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Closing Bell: VF Corp.


Nissan Motor (NSANY) President Carlos Ghosn is the first to admit he's "very demanding on the people around me." No kidding. Despite booming sales in the key North American market, Ghosn announced on Mar. 23 that he will take direct control of the region's operations from Executive Vice-President Norio Matsumura, who will focus on Japan.

The timing may seem odd. After all, sales rose 35.4% during the first two months of 2004, thanks to the briskly performing Titan pickup truck, Altima sedan, and Infiniti luxury series. Still, Ghosn wants to see even more growth in North America, where Nissan ranks sixth, behind Honda (HMC) (No. 5) and Toyota (TM) (No. 4). The move is viewed as a prelude to the possible reintroduction of Renault into the U.S. after an absence of 17 years. Next year, Ghosn will become CEO of the French auto maker, which owns 44% of Nissan. But Nissan workers won't be able to kick back. Ghosn will retain his CEO title at Nissan -- and no doubt keep pushing the carmaker to hit ever-higher targets. It doesn't appear that Coca-Cola (KO) and water mix well with European consumers. Just days after recalling Dasani in Britain, Coke officials said on Mar. 24 that they wouldn't relaunch the purified water product anytime soon. The Atlanta beverage giant also announced it would delay planned launches of Dasani in France and Germany. In the U.S., Dasani is No. 2 among all bottled waters, spring and purified. Coke recalled Dasani in Britain after discovering bottles there that contained high levels of bromate, a chemical that can increase the risks of cancer with enough long-term exposure. The recall comes after Dasani had been mocked in the British press as nothing more than overpriced tap water. Given the explosive growth of the bottled water segment, analysts predict that Coke ultimately will reenter the European market -- but with a springwater marketed under a different name. After leaving American Airlines (AMR) last spring under a cloud of controversy, former CEO Donald Carty is preparing to become chairman and a major investor in bankrupt Hawaiian Airlines. Carty, 57, intends to back a plan led by parent company Hawaiian Holdings (HA) and its chairman, John Adams. Carty says he was attracted by the Hawaiian management's restructuring and positive financial results. He insists he will not be competing with American, which shares a frequent-flier plan with Hawaiian. The music industry is stepping up its fight against illegal downloaders who use college campus networks. The Recording Industry Association of America filed 532 more lawsuits, including 89 against downloaders who pirated music using sites run by such schools as Stanford, Georgetown, New York University, and the University of California at Berkeley. The schools themselves are not named, but RIAA says it expects to get subpoenas requiring them to turn over the individuals' names. Its proposed $2.4 billion acquisition of high-tech defense contractor Titan (TTN) is turning into a major headache for Lockheed Martin (LMT). The nation's largest defense contractor hoped to pick up Titan's $1.8 billion in sales and more than 8,000 employees with security clearance. But the two companies have disclosed evidence of foreign bribery at a Titan unit to the Securities & Exchange Commission and the Justice Dept., the latter of which is investigating possible criminal charges. San Diego-based Titan has reserved $3 million to cover any payouts and delayed a shareholder vote on the merger until Apr. 12. Titan declined to comment other than to say it was cooperating with federal authorities. Lockheed said any notion of scuttling the deal was pure speculation. -- Goldman Sachs (GS) reported record quarterly net earnings of $1.29 billion.

-- The FTC has charged the QVC TV shopping channel with making false claims.

-- Cooper Tire & Rubber (CTB) may sell its auto parts business to focus on the tire business. More folks are putting on their dungarees. On Mar. 24, VF (VFC) shares soared 6%, to $45.59, after the maker of Lee and Wrangler jeans said strong retail sales would push fiscal first-quarter earnings up 5%. Greensboro (N.C.)-based VF earlier had forecast a flat quarter.


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