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In the RegionHewlett-Packard case is sent back...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the Region

Hewlett-Packard case is sent back to city Circuit Court

A federal judge in Baltimore has sent back to state court a class-action lawsuit accusing computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. of selling printers containing half-full ink cartridges.

U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson said in an opinion published yesterday that the claims should be heard in Baltimore City Circuit Court because the plaintiffs, led by consumer Molly Hamilton, limited their damage claims to less than $74,000.

Hewlett-Packard, based in Palo Alto, Calif., had argued that the case should be removed to federal court because the parties live in different states.

The company also asked Nickerson to dismiss the complaint. The judge did not address that motion.

RailWorks reports profit of 1 cent a share

RailWorks Corp. reported a first-quarter profit of $200,000, or 1 cent per share, beating forecasts and sending the Baltimore County company's stock up 28 cents, nearly 15 percent, yesterday to $2.17 per share.

The company's net income was down more than 91 percent from the $2.3 million it reported in first-quarter 2000. But the results were a marked improvement over the loss of 15 cents per share the company had forecast in March.

RailWorks, a rail construction and transportation services company, reported first-quarter revenue of $170.4 million, up 35.9 percent from the $125.4 million in first quarter of 2000. Company officials said they expect earnings of about 70 cents per share over the next three quarters.

Bankruptcy court OKs Grace financing

Columbia-based W. R. Grace & Co. said yesterday that is has received bankruptcy court approval to use a $250 million loan to pay debts and continue operations.

Grace announced April 2 that it had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because of a surge in asbestos-related injury claims. The company is among a number that have sought bankruptcy protection because of mounting asbestos claims.

Grace said the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., had approved the debtor-in-possession financing from Bank of America.

Columbia REIT forms a new group

Corporate Office Properties Trust announced yesterday that it has formed a new group to provide third parties with land planning, design, consulting and related services.

The Columbia-based real estate investment trust had been developing, buying and managing suburban office buildings for itself, but decided to use its experience and corporate relationships to create the new business, which will be called Corporate Office Services LLC.

Dwight S. Taylor, president of COPT's development company, will become president of the new services entity and will oversee day-to-day operations of both groups.

Southwest and union prepare to stop talks

Southwest Airlines Co. and the union representing 5,300 ground workers said they will ask to be released from negotiations if talks this week fail to produce an agreement by late Saturday.

A National Mediation Board decision to grant a release would trigger a 30-day "cooling-off" period required before the Transport Workers Union could strike. A walkout would be the first since 1980 at the low-fare airline, which is the largest carrier at Baltimore-Washington International Airport.

The airline and the TWU, which represents ramp workers, cleaners and other support staff, have been in talks since December 1999. The union rejected a proposal in December.

Fidelity and Deposit adopts Zurich brand name

Fidelity and Deposit Companies, a unit of Zurich North America, has adopted the Zurich brand name. F&D; is now known as Zurich's Surety & Financial Enterprises unit.

The operating units within Baltimore-based Surety & Financial Enterprises are Zurich North America Surety, a contract and commercial bonding business; Zurich North America Financial Enterprises; and Zurich North America Mountbatten, an alternative contract bond business.

AstraZeneca signs with Gene Logic

AstraZeneca Pharmaceuticals said yesterday that it has signed a multiyear subscription to database services provided by Gaithersburg-based Gene Logic Inc. Terms were not disclosed.

The database contains gene expression data and other clinical information from a broad range of normal and diseased human tissues, as well as tissues from model animal systems and human and animal cell lines.

HealthExtras reports smaller quarterly loss

HealthExtras Inc., a Rockville company that sells disability and health insurance on the Internet, yesterday posted a smaller loss and sharply increased revenue for its first quarter, which ended March 31.

The company reported a loss of $2.9 million, or 10 cents a share, compared with a loss of $6.5 million, or 24 cents a share, in the first quarter of 2000, its first as a public company. HealthExtras also redesigned its Web site in March 2000 and acquired a pharmacy benefits company in November.

The changes were reflected in revenue more than four times as high as in the year-earlier quarter - $23.1 million, compared with $5.3 million.

Lockheed's account awarded to Keiler

Lockheed Martin Corp. has awarded its estimated $15 million media and creative account to Keiler & Co., an advertising firm in Farmington, Conn.

Baltimore's GKV Communications Inc., formerly Gray, Kirk VanSant Advertising and Public Relations Inc., and Cramer-Krasselt of Milwaukee also were part of the review.

Elsewhere

Lehman plans to add up to 1,000 workers as rivals cut back

Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. said yesterday that it will add up to 1,000 employees this year.

The hiring, mainly in Europe and in the mergers and equities businesses, will amount to a 9 percent increase at the third-largest U.S. securities firm based on capital. They follow a 27 percent increase in fiscal 2000.

Lehman, one of the few Wall Street firms adding staff as brokers' profits slump, spent the years from 1994 to 1999 trimming jobs or holding the total almost flat. Most of Lehman's competitors have cut at least 2 percent of their work forces this year as stock underwriting and mergers shrink. Yesterday, Merrill Lynch & Co. said it will trim its asset-management staff by 20 percent.

FDIC expects tab for failures to triple

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. is projecting that the cost of bank and thrift failures will at least triple this year as a slower economy hurts lenders.

In a semiannual report to determine how much banks and thrifts will pay for deposit insurance coverage, the regulator said it foresees commercial bank failures costing between $100 million and $600 million this year and thrift failures costing between $50 million and $500 million. Six banks and one thrift failed in 2000, costing some $40 million. Accounts are insured by FDIC for up to $100,000.

Allstate is purchasing auto repair chain

Allstate Corp. is acquiring Massachusetts-based Sterling Collision Centers, a seven-state chain of 39 car repair shops, in a deal that Allstate said will make car repairs more efficient for the company and its policyholders.

The purchase appears to be the first in which a major insurer has bought an auto repair firm. Terms weren't disclosed.

The deal also makes Allstate one of only a few companies that have been seeking to consolidate the highly fragmented collision-repair industry, which generates $25 billion in revenue yearly.

This column was compiled from reports by Sun staff writers, the Associated Press, Bloomberg News and Reuters.

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