up 5.7% in Feb.

McDonald's Corp. said yesterday that sales rose 5.7 percent in February, as promotions for the Chinese New Year boosted Asian demand by the most in almost 12 years. In the Uinited States, sales rose 3.1 percent at McDonald's restaurants open at least 13 months on convenience foods such as chicken snack wraps. Same-store sales rose 12.3 percent at the company's restaurants in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. European sales advanced 5.9 percent on salads and sandwiches in France and Germany. A year earlier, McDonald's global sales rose 4.7 percent, led by gains of 5.4 percent in Europe and 3.6 percent in the U.S.

Economy

La-Z-Boy to close 3 plants, cut 500 jobs

La-Z-Boy Inc. said it would close three plants, eliminate 500 jobs and take a pretax restructuring charge of as much as $10 million. The company will shut its upholstery-making plants in Lincolnton, N.C., and Iuka, Miss., firing those plants' 400 workers. La-Z-Boy said it will cut 100 more jobs by closing a lumber operation in Wilkesboro, N.C., and eliminating some management positions.

This column was compiled from dispatches by Sun reporters, the Associated Press and Bloomberg News.

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