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Briefs: Countrywide seeks to block investigation

| Saturday, March 15, 2008

Countrywide Financial Corp., the largest U.S. mortgage lender, is trying to block a Justice Department official from investigating its actions in cases filed by bankrupt homeowners, documents in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Pittsburgh show. Thomas Connop, a lawyer for the lender, argued in a Feb. 28 hearing that federal law doesn't permit the U.S. Trustee's "wide-ranging" investigation and claimed that it would create a precedent for "unreasonable intrusion" into the affairs of other bankruptcy creditors. "The ramifications of the United States Trustee's interpretation of its power is really staggering," Connop said in the hearing. A transcript was made public March 11. Countrywide, based in Calabasas, Calif., has been sued in other bankruptcy courts by U.S. trustees, Justice Department officials appointed to oversee bankruptcy cases. The trustees have accused the company of a pattern of abusing the bankruptcy system by making false claims in court.


Maui may see $4 gas

While the price of oil climbs above $110 a barrel, most Americans dread the day they'll have to pay $4. But on the Hawaiian island of Maui and at a few stations in California, $4 gas has already arrived, straining the pocketbooks of residents and businesses. Maui is on the verge of becoming the first area in the nation to average $4 for a gallon of regular. The average price in Wailuku reached $3.943 on Friday, the highest price in AAA's Daily Fuel Gauge Report. At several stations, it was a penny shy of $4. In the remote coastal town of Hana, it was around $4.40 a gallon.


Ross Park Mall adds tenants

Zounds, which manufactures and markets high performance hearing aids, and Bare Escentuals , a cosmetic company, will enter the Pittsburgh market this summer by opening stores at Ross Park Mall, in Ross. Zounds Hearing Center will open in July with 2,000 square feet in the area leading to the new Nordstrom store. Bare Escentuals will open in June occupying 1,217 square feet. Simon Property Group Inc., owner of Ross Park Mall, is expanding the shopping complex with an additional 65,000 square feet of upscale retail and restaurants. Over the past 12 months, seven retailers have entered the mall. They are Old Navy, Forever 21, H&M, Walking Co., Chico's, Charlies Grill Subs and Soma.


Deer Run club sold

The 18-hole Deer Run Golf Club in West Deer has been sold for $1.5 million to an Ohio-based investor who plans to upgrade the club's facilities. The club has been renamed Pittsburgh National Golf Club, said Ed Haddad, a member of the purchasing group, Pittsburgh National Golf Club Inc. The sale was by Deer Run Development Co., part of Magister Family Golf Inc. according to a deed filed in Allegheny County. Haddad said the club will continue as a semi-public course. Plans include improving the sand traps, installing electronic golf carts and making the course convenient for senior men and women, along with juniors, he said. Eventually, the new owner will upgrade the clubhouse to permit banquets and other social events.


Airlines raise fares

Two of the nation's biggest airlines boosted round-trip fares by as much as much as $50 heading into the weekend, raising the stakes in their fight against rapidly rising fuel costs and putting pressure on competitors to follow suit. United Airlines, the second-largest U.S. carrier, led the latest round of increases late Thursday, hours after crude oil prices surged to a new record of $111 a barrel. Continental Airlines Inc. matched the increases Friday. At least two other carriers said they were studying the move. It was the fourth week in a row that carriers have raised ticket prices.


Gas rates may rise

An Equitable Gas filing with state regulators is a signal for possible higher heating prices next winter. In its required annual purchased gas cost report to the Public Utility Commission, the North Shore-based utility, part of Equitable Resources Inc., said the monthly bill for an average residential customer using 90 thousand cubic feet, or mcf, a year could rise from $126.55 to $141.03 starting Oct. 1. The report projects how much the company will have to pay for gas and pass through to customers; actual rates could differ. State Consumer Advocate Sonny Popowsky said the filing reflects recent market price increases for the fuel. "Unfortunately, we are seeing increases," he said Friday.


Other business news

• PPG Industries Inc. of Pittsburgh said Friday it plans to sell $1.55 billion in aggregate principal amount of senior notes and use the proceeds to repay money borrowed under a $1.5 billion bridge loan agreement it made to finance the purchase of coatings producer SigmaKalon Group of The Netherlands. PPG, which closed on the SigmaKalon deal in January, expects to close on the sale of the debt on Tuesday.

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