Nation roundup for December 28


Family quiet on Bush’s condition

HOUSTON (AP) — Former President George H.W. Bush’s family sought privacy and provided no new details Thursday about his medical condition, a day after his spokesman said he’s in intensive care after being hospitalized for treatment of a bronchitis-related cough.

Bush spokesman Jim McGrath said he would put out another statement “when events warrant it,” citing the family’s right to and desire for privacy.

Bush, 88, entered Methodist Hospital in Houston on Nov. 23 for treatment of what McGrath has described as a “stubborn” cough.

He had spent about a week there earlier in November for treatment of the same condition.

It was hoped Bush would be well enough to spend Christmas at home. But while his cough improved, he developed a persistent fever. McGrath disclosed Wednesday that Bush, the oldest living former president, had been transferred to the intensive care unit Sunday and his condition was downgraded to “guarded.”

“He needs to rally,” McGrath said. “We continue to be cautiously optimistic.”

The former president has had visits from family and friends, including longtime friend James Baker II, his former Secretary of State. Bush’s daughter, Dorothy, arrived Wednesday from her home in Bethesda, Md.

Storm frustrates travelers in East

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — A muted version of a winter storm that has killed more than a dozen people across the eastern half of the country plodded across the Northeast on Thursday, trapping airliners in snow or mud and frustrating travelers still trying to return home after Christmas.

The storm, which was blamed for at least 16 deaths farther south and west, brought plenty of wind, rain and snow to the Northeast when it blew in Wednesday night. Lights generally remained on and cars mostly stayed on the road, unlike many harder-hit places including Arkansas, where 200,000 homes and businesses lost power.

By afternoon, the precipitation had stopped in parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, though snow continued to fall in upstate New York and northern New England. Parts of snow-savvy New Hampshire expected as much as 18 inches.

Dale Lamprey, who was clearing off the sidewalk outside the legislative office building in Concord, already had several hours of shoveling under his belt by 8:30 a.m. Thursday and didn’t expect it to get much better.

“I’m going to be shoveling all day, just trying to keep up with the snow,” he said. “Which is impossible.”

U.S. consumers losing confidence

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumers peering over the “fiscal cliff” don’t like what they see.

Fears of sharp tax increases and government spending cuts set to take effect next week sent consumer confidence tumbling in December to its lowest level since August.

The Conference Board said Thursday that its consumer confidence index fell for the second straight month in December to 65.1, down from 71.5 in November.

The survey showed consumers’ outlook for the next six months deteriorated to its lowest level since 2011 — a signal to Lynn Franco, the board’s director of economic indicators, that consumers are worried about the tax hikes and spending cuts that take effect Jan. 1 if the White House and Congress can’t reach a budget deal.

Earlier this week a report showed consumers held back shopping this holiday season, another indication of their concerns about possible tax increases.

SeaWorld files for $100 million IPO

NEW YORK (AP) — Looks like Shamu may soon be making a splash in the stock market.

The company famous for water shows featuring killer whales, dolphins and other animals at SeaWorld said Thursday that it is planning to go public. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. has filed for an initial public offering of stock aimed at raising $100 million.

That number is likely to change as the company’s bankers gauge interest from investors.

From its origins as a Busch Gardens animal park at Anheuser-Busch’s Tampa Budweiser brewery, the company has grown to span 11 theme parks housing 67,000 animals. Besides the three SeaWorld parks, the company owns two Busch Gardens parks and Sesame Place, an amusement park based on the children’s TV show Sesame Street.

The company warns that its business is dependent on customers’ willingness to spend on leisure and entertainment — which may be a tough proposition in a still-weak U.S. economy. Still, SeaWorld’s revenue has risen in the three years that it’s been owned by private equity firm Blackstone Group LP. The company has looked for ways to stay competitive in the current market, branching out this year with a Saturday morning television show, “Sea Rescue,” on the ABC network to attract young viewers.

Blackstone is expected to sell some of its stock in the IPO but keep a majority stake, SeaWorld said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. SeaWorld plans to use money raised in the IPO to pay down debt and make a payment to the New York-based firm.

Blackstone bought SeaWorld, formerly Busch Entertainment Corp., from beer brewer Anheuser-Busch InBev in 2009 for $2.3 billion. The Belgian company was shedding assets to help pay for its $52 billion takeover of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch in 2008.

Anheuser-Busch started Busch Gardens in Tampa in 1959. The beer company bought SeaWorld, whose park opened in San Diego in 1964, in 1989. SeaWorld is now based in the theme park mecca of Orlando, Fla., also home to Walt Disney Co.’s Walt Disney World resort and Universal Studios. More than half of the company’s revenue is generated in Florida.

SeaWorld said about 24 million people attended its 11 parks during the 12 months ended Sept. 30. The company did not disclose how that figure has grown or shrank in the past few years, but says it has a “stable attendance base.” In the first nine months of 2012, SeaWorld’s profit jumped 73 percent to $86.2 million from $50 million a year earlier, as revenue rose nearly 8 percent to $1.16 billion.

Some of the company’s competitors have had a difficult climb back from the recession. Amusement park operator Six Flags Entertainment Corp. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2009, emerging in mid-2010. It has been growing revenue since then, although it posted a loss in 2011.

SeaWorld, which plans to trade under the ticker “SEAS” on the Nasdaq, did not name a date for its IPO or detail how many shares will be sold, and at what price, in its filing with regulators. But SeaWorld did warn investors of the risks involved with having its animals interact with human visitors, noting that accidents could hurt its parks’ reputation and attendance. In 2010, a trainer at its SeaWorld Orlando park was killed by an orca, or killer, whale. Last month an 8-year-old Georgia girl said a dolphin at the same Orlando park bit her hand while she fed the animal as part of an attraction.

 

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