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Week in Review

TOP STORIES -- May 11-16

May 18, 2003|From Times Staff and Wire Services

Senators Move to Keep TV Station Limits

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators, expressing reservations about a Federal Communications Commission plan to ease media ownership restrictions, introduced a bill that would keep the nation's biggest television chains from getting bigger.

The bill, sponsored by Alaska Republican Ted Stevens and South Carolina Democrat Ernest F. Hollings among others, would preserve a rule that bars any company from owning TV stations reaching more than 35% of U.S. households.

In a Commerce Committee hearing, senators from both parties voiced opposition to the expansion. But it isn't clear that sponsors have enough support to prevent the FCC from raising the cap to 45%, as sources say the agency's staff has proposed.

The FCC proposal also would make it easier to own a TV station and newspaper in the same city, according to sources. The commission is scheduled to vote on the proposal June 2.

An FCC spokesman declined to comment.

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Meters Lacking State Ethanol Certification

Hundreds of measuring devices intended to ensure that gasoline sold in California contains enough smog-reducing ethanol haven't been certified by the state, Los Angeles County inspectors say.

County officials say they haven't determined whether the uncertified meters are inaccurately measuring the ethanol added to gasoline. Investigators say contractors who installed the meters may not have been properly licensed and could face sanctions.

The meters are at oil company fuel terminals where trucks are filled with gasoline for delivery to service stations. Inspections at six terminals found all but one of the meters lacked certification, said Jeff Humphreys, deputy director of the county's Weights and Measures Bureau, which plans to examine all terminals in the county.

State officials say they weren't aware until recently that the meters hadn't been ethanol-certified. A spokesman for the state Division of Measurement Standards said the agency was working with the meter maker to certify the devices.

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CPI Falls as Consumer Demand Weakens

Lower prices for energy, cars and clothes drove consumer costs down in April by the largest amount in 18 months, underscoring Federal Reserve anxiety about the possibility of a destabilizing decline.

The consumer price index, the government's most closely watched inflation gauge, declined by 0.3% last month after rising by 0.3% in March, the Labor Department reported.

For the 12 months ended in April, consumer prices were up a modest 2.2%. The performance of "core" prices, which exclude volatile energy and food costs, was even lower, with a gain of just 1.5% in the same period, the smallest increase since 1966.

Faced with lackluster customer demand, businesses are keeping a lid on price increases and in some cases are cutting prices to lure shoppers.

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and his colleagues are on guard for signs of deflation. Fed policymakers say chances of deflation are remote, but have signaled that they are prepared to lower short-term interest rates to ward off any threat of that happening.

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Fox Division Drives News Corp.'s Earnings

News Corp. swung to a profit of $275 million in its fiscal third quarter from a year-earlier loss due to a strong showing by the film and TV divisions at Fox Entertainment and its "Joe Millionaire" and "American Idol" franchises.

For the quarter ended March 31, News Corp. earned 21 cents a U.S. share, contrasted with a loss of $4 billion, or $3.16, a year earlier, when the company took a $4.1-billion write-down of its investment in Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc. Revenue rose 14% to $4.4 billion.

Driving results was a strong showing from the Fox assets, including its film division, which enjoyed robust DVD sales of releases such as "Ice Age." Surging wartime ratings of Fox News Channel, which ended the quarter as the top-rated cable channel, also helped the performance. At Fox, profit of $276 million was more than double year-earlier earnings of $108 million.

County Median Home

Price Passes $300,000

The typical purchase price of a home in Los Angeles County broke the $300,000 mark for the first time in April -- and nothing suggests it won't keep going up.

The supply of houses for sale would have to grow sharply to help relieve upward pressure on prices. But this year, the pool of available properties has been shrinking. Recent statistics by the California Assn. of Realtors show the supply of listed houses and condos in the county fell in March to a level far below the 10-year average.

The median sales price of new and existing homes in L.A. County in April rose 19% from a year earlier, to $303,000, according to a report released by DataQuick Information Systems.

Sales in the county were up 1.2% to 11,407 properties -- the highest for any April since 1989, despite the war in Iraq and an otherwise sluggish economy, according to DataQuick.

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Bailout Money OKd for Workers' Comp Fund

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