The Buzz On Business

HERSHEY ACCUSED OF PRICE-FIXING: The Hershey Co. and other candy makers have been sued in New Jersey and Pennsylvania by suppliers and consumers alleging a price-fixing scheme. Lawsuits were filed in federal courts last month -- two in Harrisburg, Pa., and one in Newark, N.J. -- citing recent news reports that authorities in Canada and the United States are looking into chocolate industry pricing practices. All three complaints seek class-action status. The lawsuits name Hershey, which announced last year it will close its Oakdale plant Feb. 15, and Mars Inc., the leading chocolate companies in the United States, along with other companies such as Nestlé USA. Company officials declined to comment on the lawsuits.

PET FOOD COMPANY TO SETTLE: A Missouri company that made contaminated pet food that killed dozens of dogs nationwide will pay $3.1 million in a settlement with pet owners, an attorney said Friday. The pet food, which contained a mold called aflatoxin, was produced at Diamond Pet Foods' plant in South Carolina. The company, which has an outlet in Lathrop, will establish a fund to reimburse pet owners for the loss of their dogs, veterinarian bills and the cost of any unreturned contaminated food, said attorney Jim Andrews, who represented a Knoxville, Tenn., family that sued the company.

FORD MOTOR TAKES A HIT: Shares of Ford Motor Co. dropped to their lowest level in 22 years Friday, one day after 2007 sales figures showed that Toyota Motor Corp. had dethroned Ford as the No. 2 auto seller in the United States. General Motors Corp. stock also slipped to a 52-week low on Friday, and even Toyota Motor Corp.'s stock dropped. Ford shares dipped as low as $6 during Friday's trading, recovering to close down 32 cents, or nearly 5 percent, at $6.13. The previous low, adjusted for stock splits and other distributions, was $5.92 on Jan. 15, 1986, according to the Center for Research in Security Prices at the University of Chicago.

JUDGE RULES AGAINST WAL-MART: A North Carolina judge has ruled against Wal-Mart Stores Inc. in a $33.5 million tax dispute with state revenue officials over how the retailer calculated taxes for its stores there. Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said Friday it is studying the Dec. 31 ruling and has not decided how to react. Wal-Mart noted that it had paid the taxes and that the case was about its request for a refund. The case was about the ownership structure Wal-Mart set up for its store properties in North Carolina.

RITE-AID TO CLOSE SOME STORES: Rite Aid Corp., the nation's third-largest drugstore chain, said Friday it will close 28 unprofitable stores in the Las Vegas area to focus on its core markets. Some of the stores were previously part of the Thrifty PayLess chain that Rite Aid acquired in 1997, and the company has not opened a new store in Las Vegas since 1999. The company will sell patient prescription files of 27 stores in the Las Vegas metro market -- including Las Vegas, North Las Vegas and Henderson -- to Walgreen Co. It is also selling the prescription files of a store in nearby Mesquite that will also close. Rite Aid operates about 5,000 stores in the United States, including three in Modesto and more throughout the Northern San Joaquin Valley.


CUTS JOBS: Sun-Times Media Group Inc. told the Chicago Sun-Times staff it plans to eliminate as many as 35 jobs in the newsroom of the city's second-largest daily as part of companywide cutbacks. Word of the layoffs, which represent nearly 19 percent of union jobs in the newsroom, came in a brief memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press. Company spokeswoman Tammy Chase declined comment. The ailing newspaper publisher had warned of layoffs last month when it announced plans to cut operating costs by $50 million in 2008 amid a continuing steep decline in advertising and circulation revenue.


Figuratively Speaking

53: Percentage of women who experienced problems during their most recent shopping trip, according to "Men Buy, Women Shop," a study from the Jay H. Baker Retail Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

48: Percentage of men who experienced problems while shopping.

20: Percentage that men are less likely to recommend a store where they experienced problems than women.