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BUSINESS TODAY

FLORIDA EXISTING HOME SALES RISE

Sales of existing single-family homes climbed again last month in Florida, although nationally they backed off slightly from January's record-setting pace. The Florida Association of Realtors said 11,234 homes were sold in February, up 10 percent over the same month a year ago and 9 percent over January. The median sale price was $131,800, up 8 percent from a year ago. In the Tampa Bay area, 1,040 homes were sold at a median price of $130,400, up from 925 homes at a median price of $119,200 a year ago. Nationally, homes sold at a 5.88-million annual pace, a 2.8 percent drop from January. Low mortgage rates have fueled the sales boom, with an average rate of 6.89 percent on 30-year fixed loans last month. Rates have risen in March, averaging 7.14 percent last week.

CALPINE DROPS ANDERSEN: Calpine, one of the nation's largest power plant builders, has fired Arthur Andersen LLP as its auditor. Andersen, the world's fifth-largest accounting firm, had served as Calpine's auditor since 1991. Calpine, one of the largest U.S. power plant builders, replaced Andersen with Deloitte & Touche. A Calpine spokeswoman said the change "is not a reflection of Arthur Andersen's capabilities or quality of service." Andersen has lost more than 60 U.S. clients this year as well as affiliates in Russia, Spain, China, Hong Kong and New Zealand to rival firms as part of the fallout from the collapse of Enron Corp.

KMART REACHES OUT TO BLACKS, HISPANICS: Kmart Corp. will run radio and television advertisements designed for its black and Hispanic customers in an effort to boost sales. The radio ads will feature singers Chaka Khan and BeBe Winans and run in markets with large black populations, a spokesman said. Spanish-language ads will feature singer Jose Feliciano. Last month, Kmart introduced the slogan, "Kmart. The Stuff of Life," and began running advertisements produced by filmmaker Spike Lee. Blacks and Hispanics account for 32 percent of Kmart's shoppers, the retailer said.

ALLSTATE PUSHES FOR HIGHER RATES: Allstate Corp. is aggressively seeking rate increases in its homeowners and auto businesses in 2002, an executive said. Ronald McNeil, Allstate's senior vice president for field and product operations, said the Northbrook, Ill., insurer has raised its auto insurance rates in 17 states so far this year, averaging an increase of 8.3 percent. On the homeowners side of the business, Allstate has raised rates in 20 states for an average increase of more than 20 percent. So far, Florida is not among the states hit with increases this year.

JABIL TO ACQUIRE PLANTS: Jabil Circuit Inc. of St. Petersburg said it has struck a deal with European car parts manufacturer Valeo SA to acquire electronics manufacturing operations in Meung-sur-Loire, France, and Wemding, Germany, and to transfer production from Valeo plants in Fort Worth, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico, to a Jabil plant in Chihuahua, Mexico. Jabil will manufacture parts for Valeo under a three-year supply agreement expected to add about $300-million a year to Jabil's revenues. About 950 Valeo employees will become Jabil employees. Valeo is in bankruptcy reorganization.

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