Sprint ties Verizon at top of customer satisfaction survey

Sprint Nextel Corp., once dead-last in customer satisfaction among the Big 4 national wireless carriers, now has the happiest subscribers, along with long-time leader Verizon Wireless, according to a survey released Tuesday.

The American Customer Satisfaction Index also shows tentative declines in customer satisfaction at the other two big carriers, AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile USA. That comes as AT&T has agreed to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion in a deal that could close next year.

Sprint and Verizon Wireless both rated a 72 for customer satisfaction in the ACSI survey, which polled 8,000 households in the first quarter. For Sprint, that’s a big jump from a score of 56 three years ago, while Verizon’s score has been steady.

Sprint’s score includes subsidiaries Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile, which sell plans without two-year contracts.

ACSI gave AT&T a score of 66, down from 69 last year. It’s the company’s worst score since 2006, the year before it started carrying the iPhone. It’s the lowest-ranked of the four national carriers after being surpassed by Sprint last year.

T-Mobile’s score was 70, down from 73 points last year.

Company abandons project to build Alaska gas pipeline

One of two companies planning to build major natural gas pipelines in Alaska has dropped its bid, saying Tuesday that it didn’t secure the support necessary to justify going forward with its project.

The Denali-The Alaska Gas Pipeline announcement raised questions about the prospects for building a long-hoped-for line in Alaska.

Denali cited changes in the market — lower gas prices, the rise of North American shale — as making it tough to get the commitments it needed to move forward.

The Denali venture had been competing with a plan to build a line by TransCanada Corp., which says it is continuing efforts to move its project forward. TransCanada has progressed with state financial support, something Denali never received.

Investors betting on death see no reward for decades

Goldman Sachs, Deutsche Bank and JPMorgan Chase, which bundled and sold billions of dollars of mortgage loans, now want to help investors bet on people’s deaths.

Pension funds sitting on more than $23 trillion worth of assets are buying insurance against the risk their members live longer than expected. Banks are looking to earn fees from packaging that risk into bonds and other securities to sell to investors. The hard part: Finding buyers willing to take the other side of bets that may take 20 years or more to play out.

“Banks are increasingly looking to offer derivative solutions,” said Nardeep Sangha, 43, chief executive officer of Abbey Life Assurance Co., a London-based Deutsche Bank unit that helps pension funds manage the risk of retirees living longer than expected. “Making the long maturity of the risks palatable for investors, including sovereign wealth funds, private-equity firms and specialist funds, is the challenge.”

Overuse of chemical turns melons into ‘land mines’

Watermelons have been bursting by the score in eastern China after farmers gave them overdoses of growth chemicals during wet weather, creating what state media called fields of “land mines.”

About 20 farmers around Danyang city in Jiangsu province were affected, losing up to 115 acres of melons, China Central Television said in an investigative report.

Prices over the past year prompted many farmers to jump into the watermelon market. All of those with exploding melons apparently were first-time users of the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron, though it has been widely available for some time, CCTV said.

Chinese regulations don’t forbid the drug, and it is allowed in the U.S. on kiwi fruit and grapes. But the report underscores how farmers in China are abusing both legal and illegal chemicals, with many farms misusing pesticides and fertilizers.