Biz Bits

News from China leads to decline in oil prices


NEW YORK --- Oil fell Tuesday after China said it will raise interest rates again to help control inflation. Declining gasoline demand in the U.S. and a rare oil shipment from Libya also pulled crude lower later in the day.

Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for May delivery gave up 13 cents to settle at $108.34 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In London, Brent crude added $1.23 to settle at $121.89 per barrel on the ICE Futures exchange.

China increased interest rates for the fourth time since October. Higher interest rates could slow China's economy and shrink its appetite for oil. China trails only the U.S. in oil consumption and should still drive world oil demand this year, though it might not increase consumption as much as previously expected, analysts said.

The Energy Information Administration expects China to account for about 40 percent of increased world demand this year, as it boosts consumption by another 600,000 barrels per day. The U.S. will increase consumption by 130,000 barrels per day, according to the EIA.

Boeing wants airlines to inspect older 737s

DALLAS --- Southwest Airlines Co. said Tuesday it finished inspecting 79 older planes and found that five of them have cracks in the aluminum skin.

Boeing said Tuesday it is directing Southwest and other airlines that own certain older 737s to conduct electromagnetic inspections of a portion of the roof once the planes have made a certain number of trips.

A Boeing 737-300 sprung a hole in the roof during a Southwest flight on Friday, forcing an emergency landing, In response, Southwest grounded 79 planes of the same model last weekend.

Boeing project engineer Paul Richter said Southwest will have to replace an 18-inch section of overlapping aluminum panel called a lap joint on the planes with cracks in the skin. Southwest said the five planes with "minor subsurface cracking" will remain grounded until they can be repaired.

Southwest said operations were returning to normal Tuesday after nearly 700 flights were canceled Saturday through Monday.

3 bidders remain in Blockbuster auction

NEW YORK --- Billionaire investor Carl Icahn, Dish Network and a group of debtholders are the three remaining bidders for movie-rental chain Blockbuster in an auction Tuesday at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in New York.

The bankruptcy auction will decide the fate of the Dallas movie-rental chain. The auction process was still going on as of 4:30 p.m. ET. At that time, Icahn's bid of $310.6 million was on top.

Another bidder, SK Telecom, has dropped out. An expected joint bid by two liquidation firms, Gordon Brothers Group and Hilco Merchant Resources, did not materialize.

The successful buyer or buyers could continue to operate the chain in full or part or liquidate the company, pressing "stop" on the stores that brought movie night to millions of families.

When Blockbuster, based in Dallas, filed for bankruptcy protection, it was down to 3,000 stores, less than a third of the peak of 9,100 in 2004. There are about 2,400 currently open with plans to close about 700 more by mid-April.

In other news

A FEDERAL JUDGE HAS overturned a federal jury's order that Apple Inc. pay $625.5 million in damages for violating patents held by a Mirror Worlds LLC, a small technology company. The decision by U.S. District Judge Leonard Davis in Tyler, Texas, which was disclosed in a Monday court filing, dismisses one of the largest-ever patent infringement verdicts. In October, a federal jury determined that Apple infringed on three of Mirror Worlds' patents, which cover several features on Apple's Mac computers, iPhones and iPods.