In the RegionLockheed's satellite Internet venture falls...

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In the Region

Lockheed's satellite Internet venture falls short on capital

Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Astrolink venture has raised little more than a third of the $3.7 billion needed to get its satellite Internet service off the ground and is asking early investors for more money. Lockheed Martin, Liberty Media Corp., Telecom Italia SpA and TRW Inc. have promised $1.33 billion to the project, Lockheed said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Astrolink still needs $2.4 billion to complete its planned nine-satellite system.

Astrolink, based in Bethesda, hasn't attracted new investors since October 1999, and competing ventures already have begun service using existing satellites. The company wouldn't say how many customers it expects to have, or discuss the January resignation of Chief Executive Officer Celso Azevedo.

Constellation Energy unit to supply Texas utility

Constellation Energy Group, the owner of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., said yesterday that its power-plant unit has agreed to provide all the electricity to the Texas retail customers of TNP Enterprises Inc.

Constellation Power Source will manage supply for TNP's Texas-New Mexico Power Co. utility and for its First Choice Power unit, formed to compete for retail energy sales in Texas. Constellation also will run Texas-New Mexico Power's 300-megawatt power plant in central Texas. Terms weren't disclosed.

Though Texas' retail-energy market won't fully open to competition until January, First Choice will begin sales in July in a pilot program.

Vaccine company taps Liss as executive vice president

Vaccine developer Antex Biologics Inc. said yesterday that it has appointed a former Aventis Bio-Services and Wyeth Ayerst executive as vice president of product development.

Alan Liss, who has 25 years of experience in microbiology and biopharmaceuticals, will oversee Antex's efforts to move vaccines from the research stage to the market, the Gaithersburg company said.

Liss most recently was director of quality assurance and quality control for a vaccine production facility of Wyeth Ayerst, a division of American Home Products Corp. Previously, he was senior director of quality assurance at Aventis Bio-Services.

Ritz-Carlton condo project hires Weinberg Harris

Weinberg Harris & Associates has been named agency of record for the Residences at the Ritz-Carlton Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore public relations and marketing agency will handle advertising, special events and media relations for the development of 97 condominiums. Terms weren't disclosed. The development, on Key Highway across from the American Visionary Art Museum, is scheduled to open in 2003.

Elsewhere

Bankruptcy filings increase 18 percent in the first quarter

The number of U.S. individuals and businesses filing for bankruptcy increased sharply in the first quarter of 2001, according to data issued yesterday by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.

The total number of new bankruptcy filings between January and March was 366,841, an 18 percent increase from 312,335 for the like period last year and the highest number of quarterly filings since the second quarter of 1998.

Many consumers apparently were trying to beat legislation pending in Congress that makes it harder for consumers to file for bankruptcies. Bankruptcy filings for the 12 months that ended March 31 were 1,307,857, compared with 1,301,205 filings during the same period a year ago.

Hedge fund to give back $1 billion to investors

Lawrence Bowman said yesterday that his $4.5 billion Bowman Technology Fund is refunding more than $1 billion to investors, aiming to lift returns by making his company "simpler and smaller."

Bowman, 42, a former manager at Fidelity Investments, said that one of his top managers, John Hurley, is leaving and that he is shutting the hedge fund, which invests in large-capitalization stocks such as AOL Time Warner Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

The Bowman Technology Fund lost 14.5 percent in the first quarter and is down 20 percent in the first four months of the year, according to investors. The Founders Fund, which invests in smaller technology companies, lost 9.5 percent in the first quarter.

Lucent intensifies talks with French suitor, Alcatel

Talks for French telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel to acquire U.S. rival Lucent Technologies Inc. intensified yesterday in a deal that could be worth about $33 billion, Reuters reported, attributing the news to sources familiar with the situation.

The talks were expected to continue through the weekend, with Alcatel offering little or no premium for Lucent, the sources said. Among the issues that have not been resolved are management appointments and board representation for Lucent, the sources said.

Alcatel and Lucent declined to comment.

Buyout firm with record of losing bets is in a pickle

A Dallas buyout firm battered by money-losing bets on movie theaters and telecommunications start-ups said it's returning to basic industries with the purchase of bankrupt pickle maker Vlasic Foods International Inc. for about $370 million.

Vlasic, which featured a cartoon stork in its ads for years, persuaded a bankruptcy judge two weeks ago to approve the sale of its assets to Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst. The sale also includes Open Pit barbecue sauce and Swanson frozen foods, which created the first frozen pot-pie and TV dinners.

Hicks Muse's bid topped Vlasic's tentative agreement to sell only the pickle and barbecue sauce units to H. J. Heinz Co. for $195 million. The bankruptcy court approved the $370 million sale, but the final price was negotiated down, Hicks Muse said.

Nextel to sell $1 billion in convertible debt

Nextel Communications Inc., the wireless-telephone carrier whose shares have fallen 29 percent this year, agreed to sell $1 billion in debt in a private placement to expand its network.

The convertible senior notes due in 2011 will yield 6 percent interest, said the company, based in Reston, Va. Noteholders can exchange the debt for common stock at a conversion price of $23.84 a share.

Minneapolis publisher quits after 3 years in job

John Schueler, publisher of the Minneapolis Star Tribune for three years, resigned yesterday, effective immediately.

Schueler, 51, told the newspaper's top managers he made the decision for personal reasons, the Star Tribune reported.

Robert Weil, 50, vice president of operations for the McClatchy Co., parent of the Star Tribune, will replace Schueler temporarily. A successor is expected to be chosen by the end of summer.

Maytag weighs sale of Vermont subsidiary

Maytag Corp. is studying whether to sell G. S. Blodgett, a subsidiary that makes commercial cooking products, as it refocuses on its core appliance businesses and premium brands.

Blodgett, based in Burlington, Vt., makes commercial ovens, fryers and charbroilers for the restaurant industry under the brands Blodgett, Pitco Frialator, Magi- Kitch'n and Blodgett Combi.

Subaru Outbacks to get GM's OnStar service

General Motors Corp. will begin providing its OnStar in-vehicle communications service in Subaru Outbacks next year after signing up its fourth rival for the service.

OnStar will be available on the 2003 model Outback as a standard feature with a one-year subscription to OnStar's safety and security services, the companies said in a joint statement. Subaru, a subsidiary of Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., plans to install the service in other models.

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

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