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Business today

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


WEEKLY JOBLESS CLAIMS CLIMB: The number of U.S. workers filing new claims for state jobless benefits rose by 4,000 to 348,000 in the week ended Feb. 17, the Labor Department said. The four-week average of claims, a less volatile number, rose to 350,750 from 341,500. That was close to the 21/2-year high of 360,000 reached in the first week of January. The latest numbers numbers "are consistent with some deterioration in the labor market, but they are certainly not disastrous," said Scott Brown, senior economist at Raymond James & Associates in St. Petersburg.

FORD TO TRIM STAFF: Ford Motor Co. says it plans to reduce the size of its U.S. work force slightly through attrition, slower hiring and a limited number of early retirement incentives. A spokesman said Ford does not have a specific number of job cuts in mind, contradicting a report by the Detroit News that said Ford planned to cut 2 percent to 4 percent of its U.S. work force of 125,000.

GM TO CUT PRODUCTION: General Motors Corp. said it will periodically idle 14 North American assembly plants through June, affecting thousands of workers as the automaker continues paring production in light of slackened U.S. sales. The temporary closings will affect nearly half of the automaker's 29 North American assembly plants. A spokesman declined to identify the targeted plants.

LAWYERS IN BENLATE CASE SUED: Growers who won a $59-million settlement against DuPont for its troubled fungicide Benlate are suing their own lawyers, claiming they made a secret deal with the company to prevent future lawsuits. The malpractice suit alleges that six lawyers with the disbanded Miami firm of Friedman, Rodriguez, Ferraro, and St. Louis took $6.4-million from DuPont as assurance they would never again file a Benlate case. Roland St. Louis, a name partner in the firm, said the deal was a retainer agreement added to the $13-million the firm would collect for the 1996 settlement. The money would pay for the firm's lost future business because it had lined up other potential clients to sue DuPont.

LUCENT LANDS CREDIT: Lucent Technologies Inc. convinced banks to provide $4.5-billion in new credit lines, avoiding a possible cut to junk status and allowing the company to press on with a restructuring. Lucent's chief financial officer Deborah Hopkins oversaw last minute talks with banks to ensure the company got $2-billion to renew an existing one-year line that would have expired at midnight. The remaining $2.5-billion will be assumed by Lucent's microelectronics unit, Agere Systems Inc., after it goes public. With the new lines, Lucent skirts possible ratings cuts by Moody's Investors Service and Standard & Poor's, which both lowered the company's debt to one notch above junk status last week. Lucent's shares rose 93 cents to $12.53.

SIEMENS TO BUY MODEM COMPANY: Siemens AG of Germany will pay about $1.5-billion to acquire Efficient Networks Inc., a Dallas-based maker of high-speed modems, to boost its U.S. telephone access equipment business. Siemens said the acquisition will improve its range of digital subscriber line equipment. Such technology allows high volumes of data, voice and video to be sent at high speed along normal telephone cables.

SUN LOWERS FORECAST: Sun Microsystems Inc. said fiscal third-quarter profit will miss analyst forecasts as companies spend less on its equipment and economic growth slows. Earnings will be 7 cents to 9 cents a share, the company said, compared with analyst estimates of 15 cents. Michael Lehman, Sun's chief financial officer, said that Sun would buy back $1.5-billion worth of stock, asserting that the company was undervalued at current prices. Sun's shares rose $1.19 to $20.81 before the report but fell $1.94 in after-hours trading.

NEW LICENSE DEAL FOR BARNEY: Fisher-Price has struck a deal with HIT Entertainment for the exclusive rights to develop a new line of products featuring Barney, the purple dinosaur. The Mattel subsidiary is planning a line of plush Barney crib and infant toys, preschool toys, electronic learning aids, games and puzzles. In 1997, under the Hasbro label, Barney was the 18th best-selling character license in the world. Last year, the license was No. 43. "Barney has, in some respects, been neglected," said Neil Friedman, president of Fisher-Price Brands.

FLORIDA DRAWS MORE VISITORS: Visit Florida, a public-private consortium that markets Florida tourism, said out-of-state visits increased 7.1 percent in the last quarter of 2000. An estimated 16.6-million people came to Florida from October through December, compared with 15.5-million in the same quarter in 1999.

POLAROID PLANS CUTBACKS: Polaroid Corp. said it would lay off 950 workers, or about 11 percent of its global work force, to save $60-million annually. Polaroid said it expects to record a pretax charge of $90-million in the first quarter of 2001 related to its restructuring plan. This month, the company suspended a 15-cents-per-share dividend on its common stock for the first quarter. Last quarter, Polaroid reported a loss of $5.9-million and warned that a slowing economy would continue to hurt it at least through the first half of the year. Polaroid's shares fell 9 cents to $5.62.

TREASURY BUYBACK: The U.S. Treasury purchased $1.75-billion in government bonds from investors at an average yield of 5.605 percent. The government is buying the securities to reduce overall federal debt. Last year, it bought back $30-billion in debt.

Earnings

Superior Uniform Group Inc.

The Seminole company reported its net income fell nearly 18 percent for the quarter ended Dec. 31. Superior makes uniforms and career apparel.

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