BUSINESS DIGEST

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In The Region

Under Armour chief, mayor to lead talks about job creation

Local business and political leaders will hold a public discussion tomorrow evening about jobs and the economy, part of a series of town-hall meetings around the country seeking to start a public conversation about the role of government and the private sector in creating employment.

"American Jobs: A National Conversation" is sponsored by the Council for Excellence in Government and the Global Markets Institute at Goldman Sachs. Panelists include Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Kevin Plank, president and founder of Under Armour Performance Apparel. Results of a poll of Baltimore residents about job creation are to be released at the meeting.

The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Johns Hopkins University Downtown Center, 10 N. Charles St.

Elsewhere

Cisco's earnings up nearly 13%, but sales fall short of forecast

Cisco Systems Inc. reported yesterday that its fiscal second-quarter profits rose nearly 13 percent - though sales missed expectations - as the company's traditional router business continued to be strong, along with emerging technologies such as Internet telephones.

For the three months that ended Jan. 29, Cisco earned $1.4 billion, or 21 cents per share, compared with $724 million, or 10 cents per share, in the second quarter last year.

Excluding special items, Cisco earned $1.48 billion, or 22 cents per share, compared with a profit of $1.32 billion, or 18 cents per share, in the second quarter last fiscal year. Sales jumped 12 percent to $6.06 billion, from $5.4 billion last year.

The earnings met Wall Street expectations, but revenue didn't. Analysts were expecting Cisco to earn 22 cents per share on sales of $6.13 billion, according to a survey by Thomson First Call.

Dozens of Kmart stores to get new Sears format

Sears, Roebuck and Co. disclosed plans yesterday to switch dozens of Kmart stores to a new mid-sized store format called Sears Essentials, providing more details of what the combined Kmart-Sears retail behemoth will look like.

The new strategy for competing with discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. will combine Sears products such as appliances, tools, home electronics and clothing with convenience items such as health and beauty ware, snacks and pet supplies.

Sears and Kmart Holding Corp. are awaiting regulatory approval of their merger, which will create the nation's third-largest retailer, Sears Holdings Corp. The deal is expected to close early next month.

Trump stockholders assail reorganization plan

Denouncing Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts' bankruptcy reorganization plan as "a basket of goodies" for Donald J. Trump, a group of common stockholders wants to file an alternative with fewer perks for the casino mogul and more value for stakeholders.

In a court filing Monday, the Official Committee of Equity Security Holders asked a judge to terminate Trump Hotels' exclusive right to reorganize its affairs. The Chapter 11 reorganization plan being considered by the court smells of inside deals benefiting Trump, his bankers and others at the expense of the approximately 32,000 holders of the casino company's common stock, the filing said.

The Equity Committee has not crafted an alternative proposal; it needs court permission to file such a plan. Judge Judith H. Wizmur of U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Del., is to hear arguments on the Equity Committee's motion Feb. 23.

Ask Jeeves search engine buys Web log index

Underdog online search engine Ask Jeeves Inc. has bought Bloglines, a Web log index and Internet news funnel popular with readers of online journals, in its latest bid to gain ground on heavyweight rivals Google Inc. and Yahoo Inc.

Ask Jeeves of Oakland, Calif., completed the acquisition last week and announced it yesterday. Many of the online sites tracked by Bloglines spent the weekend debating the pros and cons of the combination. The sales price wasn't disclosed.

The acquisition stems from a widening interest in Web logs, or "blogs," the online journals that have grown from mundane personal diaries into increasingly influential sources of news and commentary.

Microsoft to buy maker of protective software

Microsoft Corp. announced plans yesterday to acquire a company whose software aims to protect corporate networks from threats via e-mail and said it would sell a product based on the technology.

The deal for Sybari Software Inc., along with word that Microsoft is gearing up to release its first set of commercial anti-virus products, could hurt security companies including Symantec Corp. and McAfee Inc., analysts said.

Terms of the deal, the latest in a series of security-related purchases by Microsoft, were not disclosed. Sybari is privately held but had been planning an initial public stock offering.

Playtex to cut 300 jobs, about 20% of workers

Playtex Products Inc., a maker of baby care and personal care products, said it will cut more than 300 positions by the end of the year, about 20 percent of its work force.

The moves are aimed at cutting costs, the Westport, Conn., company said.

The realignment will affect all of its locations and functions. It will include facility consolidations, outsourcing and accelerated depreciation on certain assets. Aside from the staff reduction, Playtex said it plans to shift its household glove manufacturing to Malaysia and reduce the office space of its corporate headquarters and reorganize its divisions.

GM adding flexibility to size of air bags

One size doesn't fit all when it comes to air bags, so General Motors will offer the industry's first dual-depth passenger-side air bag this fall in the 2006 Buick Lucerne and Cadillac DTS sedans.

"Smart" air bags, those that can tell whether a passenger is in the seat to determine when to deploy, have been around for a while. Smart air bags also can base deployment force on the size of the passenger-seat occupant and the severity of the crash. The GM system goes a step further by changing the size of the bags based on the size of the passenger. The world's biggest automaker plans to unveil the new air bags today at the Chicago Auto Show.

1.7 million are due $2 billion in tax refunds paid in 2001

About 1.7 million people are missing out on more than $2 billion in refunds for taxes they paid three years ago.

Many of them never filed returns, but they have a short window to do so. Taxpayers can file returns by April 15 to claim a refund for taxes paid in 2001, under laws that make the money the property of the U.S. Treasury after sitting unclaimed for three years.

The Internal Revenue Service estimated that half of the people due refunds could claim more than $484 each. There is no penalty for filing a return late to claim a refund.

Ex-HealthSouth CEO tells of plan to fire Scrushy

Top HealthSouth Corp. executives considered removing Richard M. Scrushy as chairman but decided against it in the final months of what prosecutors say was a huge fraud conspiracy at the rehabilitation giant, according to testimony yesterday at Scrushy's trial.

William T. Owens, Health- South's chief executive at the time, testified that in the fall of 2002 he met on a Sunday afternoon with Tadd McVay, then chief financial officer, and general counsel Bill Horton. Owens said the company was under "pressure" from the outside due to Scrushy's stock transactions, which had drawn shareholder lawsuits and a government probe.

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

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