Biz Bits

Tear gas used to halt marches in Greece


ATHENS, GREECE --- Riot police made heavy use of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse youths throwing stones and petrol bombs as thousands of demonstrators marched through central Athens on Wednesday to protest the government's harsh austerity measures.

At least 25 civilians were injured, including a man who suffered life-threatening head wounds, hospital officials said. Two police officers were also injured, officials said.

The clashes came during a 24-hour general strike that brought most public services to a halt, idled all trains and island ferries, grounded flights for four hours and disrupted public transportation. Police said at least 20,000 people marched in two separate demonstrations in the capital, and 8,000 more protested in the northern city of Thessaloniki.

The country is expected to need more financial help, beyond the $158 billion bailout that saved it from bankruptcy last year. But European officials say any new help would require more reforms.

Hedge fund manager guilty on 14 charges

NEW YORK --- A former billionaire Wall Street hedge fund manager has been convicted of 14 federal charges alleging he made a fortune off insider trades.

A Manhattan jury reached its verdict Wednesday. It had been deliberating since April 25.

Federal authorities had called the insider trading case against Raj Rajaratnam the biggest ever involving a hedge fund.

The case centered on the testimony of cooperators and secretly recorded phone calls. Rajaratnam could be heard on calls talking to what prosecutors called his "corporate spies" about earnings and mergers.

The 53-year-old defendant was accused of using the inside tips to gain an edge on trades that made his Galleon Group funds more than $60 million in profits and avoided losses.

The defense said Rajaratnam only relied on legitimate research and analysis.

Trade deficit widens in March on pricier oil

WASHINGTON --- U.S. companies in March sold the most goods and services overseas in nearly two decades. But a big jump in oil prices pushed the nation's trade deficit higher.

The trade deficit rose 6 percent to $48.2 billion, the Commerce Department said Wednesday. That's the highest level since June 2010.

Exports increased to $172.7 billion, the most on records dating back to 1992. A weaker dollar has made U.S. goods cheaper overseas. Exports have also risen because of rapid growth in developing countries. U.S. companies exported more autos, chemicals, and agricultural goods in March.

The U.S. reported its trade deficit one day after Beijing announced a big $11.4 billion trade surplus for April. The disparity will likely escalate pressure on Beijing to let its currency rise to help narrow the trade gap.

Georgia, S. Carolina among sites for Sears

Sears Holdings Corp. said Monday it might leave a Chicago suburb with its 6,200 jobs, and media reports put Georgia in the mix as a possible relocation site.

The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times named New Jersey, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas as states being considered by the 125-year-old retailer and mail order operation.

While some observers are skeptical Sears, which has been in Illinois since 1887, will leave its home state, others note the company moved from downtown Chicago to a suburb, and should be looking for the best deal.

Organic food producer plans plant in state

GREENVILLE, S.C. --- A California-based organic frozen food producer is coming to Greenville with a new plant and 700 jobs.

Officials with the natural and organic foods brand Amy's Kitchen said Wednesday they will renovate a former Sara Lee plant and begin operation by Jan. 1. The firm expects to make a $63 million investment in the region over six years.

AIG, Treasury to offer 300 million shares

NEW YORK --- American International Group Inc., the insurance firm that was bailed out by U.S. taxpayers, said Wednesday that it and the U.S. Treasury will sell a total of 300 million AIG common shares in the market.

AIG said it will issue and sell 100 million shares, while the Treasury will sell 200 million shares.

AIG will not receive any proceeds from the Treasury's sale.

However, AIG said it will use $550 million of the proceeds from its own stock sale to fund part of a disclosed litigation settlement, and use the rest for general corporate purposes.

The U.S. government now owns slightly more than 92 percent of AIG, after bailing out the insurer during the recent financial crisis. AIG shares have fallen more than 38 percent this year.

Visa's digital wallet available this fall

LOS ANGELES --- Visa said Wednesday it would roll out a digital-wallet service this fall that can be used to buy things online or with a smartphone.

The San Francisco company, which is the world's largest processor of credit and debit card payments, said its digital wallet will be launched in the U.S. and Canada, with the cooperation of major card issuers, banks, credit unions and retailers.

The digital wallet will store Visa and non-Visa accounts and support near-field-communication payments with smartphones compatible with Visa's payWave scanners. PayWave allows users to wave a keytag or computer chip-equipped credit card over a scanner to pay for goods or services.

Visa said its digital wallet would be able to handle payments online, using a phone, on social networks and person-to-person payments, too.

Shoppers' complaints increase 39 percent

ATLANTA --- Georgians got pickier during the recession and remain even more demanding in the recovery.

The number of shoppers' formal complaints continued to rise even as the economy rebounded, according to figures from the Governor's Office of Consumer Protection.

The number of complaints rose 39 percent in 2010 compared to the previous 12 months while the economy only grew by 3.3 percent. The 2010 complaint figure represents a 14 percent increase over the number lodged with the office five years earlier when the economy was booming, according to numbers analyzed by Morris News Service.

The biggest areas of friction are related to automobiles, home improvement and finances.

In other news

GASOLINE FUTURES tumbled almost 8 percent Wednesday after a government report gave the strongest evidence yet that higher pump prices are forcing Americans to drive less. Oil fell back below the $100 mark.