Two satellite radio firms report gains in subscribers

Sirius Satellite Radio Inc. and XM Satellite Radio Holdings Inc., the two big players in the emerging satellite radio business, both announced gains in subscribers yesterday as 2004 draws to a close.

XM, which has its headquarters in Washington, said it had recently surpassed 3.1 million subscribers, after starting the year with 1.3 million. Sirius, based in New York, said it has more than 1 million subscribers, nearly four times the 260,000 it had at the beginning of the year.

Competition between the two companies has been heating up fiercely, with each signing contracts for hundreds of millions of dollars for sports and talk programming. Both have enlisted help from automakers in marketing the services, under which users pay a monthly fee for coast-to-coast access to hundreds of channels, many of them commercial-free.

Sirius brought in radio shock jock Howard Stern in October with a five-year deal that is worth about $500 million. XM later announced an 11-year, $650 million deal with Major League Baseball, and Sirius has signed up the National Football League.

Retiring bank official to get $24.4 million package

Charles K. "Chad" Gifford, chairman of Bank of America Corp., the nation's third-largest bank, will get severance pay of about $16.4 million next month when he retires, as well as incentives for this year valued at about $8 million, according to a regulatory filing.

Gifford, 62, agreed to the severance package in 1999 when Fleet Financial Group Inc. bought BankBoston Corp. He'll get another $667,000 in pay for January, and the $8 million as part of an agreement with Bank of America, which bought FleetBoston in April, the Securities and Exchange Commission filing said.

For the next five years, he will be paid $50,000 a year in consulting fees, given use of a corporate jet for up to 120 hours a year and get to use company car services. Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis will replace him as chairman, though Gifford will remain on the board.

Spam complaints fell 75% in 2004, AOL says

Time Warner Inc.'s America Online division said yesterday that junk e-mail, or "spam," decreased more than 75 percent this year because of improved software and new laws.

AOL members sent the service about 2.2 million reports of spam daily in November, down from about 11 million daily reports in the month last year, the company said.

The federal CAN-SPAM law, which became effective in January, and better spam-fighting tools in the AOL 9.0 security edition software have helped decrease the amount of junk e-mail users receive, AOL said.

Attempted junk e-mails sent from the Internet to AOL members have dropped 22 percent, which may be a sign that some spammers are giving up sending unsolicited e-mails, AOL said.

Gartner to acquire Meta for $162 million in cash

Market research firm Gartner Inc. has agreed to acquire Meta Group Inc. for about $162 million in cash. Both companies provide information-technology research and consulting.

Gartner said yesterday that it would pay $10 for each share of Meta, a 54 percent premium to Meta Group's closing price last Thursday of $6.48.

The boards of both companies have approved the agreement, which is subject to approval by Meta's shareholders. It is expected to close in the second quarter of 2005.

No. 1 Okla. oil-gas producer to expand reserves again

Chesapeake Energy Corp. agreed yesterday to purchase BRG Petroleum Corp. for $325 million in cash to take advantage of high oil and gas prices to bolster the company's asset base. It will be Chesapeake's 10th acquisition in 2004 for a total of $1.7 billion.

Chesapeake, already the No. 1 producer of Oklahoma oil and gas, would add to its fields and reserves in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma, particularly in northwest Oklahoma's Sahara fields.

Chesapeake, based in Oklahoma City, increased its 2005 oil and natural gas production forecast by 2.8 percent and its 2006 forecast by 4.3 percent after adding BRG, a private oil and gas producer in Tulsa, Okla.

Manhattan Toys 'R' Us to be Babies 'R' Us store

Toys "R" Us, the nation's second-largest toy retailer, plans to convert one of its two Manhattan stores into a Babies "R" Us, giving the company a prime location for its fast-growing division that sells baby furniture, apparel and accessories.

The Union Square store will be closed in February or March for renovations. Its 50 employees have been offered positions at other Toys "R" Us stores, a spokeswoman said yesterday. Severance packages are expected for employees who cannot or choose not to relocate.

The store is liquidating merchandise in anticipation of the conversion, McLaughlin said. Toys "R" Us' flagship store in Times Square will not be affected.

Va. school to offer MBA for working executives

The University of Virginia's Darden Graduate School of Business Administration plans to join the ranks of schools that offer master's programs for executives who don't want to leave their jobs to advance their careers.

University officials formed a committee in April to study the need for such a program "after we saw an increasing number of inquiries from companies and people in the region," said the school's dean, Robert S. Harris.

Once the curriculum and other details are in place and university and state officials approve, Darden hopes to launch its program in 2006 with an inaugural class of 40 to 45 students.

Darden's plans reflect a national trend in which business schools are responding to the fact that fewer people want to give up a fairly high-paying job for two years to pursue their MBA, Harris said.

Arbitron wins 4-year pact with Clear Channel radio

Arbitron Inc. of New York, which compiles television and radio ratings for broadcasters, won a four-year contract to provide software and other services to the radio unit of Clear Channel Communications Inc., its biggest customer.

The agreement includes renewals for Clear Channel's Premiere Radio Networks, KMG Consolidated Radio Sales, Scarborough and Clear Channel Traffic, Arbitron said yesterday.

Orange juice firms seek tariffs on Brazil imports

Florida orange growers and juice makers asked the federal government yesterday to impose tariffs on Brazilian processors, accusing them of selling orange juice in the United States at unfair prices.

The Florida growers and processors also asked the U.S. International Trade Commission, a federal agency, and the Commerce Department to investigate the pricing practices of four juice producers.

The petition accused the Brazilians of selling frozen concentrated orange juice in the United States at 37 percent less than production costs.

The practice, called dumping, contributed to the decline by almost a third of on-tree prices for Florida juice oranges and an orange juice inventory buildup of more than 20 percent, the petition claimed.

Calif. firms that paid no tax in 2003 win state refunds

Three California companies that paid no state income tax last year have been awarded $5 million in tax refunds, angering critics who say the cash-strapped state cannot afford them.

The California Board of Equalization, which oversees state tax policy, voted this month to give the refunds to Conexant Systems of Newport Beach, Grundfos U.S. Holdings of Fresno and Lightwave Electronics of Mountain View. The board may also consider refund requests from 22 other companies totaling $77 million as early as next month.

State tax lawyers said the credits were intended to attract and keep manufacturers in California. Lawmakers let the credits expire last year after they failed to create expected job growth, but the board ruled that the three companies applied for the refunds before the program ended.

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

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