Executive Business Briefing

June 3, 2003 at 12:33 PM
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Here is a look at more of Tuesday's top business stories:

Uni-Marts to be acquired by HFL Corp.

STATE COLLEGE, Pa., June 3 (UPI) -- Uni-Marts Inc. said it has signed a letter of intent to be acquired by HFL Corp., a company controlled by Uni-Marts' top management, for $2.25 a share, or a premium of 21 percent, based on the closing price of the company's shares Monday.

Closely held HFL is controlled by Uni-Marts Chief Executive and Chairman Henry D. Sahakian and his brother Daniel Sahakian, a Uni-Marts director.

The convenience store operator said that Uni-Marts' board must first receive an opinion of fairness from a financial adviser. Also, Uni-Marts' lenders and shareholders must approve the plan.

Uni-Marts hired investment banking firm Boenning & Scattergood Inc. to provide a fairness opinion.

The intent letter, which is not subject to any due diligence or financing contingencies, expires June 27 if the parties haven't struck a definitive merger agreement.

At April 3, Uni-Marts had about 7.16 million shares outstanding.

HFL gave Uni-Marts $250,000 cash, which isn't refundable if HFL is unable to proceed with the deal for any reason other than the two sides can't reach a definitive merger agreement, Uni-Marts can't obtain a favorable fairness opinion or if Uni-Mart can't win required consents from its lenders.

Henry D. Sahakian said that management of the company will continue to pursue a previously announced divestiture plan, but that such an effort would require "an extended period of time."

"Management is anxious to create liquidity for the Uni-Marts shareholders as soon as possible," he said.

Uni-Marts, which posted revenue of $409.5 million for the year ended Sept. 30, operates 294 convenience stores and Choice Cigarette Discount Outlets in Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. It also sells self-service gasoline at 238 of these locations.

Visa International volume passes $1 trillion

SAN FRANCISCO, June 3 (UPI) -- Visa International said it has surpassed $1 trillion in U.S. transaction volume for the 12 months ended March 31.

It said the volume level means that an average of $32,000 went through the Visa system every second of every day over the 12-month period.

Visa noted that the statistic means that $12 of every $100 consumers spent in the United States during the past year was spent using a Visa card.

The company claims that $1 trillion is greater than the combined volume of all other U.S. payment organizations, including MasterCard, American Express and Discover.

CVS same-store sales rise

WOONSOCKET, R.I., June 3 (UPI) -- CVS Corp. said same-store sales rose 4.6 percent in May as pharmacy sales rose 7.5 percent and front-end sales declined 1.2 percent.

The pharmacy same-store sales rose despite a 170-basis-point hit from recent generic introductions.

The drugstore chain said total sales rose 6.8 percent to $2.01 billion in the four weeks ended May 24 from $1.89 billion last year.

Year to date, same-store sales grew 4.6 percent, with same-store pharmacy sales leading the way, up 7.2 percent despite increasing popularity of less-expensive generic drugs.

Total sales for the 21 weeks rose 6.6 percent to $10.30 billion from $ 9.67 billion a year ago.

As of May 24, CVS operated 4,112 stores in 32 states.

OM Group sells metals unit and PVC heat stabilizer line

CLEVELAND, June 3 (UPI) -- OM Group Inc. said it has reached an agreement to sell its precious metals business and PVC heat stabilizer product line, continuing its efforts to reduce debt.

In December, the company detailed a restructuring plan that included selling up to $100 million in noncore assets in order to improve its cash flow and to strengthen its balance sheet.

OM Group said it signed a definitive agreement to sell its Precious Metals business to Umicore S.A. for about $752 million in cash.

Net proceeds were estimated at about $700 million, which will be used to reduce debt.

OM Group said the sale includes its automotive catalysts; fuel cells; precious metals chemistry; technical materials; jewelry and electroplating; and metals management businesses.

The operations generated 2002 sales of $4.4 billion and an operating profit of $78 million, the maker of metal-based specialty chemicals said.

The company's total 2002 sales were $4.91 billion.

OM Group expects to close the sale during the third quarter, subject to customary U.S. and European regulatory approvals.

MCI and Nortel Networks in deal

ATLANTA, June 3 (UPI) -- Worldcom Inc. said it plans to move its entire voice network to a common Internet Protocol core before 2005 by using Nortel Networks Corp.'s Succession superclass softswitches and Passport Packet Voice Gateways.

The communications provider, doing business as MCI, said it deployed 36 Passport Packet Voice Gateways and plans to deploy another 15 gateways by the end of June.

MCI plans to have 25 percent of its voice traffic on its IP core network by end of year.

As part of the transition, MCI also upgraded its Nortel Networks DMS circuit switches to Succession Communication Server 2000 superclass softswitches.

MCI said the deployment makes it the largest in-service network of Nortel Networks VoIP equipment in the world.

Nortel Networks supplies communications technology and infrastructure to service providers and enterprise customers.

AT&T to simplify its contracts

ATLANTA, June 3 (UPI) -- AT&T Corp. said it plans to spend $500 million to simplify its contracts, cut provisioning time, improve billing accuracy, and enhance electronic-servicing capabilities, such as linking customers' computers directly into AT&T network-support systems.

AT&T, which is a Dow component, said it "conservatively estimates companies will realize an average 15 percent to 25 percent return on communications investment through improved networking performance" by using AT&T managed services.

As one part of the initiative to boost customer service, the company plans to extend business customers' intranets to wireless fidelity, or Wi-Fi, hotspots at airports and hotels nationwide in 2003.

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