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World Briefs II

Legislation to Propose Decimal-Based Stock Price Quotes

The Washington Post

In an economy where prices are routinely given in pennies, nickels, dimes and dollars, the stock market's practice of quoting stock prices in eighths of a dollar has seemed a puzzling oddity to many investors.

Investors must constantly convert 1/8, 3/8, 5/8 and 7/8 into decimals to figure out how much change they paid or received per share when they traded.

Two congressmen planned to introduce legislation Thursday to change this archaic stock quote convention that they and others say enriches Wall Street at the expense of customers. The bill from Rep. Michael G. Oxley, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Commerce Committee's subcommittee on commerce, trade and hazardous materials, and Rep. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., will order the Securities and Exchange Commission to "require quotations in dollars and cents" for stock trades.

The intent of the bill is to narrow the prices that dealers or specialists quote by using the decimal system. Instead of being listed at a price of $32.12 1/2, for example, a stock would be quoted at $32.10, producing a saving on trading costs for investors of 2 1/2 cents per share. Academic studies have suggested the potential annual savings to investors in U.S. stocks could be from $4 billion to $9 billion.

A spokeswoman for Oxley said he thought that quoting stocks in eighths "should go the way of the slide rule" and that a "modern decimal system is in the best interest of small investors and our national competitiveness." Most overseas markets use the decimal system.

The issue of switching to the decimal system has some support at the SEC and on Capitol Hill, but it has never reached the legislative stage. While the bill Oxley and Markey will offer could stimulate congressional debate over the issue, it is far from certain that it will become law.

Lobbyists for Wall Street are expected to resist the effort, which would force them to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on new trading systems and cut into their trading profits.

Nirmala Named as Next Successor To Ailing Mother Teresa

The Washington Post

After two months of cloistered deliberations, the Missionaries of Charity Thursday selected a Hindu convert to succeed the ailing and aging Mother Teresa as leader of the Catholic order she founded in Calcutta's slums nearly a half-century ago.

In their near-unanimous choice of Sister Nirmala, 62, who had directed the order's spiritual wing, 130 senior nuns appear to have sought a combination of compassion and administrative skill to sustain a far-flung operation with 4,500 nuns and religious brothers at nearly 600 homes in more than 100 countries.

The resolution of the succession issue removed the uncertainty that had surrounded the order because of the failing health of Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner known to admirers as "the Saint of the Gutters" for her dedication to aiding the world's poor.

Archbishop Henry D'Souza of Calcutta announced their choice in a brief statement that also said "Mother Teresa was present for the election and blessed Sister Nirmala." Nuns were heard rejoicing inside the order's headquarters, and garlands of flowers were delivered to the door down a narrow, swept lane.

Close associates frequently use the word "kind" to describe the new superior general, whose Hindi name means "clean," suggesting a purity of mind and spirit. "She's very spiritual and very kind," said Edward Le Joly, a retired priest who has advised Mother Teresa for decades.

Naresh Kumar, a Calcutta businessman who has supported the order's work, said that like its founder, Sister Nirmala "looks very small and frail but has tremendous strength."

Sister Nirmala had not been considered the most likely successor because she was not among Mother Teresa's four top assistants. She had directed the order's spiritual wing since it was created in 1979, overseeing a dozen homes in India, Europe, Latin America and the United States where the order's members seek spiritual rejuvenation. For a time, she ran the order's spiritual retreat in New York City.

As long as she lives, Mother Teresa is likely to remain the order's guiding force, as both a spiritual model and a source of advice. Her presence during the transition has served to reassure outside supporters that the nature of the order's charitable work will remain unchanged.

First-Grader's Kiss Not Sexual Harassment, Education Dept. Says

The Washington Post

The Education Department made it official Thursday: The famous kiss that Johnathan Prevette, a first-grader in North Carolina, planted on the cheek of an unsuspecting classmate last year was in fact just a kiss - not grounds for sexual harassment.

In new guidelines released for schools nationwide, the department urged educators to consider the age and maturity of students and to use "judgment and common sense" when deciding whether an incident among students is harassment, or merely inappropriate.

The guidelines do not specifically mention Prevette's case, which drew worldwide attention after he was suspended from school for a day and banned from an ice-cream party, but generally cites it as the kind of incident that is not harassment.

"In order to give rise to a complaint sexual harassment must be sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive that it adversely affects a student's education or creates a hostile or abusive educational environment," the guidelines state. "For a one-time incident to rise to the level of harassment, it must be severe."

School officials in Lexington, N.C., the small town where Prevette attends school, swiftly retreated from punishing him, but his kiss raised new debate among educators across the nation about setting the bounds of appropriate behavior for students.

The department's guidelines, published Thursday in the Federal Register, present general scenarios for schools to consider.