Thursday, September 19, 2002

Business digest

Hershey value melts after no-sale vote

        HARRISBURG, Pa. - No longer for sale, Hershey Foods Corp. saw its stock price drop sharply on Wednesday as speculation turned to how the charitable trust that controls the candy company might now try to diversify its assets.

        “We will continue to explore alternatives,” Robert Vowler, the trust's chairman and chief executive, said Wednesday, less than 12 hours after board members voted 10-7 against selling Hershey Foods.

        Analysts said the Hershey Trust Co. could sell a chunk of its 43 million Hershey Foods shares to the company or place them on the open market.

        On the New York Stock Exchange, shares of Hershey Foods plummeted $8.81, or nearly 12 percent, to $65 - roughly their value before the candy maker was put on the auction block.

OPEC continues current quotas

        OSAKA, Japan — The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries agreed to leave its oil-production quotas at an 11-year low to keep prices close to $30 a barrel, ministers from Kuwait and Qatar said.

        “There's no logic to increase production when there's no shortage of supply,” Qatari oil minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah said after talks with other producers in Japan. Ministers, who begin their formal meeting today, may gather again later this year to reconsider a production increase.

        Eight of the 11 members, led by Venezuela and Kuwait, had sought to convince top producer Saudi Arabia that more oil wasn't needed based on current demand. The 49 percent rally in U.S. oil prices this year reflects concern about a possible war in Iraq, not a shortage, the ministers said.

Brokerage fires two who wouldn't testify

        NEW YORK - Two top Merrill Lynch & Co. executives have been fired for declining to testify in federal investigations into financial transactions the nation's largest brokerage conducted with Enron Corp. in 1999.

        Thomas W. Davis, Merrill Lynch's vice chairman, and Schuyler Tilney, an investment banking managing director who directly oversaw corporate finance matters related to Enron, both declined to testify for investigations being conducted by the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission, Merrill Lynch said Wednesday.

        Merrill Lynch said it uncovered no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Davis and Mr. Tilney, but fired them in keeping with its policy “requiring employees to fully cooperate with regulatory and law enforcement investigations.”

Sun's new network computer uses Linux

        SAN FRANCISCO — Sun Microsystems Inc., a maker of servers to run corporate computer networks, plans to sell a lower-cost personal computer that uses the Linux operating system to compete with machines based on Microsoft products.

        The device, designed for networks in places such as call centers, banks and classrooms, will be available next year, said Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president for software. It will have Sun's StarOffice programs for word processing and other tasks and include an identity-card reader to authenticate users, he said.

Pioneer's DVD units need software repair

        LONG BEACH, Calif. — Pioneer Electronics Inc. is warning consumers who use its popular DVD recorders to download and apply an important software repair to prevent permanent damage that could occur when recording video using new high-speed discs.

        Pioneer said it was “extremely important” that consumers apply the software repair, which it made available free on its Web site and by mail. Without it, Pioneer indicated its drives could freeze when using high-speed blank DVDs, allowing the laser within the unit to permanently damage an important optical lens.

— From wire reports



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