Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Business digest

De Beers admits guilt in price-fixing case

COLUMBUS - De Beers pleaded guilty in a 10-year-old price-fixing case Tuesday and was fined $10 million as part of an agreement that would clear the way for the diamond giant to resume selling diamonds directly in the lucrative U.S. market.

The company admitted conspiring to fix prices in the $500 million industrial diamond market. Industrial diamonds are used to make cutting and polishing tools for a variety of manufacturing and construction equipment. De Beers has sold diamonds in the United States only through intermediaries since shortly after World War II, when it was first charged with price-fixing.

Columbus-based U.S. District Judge George Smith accepted the plea in the case, in which the Department of Justice charged De Beers with keeping prices in the worldwide industrial diamond market artificially high.

35-hour work week under fire in France

PARIS - France's 35-hour work week faced more pressure from business Tuesday, as workers at a Robert Bosch GMBH plant near Lyon chose between longer hours and layoffs.

President Jacques Chirac was under pressure, too - to say where he stood on the work week law, which was enacted by the previous, Socialist-led government.

Bosch, the German tool and car parts maker, is the latest of several European companies to demand longer work weeks from staff, stoking fears that short shifts and long vacations are becoming things of the past. It is the first company to issue such an ultimatum in France.

'Inventors of the year' cut exhaust emissions

WASHINGTON - Two engineers who designed a way to dramatically cut exhaust emissions from diesel engines were named national "inventors of the year" Tuesday.

The award was presented to Jim Weber and Scott Leman, engineers for Caterpillar Inc., by the Intellectual Property Owners Association, a lobbying group made up of large corporations, universities and other owners of patents, trademarks, copyrights and trade secrets.

Because of the air system designed by Weber and Leman, "millions of Americans, including children exposed to exhaust from school buses" can breathe easier, the organization said.

Insurer says fraud cost about $85 billion

WASHINGTON - An estimated $85 billion was lost to health insurance fraud last year, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association said Tuesday.

That figure, significantly higher than the $50 billion annual cost the insurance giant had cited earlier, represents 5 percent of the $1.7 trillion spent on health care in 2003, officials said at a news conference marking National Fraud Awareness Week.

Among the most common types of health care fraud were improperly prescribing drugs, performing unnecessary medical procedures and billing for a more expensive service than the one performed.

Duke Energy to pay $207M settlement

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Duke Energy Corp. will take a $104.9 million second-quarter charge to help foot a $207.5 million settlement of claims it overcharged for wholesale electricity during the California energy crisis of 2000-01, the company said Tuesday.

The Charlotte-based energy company said the pretax charge will be reflected in results it is scheduled to release July 29.

Shares of Duke Energy gained 12 cents to close at $20.59 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

House-price growth to be slow, Fed says

WASHINGTON - U.S. house prices are likely to grow at the slowest pace in more than three decades as interest rates climb and land prices take a tumble over the next three years, researchers at the Federal Reserve have estimated in a new study.

The study, published on the central bank's Web site recently, asserts that if U.S. disposable income and short-term interest rates climb as much as Wall Street expects them to, nominal existing-house prices would increase a cumulative 2.6 percent over the next three years.

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