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Byline: - Staff and Wire Services

Ex-Countrywide executives settle

WASHINGTON - Two former Countrywide Financial Corp. vice presidents agreed to pay a total of $140,000 to settle civil insider-trading charges that they sold or shorted company shares before an announcement of an earnings decline.

The Securities and Exchange Commission on Wednesday filed civil charges and announced the settlement with California residents Alan Cao, 37, and Jun Shi, 42. The two men settled without admitting or denying wrongdoing.

Attorneys for the two men declined to comment.

Cao agreed to give up the money he had earned and to pay interest plus a civil penalty of $48,352. Shi agreed to give up the $20,000 he had earned and pay a civil penalty of $20,000, the SEC said.

Knott's sweetens deal for admission

BUENA PARK - Adult admission to Knott's Berry Farm has dropped from $45 to $39.95, and the cost of cotton candy will drop by a quarter to $2.75.

Like Disneyland, Knott's offers a discount to locals. Southern Californians pay just $31, and seniors and children pay the same whether local or not - $14.95.

Disneyland, however, has raised admission prices four times in the past two years, to $59 for adults and $49 for children 3-9. Knott's last raised the adult admission price in 2004.

The pricing strategy by Cedar Fair LP, the Ohio-based parent company, is part of a companywide effort to increase revenues.

Oil refinery rule is upheld by court

DIAMOND BAR - An appellate panel has upheld a regulation that requires the region's oil refineries to reduce smog-forming emissions, the Southland's air quality agency announced Wednesday.

The Western States Petroleum Association appealed to the 2nd District Court of Appeal after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Yaffe threw out its lawsuit against the South Coast Air Quality Management District.

At issue was a rule adopted by the AQMD that required six oil refineries in its jurisdiction to reduce emissions of ammonia and small particulate matter by Dec. 31, or be subject to criminal, civil and administrative penalties and possible loss of their operating licenses.

The WSPA, which represented the refineries in the litigation, alleged the Diamond Bar-based AQMD lacked substantial evidence that the refineries could achieve the new standards.

In its suit, the association questioned whether the standards were cost- effective and challenged the smog agency's environmental analysis.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal, however, upheld Yaffe's ruling, siding with the AQMD.

Gateway to pay HP in patent suits

SAN JOSE - Gateway Inc. has agreed to pay $47 million to rival computer maker Hewlett-Packard Co. to settle a series of lawsuits over patents.

The two companies also entered into a cross-licensing agreement that lasts for seven years, said Joe Beyers, Hewlett-Packard's vice president of intellectual property and licensing.

The agreement was announced Wednesday, and Beyers said it would probably become official in the next week. It settles a series of lawsuits and countersuits that began in 2004, when HP claimed in San Diego federal court that five of its patents were being infringed by Gateway.

Over the coming months, HP filed additional suits, including one with the International Trade Commission, claiming that at least 27 of its patents were being breached.

Gateway responded with several countersuits that claimed 13 of its patents were being infringed.

Honda the leader in U.S. car sales

DETROIT - Honda Motor Co. was a star in an otherwise ho-hum February for automakers, posting a 9 percent increase in U.S. sales over a year ago on the strength of its redesigned Civic sedan. Others reported more modest gains and declines on Wednesday, but said sales should pick up this spring as more new vehicles hit the market.

Overall sales for the industry were up 1 percent for the month. U.S. automakers' sales declined 2 percent, while Asian brands saw a 3 percent increase. The seasonally adjusted sales rate for February, which shows what total sales would be if they remained at the same rate for the entire year, was 16.6 million vehicles. Automakers sold 17 million vehicles in all of 2005.

Honda said its car sales climbed 11 percent in February, with the Civic posting a 37 percent sales increase, while truck and sport utility sales rose 5 percent. Honda's U.S. sales jumped 14 percent for the first two months of the year.

Break in royalties result of mistakes

WASHINGTON - The Interior Department denied Wednesday that it collected hundreds of millions of dollars less than it should have last year from companies that pump oil and gas on federal land.

But officials also told House members that the government would let companies avoid billions of dollars in royalty payments over the next five years on oil and gas produced in publicly owned coastal waters.

More surprisingly, an Interior official told lawmakers that the break in royalty payments was apparently the result of inadvertent mistakes on leases awarded in the late 1990s for sites in the Gulf of Mexico.

``What I have concluded is that there was no affirmative policy decision,'' said Walter Cruickshank, deputy director of the Minerals Management Service, which leases out tens of millions of acres of federal land.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 2, 2006

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