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Virus spreads in guise

| Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2001

A computer virus pretending to be an electronic photo of teen-age tennis star Anna Kournikova overwhelmed e-mail servers throughout Europe and North America on Monday. The virus slowed down e-mail systems and forced some companies to shut down their e-mail altogether while they cleaned out the rogue program. Security experts said the virus does not permanently damage computers. Within a few hours, the virus had managed to spread almost as rapidly as last May's ''I Love You'' virus, which caused tens of millions of dollars in damages worldwide. Anti-virus researchers expected more computer infections during Tuesday's business day in Asia.

Moody's Investors Service Monday downgraded the long-term senior debt ratings of Pittsburgh-based PPG Industries Inc. The downgrade, from A1 to A2, affects $3 billion in debt securities. Moody's said debt levels will not fall as rapidly as thought as the economy slows. PPG's historic debt/capital range of 30-40 percent increased to 49 percent as it embarked upon an acquisition program. PPG acquired several coatings businesses in recent years to lessen its exposure to more cyclical and weaker segments in the glass industry. Moody's confirmed the company's short-term debt ratings as Prime-1 and said PPG's outlook is stable.

Zefer, A Boston-based Internet consulting firm with a Pittsburgh office, said Monday it has laid off 120 workers, or 15 percent of its 800-person staff. The company twice withdrew plans for an initial public stock offering last year. Zefer has offices in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Pittsburgh and London. Spokeswoman Sara Buda said the company had its first profitable quarter in the three months ended Dec. 31. She would not say how many people were let go in Pittsburgh, but said the company maintains an office of about 40 downtown. 'We remain committed to the Pittsburgh market,' she said.

The U.S. International Trade Commission Monday unanimously ruled that American companies may be harmed by artificially low-priced imports of stainless steel bars from six countries. The U.S. Commerce Department will now determine whether France, Germany, Italy, Korea, Taiwan and the United Kingdom illegally exported stainless steel bars used to make appliances, automobiles and hand railings, or if Italy illegally subsidized stainless steel. The complaint was filed in December by six companies and the United Steelworkers of America.

The median sales price of a house in the Pittsburgh region last year increased 6.5 percent, the National Association of Realtors said. That's ahead of the national average increase of 4.9 percent. The preliminary average home sale in the region for 2000 is $93,600 vs. $89,900 a year ago. Nationwide, the median sales price was $139,100, up from $133,300. However, Pennsylvania ended 2000 with a 13.2 percent decrease in price, with a median of $168,500 compared to $177,900 in 1999.

Buchanan Ingersoll has acquired a boutique law firm in New York whose work includes some of the city's best-known trophy buildings. The firm of CIPG - for 'Construction Industry Practice Group' - gives Buchanan 30 lawyers on its New York payroll. CIPG attorneys recently have provided legal services for the renovation of Grand Central Station, Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art. Buchanan has law offices in eight U.S. cities and London.

Premier Technologies Inc. Monday said it will move to larger quarters at Parkway Center West in Robinson Township next month. The computer hardware and software company said it has been doubling in size for the last three years and will move from its current offices in Oakdale. Its new offices will accommodate more than 100 employees and will allow it to develop a state-of-the-art training facility.



  • Attorney David Tungate has been appointed to the Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority by Gov. Tom Ridge. Tungate, a lawyer at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, will serve a 7-year term. Better known as PIDA, the authority is a principal provider of low-cost economic development loans throughout the state.

  • Pittsburgh-area stocks rose, led by American Eagle Outfitters and FreeMarkets Inc. The Bloomberg Pittsburgh Index, a price weighted list of companies in the region, gained 2.10 to 189.79. American Eagle rose $2.13 to $57.38 and FreeMarkets rose $1.94 to $23.69. The index had a base value of 100 as of Dec. 29, 1995.

  • Retail gasoline prices increased for the first time in four weeks, rising to a national average of $1.476 a gallon, according to a weekly U.S. Department of Energy survey. Pump prices increased 3.3 cents in the week ending Monday from the previous week's $1.443 a gallon.

  • FedEx Corp. completed its $1.2 billion acquisition of trucking company American Freightways Corp., extending next-day shipments of heavier freight across the U.S. FedEx's existing Viking Freight will link with American Freightways under the new FedEx Freight.

  • US Airways plans to upgrade aircraft on its Pittsburgh to Birmingham, Ala., route on March 4. The carrier will serve the three daily flights using 50-seat, Embraer-145 regional jets. At speeds in excess of 500 miles an hour, they replace 32-seat, Dornier 328 prop-jets.

  • MuniAuction Inc., which pioneered Internet-based auctions for bond issues, has changed is name to Grant Street Group. It made the change to mark a move into online-auction software development and receiving a patent for its auction process.

    From staff reports, The Associated Press, Dow Jones News, Reuters, Gannett and Bloomberg News.



  • President Bush named Laura Unger, a member of the Securities and Exchange Commission, as acting SEC chairwoman until a permanent head is nominated and confirmed by the Senate.

  • Google Inc. took over Deja.com's online discussion service Monday, adding more than 500 million wide-ranging messages to one of the Web's most extensive search engines. Financial terms between the privately held companies weren't disclosed. In 1995, Deja -- originally known as Dejanews -- created a quick and easy way to read and post messages on an online forum, known as Usenet, which doesn't use the same computer code that powers the World Wide Web. While opening up Usenet's discussion boards to Web browsers, New York-based Deja also created an archive of all the messages posted in the newsgroups. Deja's technology allows Web surfers to perform topical searches to focus on specific discussion threads.

  • Steel production increased 2.3 percent last week to 1.894 million tons from 1.852 million tons a week earlier, the American Iron and Steel Institute said. Compared with a year earlier, raw steel production was down by 15.8 percent. Steel mills operated at 76.8 percent of capacity last week, compared with 75.1 percent the previous week.

  • Steelcase Inc., the largest U.S office-furniture maker, said it's cutting as many as 1,200 jobs and will earn as much as 11 percent less than forecast in fiscal 2001 because of the slowing U.S. economy.

  • D.B. Root & Co. senior vice president Carrie Coghill has been promoted to president of the local financial planning firm. She succeeds current president David Root Jr., who assumes the role of chief executive officer. Coghill, who frequently appears on WPXI-TV, has been engaged in financial planning for 15 years.

    Shares of Zale Corp., the nation's largest specialty jewelry retailer, fell Monday on news that its top executive resigned and the company was delaying its quarterly financial results. Chairman and CEO Beryl Raff, one of the few women to lead a major U.S. retailer, was replaced by former Zale boss Robert J. DiNicola. The company said Raff, 50, resigned to spend more time with her family. Zale operates about 2,300 stores and kiosks such as Zales, Bailey, Banks & Biddle, and Piercing Pagoda kiosks.

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