Originally created 06/08/01

Business briefs

NEW YORK - A brighter earnings outlook from the semiconductor sector gave Wall Street some long-awaited good news Thursday, helping the market advance despite lingering doubts about the economy.

Investors took their time sorting out the pros and cons, keeping the major indexes bobbing most of the day. It wasn't until late afternoon that the market was able to put together a unified move forward.

The Dow Jones industrial average ended up 20.50 at 11,090.74, the Nasdaq rose 46.27 to 2,264.00 and the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 6.93 to 1,276.96.

The high point came after National Semiconductor reported it broke even in its fiscal fourth quarter. Analysts had expected the company to lose 3 cents a share. It rose $3.07 to $31.04.

Advancing issues narrowly outnumbered decliners on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume was 1.08 billion shares, compared with 1.06 billion on Wednesday.

Mortgage rates inch downward

WASHINGTON - Mortgage rates edged down this week, reflecting expectations that the Federal Reserve at the end of the month will cut short-term interest rates for a sixth time this year to revive a sluggish economy.

The average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages slipped to 7.20 percent, down from 7.24 percent last week, reports a nationwide survey released Thursday by mortgage company Freddie Mac.

Fifteen-year mortgages fell to 6.74 percent from 6.78 percent last week.

Executive defends bonus requests

SAN FRANCISCO - The president of California's biggest utility defended a request for $17.5 million in employee bonuses Thursday, saying the money will keep top executives from leaving the bankrupt company.

"The restoration of the company's financial health requires that we have a rank-and-file team," said Gordon Smith, president of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. "Retention is a key factor."

PG&E filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection April 6 after running up billions of dollars in losses, largely because of California's botched experiment with deregulation. The crisis has led to rolling blackouts and sharply higher electricity rates.

The bonus program, which requires court approval, is designed to encourage about 226 top managers to remain through the next two years, the utility said.

Pound still takes a pounding

LONDON - The British pound hit a fresh 15-year low against the dollar Thursday amid fears a Labor election landslide would lead to an early push to join the euro.

As final pre-election polls gave Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor party a 15-point lead over the Conservatives, the pound dropped another cent to $1.3798, after falling 2 cents Wednesday, both its lowest levels against the dollar since 1986.


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