Amazon.com ( AMZN) named Thomas J. Szkutak the company's new senior vice president and chief financial officer. Szkutak is currently the CFO at General Electric's ( GE) lighting division. Shares of Amazon were up 20 cents to $15.20 around midday. BellSouth ( BLS), the nation's third-largest local telephone company, lowered its guidance for 2002, citing a slowdown in its wireless business, the effect of restructuring charges and overall economic weakness. The Atlanta-based company said it expects full-year earnings to be in the range of $2.06 to $2.13 a share, a reduction of 7 cents from its previous guidance. Analysts were expecting the company to post a profit of $2.14 a share. In July, the company reduced its full-year earnings estimate to between $2.13 and $2.20 a share from $2.43 a share. Shares of BellSouth were losing 5% to $23.03. Merrill Lynch lowered its midterm investment ratings on several large semiconductor-equipment companies including Applied Materials ( AMAT), KLA-Tencor ( KLAC), Lam Research ( LRCX) and Novellus to neutral from buy, citing an "increasing likelihood of pushouts and order cancellations," amid weak demand for chip equipment. Novellus and Applied Materials were higher in recent trading, while Lam and KLA were losing ground. American Electric Power ( AEP) said it has received an informal inquiry from federal regulators regarding so-called round-trip energy trades, which are the simultaneous exchange of contracts that can artificially inflate trading volume. The request from the Securities and Exchange Commission is the latest in a series of government inquiries into the trading practices of energy companies. Shares of AEP were recently down 42 cents, or 1.2%, to $34.51 on the
New York Stock Exchange. Genelabs Technologies ( GNLB) said it received an approvable letter from the Food and Drug Administration regarding Prestara, a drug designed to treat lupus. No new drugs for treating the disease have been approved in the U.S. for more than 40 years. Final approval on Prestara is contingent on the positive results of another clinical trial. Recently, shares of Genelabs were up $1.45, or 105%, to $2.84. Siebel Systems ( SEBL) is offering cash or stock to employees whose options have at least a $40 strike price and are therefore worthless. In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Thursday, the maker of customer-relationship management software said the offer is designed to improve employee morale and better align its compensation programs with its shareholders' interests. The exchange is expected to result in a $27.5 million cash expense in the third quarter, which ends Sept. 30, and a $36.1 million noncash cost. Shares of Siebel were losing 2% to $8.64. Ball Corp. ( BLL), which supplies metal and plastic packaging for food and beverage companies, agreed to buy German can maker Schmalbach-Lubeca for roughly $885 million in cash, expanding its reach in Europe. Together, the two companies produce more than 45 billion beverage cans annually in North America and Europe. Pending regulatory approval, Ball expects to close the transaction in late 2002 or early 2003. Ball was gaining 8% to $49.93. AOL Latin America ( AOLA), the cash-burning subsidiary of AOL Time Warner ( AOL), received a delisting notice from Nasdaq because its market capitalization has fallen below $35 million. The company, which has focused its operations in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Puerto Rico, has struggled mightily of late, due in no small part to the worldwide advertising recession and Latin America's specific economic travails. AOL LatAm, which estimates the delisting appeals process will take 30 to 60 days, will continue to trade on the Nasdaq SmallCap Market at least until the process is resolved. Shares in AOL LatAm, which were first offered to the public in 2000 and peaked not long afterward at $9.94, gained 2 cents Friday morning to trade at 40 cents.