Friday, April 11, 2003

Business digest

From wire reports

EBay user given prison time for fraud

WORCESTER, Mass. - A scam on EBay Inc. that duped users out of $880,000 for computers they bid on and never received has netted a Connecticut woman a four-year, nine-month jail sentence.

U.S. District Judge Nathaniel Gorton also ordered Teresa Smith to repay $857,776 to buyers of the computers she never shipped and fined her $10,000. Smith, 25, pleaded guilty on Dec. 20 to five counts of mail fraud and five counts of wire fraud, according to a statement from the office of U.S. Attorney Michael J. Sullivan.

Trade deficit narrows to $40.3 billion

WASHINGTON - The U.S. trade deficit narrowed in February to $40.3 billion as prewar jitters crimped Americans' demand for foreign-made goods, especially computers, machinery, toys and jewelry. Exports edged up.

The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the trade gap tightened by 2.2 percent in February from January's deficit of $41.2 billion.

The narrowing of the trade deficit came even as the average price of imported crude oil jumped to $30.46 a barrel in February, a 20-year high.

Economists were forecasting a widening of the deficit in February to around $42 billion, given the run-up in energy prices before the war in Iraq broke out.

However, even with the improvement, February's trade gap marked the third biggest monthly deficit on record.

In another report, new claims for unemployment benefits last week fell by a seasonally adjusted 38,000 to 405,000, the Labor Department said.

Long-term mortgage rates edge up

WASHINGTON - Rates on long-term mortgages edged up this week as the economy showed signs that it is still working through a rough patch, economists said.

The average interest rate on a fixed-rate 30-year mortgage rose to 5.85 percent for the week ending April 11, the mortgage company Freddie Mac reported Thursday.

This week's rate was up from the rate of 5.79 percent a week ago. In the middle of March, rates on 30-year mortgages declined to a record 5.61 percent, the lowest since Freddie Mac began tracking 30-year mortgages in 1971.

McDonald's slump reaches 13th month

OAK BROOK, Ill. - McDonald's Corp. reported lower same-store sales Thursday for a 13th consecutive month, a trend analysts expect to continue amid the protracted slump for fast-food restaurants.

Worldwide sales at McDonald's-brand restaurants open at least 13 months dropped 3.7 percent compared with March 2002. The decline was 1.2 percent in the United States and 5.4 percent in Europe, its two biggest markets.

Source: WorldCom to change name to MCI

JACKSON, Miss. - WorldCom Inc., which has struggled to escape the taint of an $11 billion accounting fraud, will take the name of its MCI unit next week, a source close to the company said Thursday.

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