WASHINGTON - The government's hot and cold economic reports are driving financial markets crazy by first fanning, and then easing, fears of inflation.
The latest - a drop last month in prices paid to farms, factories and other producers - cheered markets Friday, just a day after a plunge of 160 points in blue-chip stocks.
Friday's partial recovery, sending the Dow Jones average of industrial stocks up 56.57 points to close at 6,935.46, came after the Labor Department said its Producer Price Index fell 0.4 percent in February.
The index measures the prices of finished goods before they reach retailers. February marked the sharpest decline since October 1994 and built on a 0.3 percent drop in January.
At the same time, production at the nation's factories, mines and utilities rose 0.5 percent in February, the best in three months, the Federal Reserve said. Industries operated at 83.3 percent of capacity, indicating plenty of room for production increases without inflationary bottlenecks.
A third report, from the Commerce Department, showed business inventories remained lean in January, a good sign for future production. Inventories rose just 0.1 percent, reversing a 0.1 percent decline in December.
Army association to hold meeting
The Association for the United States Army's southeast regional annual meeting will be held 6:30 p.m. March 22 at the Sheraton Augusta Hotel, the Metro Augusta Chamber of Commerce announced.
The Greater Augusta-Fort Gordon chapter of the association will sponsor the meeting, which includes representatives of six states, Puerto Rico and Panama. The Cocklin Award will be presented to U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., for his significant contributions to the Army, the announcement said.
Heinz cuts 25 factories, 2,500 jobs
PITTSBURGH - H.J. Heinz Co. is putting its Weight Watchers business on a diet as part of a reorganization that will close or sell 25 factories and eliminate 2,500 jobs.
The goal is to raise profits by focusing on such core businesses as ketchup, tuna and pet foods.
Pickles, a Heinz staple, are not off the hook. The company said some businesses still are being reviewed and Heinz' chief executive Anthony J.F. O'Reilly is sour on the potential for growth in the pickles business.
The 2,500 jobs to be eliminated do not include those at facilities the company is selling, including a part of the Ore-Ida frozen-foods business that Heinz said Friday is being purchased for $500 million by McCain Foods Ltd.
The job cuts account for almost 6 percent of the company's work force of 43,000. The plants affected include 10 in North America, seven in Asia and the Pacific and four diet-food factories in Europe.
Heinz executives wouldn't tell which plants will close, wishing to inform employees first.
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