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Fed takes no action on interest rates

Citing a slowing economy, particularly in the housing sector, and moderating inflation pressures, the Federal Reserve has agreed to let the federal funds rate sit at 5.25 percent. The Fed in statement said the economy likely will continue to grow at a moderate pace and that inflation could reimerge as a problem. MORE.

Carnival expands Costa fleet

MIAMI — Carnival Corp. said Tuesday that it has has exercised an option to build a 92,700-ton cruise ship for Italian cruise operator Costa Cruises.

Also, the company has extended the option for a previously announced 86,000-ton ship for Holland America Line.

The new Costa ship, which is scheduled for delivery in March 2010, will have 2,260 lower passenger berths and will be built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for about 420 million euros.

It will be a sister ship to a previously announced 92,700-ton Costa vessel that is scheduled to enter service in spring 2009.

With Tuesday's announcement, Costa has four new ships on order with a combined capacity of 10,520 lower berths. Once those vessels are introduced, the Costa fleet will have a total of 15 ships.

Carnival is also extending the option for a new 2,044-passenger Holland America Line ship which Fincantieri would build. It would enter service in late 2010.

Stocks move on United-Sabre rumor

The daily Dow

dow jones chartStocks krept upward slightly Monday on speculation that United Airlines might be buying Sabre Holdings. The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 20.99 points to 12,328.48. The Nasdaq composite index gained 5.55 points to 2.442.86, while the S&P 500 gained 3.2 points to 1,413.04.

Benchmark Co. speculated in a report that United might make an announcement Tuesday concerning a deal for Sabre, which owns Travelocity and other firms. Oil prices fell 75 cents a barrel to $61.28.

Among major South Florida stocks, Claire's Stores was the big winner, picking up $1.29 to $34.29 a share; Office Depot continued its slow climb back toward the $40 mark, gaining $56 cents a share to $39.40; Burger King gained 43 cents to $19.45.

Stocks on the Dark Side included Royal Caribbean, down 56 cents to $40.47; Republic Services fell 26 cents to $41.58; and Autonation lost 8 cents to $20.59.

The Bloomberg South Florida index gained .46 to 175.70.

U.S. Gas principals hit with judgments in SEC fraud case

MIAMI — A federal court judge has hit two principals of a would-be Fort Lauderdale utility company with judgments for ripping off investors to the tune of $6.8 million.

Judge Joan A. Lenard found that Melvin and Larry Webman of Fort Lauderdale lied to investors about the prospects of their company, U.S. Gas and Electric of Fort Lauderdale, misappropriated investor money and acted as unregistered brokers in selling shares of the company to the public. Lenard’s order bars the two men from violating federal securities law and bars them from being involved in any penny stock offering.

The Securities and Exchange Commission sued the Webmans in September. Neither responded to the suit. Both still could be hit with financial penalties.

S. Fla. foreclosures fuel high state rate; market starting to stabilize

SACRAMENTO — Florida continues to lead the Southeast in foreclosure filings and is second only to California in total foreclosures in the nation, according to

Despite a modest drop in energy prices, 107,579 Florida property owners have been foreclosed on so far this year, up nearly 13 percent from 95,269 for all of 2005. And the year isn’t over.

Boosting those numbers are filings in South Florida counties like Miami-Dade and Broward, according to numbers from, a California-based real estate investment firm that tracks foreclosure numbers.

However, as with many other parts of the Southeast and the country, numbers for the fourth quarter to date are down from the third quarter, and the foreclosure frenzy appears to be slowing.

“With less than a month left in 2006, we’re seeing real estate markets stabilize. The market correction is waning,” says Alexis McGee, president of

That’s of little solace to the nearly 877,000 homeowners nationwide forced into foreclosure so far this year, up 36.9 percent from the 640,454 for all of 2005. Many got into the predicament using creative mortgages and low-teaser rates to buy homes they couldn’t afford.

Foreclosures for the fourth quarter

Broward: 3,608, compared with 1,348 a year ago.
Miami-Dade: 4,967, compared with 2,865 a year ago.
Palm Beach: 2,672, compared with 1,038 a year ago.
Florida: 25,134, compared with 18,570 a year ago.

Stocks up on better-than-expected Labor Dept. November jobs report

Investors conducted a modest rally Friday after the Labor Department's November jobs report was slightly better than expected. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 29.09 points to close at 12,307.49. The Nasdaq composite index gained 9.67 points to 2,437.36, while the S&P 500 gained 2.55 points to 1,409.84.

Investors had been holding their breath all week waiting for the Labor Department's November jobs report to see if it portended a soft landing or a crash for the economy. The report showed the economy added 132,000 jobs in November, while the jobless rate rose slightly to 4.5 percent from 4.4 percent. Florida reports its jobs numbers in a week.

Oil prices rose 46 cents to $62.03 a barrel.

Among major South Florida stocks, Citrix Systems gained 49 cents to $28.62; Pediatrix gained 29 cents to $49.43; and Office Depot gained 26 cents to $38.84.

On the Dark Side, Ryder System lost $1.04 to $50.96; Lennar Corp fell 96 cents to $52.29; and FPL Group lost 23 cents to $53.34.

The Bloomberg South Florida index fell .54 points to 175.24.

Worker confidence rose in Nov.

FORT LAUDERDALE — Fueled by a more optimistic outlook on the strength of the economy and number of jobs available, U.S. workers’ confidence hit new highs in November, according to the Spherion Employee Confidence Index.

The index climbed 0.9 points to 60.1, the third straight month the index has gained ground.

Two-thirds of workers believe the economy is strengthening or has stabilized, compared to 63 percent in October. Twenty-nine percent believe more jobs are available compared with 27 percent in October.

However, workers weren’t quite as sanguine about their own job prospects — 16 percent said they had no confidence in their ability to find a job, up from 13 percent in October.

A large majority — 79 percent — believed their own job was secure and 38 percent said they planned to change jobs in the next year compared with 36 percent the previous month.

"Despite the recent economic data that may suggest slower growth in the fourth quarter, our latest report shows that more workers are feeling confident about both the job market and the economic situation in general," said Spherion CEO Roy Krause.

Harris Interactive surveyed 3,654 adult workers on behalf of Spherion.

Stocks fall again as investors await Labor Department's Nov. jobs report

The daily Dow

dow jones chartStocks fell Thursday as investors awaited Friday's jobs report with the nervousness of a patient awaiting major test results. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 30.84 points to 12,278.41. The Nasdaq composite index fell 18.17 points to 2,427.69, and the S&P 500 lost 5.61 points to 1,407.29.

Friday's Labor Department jobs report for November is viewed as a key indicator of whether the economy is heading for a soft landing or a crash. During the day, Credit Suisse downgraded home builder stocks, saying they had risen too much in recent weeks. Oil rose 41 cents a barrel to $62.59.

Among major South Florida stocks, Claire's Stores gained 45 cents to $33; Office Depot gained 20 cents to $38.58; Spherion gained 9 cents to $7.28.

On the Dark Side, home builder Lennar Corp. dropped 92 cents to $53.25; Carvnival Corp. dropped 64 cents to $47.38; Citrix Systems lost 42 cents to close at $28.13.

The Bloomberg South Florida stock index fell nearly a point to 175.53. The index includes companies headquartered in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

Citizens delays vote on rate hikes

GAINESVILLE — The board of Citizens Property Insurance Corp. agreed Thursday to delay a vote on rate hikes that some say could cripple Florida's economy until after the legislature convenes next month to address the state's insurance crisis. Regardless of what the lawmakers do, Citizens rates will continue to rise, said Citizens Chairman Bruce Douglas. MORE

Seminole Tribe to buy Hard Rock

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is buying the Hard Rock chain from Rank Group PLC for $965 million. The Seminole Tribe already operates Hard Rock hotels and casinos in Hollywood and Tampa. Hard Rock has 124 cafes, six hotels and casinos and two concert halls. More.

Workers say annual office holiday bash becoming less important

FORT LAUDERDALE — More than half of adult workers say it’s not important to them whether their employer has an annual holiday party, and nearly half don’t feel obligated to attend, according to a survey done by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corp. MORE.

Options problems might force Pediatrix to restate earnings

pediatrix logoFORT LAUDERDALE — Pediatrix Medical Group, Inc. Wednesday said it might have to restate earnings by $28 million for the years from 1995 through 2006 because of problems in the way company stock options were granted.

Pediatrix’s audit committee, which is reviewing all options granted since the company’s 1995 initial public offering, concluded that there were instances of backdating of options and that were inadequate procedures in place that allowed misdating of option grants.

The committee hasn’t completed its work but a preliminary report indicates the options problems might require the company to increase compensation expenses by $28 million over 11 years.

Pediatrix said Lawrence M. Mullen, a member of the audit committee who played a “significant role” in administrating the options program, has resigned from the company’s board of directors. Mullen was chief financial officer between 1995 and 1998 and chief operating officer until May 2000. He recused himself from the stock options investigation.

The board appointed Dr. Waldemar A. Carlo, a director since June 1999, to fill the vacancy on the committee created by Mullen’s resignation.

Pediatrix has contacted the Securities and Exchange Commission concerning the review and is cooperating with an informal SEC investigation.

Stocks fall as investors await November jobless numbers

The daily Dow

dow jones chartThe Dow Jones industrial average fell 22.35 points to close Wednesday at 12,309.25. The Nasdaq composite index lost 6.83 points to close at 2,445.86, while the S&P 500 dropped 1.86 points to close at 1,412.90.

During the day, Yahoo! announced sweeping organizational changes that included letting going of two top executives. Shares of the stock dropped 57 cents to $26.86. Oil prices rose 24 cents to $62.19. The big news of the week will come Friday when the Labor Department releases the November employment report, which many observers see as key to whether the economy is heading toward soft landing or a crash.

Among major South Florida stocks, Lennar gained 64 cents a share to $54.17 as the home builder benefitted from falling mortgage rates. Carnival Corp. gained 33 cents to $48.02 and Pediatrix gained 31 cents to $49.30.

On the dark side, Ryder System lost 32 cents to $52.03; Citrix Systems lost 22 cents to $28.55; and FPL Group lost 15 cents to $53.75.

The Bloomberg South Florida index gained .14 points to 176.39.

Stock indexes rise moderately on moderate economic indicators

The daily Dow

dow joines chartStocks continued to move upward Tuesday on evidence that the economy continues to expand at a moderate pace and the threat of inflation appears moderate as well. The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 47.75 points to close at 12,221.60. The Nasdaq composite index picked up 3.99 points to close at 2,452.38, while the S&P 500 gained 5.64 to close at 1,414.76.

The Institute for Supply Management's nonmanufacturing index climbed to 58.9 in November from 57.1 a month earlier. Meanwhile, a revised Labor Department report on labor costs and productivity for the third quarter was revised downward, indicating wages aren't rising as fast as previously thought. Oil prices fell a penny a barrel to $62.43.

Among major South Florida stocks, Lennar was the big winner, picking up $1.33 a share to close at $53.53; Office Depot gained 32 cents to close at $38.32; Ryder System gained 15 cents to close at $52.35.

On the dark side, Citrix Systems lost 41 cents a share to close at $28.77; Claire's Stores closed at $32.80, down 38 cents; and Burger King lost 37 cents to close at $18.98.

The Bloomberg South Florida index gained .87 points to 176.25.


Court jails ex-hedge fund principal for failing to turn over assets

WEST PALM BEACH — John Kim, one of the principals behind a crooked hedge fund that took some of Palm Beach’s wealthiest residents for as much as $250 million, is behind bars.

Federal Judge Kenneth Ryskamp last week cited Kim for contempt of court for failing to turn over nearly $2 million in assets to KL’s court-appointed receiver and ordered him jailed until he coughs up the money.

“He literally has the keys to his jail cell in his pocket,” said Michael Tein, who is the attorney for KL receiver Guy Lewis. “When he repays the money, he’ll get out.” MORE.

Deals help give investors a boost

dow jones chartA series of mergers helped boost Wall Street Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 89.72 points to close at 12,283.85, while the Nasdaq composite index gained 35.18 points to close at 2,448.39. More notably, the S&P 500 rose 12.41 points to close at 1,409.12.

A series of mergers boosted the markets during the day, the largest of which was Bank of New York's deal for Mellon Financial. Oil prices fell 99 cents to $62.44 a barrel, the largest drop in two weeks. Above-normal temperatures forecasted for the Northeast brought prices down.

Among major South Florida stocks, Burger King gained whopping 94 cents a share to $19.35; FPL Group picked up 79 cents to $53.95, while Office Depot recovered a bit from losses last week, picking up 68 cents to close at $38.

On the dark side, Lennar lost 32 cents to close at $52.20; Royal Caribbean lost 12 cents to $41.43; and Claire's Stores lost 18 cents to close at $33.18.

The Bloomberg South Florida index rose 2.2 points to 175.38.

Late rally limits Wall Street losses

The daily Dow

dow jones chartEvidence that the manufacturing sector contracted in November pushed the three major stock indexes deep into the red before rallying late Friday afternoon.

The Dow Jones industrial average, which was down as much as 115 points as late as 3 p.m., closed at 12,194.13, down 27.8 points. The Nasdaq composite index lost 18.56 points to close at 2,413.21, down 18.56, while the S&P 500 lost 3.94 points to close at 1,396.71.

The culprit: The Institute of Supply Management's manufacturing index for November dipped 1.7 points to 49.5. A reading below 50 indicates the sector is contracting. Oil prices rose 30 cents a barrel to $63.43.

Among major South Florida stocks, Claire's Stores, which is exploring a sale of the company, rose $1.45 to $33.36. Pediatrix picked up 45 cents a share to $48.60; Citrix Systems gained 26 cents to $29.

Carnival Corp. lost $1.90 to $47.09; Royal Caribbean lost 90 cents to $41.55; and Office Depot lost 54 cents to $37.32.

The Bloomberg South Florida index dropped 0.66 points to 173.18. .

Claire's confirms sale possibility

PEMBROKE PINES — Claire's Stores Inc. confirmed Friday that it announced today that it is exploring
the idea of a sale that would take the company private.

The company in a statement said it was exploring “strategic alternatives for enhancing shareholder value, including a possible sale of the company.”

Claire’s, which sells jewelry to girls and young women, has retained Goldman, Sachs & Co. as its financial advisor to assist in this effort. Sales have been flat, but the company has little debt, making it an attractive target.

Bloomberg News originally reported the possibility of a sale Thursday evening, causing Claire’s shares to shoot upward in after-hours trading.

Claire’s was up about $1.40 a share to $33.30 in heavy volume Friday afternoon.

National City completes $1.1 billion deal for Harbor Florida Bancshares

FORT PIERCE — National City Corp. Friday said it has completed its $1.1 billion deal for Harbor Florida Bancshares Inc., the holding company for Harbor Federal Savings Bank.

National City also said it expects next month to complete a separate, $1 billion deal for Fidelity Bankshares of West Palm Beach. Both deals were announced in July.

Conversion of Harbor Federal into National City's system will be completed in March, when Harbor Federal’s 42 offices will begin operating under the National City name.

Harbor chairman and CEO Michael J. Brown Sr. will continue to oversea Harbor Federal markets for National City. J. Hal Roberts will continue as president and chief operating officer.

Harbor shareholders are receiving 1.22 shares of National City for every Harbor share they own.

Claire's Stores might be seeking buyer to take it private

PEMBROKE PINES — Claire's Stores, which sells jewelry to young girls and teenagers, is seeking a buyer that will take it private, sources familiar with the talks have told Bloomberg News

Claire's shares closed Thursday at $31.91, up 55 cents. After-hours trading saw shares shooting up to $33.99, a gain of $2.08 on speculation of a deal.

Bloomberg reported that Claire's has hired Goldman Sachs as an advisor as it seeks a deal. A Claire's spokeswoman declined to comment.

The company Thursday reported flat same-store sales for November, citing changes in taste among its customer base. Claire's, however, is debt-free, making it an attractive company for a buyer.

``This company has tremendous free cash flow,'' said Eric Beder, an analyst at Brean Murray Carret & Co. in New York. ``Will people look at it because of the free cash flow? I'm sure they will.''

First NLC moves to Boca Raton

Sub prime lender First NLC Financial Services is moving its headquarters to Boca Raton from Deerfield Beach, bringing with it 450 jobs, with plans to add 200 more.

According to the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County, a lack of suitable space in Broward that could accommodate First NLC’s expansion plans motivated the company to make the move across the Hillsboro Canal. The company is taking 120,000 square feet at the Boca Corporate Center, formerly known as the T-Rex Corporate Center.

The Boca headquarter will house accounting, legal and human resources departments and all company executives.

First NLC is a subsidiary of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group. It did not receive any government incentives to make the move.

Mixed economic news leaves stock markets narrowly mixed

The daily Dow

dow jones chartSome good news, most bad left investors sitting just about where they were yesterday. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 4.80 points to 12,221.93. The Nasdaq composite index finished essentially flat at 2,431.77, down 0.46, while the S&P 500 gained 1.15 to close at 1,400.63.

During the day the Commerce Department reported that personal income increased 0.4 percent in October, compared with 0.5 percent in September. The Chicago purchasing managers index fell to 49.9 percent — just below the Mendoza line of 50 — its lowest point since April 2003. Retailers also helped cast a pall on the day's trading, most notably Wal-Mart, which projected December same-store sales to be essentially flat.

Among major South Florida stocks, Lennar by far was the star, picking up $2.58 a share to close the day at $52.50; Burger King gained 58 cents to close at $18.40; Pediatrix closed at $48.15, up 51 cents.

On the flip side, Office Depot felt the effects of an analyst's report that said the stock has gotten ahead of the company's earnings. Shares dropped $1.93 to $37.86; Republic Service lost 64 cents to $41.48; Ryder System lost 56 cents to $52.17.

The Bloomberg South Florida index lost 0.19 points to close at 173.84.

Scripps Research signs $100 million research deal with drug giant Pfizer

SAN DIEGO — The Scripps Research Institute has signed a five-year, $100 million research agreement with Pfizer Inc. that gives the drug giant first right to license any drugs developed by the San Diego-based lab or its Jupiter branch.

Under the deal, Pfizer researchers will work with Scripps scientists on approaches to fight cancer, diabetes, mental illnesses and other disorders.

Scripps President Richard A. Lerner said the agreement could speed up the time it takes to develop new drugs and bring them to patients.

Revised GDP numbers spark rally despite dip in new home sales

The daily Dow

dow jones chartAn upward revision to the third quarter gross domestic product report helped push up stocks Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,226.73, up 90.28 points. The Nasdaq composite index closed up 19.62 points to 2,432.23; the S&P 500 gained 12.76 points to close at 1,399.48.

The Commerce Department revised third quarter GDP upwards to an annualized rate of 2.2 percent from 1.6 percent reported earlier. New home sales dipped 3.2 percent in October, according to the Commerce Department. The Federal Reserve's biege book report on the economy cited improving conditions and forecast moderate growth. Oil prices spiked $1.36 a barrel to $62.35.

Among South Florida major stocks, FPL Group gained 84 cents a share to close at $53.09; Republic Service gained 42 cents to close at $42.12; AutoNation gained 20 cents to $20.64.

On the flip side, Ryder System dropped $1.16 a share to $52.73, down $1.16; Royal Caribbean lost 39 cents to $42.25; Office Depot shares lost 33 cents to close at $39.79.

The Bloomberg South Florida index picked up 0.92 points to close at 173.65.

Special legislative session called to deal with state's insurance woes

Gov.-elect Charlie Crist has called for a week-long special session to deal with hurricane insurance. The session is to begin Jan. 16; legislators will consider enacting all or part of the 50 recommendations of Gov. Jeb Bush's task force on hurricane insurance.

The list includes expanding the use of the state's hurricane catastrophe fund; making more uniform the discounts homeowners get for strengthening their homes against hurricanes; allowing homeowners to forego buying hurricane insurance altogether.

Rinker Group Ltd. say no to Cemex S.A.'s $11.7 billion takeover offer

Australian-based Rinker Group Ltd., parent of Rinker Materials of West Palm Beach, formally has rejected Cemex S.A.'s $11.7 billion hostile bid for the company.

``Cemex can offer a lot more,'' Sydney-based Rinker said in a statement today.

According to an advisor, Rinker's shares are worth more than $17 each. Cemex's offer is about $13 a share.

A combination of the two companies would make Mexico City-based Cemex the largest cement producer in the world.

Wall Street rebounds amid mixed economic news and views

The daily Dow

dow chartStocks rebounded slightly Tuesday after getting hammered on Monday. The Dow Jones industrial average closed at 12,136.45, up 14.74 for the day. The Nasdaq composite index closed at 2,412.61, up 6.69 points. The S&P 500 rose 4.82 points to close at 1,386.72.

During the day, the nation’s Realtors said used home sales picked up in October; The Conference Board reported its Consumer Confidence Index fell for the second consecutive month; Fed Chairman Ben Bernacke said inflation has moderated in recent months but remains a risk; and oil prices rose 54 cents a barrel to close at $60.86.

Among major South Florida stocks, Ryder System gained 77 cents to close at $53.89 a share; Republic Services gained 38 cents to close at $41.70; and Office Depot picked up 28 cents to close at $40.12 a share.

On the down side, Carvival Corp. lost 79 cents to close at $48.88; Lennar lost 54 cents to $49.87; and Citrix System lost 49 cents to close at $28.85.

The Bloomberg South Florida Index, which includes stocks from Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties, fell 0.21 to 172.73.


Consumer confidence falls nationally but rises in Florida

Conference Board index

consumer confidence chartGAINESVILLE — Consumer confidence rose in Florida during November but fell nationally.

In separate reports released Tuesday, the University of Florida’s consumer confidence index rose 3 points in November to 93, its highest reading since January. Meanwhile, The Conference Board said its national consumer confidence index dropped more than 2 points to 102.9 from 105.1 in October. It was the second consecutive month that the national index fell.

“Consumers in Florida are optimistic going into the holiday season,” said UF survey director Chris McCarty.  “This should be good news for retailers.  Our expectations had been that high levels of consumer debt coupled with the downturn in the housing market would be a burden on consumers who would, in turn, curtail their spending.”

More jobs and lower gas prices helped buoy consumers. On the other hand, consumer debt remains high and the housing market continues to soften, especially on the West Coast and in South Florida.

“At this point I would have to forecast at least a moderate holiday season based on these results,” McCarty said.  “My expectation had been that housing would lead to a decline in confidence, and a decline in consumer spending.  Although this might still happen, this close to the holidays it is not likely.  Any severe downturn in the economy due to housing is not likely until 2007.”

Nationally, consumers are more reserved about the current state of the economy.

"A tighter labor market and a more guarded short-term outlook have combined to curb consumers' confidence in November," says The Conference Board’s Lynn Franco. "Despite this retreat in confidence, the overall level of confidence remains favorable and continues to suggest that the economy will expand throughout the first half of next year."

Home sales drop sharply statewide; prices plummet in Palm Beach

ORLANDO — The median price of a home in Florida continued to hold steady in October but the number sold fell sharply, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

In South Florida’s three counties, the number sold rose slightly or remained about the same but prices fell, especially in Palm Beach County, according to the FAR report, released Tuesday.

Realtors said the dip in prices provide more options for buyers, while stinging mostly speculative buyers.

During October, 12,773 used homes were sold statewide, compared with 16,407 sold in October a year ago. That’s a 22 percent decrease.

Prices, however, held steady — the median price of a home sold in October was $242,500, compared with $243,400 a year ago.

In Palm Beach County, the number of homes sold dropped slightly, to 618 in October from 630 a year ago, a 2 percent drop. But the median price fell to $365,000 from $416,500 a year ago.

Number of used homes actually rose in both Miami-Dade and Broward counties, but prices fell, though less sharply than in Palm Beach County. In Miami-Dade, 544 homes changed hands in October, compared with 511 a year ago. The median price fell to $356,000 from $366,300 a year ago.

In Broward, the number of homes sold rose 5 percent, to 591 from 561 percent, while the median price fell to $349,400 from $368,900.

Oil prices rise, the dollar falls, and so does the stock market

It was Black Monday on Wall Street, and we ain't talkin' profits. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 150.37 points to close the day's trading at 12,129.80. The Nasdaq composite index droped 50.23 points to close at 2,410.03, while the S&P 500 droped 17.50 p oints to close at 1,383.45.

Rising oil prices and the falling dollar did the market in. And it didn't help the Wal-Mart reported a decline in same-store sales for the first time in 10 years.

Regulators approve assessment covering Citizens' shortfall

TALLAHASSEE — Be prepared to pay more for insurance. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation Monday approved a $163 million assessment of all homeowners policies to cover losses incurred by Citizens Property Insurance Corp.

The assessment means all policyholders in the state will pay an extra $25 for every $1,000 in premiums they pay to cover their house. The money is needed to cover Citizens’ shortfall paying claims during the 2005 hurricane season.

Citizens is required by law to issue an assessment whenever it runs a deficit paying claims. OIR must approve the assessment but its only role is to ensure Citizens’ math is correct.

Citizens actually ran a $1.6 billion deficit in 2005, mostly because of Hurricane Wilma. However, the legislature appropriated $715 million to reduce the deficit, and the remainder will be covered by an emergency assessment that Citizens is expected to approve later this month.

Bargain-seeking shoppers hit the stores seeking, finding deals

Cheap plasma TVs, video game systems and host of other bargains helped lure shoppers by the millions Friday. Traffic was heavy enough that the National Retail Federation is predicting that holiday spending will increase by 5 percent this year to $457 billion. Internet sales were heavy as well; Wal-Mart reported the onslaught of cyber-shoppers knocked out its web site at times. Bloomberg News.

Dollar tumbles, stocks finish down in abbreviated post-holiday session

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 46.78 points Friday to close at 12,280.17; the Nasdaq composite fell 5.72 points to close at 2,460.26; the S&P 500 dropped 5.14 points to close at 1,400.95.

The euro hit $1.30 for the first time, causing some concern about the value of the dollar. Otherwise, Wall Street focused its attention on Black Friday — and getting out of the office. The markets closed at 1 p.m.

Among major South Florida stocks, losers dominated the brief trading day. The exceptions: Republic Services gained 23 cents to close at $42.05; Citrix Systems gained 19 cents to close at $30.68; and Burger King picked up 7 cents to close at $17.80.

The rule: Ryder System lost 60 cents to close at $53.79; Office Depot dropped 34 cents to close at $40.38; Pediatrix lost 24 cents to close at $48.41.

Stocks gain ahead of Thanksgiving

The daily Dow

dow jones chartThe day before Thanksgiving was all it was supposed to be — and less. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 5.36 points to 12,326.95. The Nasdaq composite index rose 11.14 points to 2,465.98, while the S&P 500 gained 3.28 points to close at 1,406.09.

Oil prices fell 93 cents a barrel to drop below $60 once again. The University of Michigan's consumer sentiment fell a point from earlier in the month.

Among South Florida major stocks, Lennar gained $1.28 to close at $51.03; Ryder System gained 68 cents to close at $54.39; Citrix Systems picked up 28 cents to close at $30.49.

Republic Service lost 28 cents to close at $41.82; Pediatrix dropped 15 cents to close at $48.65.

The markets will be closed Thursday in observance of Thanksgiving, and will close early on Friday.

Stock markets post modest gains

The daily Dow

dow jones chartLow volume, little action. It was that kind of day on Wall Street, where the three major indexes ended the day barely above where they started. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 5.05 points to close at 12,321.59; the Nasdaq composite index rose 2.12 points to 2,454.84, and the S&P 500 gained 2.31 points to close at 1,402.81.

Google provided a little excitement picking up $14.60 a share to close over $500 for the first time at $509.60. Oil prices also climbed higher, picking up $1.37 to close at $60.17.

Among major South Florida stocks, Lennar Corp. picked up 64 cents to close at $49.75; Carnival Corp. shares gained 46 cents to close at $50.37.

Office Depot dropped 69 cents to close at $40.75, and Ryder System lost 65 cents to close at $53.71.

Winn-Dixie officially ends two-year bankruptcy reorganization

JACKSONVILLE — It’s official. Winn-Dixie
Stores Inc. Tuesday announced that it has emerged from bankruptcy. The company said it has met all conditions to necessary to bring to an end its two-year Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.

Winn-Dixie also said it has closed on a $725 million credit plan that a consortium led by Wachovia Bank is providing. Money will allow the company to upgrade its stores and build new ones.

"We are exiting bankruptcy having achieved the
restructuring objectives we set out when the company first filed its Chapter 11 petition in February 2005,” said CEO Peter Lynch. "This is a historic day for the outstanding associates of
Winn-Dixie, who have demonstrated tremendous dedication and focus over the past two years as we have sought to become a better company.”

As part of the plan, Winn-Dixie cancelled all of its outstanding shares of stock. New shares will be issued within 45 days, though none of the old shareholders will receive any stock.

The new shares eventually will trade on Nasdaq’s National Market System under the symbol WINN.

Florida workers express confidence in employers' future, survey shows

FORT LAUDERDALE — Spherion Corp.’s Florida Employee
Confidence Index inched up 0.7 points to 60 in October as more workers expressed confidence in the future of their employer.

Harris Interactive does the monthly survey of workers is done for Spherion.

The survey found that the percentage of workers confident in the future of their employer rose to 66 from 60 in September.

The percentage of workers likely to hunt for a new job within the next year dropped to 31 percent from 42 in September.

"Although our report indicates that fewer workers are likely to look for a new job, employers shouldn't cross out the possibility that they're
not keeping their eyes open," said Dawn Gill, district director of Florida for Spherion Staffing Services.

Dow ends winning streak; stocks finish mixed as holiday week begins

The daily Dow

dow jones chart Stocks finished mixed Monday as the holiday week begins. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 26.02 points to close at 12,316.54. The Nasdaq composite index gain 6.86 points to close at 2,452.72, while the S&P 500 nearly broke even, closing at 1,400.50, down 0.7 points.

October homes sales in Florida drop substantially, prices are mixed

ORLANDO — The number of used homes sold in Florida dropped by more than a third in October compared to a year ago but prices held steady, according to the Florida Association of Realtors.

South Florida also saw a large drop-off in homes sold but prices were mixed, dropping slightly in Broward and Palm Beach counties, while rising modestly in Miami-Dade.

FAR reported 43,395 homes sold statewide in October, compared with 65,364 a year ago, a drop of 34 percent. The median price was virtually unchanged at $247,900.

In Broward, 2,164 homes were sold compared with 2,972 a year ago, a drop of 27 percent. The median price was $371,000 compared with $383,900 a year ago, a drop of 4 percent.

In Miami-Dade, 2,137 homes changed hands, compared with 3,070 a year ago, a decrease of 30 percent. The median price actual rose, to $377,700 from $363,300 ago year ago.

The Palm Beach County market saw the biggest drop — 1,935 homes moved in October compared with 3,802 a year ago, a decrease of 49 percent. The median price fell 5 percent, to $380,900 from $399,900.

Bank of America will buy private banker U.S. Trust for $3.3 billion

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— Bank of America Corp. said Monday that it is buying U.S. Trust Corp. for $3.3 billion, a deal that will make the Charlotte-based banking giant the largest private banker in the country.

Currently, Bank of America ranks second; U.S. Trust ranks fourth. Charles Schwab own U.S. Trust, which has $94 billion in assets under management.

The deal is expected to close by March 31.

Stocks finish mixed over concerns about the economy's strength

The daily Dow

dow jones chartUncertainty over the strength of the economy held down stocks Friday. The Dow Jones industrial average managed to finish up 36.74 points, closing at 12,342.56. The S&P 500 also managed to finish on the positive side of the ledger, gaining 1.44 points to close at 1,401.20. The Nasdadq composite index, however, fell short, dropping 3.20 points to close 2,445.86.

Jobless rates continue free fall

Tis the season for falling unemployment rates  in South Florida.

Florida’s Agency for Workforce Innovation reported Friday that the unemployment rate for Broward County fell to 2.8 percent in October, compared with 3.1 percent in September and 3.2 percent in October a year ago.

In Palm Beach County, the rate fell to 3.2 percent from 3.7 percent in September and 3.7 percent in October 2005.

In Miami-Dade County, the rate dropped to 4.2 percent from 4.5 percent in September and 4.2 percent in October 2005.

The statewide rate fell to 3.1 percent from 3.2 percent in September and 3.5 percent a year ago.

The state rate is seasonally adjusted; county rates are not.


The market continues to roll

The daily Dow

dow jones chartIt's almost getting boring. Almost. The good news continued to roll Thursday and so did investors. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 54.19 points to close at 12,305.90; the Nasdaq composite index gained 5.31 points to close at 2,449.06, while the S&P 500 gained 3.19 points to close at 1,399.76.

The Labor Department reported that the consumer price index dipped 0.5 percent in October, with an annualized rate of 2.8 percent.Industrial production rose 0.2 percent, according to the Federal Reserve, though manufacturing output actually dropped. Oil fell $2.50 a barrel to $56.26.

Among major South Florida stocks, Ryder system closed at $54.58, up $1.15 a share; Lennar shares picked up 45 cents to close at $49.40; and Carnival Corp. gained 21 cents a share to close at $49.90.

The flip side: Citrix Systems dropped 61 cents a share to close at $30.16; Spherion Corp. lost 22 cents to close at $7.56 a share; FPL Group lost 12 cents to close at $52.41 a share.

Radio giant Clear Channel agrees to $19 billion sale to private investors

Bain Capital Partners and Thomas H. Lee Partners are buying Clear Channel Communications, the largest radio station owner in the country, for $19 billion. Clear Channel, based in San Antonio, owns 1,150 stations in the country. It will sell 448 stations, plus 42 TV stations.

``The private equity firms are looking to capitalize on an opportunity,'' Fred Moran, an analyst at Stanford Group in Boca Raton, said in an interview. ``They see that media stocks have been pummeled and perhaps they are now speculating that this is the beginning of a recovery.'' Bloomberg News.

Upbeat reports make for happy investors on Wall Street

The daily Dow

dow jones chartUpbeat investors continue to push the Dow to new highs. The Dow Jones industrial average Wednesday rose 33.70 points to 12,251.71, while the Nasdaq composite index gained 12.09 points to close at 2,442.75. The S&P picked up 2.76 points to close at 1,396.98.

During the day the Federal Reserve Bank of New York released its Empire State Index on manufacturing, which rose 4 points to 26.7. Economists had expected it to fall 7 points. The Federal Open Market Committee released minutes of its October meeting, which showed members less concerned about the slowdown in the housing market than they are about the potential for inflation to increase.

Among South Florida major stocks, Citrix Systems rose 89 cents a share to close at $30.77; Carnival Corp. rose 81 cents a share to $46.69; and Lennar shares rose 70 cents to $48.95.

FPl Group fell 67 cents a share to $52.53; Royal Caribbean fell 23 cents a share to $43.08; and Ryder System dropped 21 cents to $53.61.

Private investment groups are sued over allegations of deal-rigging

Apollo Management and 1

BB&T seeking merger partner

Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T says it needs to find a merger partner in order to survive. The company held talks with Regions Bank but couldn't agree on a price. Bloomberg News.

US Airways makes bid for Delta

US Airways Group says it's willing to pay $8 billion for bankrupt Delta Airlines to form one of the largest airlines in the world. Delta, however, says it's not interested. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Ex-CEO Kozlowski's new pay — about a dollar a day in prison

Former Tyco CEO Leo Dennis Kozlowski is making about a dollar a day as a dining room attendant and teacher's aide at Mid-State Correctional Facility at Marcy, N.Y, where he's serving 8 1/3 to 25 years for looting the company. In an interview with Bloomberg News, Kozlowski says he doesn't mind losing the mansions, the yachts, all sold to pay off fines and court-ordered restitution.

Abundance of good news helps lift Wall Street's major indexes

The daily Dow

dow jones chart

A better than expected producer price index, cheaper oil and some positive earnings report helped fuel the Dow to a new high.

The Dow Jones industrial average picked up 85.57 points to close at 12,218.01. The Nasdaq composite index gained 24.28 points to close at 2,430.66 points, while the S&P 500 gained 8.80 points to close at 1,393.22.

The producer price index for October fell 1.6 percent, while oil prices dropped 30 cents a barrel to $58.28 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Shares of Wal-Mart and Home Depot picked up 2.8 percent and 2.6 percent respectively after releasing earnings reports during the day.

Among South Florida major stocks, Lennar gained $1.99 a share to close at $48.25; Ryder System gained 81 cents a share to close at $53.82 and Royal Caribbean picked up 79 cents a share to close at $43.41.

On the flip side, Republic Services lost 17 cents to close at $42.59; and FPL Group lost 11 cents to close at $53.20.

Stocks finish up absent major news

The daily Dow

dow jones chart

Stocks finished up Monday, absent any major earnings news or economic reports. The Dow Jones industrial average finished the day at 12,131.88, up 34.18. The Nasdaq composite index closed at 2,406.38, up 16.66, while the S&P 500 picked 3.52 points to close at 1,384.42.

The price for a barrel of West Texas intermediate crude for December delivery fell $1.01 to $58.58 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Among South Florida major stocks, shares of Royal Caribbean picked up 76 cents to close at $42.52; Citrix Systems gained $28.88, up 71 cents a share. Office Depot lost 22 cents a share to close at $41.44, while BankAtlantic dropped 9 cents to close at $13.26 a share. 


Florida ranks second nationally as foreclosures epidemic proportions

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The housing bubble has officially popped and is rapidly deflating.

Florida leads the Southeast and ranks second nationally with 95,682 foreclosures to, according to real estate advisory firm

Last week, RealtyTrac gave Florida the distinction of leading the nation in foreclosures. In either case, it’s not good news for the state’s economy.

“The foreclosure epidemic stretches throughout the Southeast and beyond, fueled by soaring living costs, consumer credit woes, the aftermath of creative mortgages, and high energy costs,” says Alexis McGee, president of

As of Oct. 31, said nationwide foreclosures were up 19.6 percent over all of 2005 — 766,058 foreclosure filings for 2006 versus 640,457 for all of 2005.

“Even though consumers have gotten some cost relief with energy prices tumbling, it’s too late for over-extended homeowners,” McGee said. “That sub-prime ARM or interest-only home loan may have been the perfect solution several years ago, but now that mortgage payment has adjusted way up. Combine that rate shock with lax credit practices and the current slowdown in home appreciation rates and sales, and many home owners are overextended and stuck without enough equity to refinance or sell. Foreclosure is their only option.”


Slow day but stocks rise anyway

The daily Dow

dow jones chart

It was a slow day on Wall Street despite solid earnings reports Thursday and Friday and falling oil prices. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 5.69 points to close at 12,108.43, while the Nasdaq composite picked up a respectable 13.71 to close at 2,389.72 and the S&P 500 gained 2.57 points to close at 1,380.90.

Oil prices fell $1.57 a barrel to $59.59.

Our basket of South Florida major stocks all finished higher, led by Lennar Corp., which gained $1.43 to close at $46.22; Royal Caribbean picked up 71 cents to close at $41.76; Ryder System gained 55 cents a share to close at $52.98.

Nationwide to seek arbitration on homeowners rate hike proposal

Nationwide will ask an arbitration panel to approve a 70 percent hike in homeowners insurance rates. The state Office of Insurance Regulation rejected the rate hike last month. South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

SEC sues former Boca broker for inverse floater fraud scheme

MIAMI — The Securities and Exchange Commission is suing a former Boca Raton broker for making fraudulent trades in obscure, highly complex and highly risky securities known as inverse floaters.

The SEC sued Jamie L. Solow, 45, a former broker with Alexander Archer Securities in Boca Raton, claiming that Solow made trades in inverse floaters worth hundreds of millions of dollars and hid them from his employers by falsifying trading tickets. Solow also allegedly sold the securities to investors with low or moderate tolerance for risk.

Solow’s trades exceeded Alexander Archer’s capital reserves, and losses in some trades in 2003 forced the firm to shut down for several weeks, according to the suit.

The suit, filed in federal district court in South Florida, seeks civil fines against Solow, and for the former broker to pay to the court any illegal profits he received from the scheme.

Inverse floaters are a form of mortgage-backed securities and are highly volatile as interest rates move.


Rising oil prices, declines in drug stocks send major indexes south

The daily Dow

dow jones chartStocks fell Thursday as crude oil prices rose. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 71.40 points to close at 12,103.30, while the Nasdaq composite index dropped 8.93 points to close at 2,376.01 and the S&P 500 lost 7.39 points to close at 1,378.33 points.

Oil fell $1.33 to $61.16 a barrel. Drug stocks also took a hit, as some feared that the Democrat-controlled Congress might add new regulations.

Among South Florida major stocks, FPL Group gained 40 cents a share to close at $52.52; Citrix System gained a quarter a share to close at $28.84; and Autonation picked up 4 cents a share to close at $20.01.

Ryder System lost 84 cents to close at $52.43 a share; Carnival Corp. dropped 72 cents a share to close at $48.17; and BankAtlantic dropped 45 cents a share to close at $13.06.

Insurer AIG sees profit double

No hurricanes equals big profit hike for American Insurance Group, the world's largest insurer. Third quarter profit rose to $4.2 billion from $1.75 billion a year ago. Bloomberg News.

Rinker Group posts double-digit profit gains for second quarter

Facing a $12 billion hostile takeover bid and a slowing housing market, Rinker Group, the Australian parent of Rinker Materials of West Palm Beach, saw second quarter profit rise by 11 percent. The company raised prices and emphasized crushed rock and asphalt sales for road building to overcome the slow home construction market. Bloomberg News.

Democrats take Virginia, Senate

The Democrats completed an unlikely victory Wednesday by winning the Senate seat from Virginia. Sources within the campaign of Republican George Allen, who is trailing Democrat challenger James Webb by 7,200 votes, said Allen would seek a recount only if significant anomalies around found during the canvass of returns. Bloomberg News.

Stocks gain as election results clarify, Rumsfeld's resignation

The daily Dow

dow jones chartThe lifting of political uncertainty brought on by Tuesday’s election, plus the resignation of Donald Rumsfeld, lifted the markets Wednesday. The Dow Jones industrial average rose $19.77 points to close at 12,176.54; the Nasdaq composite index rose 9.06 to close at 2,384.94 and the S&P 500 gained 2.75 points to close at 1,385.59.

During the day, it became increasingly likely that Democrats would control both the House and Senate. Democrats had at least 227 seats in the House, with 13 races still undetermined. In the Senate, Jon Tester declared victory in Montana, giving the Democrats at least 50 seats. Democrat James Webb held a slim lead in Virginia, where a recount is likely.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resigned during the day.

Among South Florida’s major stocks, FPL Group picked up $1.19 a share to $53.12; Citrix Systems had a good day, gaining 76 cents a share to close at $28.59, while Ryder System picked up 72 cents a share to close at $53.27.

Losers were few: Pediatrix lost 14 cents a share to close at $47.95, while Office Depot lost 16 cents to close at $41.35.

LA businessmen are said to be making bid for the Tribune Co.

Eli Broad and Ron Burkle reportedly are making a bid to buy the Tribune Co., owner of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Orlando Sentinel, the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Cubs. The Tribune Co. put itself on the market in September. The Associated Press

Democratic victory may signal end of salad days for health insurers

Investors Wednesday sent southward stocks of health insurers in the aftermath of the Democrats' congressional victories. Managed care companies especially have profited handsomely during the Bush years. MarketWatch.

Tester wins Montana Senate seat; all eyes are now on Virginia race

The New York Times is reporting that Democrat Jon Tester defeated Conrad Burns, the Republican incumbent. That gives the Democrats 50 seats in the Senate, with the winner of the Webb-Allen race deciding which party has the majority. Challenger James Webb, the Democrat who once serve as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan, has a slim lead over incumbent Republican George Allen.

Stocks mixed on election results

Prospects of a Democratic takeover of Congress left Wall Street mixed at mid-day. Investors had expected the Democrats to take the House and pushed stocks higher on Tuesday. However, a Democratic win in the Senate seemed unlikely — until early Wednesday. The New York Times.