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The Buzz On Business

A MOVE TO DIGITAL MUSIC: Digital music claimed an increasing share of overall music sales last year, though its growth rate slowed, the music industry's international trade group said Thursday. Digital music, distributed online or by mobile networks, accounted for $2.9 billion in sales worldwide, up from $2.1 billion a year earlier, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. It represented 15 percent of overall industry sales last year, up from less than 1 percent in 2003 and 11 percent in 2006. But after a near doubling in 2006, digital sales grew by less than 40 percent last year. Meanwhile, sales of compact discs continue to fall sharply, and increased digital revenue has yet to make up the difference. Overall industry sales fell 10 percent last year, to around $17.6 billion, the federation estimates. A recovery in the music industry, walloped by digital piracy, remains at least a year away, John Kennedy, federation chief executive, said.

CLEAR CHANNEL TO SELL STATIONS: Clear Channel Communications Inc. has agreed to sell radio stations in 42 markets as part of a deal reached with federal regulators that will allow the company to complete its sale to private investors. Word that the Federal Communications Commission had unanimously approved the $19.5 billion buyout surfaced two weeks ago. The agency released the details Thursday. Clear Channel, the nation's largest radio station owner, is being taken private by a group led by Thomas H. Lee Partners LP and Bain Capital Partners LLC for $39.20 a share. Shareholders have approved the transaction. According to the FCC order, Clear Channel must transfer control of 48 stations, located in the nation's 100 largest markets, to a divestiture trust so that the new owners will comply with FCC ownership limits. Among the more than 1,100 stations owned by Clear Channel are Modesto's KFIV-AM (1360) and KJSN-FM (Sunny 102.3) and Manteca's KMRQ-FM (96.7) and Patterson's KOSO-FM (93.1), although it's not known yet if those stations will be affected.

HERSHEY STRUGGLES CONTINUE: Hershey, the nation's largest candy maker, said Thursday that its fourth-quarter profit dropped almost 65 percent as it spent heavily to close plants in North America and expand overseas and grappled with rising costs. It's closing its Oakdale plant next month. Sales were almost flat in what The Hershey Co. said is an increasingly competitive environment, and it predicted a drop in earnings in 2008. Hershey's president and chief executive, David J. West, said the increasing competition and rising energy and commodity costs, such as dairy, that hurt Hershey in 2007 show no signs of abating. For 2008, he said, Hershey plans to spend more on marketing to stabilize its U.S. business, expand in high-margin and overseas markets and see cost savings from streamlining its supply chains.

THURSDAY'S EARNINGS CALL: AT&T Inc. earned $3.1 billion in the fourth quarter as its wireless and broadband businesses did well, a trend the nation's largest telecommunications company said would help it keep growing even in a sputtering economy. ... Frontier Airlines Holdings Inc. said its fiscal third-quarter loss more than doubled after fuel costs rose a punishing 16.3 percent and federal certification was delayed for its turboprop subsidiary. ... US Airways Group Inc. said it swung to a fourth-quarter loss as it faced significantly higher fuel costs, and lower revenue and traffic. ... E-Trade Financial Corp. posted a hefty loss for the fourth quarter as the struggling discount brokerage dumped a book of risky investments at a steep discount. In an illustration of how the mortgage industry crisis has spread to other types of companies, the New York-based brokerage in November said it sold a $3 billion portfolio of mortgage debt to Citadel Investment Group at a $2.2 billion loss. ... Sun Microsystems Inc.'s fiscal second-quarter profit nearly doubled to edge past Wall Street's estimates, reflecting the server and software maker's cost-cutting efforts and maneuvers to shore up demand amid fierce competition, the company reported.

BEE NEWS SERVICES

Figuratively Speaking

1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Ranks of North Carolina, Alabama, South Carolina, West Virginia and Tennessee on the list of top Southern destinations for migrating Americans, according to the findings of United Van Lines' 31st annual "migration" study.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5: Ranks of Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming and Arizona on the list of top Western destinations for migrating Americans.

1: Rank of Michigan as the top outbound state.

JOHN MacINTYRE,

UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

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