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BUSINESS TODAY

CONSUMERS' OUTLOOK BUOYANT: Consumer sentiment rose this month to the highest level since November 2000, a survey by the University of Michigan found. The university's final index of consumer sentiment for January was 103.8, compared with a final reading of 92.6 for December. Low borrowing costs along with rising home and stock prices have bolstered attitudes about the economy and helped drive spending, economists said. The survey's expectations index, which gauges people's optimism about the next one to five years, rose to 100.1 from 89.8 in December.

SCRIPPS AGREEMENT FINALIZED: The public board overseeing Florida's incentive grant of $369-million to Scripps Research Institute finalized its agreement with the California research organization on Friday. The vote triggered release of the first payment to Scripps, which will be paid quarterly. During the first year, Scripps will receive $20.8-million to finance its creation of a new campus in Palm Beach County. A disbursement of $5.2-million is to be released Feb. 1.

GRAHAM FARM WORKERS SUE: A Glades County dairy farm owned by the family of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham is being sued by farm workers who say they are not being paid minimum wage. The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Miami federal court, alleges violations occurred over the past four years and involved as many as 200 workers employed by Graham Farms in Moore Haven. The dairy is a division of the Graham Cos. of Miami Lakes, of which the senator is a director. A spokesman for Graham said he knows nothing about the lawsuit. A spokesman for the company could not be reached Friday evening for comment.

NO CASH TO STEM CELL: Cryo-Cell International Inc. of Clearwater said Friday in a correction that the closing of its majority-owned subsidiary, Stem Cell Preservation Technologies Inc., would have no impact on its core business. Cryo-Cell, which stores umbilical cord stem cells, also said in its release that although Stem Cell Preservation Technologies asked several times in two years for cash from the parent company, its requests were rejected. Cryo-Cell did not say how much money it put into Stem Cell, which was supposed to store adult stem cells. Cryo-Cell said Stem Cell's closing means dividends from the subsidiary will not be issued to Cryo-Cell's shareholders as had been promised.

TIMES CFO JOINS TATUM: Times Publishing Co. chief financial officer Mike Carroll, who said in November that he would step down from his post, is joining Tatum CFO Partners LLP of Atlanta as a Tampa Bay area partner. Tatum said Carroll, 50, will serve local clients as a chief financial officer and consultant. Times Publishing owns the St. Petersburg Times.

GM SETTLES BIAS SUIT: The financing arm of General Motors Corp. said Friday it has reached a tentative settlement with plaintiffs in a 6-year-old class action lawsuit charging racial bias in lending policies. The suit, filed in 1998 on behalf of a group of plaintiffs in Tennessee, alleged that as a result of General Motors Acceptance Corp.'s policies, dealers routinely charged black consumers higher interest rates on auto loans than whites with similar financial histories. GMAC said it had reached a tentative agreement with the plaintiffs but declined to provide details until it received court approval.

SALLIE MAE NOTES INVESTIGATION: Sallie Mae, the nation's largest provider of student loans, disclosed an inquiry into its accounting by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The company said Friday the inquiry involves "year-end accounting entries" made by employees at a recently acquired subsidiary that is not part of Sallie Mae's core student loan business. "While the amounts in question appear to be less than $100,000, the company and its audit committee take such matters very seriously and are taking all appropriate actions," the company statement said.

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