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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Briefcase

January 13, 2004

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Retail sales to grow at faster pace in 2004

Increased household income and low inflation should help drive a 5 percent rise in U.S. retail sales in 2004, the National Retail Federation trade group said Monday.

"This year will see more balanced economic growth, with solid consumer spending and accelerated business investment," said Rosalind Wells, chief economist for the retail group.

The forecast refers to sales at general merchandise, apparel, furniture, electronics and other retail stores. In 2003, sales at those stores rose 4.3 percent. This was lower than the 5 percent growth seen in 2002.

But sales were inconsistent last year, with luxury stores performing better than lower-priced chains. Analysts pointed to a strong stock market that benefited wealthier consumers more than lower-income families.


Biotechnology

Serologicals to miss analysts' profit forecast

Serologicals Corp. expects 2004 earnings and revenue to beat its estimated 2003 results but to come in below Wall Street's forecasts.

In a press release Monday, the company said it expected 2004 earnings of 70 cents to 75 cents a share on revenue between $165 million and $170 million.

Analysts expect, on average, earnings of 86 cents a share on revenue of $176.4 million, according to a survey conducted by Thomson First Call.

Serologicals is building a biotechnology manufacturing plant in the East Hills Business Park.

Utility

Westar pays down debt

Topeka-based Westar Energy Inc. announced Monday that it repaid $279.7 million of its bank term loan during the fourth quarter of 2003. Net proceeds from the November 2003 sale of the company's remaining ONEOK investment and cash from operations were used to reduce the term loan balance to about $114 million.

The company said in a news release that the latest repayment pushed the total amount of debt Westar retired in 2003 to $890 million. The company ended the year with $2.25 billion in debt.

The utility company was ordered by the Kansas Corporation Commission to significantly reduce its debt as it restructures its finances.

Energy

Ferrellgas strikes deal

Propane seller Ferrellgas Partners announced Monday that it bought Suburban Propane Partners' operations in four states.

Ferrellgas, the second-largest retail marketer of propane in the United States, said it bought Suburban's retail propane operations in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, adding about 13 million gallons to Ferrellgas' annual retail sales. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The announcement follows Ferrellgas' acquisition of Aeropres Propane, a 9-million-gallon operation in Louisiana and Arkansas, which was completed Dec. 31.

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