Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Business Briefs

AGENCIES

■ Insurance
Berkshire profit falls in Q1

Berkshire Hathaway Inc, the insurance giant run by billionaire Warren Buffett, on Friday said its profit fell 12 percent in the first quarter, hurt by a hefty loss on investments. The company also said that the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sent a so-called Wells notice to a senior vice president of its General Reinsurance subsidiary on Monday, warning that the SEC staff may recommend bringing civil action against this individual for alleged violations of federal law. The alleged violations of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 are connected to a reinsurance transaction between General Re and American International Group Inc, which has acknowledged that its accounting for the transaction with General Re was improper. Berkshire, which said it and its subsidiaries are fully cooperating with ongoing investigations being conducted by the Department of Justice and other agencies, did not name the executive who received the SEC warning. Berkshire's results included losses of US$384 million from its investments in the latest quarter, compared with a gain of US$156 million the year before.

■ Health care

Virgin moves into insurance

After planes, trains and mobile phones, British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin Group announced on Friday its debut in the US health care market with a new insurance product aimed at the millions of Americans who are out of shape or too poor to afford coverage. The company unveiled an alliance with leading US health care provider Humana Inc to sell a Virgin-branded health insurance product that is linked to its efforts to get Americans fitter through a training incentive program. The insurance policy will be the first venture of a new US unit called "Virgin life care" and is scheduled to launch in Florida and Texas early next year, before rolling out across the US later, a Humana spokesman said.

■ Retail

Amazon embraces weddings

Amazon.com Inc, the world's largest Internet retailer, has opened a wedding registry and planning service on its Web site to compete with online wedding planners such as The Knot Inc. Amazon's registry will give gift buyers access to millions of products, Kerry Morris, an Amazon.com merchandising manager, said in a statement. Couples have so far registered for more than 70,000 different items, Morris said. The site also links to local vendors, including photographers, florists and caterers. Amazon.com chief executive officer Jeff Bezos has been adding categories such as sales of wine and musical instruments, to offer customers almost anything that can be purchased on the Internet. The company also offers a gift registry for babies and "wish lists," customer creations that can be shared with friends and relatives.

■ Food industry

Chinese red berries recalled

A California-based marketer and distributor of Asian foods is recalling Chinese red berry because the herb may contain undeclared sulfites, which can be deadly to people allergic to them. Walong Marketing Inc of Buena Park, California, said the recall covers 227g packages of the Asian Taste brand of Chinese red berry and 369g packages of the Sinbo brand. The products were distributed nationwide, mostly to Asian food markets. New York state food inspectors discovered the unlabeled sulfites, though no illnesses have been linked to the product, the company said.

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