Here is a look at more of Thursday's top business stories:
Sports Authority and Gart Sports to merge
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- The Sports Authority Inc. and Gart Sports Co. said they have reached a definitive agreement to merge, creating a new sporting goods retailer.
The combined company will be named The Sports Authority Inc. and headquartered in Englewood, Colo., and will apply for listing on the New York Stock Exchange.
The deal is expected to be completed in the third quarter.
Under the terms of the agreement, Sports Authority stockholders will receive 0.37 shares of Gart Sports common stock for each share of Sports Authority common stock they own.
At the closing, the new company is expected to have approximately 25 million diluted shares outstanding.
Stockholders of Gart Sports and Sports Authority will each own approximately 50 percent of the combined company.
The transaction is structured to be tax-free to the stockholders of Sports Authority. Green Equity Investors, L.P., an affiliate of Leonard Green & Partners, L.P., which beneficially owns approximately 25 percent of the outstanding common stock of Gart Sports, has agreed to vote its shares in favor of the transaction.
Following completion of the deal, Martin E. Hanaka, Sports Authority's chairman and chief executive officer, will serve as chairman of the board of the combined company, and John Douglas Morton, president and chief executive officer of Gart Sports, will become vice chairman and chief executive officer of the combined company.
Elliott J. Kerbis, president and chief merchandising officer of Sports Authority, will become president and chief merchandising officer of the combined company. Thomas T. Hendrickson, chief financial officer of Gart Sports, will become chief administrative officer and chief financial officer of the combined company. The remainder of the management team of the combined company will be comprised of executives of both Gart Sports and Sports Authority.
The combined company's board of directors will consist of nine directors, four designated by each of the two companies from their current boards.
The combined company expects to realize pre-tax synergies in excess of $20 million in fiscal year 2004, $40 million in fiscal year 2005, and $50 million thereafter. These synergies are expected to result in significant accretion in earnings per share in fiscal year 2004 and beyond.
Hanaka said: "This combination will better position the company in the highly competitive sporting goods retail sector. Together, we will be the preeminent sporting goods retailer in the U.S., with capabilities and opportunities on a scale much broader than would have been possible for either Gart Sports or Sports Authority on a stand-alone basis.
"The advantage of size -- in terms of having economies of scale, improved purchasing ability, and an expanded distribution network -- will allow us to be a stronger competitor and to better serve our customers," Hanaka said.
"With 385 stores in 45 states nationwide, we will be able to provide consumers with a wider selection of premium brand name sporting apparel, footwear and equipment, at competitive prices."
The deal is subject to customary closing conditions, including approval by the stockholders of Gart Sports and Sports Authority and Hart-Scott-Rodino approval under the U.S. antitrust laws.
Poll: Shorter skirts and better economic times ahead
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich., Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Taubman Centers Inc. said better economic times will hit America by spring, according to its forecast based on skirt lengths.
The owner and/or manager of 30 shopping centers in 13 states, used the hemline indicator to measure consumer optimism by asking 1,000 shoppers where they think skirt lengths will be this spring based on their projections for the economy.
The hemline indicator projection, which has been historically accurate over the past few years, says hemlines go up when the economy improves.
Nearly half of those surveyed predicted skirts will rise above the knee -- and beyond, an omen of good economic times. An additional 28 percent showed "cautious optimism" by projecting just-below-the-knee skirts.
The survey, which was conducted in January and early February, showed 18 percent of those polled expect good times ahead, 30 percent expect a light at the end of the tunnel and 24 percent expect uncertain times ahead.