Business Briefs
Reported by Star-Bulletin staff & wire


Workers' comp increase halved

The National Council on Compensation Insurance, agreeing with state Insurance Commissioner Wayne Metcalf's findings that there are additional signs of improvement in Hawaii's workers' compensation insurance market, has amended its request for an increase in loss costs to 8 percent from 15 percent.

The 8 percent rate reduces by nearly half what businesses would otherwise have to pay. The loss costs will become the basis for the rates that will be paid by many of Hawaii's businesses for workers' compensation insurance next year.

"The amended filing takes our original concerns into account, and I believe it is fair for Hawaii's business owners as well as for the insurance industry," Metcalf said. "This is only the claims portion of the rates. Insurers will have to submit their expenses and investment income data to have the actual workers' compensation rates approved."

The NCCI is a workers' compensation rating organization that submits filings for loss cost rates for many insurance companies in Hawaii. NCII resubmitted its filing following the Insurance Commissioner's Oct. 31 disapproval of a 15.8 percent increase.

IRS to offer 2 telephone lines

Don't understand the IRS? Now you've got their number.

The Internal Revenue Service will offer two new toll-free telephone lines starting Monday, one for businesses that need help with their tax returns, and one for consumers who want to know the status of their refund. The number for businesses is (800) 829-4933. The number for consumers is (800) 829-1954.


Sealed Air settles asbestos claim

Newark, N.J. >> Sealed Air Corp., the maker of Bubble Wrap, agreed to pay $856.3 million in stock and cash to settle asbestos and bankruptcy-fraud claims connected with its 1998 purchase of W.R. Grace & Co.'s food-packaging unit.

Sealed Air shares surged 56 percent on news of the settlement, which is designed to resolve asbestos claims linked to the purchase of Grace's Cryovac business. The accord came hours after Fresenius Medical Care AG agreed to pay $15 million to settle similar fraud claims over the acquisition of a Grace unit.

Grace creditors and asbestos-injury claimants sought to prove the chemical maker fraudulently transferred assets before filing for Chapter 11 protection in 2001. Grace is among a dozen companies driven into bankruptcy since 2000 by a wave of asbestos suits. Sealed Air's settlement includes payments of $512 million in cash and 9 million of its shares to Grace creditors.

The settlement payment is "well below our expectation and is positive," Salomon Smith Barney analyst George Staphos, who raised his rating to "outperform" from "in line," wrote in a note to clients that followed the announcement.

Shares of Saddle Brook, N.J.-based Sealed Air rose $13.72, or 56 percent, to close at $38.20 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Schwab sued over termination fee

Los Angeles >> Charles Schwab Corp.'s $60 account termination fee was instituted earlier this year without fair warning to customers and should be rescinded, according to a lawsuit filed by a customer.

Michael Baker, a Los Angeles resident, sued the biggest discount brokerage after it charged him $60 to transfer his assets to a rival brokerage. His suit claims Schwab created the termination fee in March without adequately notifying customers.

Tyco to sell apartment of ex-exec for $9.25 mil

NEW YORK >> A judge has given Tyco International permission to sell the swank Upper East Side apartment that had been used by former Chief Financial Officer Mark Swartz.

The apartment, which occupies two floors, will be sold to Tommy Mottola, head of the Sony music group for $9.25 million, well below the asking price of $15.9 million.

Tyco was responsible for furnishing the apartment, and it will be sold as is, a source close to Tyco told the Boston Globe.

Court records indicate the nearly 5,000-square-foot apartment has, among other things, eight televisions, four VCRs, two DVD players, and 33 pieces of framed art.

The source said it was unclear what would happen to the furnishings and artwork in other apartments the company wants to sell.

New York Supreme Court Judge Martin Shulman approved a Tyco motion to sell the apartment, but the proceeds will go into an escrow account because the prosecution wants to make sure Swartz did not own the apartment.

Tyco, which is struggling to recover from the alleged looting of $130 million by Swartz and former Chief Executive Officer L. Dennis Kozlowski, has several other sales planned, the source said.

The company, the source said, hopes also to sell Kozlowski's New York apartment, where he reportedly had a $6,000 shower curtain, a $15,000 antique umbrella stand, and where he kept paintings by Monet and Renoir.

Kozlowski is accused of illegally avoiding paying $1 million in sales tax on the paintings, which were purchased in New York and allegedly shipped to Tyco offices in Exeter, N.H., and then returned to New York.

Davis denies raising bid for Vivendi assets

LOS ANGELES >> Billionaire oilman Marvin Davis is not considering raising his bid for the U.S. entertainment assets of French conglomerate Vivendi Universal, a spokesman said yesterday.

Davis, one-time owner of the 20th Century Fox studio, launched an unsolicited bid for Universal's movie studio, music business, theme parks, cable channels and video game business last week, one that sources close to him have characterized as approaching $20 billion including the assumption of $5 billion in debt.

Vivendi, which has been selling assets to reduce its debt, dismissed Davis' offer and said the assets were not for sale, prompting speculation that Davis was working with bankers and other private equity investors to mount a larger bid.

"Marvin Davis says that's completely untrue," a Los Angeles-based spokesman said.


Hasbro fined for price fixing

LONDON >> Britain's trading watchdog fined the British arm of U.S. toy manufacturer Hasbro Inc. 4.95 million pounds ($7.7 million) yesterday for preventing distributors from selling its toys and games below prices fixed by the company.

It was the largest fine imposed by the Office of Fair Trading since it gained new powers in March 2000 to crack down on anticompetitive practices.

The Office of Fair Trading found that Hasbro UK, maker of Sindy, Action Man and My Little Pony, and 10 distributors broke competition law by entering into price-fixing agreements.

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