Business digest 05/25/05

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Jury for HealthSouth CEO stumped by key count

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Jurors in the corporate fraud trial of fired HealthSouth Corp. CEO Richard Scrushy told the judge Tuesday they couldn't reach a verdict and needed an explanation "in layman terms" of a key conspiracy count. In messages to U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre on the fourth day of deliberations, the jury said her instructions seemed contradictory regarding the conspiracy count, which encompasses allegations of fraud, false corporate reporting and false statements to regulators. Scrushy is accused of conspiring in a nearly $2.7 billion earnings overstatement scheme at the medical rehabilitation and services chain. The judge recessed deliberations for the day.

Sales of existing homes in April hit all-time high

WASHINGTON -- Existing homes were sold in April at the fastest pace in history as the nation's red-hot housing market just kept getting hotter. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that existing single-family homes and condominiums were sold at a seasonally adjusted rate of 7.18 million units last month, a gain of 4.5 percent from a revised March sales pace of 6.87 million units. The strength in sales, which was attributed to further declines in mortgage rates, put new upward pressure on prices. The median cost rose to a record $206,000, up 15.1 percent over a year ago.

Air France orders five Boeing cargo planes

SEATTLE -- The Boeing Co. is launching a cargo version of its long-range, twin-engine 777 after receiving an order from Air France for five of the airplanes, the Chicago-based aerospace company announced Tuesday. Air France also took options on three more 777 freighters. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2008, executives with the company and the airline said. The orders would be worth about $1 billion at list prices, but airlines typically negotiate steep discounts.

Federated, May stores schedule votes on merger

ST. LOUIS -- May Department Stores Co. and Federated Department Stores Inc. announced Tuesday they separately will ask shareholders this summer to back their $11 billion hookup that would create a retailer better able to compete against Wal-Mart and upscale merchants. In Securities and Exchange Commission filings, St. Louis-based May scheduled its yearly stockholders meeting for July 13 at The Pierre-New York in New York. Federated said its yearly shareholders gathering will be the same day at its headquarters in Cincinnati.

'Blink' credit cards being tested in Georgia

ATLANTA -- About 400,000 credit-card holders in Georgia will be the first in the country to use a new technology that allows them to pay for items by waving their card near a terminal instead of swiping it through a machine. Residents of Atlanta and 160 other cities in the state will test drive the new "blink" cards, which JPMorgan Chase & Co. will begin mailing to its customers June 1. JPMorgan estimates that the technology will help shorten lines at businesses and help merchants reach more customers by speeding up credit-card purchases. For example, the company predicts it would cut up to 20 seconds from a typical transaction at a fast-food restaurant's drive-through window.

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