BUSINESS DIGEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IN THE REGION

Verizon, unions put talks on hold through Labor Day holiday

Negotiations between Verizon Communications Inc. and the two unions representing 78,000 workers from Maine to Virginia have been put on hold through Labor Day in honor of the holiday weekend, a federal mediator said yesterday.

Verizon and the unions, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have been negotiating a new contract since June. Verizon's union employees have been working without a contract since Aug. 2.

The talks are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. Tuesday.

Corvis Corp. agrees to sell $77.4 million of stock

Corvis Corp., a Columbia fiber-optics company that has seen its stock price dwindle and work force shrink over the past year, said yesterday that it has agreed to sell $77.4 million of common stock to certain accredited investors, who will also have the right to buy additional shares.

The investors will buy 67.3 million shares at $1.15 per share, and will have the right to purchase an additional 13.5 million shares at $1.30 each. Net proceeds will be used for general corporate expenses.

Shares of Corvis fell 5 cents on the Nasdaq SmallCap market yesterday to close at $1.21.

Sandy Spring Bancorp declares 19 cents dividend

Sandy Spring Bancorp, the Olney-based parent of Sandy Spring Bank, declared a third-quarter dividend yesterday of 19 cents per share, an increase of 1 cent per share compared with the previous quarter.

The dividend is payable Sept. 18 to shareholders of record Sept. 8.

With $2.4 billion in assets, Sandy Spring is the third-largest publicly traded bank based in Maryland. In July, it reported second-quarter income of $8.8 million, an increase of 22 percent from second-quarter last year.

ELSEWHERE

Sunday is deadline for getting number on do-not-call list

Consumers have until Sunday to add their phone numbers to the 41.7 million already on a list to block telemarketing calls starting Oct. 1.

K. Dane Snowden, chief of the Federal Communications Commission's consumer and government affairs bureau, said those who sign up for the do-not-call list after this weekend likely will have to wait until early next year before calls to their phones are blocked.

There will not be enough time to process requests received after Sunday to add numbers to the first national do-not-call list, and telemarketers, once they check the names Oct. 1, won't have to look again for another three months, Snowden said.

The Federal Trade Commission is administering the list, while the FCC and FTC are enforcing it. The list has proven extremely popular with consumers, with officials saying they expect it to contain up to 60 million phone numbers by the end of the year.

Consumers can register for the do-not-call list by calling 1-888-382-1222 or visiting http://www.donotcall.gov.

NASD proposes plan for supervising brokers

The National Association of Securities Dealers Inc. has proposed requiring extra supervision for brokers with troubled employment histories.

The NASD would require firms to adopt heightened supervision plans for brokers who, within the past five years, have had three or more customer complaints and arbitrations, three or more regulatory actions or investigations, or two or more terminations or internal firm reviews involving wrongdoing.

Supervisors would also have to approve the plan in writing and acknowledge responsibility for its execution. Firms would, however, have some discretion to exempt a particular individual if they document a reasonable rationale for the decision, the NASD said.

The NASD said a preliminary review of 663,000 registered brokers shows that within the past five years, 2,751 have three or more customer complaints and arbitrations, 216 have been subject to three or more investigations or regulatory actions, and 1,198 have been subject to two or more terminations or internal reviews based on allegations of wrongdoing.

Simmons bedding maker on market for $800 million

A New York private investment firm is looking to sell Simmons Co., the No. 2 bedding manufacturer behind Sealy, for at least $800 million, a source with knowledge of the plan told the Associated Press yesterday.

Fenway Partners has enlisted Goldman Sachs, UBS and Wachovia to handle the sale of Atlanta-based Simmons, maker of the Beautyrest mattress, the source said. The investment banks are putting together an offering memorandum and have begun approaching select buyers, the source said.

News of the possible sale comes five years after Fenway Partners bought Simmons for $500 million from Investcorp., an investment firm with offices in New York, London and Bahrain. Representatives for Simmons and the investment firms had no immediate comment.

The privately held company employs more than 2,500 people and operates 18 plants in the United States and Puerto Rico.

Goodyear to cut 500 jobs across North America

Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. said yesterday that it will eliminate about 500 salaried and nonunion jobs at its North American tire operations.

The reductions at the nation's biggest tire maker will involve management and staff positions at most of its manufacturing plants throughout North America in a bid to cut costs.

Each location is developing its own plan for how the reductions will be achieved by the end of next month.

Goodyear has been struggling financially, and its turnaround plan includes reducing costs by $1 billion to $1.5 billion by the end of 2005.

Court OKs $56 million as lowest bid for Pillowtex

Pillowtex Corp., the bankrupt maker of Royal Velvet and Fieldcrest sheets, towels and pillows, won bankruptcy court approval yesterday to accept GGST LLC's $56 million offer as the minimum bid at an Oct. 2 auction of its assets.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter Walsh approved the bidding procedures at a hearing in Wilmington, Del. He also authorized a $1.54 million fee payable to GGST, a company formed by Gibbs International, Gordon Brothers Retail Partners, SB Capital Group and Tiger Capital Group, if it isn't the winning bidder.

Pillowtex's bankruptcy filing last month was the second within three years for the textile maker, which left bankruptcy in May 2002. The Kannapolis, N.C.-based company closed 16 plants and dismissed 6,450 workers, the largest firing in U.S. textile history. The bankruptcy is the latest by U.S. textile companies, which have struggled with slumping sales and low-cost imports.

Former financial officer Szeliga leaves Qwest

Robin Szeliga, former chief financial officer of Qwest Communications International Inc. who became a key witness in federal probes of the regional Bell, has left the company.

Vincent Marella, Szeliga's lawyer, said her departure was a mutual decision between her and the company.

Szeliga, 42, had been the last high-level holdover at Qwest from the tenure of chief executive Joe Nacchio, who was ousted last year. After new CEO Richard Notebaert hired a replacement for Szeliga as the CFO, she became vice president of finance.

Sears to close 3 stores in Great Indoors chain

Sears Roebuck & Co. said yesterday that it plans to close three underperforming stores in The Great Indoors chain of home decorating and remodeling centers.

Sears, calling the announcement a refinement of its business strategy, said it will close stores in Arlington and Willowbrook, Texas, and in Cincinnati by year's end. It also plans to convert a fourth Great Indoors store in Shelby, Mich., into an outlet store.

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