Here is a look at more of Wednesday's top business stories:
Kodak forms new company called Appairent Technologies
ROCHESTER, N.Y., Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Eastman Kodak Co. said it would form a new company called Appairent Technologies Inc., which will develop products for more efficient wireless transmission of high quality video, still images, and data.
Appairent, which will be based on patented wireless technologies from Kodak's research and development labs, is part of Kodak's goal of commercializing its technologies to expand the info-imaging category -- a $225 billion industry created by the convergence of images and information technology.
Kodak and the Monroe Fund, a private venture capital fund managed by a unit of Rochester, New York-based Trillium Group, are the initial investors in Appairent.
The amount of the investment was not undisclosed.
The spin-out follows several years of technology incubation and seed funding by Kodak for development of the products Appairent will launch commercially, Kodak said.
Kodak will also contribute a number of patents and patent applications.
"Wireless communication is critical as imaging and information technologies converge," said James Stoffel, senior vice president and chief technology officer, Eastman Kodak.
"The greatest value in this intellectual property and the technology it enables lies in making it broadly available. We look forward to using Appairent's wireless communication technology in our own products and to seeing much broader applications and infrastructure," Stoffel said.
Kodak said Appairent's management team includes executives from Kodak, from Trillium Venture Development, the commercial development arm of Trillium Group, and from other industry companies.
Ted Wurzburg, entrepreneur-in-residence at Trillium Group, joins Appairent as chief executive officer, with extensive leadership experience at start-up and established companies including VoiceWeb, Nortel Networks and Wang Laboratories.
As Appairent's chief technology officer, Robert Heile contributes expertise from his work in development of wireless personal area networks (WPAN) technology at Verizon, GTE and BBN Technologies.
Jim Allen, Appairent's vice president, research & development, also provides deep knowledge of wireless technologies and standards from his tenure at Kodak's Research & Development Department and the company's Digital and Applied Imaging business.
Mortgage applications jump
WASHINGTON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- A new report from the Mortgage Bankers Association of America showed that a record number of home buyers applied for mortgages last week.
The group's weekly index of applications for mortgages to purchase homes rose 27.9 percent to 375.9 for the week ending Jan. 4, from a revised level of 376.0 for the previous week.
The Jan. 4 level is the highest for the index since the weekly survey was launched in January 1990. The previous record was 373.5, for the week ending Dec. 21.
The MBA's refinancing activity also increased as its refinancing index rose 32.6 percent to 1,703.7 in the week ending Jan. 4, from a revised 1,284.8 for the previous week. This represents the highest level of refinancing since the week ending Dec. 14, when the refinancing index stood at 1968.8.
Despite last week's increase, the refinancing index has generally been declining since early November, as mortgage rates have risen.
The index peaked in the week ending Nov. 9, at 5,534.4, a record level. That coincided with 30-year mortgage rates at 6.37 percent, excluding fees, the lowest seen since 1998. Since then, rates have been edging higher.
Rising refinancing activity last week coincided with a decline in mortgage rates.
The 30-year mortgage rate, excluding fees, averaged 7.04 percent, bringing that rate to its lowest level since the week ending Nov. 30, when the 30-year rate was 6.83 percent.
Although refinancing activity has fallen since mid- November, purchasing activity has generally been rising. Rising rates have been less of a factor here, because other factors, such as rising consumer confidence, have come into play.
When consumers are more confident of the future outlook, they are more willing to make large financial commitments.
Rising refinancing and purchasing activity last week pushed up the MBA's market index, an index of overall market activity, to 570.7, an increase of 29.9 percent from a revised 439.2 for the previous week.
MBA surveys 20 to 35 firms to derive its mortgage applications indexes. The survey covers about 40 percent of all applications processed by mortgage lenders, and monitors purchasing, refinancing, and overall market activity and has been conducted weekly since 1990. Respondents include mortgage bankers, commercial banks and thrifts.
The MBA is the national association representing the real estate finance industry.
Bank of England to auction gold
LONDON, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The Bank of England said it will auction about 20 tons of gold on Jan. 16 on behalf of the Treasury.
The auction will take place on a single, or uniform, price basis, the central bank said.
The upcoming auction will be the fifth auction out of a total of six planned for the current fiscal year to March 2002.
The sixth auction will take place in March, the Bank of England said. A total of 120 tons of gold is being sold in the current fiscal year.
DuPont Photomasks expects to break even
ROUND ROCK, Texas, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- DuPont Photomasks Inc., which makes plates used to print circuit patterns on silicon wafers, said it expects to break even in its fiscal second quarter, surpassing expectations of a net loss.
Peter Kirlin, chairman and chief executive officer, said, "The quarter's results were positively impacted by better than expected demand from a few of our strategic customers. The higher revenue, coupled with additional operating expense reductions resulting from the recent restructuring of our global manufacturing organization, led to better than expected earnings.
"Semiconductor producers continue to seek out our advanced technology offerings as the industry moves deeper into sub-wavelength lithography," Kirlin said.
"We are confident in our competitive position and are encouraged by these results. However, uncertainty across the entire semiconductor industry continues to prevail," he said.
DuPont Photomasks said it expects to report revenues for its second quarter, ended in December, of about $86 million. In October the company said it expected revenues of $70 million to $80 million and a loss of 10 cents to 40 cents a share.
For the third quarter, DuPont Photomasks said it expects revenues of $77 million to $87 million.
DuPont Photomasks plans to release its complete financial results for fiscal 2002 second quarter on Jan. 23.
Sunoco expects to breakeven
PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Sunoco Inc. said it expects to report breakeven fourth-quarter operating income, with full-year income of $400 million, or $5 a share, citing a weakening economy and record warm temperatures in its key regions.
Analysts on Wall Street were expecting Sunoco to post a fourth quarter net income of 41 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. The First Call 2001 estimate was $5.21 a share.
The company said it expects $517 million in capital spending in 2002. Sunoco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, John G. Drosdick said the company will continue its strategy of creating value through improving operating efficiencies, integrating recent growth initiatives and maintaining a prudent balance of asset acquisitions and share repurchase.
"2001 was another year of strong operational and financial performance for Sunoco," said Drosdick.
"Despite market volatility in several of our businesses and a very weak fourth-quarter market environment, we should generate operating earnings of approximately $400 million and, as in 2000, have operating earnings of near $5 per share for the year. Record yearly results from our Retail Marketing operations and our mid-continent refining centers and record production levels across our refining system largely offset margin declines in our core northeast refining area and continued weakness in chemicals," he added.
Best Buy sees higher results
MINNEAPOLIS, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Consumer electronics retailer Best Buy Co. said its fourth quarter net income will beat Wall Street expectations.
The retailer said it expects to post a fourth quarter net income of $1.35 to $1.40 a share, compared with a consensus estimate of $1.27 among analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call.
Best Buy said total sales for December rose 43 percent from a year earlier, to $3.86 billion. Sales at stores open at least a year rose 6.2 percent.
The company said it expects earnings growth of 18 percent to 21 percent for the fiscal year that starts on March 3, and sales growth of 17 percent to 20 percent.
The retailer also said it plans to open about 60 new stores in major U.S. markets in the year.
Best Buy said strong sales of digital and video gaming products contributed to a comparable store sales increase during the month, despite the nation's recession and on top of a 3.7-percent increase in December of fiscal 2001.
Strong sales of digital products, including digital televisions, digital cameras, digital camcorders and DVD hardware, drove the results, along with significant increases in video gaming product sales.
"December sales exceeded our expectations for all of the businesses, reflecting both the strength of new products and outstanding execution across the organization," said Brad Anderson, vice chairman, president and chief operating officer of Best Buy.
"Based on these results, we are expecting our earnings for the fiscal fourth quarter to exceed 50 percent, exceeding our earlier guidance," he added.
Best Buy Co. currently operates approximately 1,900 retail stores in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Verizon has 7.4 million long distance customers
NEW YORK, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- Verizon Communications Inc., the nation's largest local telephone company, said it ended 2001 with about 7.4 million long-distance customers, exceeding its target of 6.9 million.
Verizon said it ended the year with about 1.2 million digital subscriber line customers, meeting its expectations.
Verizon also reiterated its earnings and revenue guidance for the full year 2001.
It said it continues to expect adjusted diluted earnings per share of $3 to $3.03, excluding special items. It expects revenue growth of 4 percent to 5 percent.
Verizon will announce complete fourth-quarter and full-year financial results for 2001 on Jan. 31.
"With the stalled economy and in the aftermath of Sept. 11, Verizon's first full year of operation has been one of unprecedented challenge. Still -- through the steadfast commitment, skill and experience of Verizon employees -- we have continued to focus on execution and on the industry-leading profitability of our businesses," said Verizon Chairman and Co-CEO Charles R. Lee.
Video sales jump 21 percent
LAS VEGAS, Jan. 9 (UPI) -- The DVD Entertainment Group said consumers spent a record-breaking $16.8 billion during 2001 buying and renting movies on video, up 21 percent over 2000, and more than twice what they spent on movie tickets.
Consumers spent $4.6 billion on DVDs, 2.4 times more than last year, an increase that put DVD purchases ahead of VHS purchases for the first time despite an installed player base of 25 million DVD households versus a VCR installed player base of 96 million households.
Consumer spending on DVD purchases and rental combined were $6 billion, 2.4 times more than in 2000, the DVD Entertainment Group said.
Strong DVD growth also placed home video revenues at nearly three times video game sales ($6.4 billion) and more than music CDs ($11.2 billion) and books ($16.5 billion). The aggregate sales of $16.8 billion for total video sales include $10.9 billion in new release revenues and $5.9 billion in library release revenue.
According to figures compiled by Ernst & Young on behalf of the DVD Entertainment Group, approximately 138 million DVD movies and music video titles shipped in the fourth quarter of 2001, 1.8 times more than the same quarter last year. And, more than 364 million units were shipped in 2001 alone bringing the total number of units shipped since launch to 675 million.
The group said DVD is now in one of every four U.S. homes and has reached this level of market penetration faster than any other consumer electronics product.
As DVD completes its fifth year in the market, more than 31 million players have been sold to date.
According to figures compiled by the DVD Entertainment Group based on data from the Consumer Electronics Association, retailers and manufacturers, 16.7 million DVD players were sold to consumers in 2001 representing 1.7 times more than last year.
In addition, there are currently more than 54 million DVD playback devices including set top players, DVD-ROM drives and game machines.
"With DVD now in a quarter of American households, DVD is America's hottest selling consumer electronics product," said Emiel N. Petrone, chairman, DVD Entertainment Group and executive vice president, Philips Entertainment Group, Worldwide.
"DVD has become the driving force for increased sales of related home theater products such as televisions and sound systems."
DVD continues to grow at an accelerated rate far superior to any consumer electronics product in history, including the VHS and the CD; DVD has reached the 30 million unit sales milestone in a record five years.
To support these strong consumer sales, the industry shipped 16.6 million units in the United States in 2001, bringing the total number of players shipped to approximately 32 million units. Continued strong consumer demand is expected to support shipments of over 20 million DVD players in 2002 in the U.S.
There are now more than 125 DVD player models marketed under 50 different consumer electronics brands.