BUSINESS DIGEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In The Region

Liquidation sale to begin tomorrow at Sun & Ski Sports

Sun & Ski Sports, an original anchor tenant at Arundel Mills mall in Hanover, will begin a liquidation sale tomorrow and close by the end of March as its parent company tries to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The parent, Houston-based Retail Concepts Inc., has closed five of its 24 specialty "extreme sports" stores, which sell skis, bikes and skates and feature an in-store climbing wall, said President Barry Goldware. The company, which had sales of $65 million last year, plans to close another store in Fort Worth, Texas, and expects to emerge from bankruptcy with 17 stores in 11 states, he said.

Gene Condon, Arundel Mills' vice president and general manager, said the mall has lined up Modell's Sporting Goods to fill the 31,000-square-foot vacancy.

Bethesda-based Marriott increases stock buyback

Marriott International Inc. said yesterday that it has increased its stock buyback to as many as 20 million shares.

Bethesda-based Marriott boosted the repurchase authorization by 17 million shares, which will be repurchased from time to time in the open market, Marriott said.

The company said it has bought back 3 million shares this year, and it repurchased 7.8 million shares last year. Marriott had about 235.9 million shares outstanding as of Jan. 3.

Walter to succeed Parsons as Host Marriott CFO

Host Marriott Corp., the largest hotel-owning real estate investment trust, said Chief Operating Officer W. Edward Walter will become chief financial officer, replacing Robert Parsons, who resigned.

Parsons will leave in the second quarter, the Bethesda-based company said, without elaborating on why he left and where he will be going. He has worked with Host Marriott and its predecessor, Marriott Corp., since 1981, the company said.

Walter joined Host Marriott in 1995 and was its treasurer. He has been overseeing Host Marriott's treasury and capital markets activity for five years.

Digene's 2Q loss widens as expenses offset gains

Digene Corp. said yesterday that its fiscal second-quarter net loss widened slightly despite a 25 percent increase in revenue.

The Gaithersburg medical diagnostics company said it lost $1.3 million, or 7 cents per share, in the quarter that ended Dec. 31. That compares with a net loss of $1.1 million, or 6 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

Quarterly revenue increased to $14.5 million from $11.6 million. The gains, however, were more than offset by expenses, including increased sales and marketing and general and administrative costs.

TEDCO awards $250,000 to 5 technology companies

The Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) said yesterday that it gave $250,000 to five Maryland companies to help them move technology from the lab into the marketplace.

The companies, each awarded $50,000, are Embedded Research Solutions in Annapolis, Falcon Systems in Crofton, LNK Corp. in Riverdale, CryMed Technologies in Lutherville and Agnik LLC in Columbia, the state corporation said.

TEDCO, with the help of the state Department of Economic Development, has a $1 million funding pool for a program that helps businesses transfer technology from state universities or federal labs into the marketplace.

Ciena Corp. makes sale to British company

Ciena Corp., the Linthicum maker of fiber-optic equipment, announced yesterday that it landed a new customer. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Thus PLC, a British telecommunications company, plans to use Ciena's technology for metropolitan networks, or telecommunications networks in cities. The product that Thus will be using is one Ciena acquired when it bought ONI Systems Corp., a California telecommunications company, in a $743 million stock and debt deal last June.

Elsewhere

News of retirement of Ericsson CEO sends stock soaring

LM Ericsson said yesterday that President and Chief Executive Officer Kurt Hellstroem is retiring, and the news sent shares of the troubled telecommunications giant soaring 14 percent on hopes a new CEO can reverse the company's slide.

Carl-Henric Svanberg, the CEO for lock maker Assa Abloy, was named to replace Hellstroem, who took advantage of a contract clause to retire at age 60. Hellstroem, who has been with the Stockholm-based telecommunications company for 18 years, will step down at its annual meeting April 8.

Svanberg has drawn praise for turning Assa Abloy into one of the world's best known lock makers, and has the technical background to lead the wireless equipment and cell phone maker back into the black, Ericsson Chairman Michael Treschow said.

Bank of America acquires mortgage-software maker

Bank of America Corp. has acquired Framework Inc., a private company that produces software for online mortgage applications. Terms were not disclosed.

Framework, based in Tarrytown, N.Y., will keep its name and will operate as an independent subsidiary of Bank of America. Layoffs at Framework are not expected.

Bank of America, based in Charlotte, N.C., uses Framework software in its branch banks to enable customers to apply for mortgages online. The software can be customized for use by other financial institutions, a spokeswoman said.

Newell moving offices from Ill. to Atlanta area

Newell Rubbermaid, which makes Sharpie pens, Rubbermaid trash cans and Graco car seats, said it will move its global headquarters from Freeport, Ill., to the Atlanta area.

The headquarters will be in north Fulton County and will employ several hundred people, said company officials who made the announcement yesterday at the Georgia Capitol. The company, which employs about 350 workers at its current headquarters, has been hunting for a new home since 2001.

Teamsters reach deal with 4 trucking companies

The Teamsters union said yesterday that it has reached a tentative agreement on a new five-year master contract with four major trucking companies that will boost wages and maintain health insurance coverage at no cost to drivers and other workers.

The current contract with the Motor Freight Carriers Association expires March 31. The association includes Roadway Express, Yellow Transportation, ABF Freight System and USF Holland.

The tentative agreement was reached early yesterday. It would cover 65,000 truck drivers, dockworkers and office personnel, and must be approved by union members. Smaller freight hauling companies traditionally adopt similar contracts and employ another 20,000 Teamsters.

Holdout group to fight plan for Conseco reorganization

A holdout group of investors plans to fight the bankruptcy reorganization plan that Conseco Inc. agreed on with banks and bondholders, who have the biggest say in the Chapter 11 case, a lawyer for owners of preferred securities said yesterday.

Irving E. Walker, an attorney for the Philadelphia-based firm Saul Ewing, said the plan does not give his clients a fair chance of recovering the $1.9 billion in debt they are owed by Conseco, which Dec. 17 became the third-largest U.S. company to file for bankruptcy.

The plan would give bondholders primary control of the insurance and finance company, which would be overseen by a seven-member board of directors, including two company executives and five outsiders appointed by creditors.

Bondholders and banks would assume most of Conseco's remaining value through a reorganization that will restructure $6.5 billion in debt, sell Conseco's money-losing consumer finance operations and assign new stock to investors.

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

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