Originally created 05/04/01

Business briefs



Economic gloom hampers Wall Street

NEW YORK - Disappointing economic and earnings news, proof that companies still face challenges in the coming months, sent stocks sharply lower Thursday. The market was also wary about the government's employment report due out today.

"There are renewed fears about weakness in the economy. We believe the economy is bottoming, but we are not there yet," said Alan Skrainka, chief market strategist at Edward Jones of St. Louis.

But Wall Street's resurgent optimism, along with the prospect of even lower interest rates, helped blue chips curb their losses just before the close. The Dow Jones industrial average closed down 80.03 at 10,796.65 after being off more than 148 points earlier in the session.

The Nasdaq composite index fell 74.40 to 2,146.20 to end its four-day winning streak. However, the loss accounted for less than half the 185.72 that the tech-dominated index had picked up since last Friday.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index slipped 18.85 to finish Thursday at 1,248.58.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers slightly more than 3-to-2 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 1.11 billion shares, below Wednesday's 1.34 billion.

Rising mortgage rates stay low

WASHINGTON - Mortgage rates edged up this week, but rates for 30-year and 15-year mortgages were still more than 1 percentage point lower than they were last year.

The average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages rose to 7.14 percent, up from 7.12 percent last week, according to a nationwide survey released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the mortgage company.

Fifteen-year mortgages, a popular option for refinancing, ticked up to 6.66 percent this week, up from 6.63 percent the previous week.

On one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, lenders were asking an average initial rate of 6 percent, compared with 5.97 percent the week before.

These rates do not include add-on fees known as points, which averaged around 1 percent of the loan amount for all three types of mortgages.

Housewares firm announces layoffs

FREEPORT, Ill. - Hurt by the weakened global economy and resulting retail slowdown, housewares and consumer products maker Newell Rubbermaid Inc. announced plans Thursday to cut 3,000 jobs, or about 6 percent of its work force.

The disclosure of job cuts came as the company reported a 50 percent drop in first-quarter earnings and warned that second-quarter and full-year earnings will fall short of expectations, sending its stock down sharply.

Newell Rubbermaid shares fell $1.49 to close at $25.85 on the New York Stock Exchange and are worth barely half what they were two years ago.

The job cuts will be done over three years and are part of a streamlining initiative, under which Newell Rubbermaid will consolidate some manufacturing plants. The plan is expected to save more than $100 million annually, the company said.

Laptop batteries pose fire hazard

DALLAS - Dell Computer Corp. is recalling about 284,000 batteries used in its notebook computers because they can overheat and catch fire.

Dell and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday the company had heard one report of a battery that overcharged and caught fire, resulting in minor property damage.

The recall covers batteries used in Inspiron 5000 and 5000e notebooks shipped to consumers from Jan. 7, 2000, to March 21 of this year. Dell and its service providers also sold the batteries separately during the same time for $100 to $130.