BUSINESS DIGEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In the Region

Jobless rate fell from 4.7% to 4.6% in region in Dec.

The Baltimore region's unemployment rate in December nudged down to 4.6 percent from 4.7 percent as 9,000 people left the labor force, according to numbers released yesterday.

Still, the city of Baltimore's rate of 7.8 percent was third-worst in the state, behind the Eastern Shore counties of Dorchester (8.2 percent) and Worcester (13.2 percent), said the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

Those numbers were not adjusted for seasonal variations. Statewide, the unadjusted unemployment rate in December was 4.1 percent, steady from the previous month.

Howard County posted a 2.4 percent unemployment rate; Carroll, 3 percent; Anne Arundel, 3.2 percent; Harford, 4.2 percent; and Baltimore County, 4.5 percent.

Host Marriott sells 3 hotels, is near selling 2 more

Hotel owner Host Marriott of Bethesda said yesterday that it will sell six hotels for $100 million to help repay company debt. Host said it has sold the Atlanta Marriott Northwest, the Detroit Airport Marriott and the Detroit Marriott Southfield hotels.

Host Marriott says it's closing sales on two others, the Atlanta Marriott Norcross and the Fullerton Marriott at California State University. The sales of all five are expected to bring in $70 million.

In addition, the real estate company plans to sell a Marriott hotel at the Mexico City airport for an additional $30 million.

Host Marriott expects to sell approximately $500 million in assets in 2004, including the transactions announced yesterday.

UnitedHealth gets OK to buy 3 companies

Maryland Insurance Commissioner Alfred W. Redmer Jr. approved yesterday a proposed acquisition of three insurance companies by UnitedHealth Group Inc.

The companies are MAMSI Life and Health Insurance Company, Optimum Choice Inc. and MD-Individual Practice Association Inc. All are subsidiaries of Mid Atlantic Medical Services Inc.

Redmer said UnitedHealth Group does not plan to liquidate the companies or make other major changes to their management. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust division have already approved the acquisition.

Sinclair's quarterly profit fell 8.6%, to $173 million

Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. posted fourth-quarter broadcast revenue yesterday of $173.1 million, an 8.6 percent decline from the $189.4 million in revenue in the final quarter of 2002.

The Hunt Valley company also reported net income of $16 million for the three months that ended Dec. 31, compared with $23.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2002.

Net broadcast revenues were $661.8 million for the 12 months that ended Dec. 31, 1.3 percent less than in 2002. Net income last year was $14 million, compared with a loss in 2002 of $574.8 million, which was the result of a change in accounting principle.

Lawyer becomes chairman of K Bank of Owings Mills

Marc S. Rosen, founder and managing partner of Shar, Rosen & Warshaw LLC, has taken over as chairman of K Bank of Owings Mills.

Rosen replaces the retiring Bernard "Bernie" Dackman, who helped lead the bank from its rural roots in 1961 to a regional retail and real estate lender with nearly $500 million in assets.

Rosen, a civil litigator who joined the bank's board in 1985, will continue his law practice while serving as chairman. Richard Sussman, a real estate lawyer and board member since 1985, takes over as vice chairman.

Annapolis data company went from red to black

TeleCommunication Systems Inc., an Annapolis wireless data technology company, reported fourth-quarter net income of $1.4 million, or 5 cents a share, compared with a net loss of $1.8 million, or 6 cents a share, in the 2002 quarter.

For the year, the company posted a net loss of $13.5 million, or 45 cents a share. That compared with a loss of $17.8 million, or 61 cents a share, in 2002.

Last month, TeleCommunication Systems acquired the Enterprise Mobility Solutions unit of Aether Systems Inc. for $19 million in cash.

Local due-diligence firm opens office in Calif.

EMG, a Hunt Valley provider of commercial real estate due-diligence services, has opened a satellite office in Orange County, Calif., to handle business expansion in the Pacific Southwest.

Mark Haskell, the company's regional vice president, will oversee operations and business development initiatives there.

Elsewhere

NYSE won't sue ex-CEO over huge payout

The New York Stock Exchange said yesterday it won't sue its former chief executive and chairman over his lavish pay package but that it is cutting the salaries of its top officials.

The current chief executive, John A. Thain, said the potential case against Richard A. Grasso is in the hands of the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York state regulators. Both offices had previously indicated that they were looking into the issue of Grasso's pay.

Grasso was ousted from the exchange in September over a $187.5 million compensation package that outraged Wall Street and regulators, many of whom believed it was excessive. The resulting furor prompted the exchange to overhaul its corporate governance practices, including how it compensates executives.

Investment adviser quits Canadian Imperial Bank

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, under investigation by U.S. regulators for financing illegal mutual-fund trades, has announced the resignation of David Kassie as its top investment banker.

Kassie, former chairman and chief executive of CIBC World Markets, left to pursue "other interests," Canadian Imperial spokesman Robert Waite said. Gerry McCaughey, 47, vice chairman of asset management, will replace Kassie, Canada's No. 3 bank said.

Paul Flynn, a former managing director in New York, was arrested and charged Tuesday by U.S. authorities with helping finance illegal mutual fund trades. In December, the bank agreed to pay $80 million to settle claims with the Securities and Exchange Commission that it contributed to the collapse of energy trader Enron Corp.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said in an interview this week that he might take civil action against Canadian Imperial and that more employees might be arrested.

Plaintiffs likely to reject proposed drug settlement

Johnson & Johnson's $127.5 million offer to settle federal lawsuits claiming the drug maker's Propulsid heartburn remedy caused at least 300 deaths is likely to be rejected, lawyers for former users of the drug said.

Johnson & Johnson, the world's fourth-biggest drug maker, has agreed to pay as much as $90 million in compensation to about 4,000 consumers whose cases were consolidated in federal court in New Orleans, plus as much as $22.5 million in fees to their lawyers. The New Brunswick, N.J. company also would set aside $15 million for administrative expenses.

In a statement yesterday, the company said the settlement won't be completed unless an additional 12,000 people who have claims and haven't sued agree to join the accord.

Propulsid was sold from 1993 to 2000 by Johnson & Johnson's Janssen Pharmaceutica Inc. unit. More than 10 million people used the drug.

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

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