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Fannie May franchise deal

Carle Place florist and gift retailer has decided to aggressively expand its Fannie May chocolates division, signing a 62-store franchise deal across the Midwest and Florida. The stores will be operated by a newly formed independent franchising company, GB Chocolates Llc, which expects to open three Fannie May stores in Minnesota before Christmas. The franchise company agreed to take over operations of 17 existing Fannie May stores in Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Michigan and to open at least 45 new stores by 2014, 1-800-Flowers said Tuesday in a news release. The geographic franchise rights include several Midwestern states and specific cities in Florida and Ohio. Financial terms were not made public. "Fannie May is a beloved chocolate brand with a long history of unsurpassed product quality and one of our fastest growing gourmet gift brands," 1-800-Flowers chief executive Jim McCann said. The company bought Fannie May Confection Brands Inc. in 2006. -- Joseph Mallia


More postal rate hikes in Jan.

The cash-strapped U.S. Postal Service is raising rates for its more profitable express mail and priority mail shipping next year. The new prices take effect Jan. 22 and include a new flat rate of $39.95 for express-mail boxes, with separate increases for letters. Previously, prices were $13.25 or higher based on package weight and distance. The new hikes amount to about a 5 percent increase. They are in addition to a previously announced 1-cent hike in first-class mail to 45 cents. The independent Postal Regulatory Commission will review the proposed hikes before they take effect. -- AP

U.S. banks' 3Q earnings rise

Bank earnings rose this summer to their highest level in more than four years, while the number of troubled banks fell for the second straight quarter, federal regulators reported Tuesday. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said the banking industry earned $35.3 billion in the July-September quarter. That's up from $23.8 billion in the same period last year. More than 60 percent of banks reported improved earnings. Better earnings and fewer troubled banks suggest the industry is steadily improving. "Bank balance sheets are stronger in a number of ways, and the industry is generally profitable, but the recovery is by no means complete," said Martin Gruenberg, FDIC's acting chairman. The FDIC also said there were 844 banks on its confidential "problem" list in the quarter, or roughly 11.5 percent of all federally insured banks. That was down from 865 the April-June period, which was first quarter in five years to show a decline. Banks with assets exceeding $10 billion drove the bulk of the earnings growth. They made up 1.4 percent of all banks but accounted for about $29.8 billion of the industry's earnings in the third quarter. -- AP

Banks face new stress tests

The Federal Reserve announced Tuesday it would conduct a third round of stress tests to determine if major U.S. banks can withstand an economic downturn. The latest round of tests comes as many are concerned about U.S. banks' exposure to the European debt crisis, which could rattle global financial markets. The Fed performed the first stress tests in the spring of 2009. The country's 19 largest banks participated. The initial stress test reassured investors that America's biggest banks had the resources to get through the recession and the 2008 financial crisis. For the latest test the field has been expanded to 31 banks. The financial regulatory overhaul passed last year requires that banks with at least $50 billion in assets take part. Banks have until Jan. 9 to submit the information to the Fed. They must show they have enough capital reserves to withstand projected loan losses from an economic downturn. -- AP

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