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June 26, 2007 > Business Briefs

Business Briefs

By AP Wire Service

NEW YORK (AP) _ Blackstone Group shares rose 13 percent in their stock market debut Friday, as investors scrambled for a piece of the sixth-richest initial public offering in U.S. history.

Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman now controls a firm whose market value stands at about $38 billion. His personal wealth also skyrocketed, with a 24 percent stake in Blackstone's management partnership worth around $8 billion, on top of the roughly $449 million he was expected to cash out in the IPO.

Exuberance about the booming private-equity industry overshadowed mounting criticism of the lavish lifestyles of top executives from politicians, labor unions and the media. The strength of Blackstone's debut marks a coming of age for the once-secretive industry, as it joins Wall Street's publicly traded top-tier investment houses.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Visa, the biggest credit card network in the U.S., on Friday took its first official step toward becoming a public company, outlining to federal regulators how it proposes to restructure and combine its global operations.

The registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which had few financial details, said Visa will float a majority of the company in an initial public offering expected to take place in early 2008. That means about half its 775 million shares outstanding _ now owned by the network's member banks _ would be sold to the public.

Visa, following the lead of rival MasterCard Inc., wants to convert into a public company as a way to streamline operations and raise capital to invest in new payment technologies. The offering will also help insulate member banks from billions of dollars in potential legal damages from antitrust claims brought by merchants.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Bear Stearns Cos. confirmed Friday it will bail out one of its troubled hedge funds with $3.2 billion in secured loans, but the Wall Street firm sought to convince the broader market its troubles are ``relatively contained.''

Bear said it stepped in to save the Bear Stearns High-Grade Structured Credit Fund because market uncertainty made it ``difficult'' to unwind the fund's assets _ mostly securities backed by risky mortgage loans.

That unit and its sister fund, The Bear Stearns High Grade Structured Credit Enhanced Leveraged Fund, have come under pressure as the value of the assets underlying the bonds they hold fell sharply in recent months.

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DETROIT (AP) _ Struggling auto parts maker Delphi Corp. reached a tentative wage-cutting agreement Friday with its largest union in what may set the pattern for future pay in the U.S. automotive parts industry.

The deal, which still must be voted on by Delphi members of the United Auto Workers, was signed just before a 1 p.m. meeting between the UAW leadership and presidents of the union's locals.

Details of the agreement were not released, but Delphi said in a statement it's a ``significant milestone'' in the company's quest to emerge from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The union also said details are being withheld until a ratification vote by members.

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DETROIT (AP) _ Claims by the three major domestic automakers that they must cut average wage-and-benefit costs by $30 per hour to compete with Asian rivals are merely pre-negotiation posturing, two top United Auto Workers officials told members Friday.

In an Internet chat with union members, UAW President Ron Gettelfinger and Vice President Cal Rapson said they have heard reports of the $30-per-hour figure, but said they will not negotiate in the press.

The men were responding to a question about how to make sure General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group survive without giving major concessions.

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Powerful House Democrats on Friday proposed increasing the tax burden on managers of hedge funds and private-equity firms, racheting up the debate on expanding the government's tax grip on Wall Street.

The bill came as Blackstone Group's shares leaped more than 20 percent in the private-equity titan's $4 billion initial public stock offering, the sixth-richest IPO in U.S. history.

Managers who take a share of hedge fund and private-equity fund profits pay taxes at a 15 percent rate, the rate for capital gains. The legislation would hike the rate levied on their compensation, known as ``carried interest,'' to 35 percent, the level for income tax.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Jones Apparel Group Inc. said Friday it has entered into a definitive agreement to sell Barneys New York, synonymous with high New York fashion, to a Dubai investment firm for $825 million.

The apparel and accessories company, which has such brands as Nine West and Evan-Picone in its stable, said in a release it expects to close the deal with private equity company Istithmar by the third quarter of this year.

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MOSCOW (AP) _ BP PLC said Friday it has agreed to sell its stake in a giant Siberian gas field project to state-controlled gas monopoly OAO Gazprom _ a widely expected move that comes as the Kremlin tightens its hold on the world's biggest oil and gas industry.

The agreement effectively marks the end of an era when foreign oil companies could control Russia's largest and most strategic hydrocarbon deposits without a strong state-controlled partner.

It also comes after months of intense pressure from environmental regulators, who said that BP's joint venture, TNK-BP, was not meeting production targets at the Kovykta field and threatened to pull its license.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) _ In a major strategy shift, the Walt Disney Co. said it will stop making lucrative direct-to-DVD sequels of such classic animated films as ``Cinderella,'' a move that reflects the growing influence of former Pixar Animation executives John Lasseter and Steve Jobs, who once called the films ``embarrassing.''

The change comes with a shake-up at the company's DisneyToon Studios, including the removal of longtime president Sharon Morrill, who will continue with the company in another capacity, Disney said Friday.

DisneyToon Studios will become part of Walt Disney Feature Animation and report directly to Animation President Ed Catmull and Lasseter, who assumed roles there after Disney bought Pixar Animation Studio last year for $7.4 billion in stock.

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ Retailer Limited Brands Inc. will cut corporate jobs in Columbus and New York to reflect a smaller company that is moving away from apparel sales to concentrate on lingerie and beauty businesses, the company said Friday.

The operator of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works will reduce the size of its corporate staff by about 530 jobs, or 10 percent. The reductions will include the elimination of open positions, transfers as part of its plan to sell two-thirds of its stake in Express and reductions of current staff, the company said.

The cuts will save $100 million annually beginning in the next year, according to the company, which will release the cost of the job reductions later this year.

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The Dow industrial average fell 185.58, or 1.37 percent, to 13,360.26.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 19.63, or 1.29 percent, to 1,502.56, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 28.00, or 1.07 percent, to 2,588.96.

Light, sweet crude for August delivery up 49 cents to settle at $69.14 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Gasoline futures for July up 4.01 cents to settle at $2.2868 a gallon.

Heating oil futures for July rose 1.33 cents to settle at $2.038 a gallon, while natural gas prices fell 21.8 cents to $7.13 per 1,000 cubic feet.

August Brent crude rose 96 cents to settle at $71.18 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

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