IN BRIEF


Boyd Gaming opens Indiana hotel expansion

Boyd Gaming Corp. opened $130 million hotel expansion Thursday at its Blue Chip riverboat casino in Michigan City, Ind., about 60 miles east of Chicago.

The 302-room expansion gives Blue Chip 486 hotel rooms. The opening completes a $300 million renovation of the riverboat casino site, which added restaurants, entertainment venues and meeting facilities.

INDIANAPOLIS

UnitedHealth report hints at momentum

UnitedHealth Group Inc. stock soared Thursday after the health insurer released a fourth-quarter report that showed signs it might be building momentum in a recession-battered industry.

The Minnetonka, Minn.-based insurer, which purchased Las Vegas-based Sierra Health Services in 2008, said profit fell 40 percent when compared with the same quarter last year. But its adjusted earnings, which don't count a lawsuit settlement, matched analyst expectations.

But UnitedHealth's fourth-quarter report offered several positive signs.

Revenue rose 9 percent to $20.45 billion, surpassing Wall Street expectations.

The insurer reported overall net income of $726 million, or 60 cents per share, compared with $1.22 billion, or 92 cents per share, from the same quarter last year. Its adjusted profit of 78 cents per share met the expectations of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.

DALLAS

Fuel-hedging fades; Southwest reports loss

Southwest Airlines Co. said Thursday that it lost money in the fourth quarter of last year as its fuel-hedging strategy, brilliant when oil prices were rising, lost punch with tumbling energy prices.

Southwest lost $56 million, or 8 cents per share, in the fourth quarter, reversing a gain of $111 million, or 15 cents per share, a year earlier.

The loss included net charges of $117 million related to the falling value of its fuel-hedging positions. Southwest has closed out most of its hedging deals.

Without the charges, however, Southwest would have earned $61 million, or 8 cents per share, which beat expectations of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, who forecast a gain of 5 cents per share excluding special items.

ATLANTIC CITY

Foreclosure petition filed against casino

Lender Column Financial filed a foreclosure petition Thursday against Resorts Atlantic City, saying the casino company hasn't made a loan payment since October and is in default.

Column Financial, a commercial mortgage subsidiary of Credit Suisse, asked the state's Casino Control Commission to let it foreclose on the casino.

Failing that, Column Financial wants the Colony Capital LLC affiliates that own the casino to hand over title to the property. Column would keep the casino open while searching for someone to run it.

NEW YORK

Executive pushed out at Bank of America

John Thain resigned under pressure from Bank of America on Thursday after reports he rushed out billions of dollars in bonuses to Merrill Lynch employees in his final days as CEO there, while the brokerage was suffering huge losses and just before Bank of America took it over.

The bonuses were paid before Bank of America's acquisition of Merrill became final on Jan. 1, and while Bank of America was privately telling the government that Merrill was losing so much money that the deal might fall through unless it could get more federal bailout money.

Bank of America later received an additional $20 billion from the government, in part to offset the unexpected Merrill losses. The brokerage lost $15 billion in the fourth quarter and more than $27 billion for the year.

The bonuses, typically paid in January, were instead given in December and totaled $3 billion to $4 billion, the Financial Times reported Thursday. Bank of America would not confirm the size of the bonuses.

Record full-year loss forecast by Sony Corp.

Sony Corp. forecast a record 260 billion yen ($2.9 billion) full-year operating loss, almost four times analysts' estimates, as the global recession cuts sales of televisions and cameras.

Weaker demand, the stronger yen and reorganization expenses led to the earnings shortfall, Tokyo-based Sony, which had forecast profit of 200 billion yen, said today. The company was projected to post an operating loss, or sales minus the cost of goods sold and administrative expenses, of 70 billion yen, based on the median estimate analysts polled by Bloomberg.

The outlook increases pressure on Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer, 66, who is reorganizing the main electronics business after failing to meet his pledge to raise Sony's operating profit margin to 5 percent.

COLUMBUS, Ohio

Oil prices increase; inventories on the rise

Oil prices rose in volatile trading Thursday after the government reported an enormous buildup of oil and gasoline at U.S. storage facilities, another manifestation of how badly the deteriorating economy has cut into energy demand.

With the latest report from the Department of Energy, crude inventory levels have risen by 14 million barrels since the week ended Jan. 2, pushing operational capacity at key storage sites to the limit.

Prices tumbled 7 percent before a late day rally. Light, sweet crude for March delivery settled up 12 cents at $43.67 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

NEW YORK

Treasury prices fall on news of notes auction

Government bonds finished mixed Thursday after the Treasury Department said it would auction a record $40 billion in two-year notes and $30 billion in five-year notes next week.

The benchmark 10-year note fell 0.5 points to 109.84 and its yield rose to 2.59 percent from 2.52 percent.

The 30-year bond fell 1.91 to 123.19 and its yield rose to 3.26 percent from 3.15 percent.