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TOP STORIES -- Nov. 21-26

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

WTO Allows Sanctions

Against U.S. Exports

The World Trade Organization cleared the way for punitive sanctions on a variety of U.S. exports after Washington failed to repeal a corporate subsidy the WTO declared illegal two years ago.

Though expected, the WTO decision was seen as a setback for U.S. trade policy. Exports to some of the biggest U.S. trading partners -- including the European Union -- could face new duties as a result of the decision.

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The ruling followed a complaint filed by the EU and countries including Brazil, Canada, Mexico, South Korea, Japan, India and Chile.

President Bush said the U.S. intended to comply with the WTO ruling and promised to lobby Congress to move quickly to make the necessary changes.

Dollar Reaches New

Low Against the Euro

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The U.S. dollar reached a new low against the euro Friday for the fourth straight day, briefly pushing the European currency above $1.33 before recovering slightly.

The dollar also slipped to a nearly five-year low against the yen but later regained ground. It closed at 102.56 yen

On Friday, the euro rose to $1.333 in early trading before falling to $1.329 later in New York.

The dollar slide is driven primarily by concerns over the U.S. trade and budget deficits. Though a meeting last weekend of finance officials from the Group of 20 industrial and developing countries failed to deliver any concerted action to stem the tide, economists say no specific event was pushing the U.S. currency down last week.

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Open Bidding Is Ordered

for Air Force Program

The Pentagon said it would require the Air Force to open to competitive bidding any new contract to replace or upgrade its aging fleet of aerial refueling tankers, long a lucrative source of revenue for Boeing Co.

Congress last month killed a 2002 deal, valued at $23.5 billion, to lease and buy 100 tankers from Boeing after a former Air Force acquisition official admitted providing favorable terms to Boeing while she was negotiating a job with the company.

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Analysts said the new competition would bolster prospects for Boeing’s chief rival, European Aeronautic Defense & Space Co. Netherlands-based EADS owns 80% of European aircraft maker Airbus.

Alleged Investment Scam

Raised $25.7 Million

An alleged investment scam that lured African American churchgoers by promising returns of as much as 20% a month raised $25.7 million from investors, or more than three times the amount originally estimated, the firm of a court-appointed receiver said in a report.

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Christiano Hashimoto of Riverside raised the money from about 1,000 investors, Robb Evans & Associates estimated in a report filed in U.S. District Court in Riverside. The report said Hashimoto’s operations had the hallmarks of “a classic Ponzi scheme” -- paying some participants with other people’s money and leaving investors $14.9 million short.

The Securities and Exchange Commission obtained court orders shutting down Hashimoto’s operations this month. Hashimoto, 44, is president of Ontario-based Financial Solutions and Riverside-based Ohana International Inc.

Viacom, FCC Settle

Indecency Complaints

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The nation’s third-largest media company agreed to pay the government a record $3.5 million to settle complaints that it broadcast sexually explicit material on its radio and TV shows.

The pact between Viacom Inc. and the Federal Communications Commission comes amid growing concern by regulators, politicians and viewers that broadcasters have pushed too far in lacing shows with sex, violence and graphic language.

Beyond the financial penalty, Viacom acknowledged that it aired some indecent material and agreed to institute measures to avoid future breaches.

Actor Faces Big Penalty

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for Sharing Film Copies

Sending a message to Tinseltown insiders, a judge told an actor to pay a record penalty for giving an acquaintance promotional DVDs that landed on the Internet.

Two default judgments, handed down by U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson, order Carmine Caridi, 70, to pay more than $600,000 in damages and attorney fees to Sony Corp.'s Columbia Pictures and Time Warner Inc.'s Warner Bros. studios, which sued Caridi in January. The penalty is the maximum under federal law.

Jack in the Box to Offer

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Healthcare Coverage

A decision by Jack in the Box Inc. to offer healthcare coverage to hourly workers came two weeks after California voters rejected Proposition 72, a ballot measure that would have forced the company to do just that.

Executives of the San Diego-based company said Proposition 72 had nothing to do with their decision to offer coverage to 32,000 hourly workers. They declined to say, however, how much of those workers’ premiums the company would cover.

The offer of health benefits, which takes effect Wednesday, could reduce turnover and trim costs at Jack in the Box, which spends an average of $1,000 to recruit and train workers.

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Consumers Sue State

to Seek WellPoint Taxes

A consumer advocacy group that alleges WellPoint Health Networks Inc. owes California as much as $500 million in back taxes filed suit to force state officials to collect.

The suit came as Anthem Inc. of Indianapolis was poised to complete its $18.4-billion purchase of WellPoint of Thousand Oaks. The deal would create the nation’s largest health insurer, with about 28 million policyholders.

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According to the suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court by the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, WellPoint improperly claimed an exemption for its Blue Cross of California unit from the state’s gross premiums tax on health insurers.

WellPoint isn’t a defendant in the suit. Instead, it targets state Controller Steve Westly and seeks an injunction ordering him to collect the taxes that the foundation believes the firm owes.

For a preview of this week’s business news, please see Monday’s Business section.


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