Originally created 12/04/01

Business briefs



NEW YORK - A mix of economic data Monday left stock investors puzzling over how long the economy will take to recover and prompted many to cash in recent profits.

The selling was minor compared with how strongly stocks have rallied for two months as Wall Street has grown more confident of an economic turnaround in 2002. However, analysts said the gains are still vulnerable amid negative or even varied economic news that indicates the recovery might be pushed deeper into next year.

"Investors are certainly going to be looking at every economic number, because the big question is: When will the economy and earnings recover? That is the whole issue," said Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany Corp.

A mix of data Monday gave investors little clue to the economy's direction and therefore provided an impetus to sell.

Declining issues outnumbered advancers about 3 to 2 on the New York Stock Exchange. Volume was 1.19 billion shares, down from the 1.35 billion traded Friday.

Ford will pare perks, lay off 630 workers

DETROIT - Ford Motor Co. said Monday that it will reduce retirement and health benefits for 45,000 white-collar workers and lay off 630 people to save about $300 million a year.

"These plant and benefit actions, while painful for our employees, are necessary as we confront a serious situation," Chairman and Chief Executive Officer William Clay Ford Jr. said in a news release.

The cuts probably won't be the last as the No. 2 U.S. automaker seeks to return to financial health, he said.

Most carmakers show higher November sales

DETROIT - General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. on Monday reported higher domestic vehicle sales in November, compared with November 2000, but the Chrysler arm of DaimlerChrysler AG reported a decline.

Reported U.S. vehicle sales were: GM up 13.2 percent, Ford up 5 percent and Chrysler down 5.8 percent.

Elsewhere, Mitsubishi Motors Corp. reported its best U.S. sales month in history, with total vehicle sales rising 27 percent above those during November 2000. Honda Motor Co. was up 11.5 percent from November 2000, and Volkswagen AG reported its best November sales in 28 years with a 3.2 percent increase over a year ago.

Tyco purchases maker of diapers, baby pants

NORCROSS, Ga. - Tyco International said Monday its health care division is buying a Norcross manufacturer of disposable diapers and training pants for $565 million.

Paragon Trade Brands Inc. is the largest generic maker of disposable diapers in the United States and Canada. They are sold as generic brands at supermarkets, pharmacies and major retailers such as Wal-Mart.

The cash deal, which also includes the assumption of $85 million in Paragon debt, values Paragon at $43.50 a share and is subject to regulatory approvals.

Union pickets plants of jet-engine maker

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. - Pratt & Whitney machinists began picketing the company's four Connecticut plants Monday. The jet-engine maker moved salaried employees to the manufacturing floor to keep production lines running.

The 5,100-member union walked off the job just after midnight Monday after rejecting a new contract proposal that machinists said doesn't provide sufficient job security. Sixty-nine percent of the 4,000 District 91 union members who voted Sunday afternoon approved the move.

Pratt provides engines and spare parts to airlines and the military. To keep up with the deliveries, the company has begun assigning between 1,500 and 2,000 salaried employees to the empty positions.

Digimarc wins rights to buy Polaroid unit

BOSTON - Digimarc, an Oregon company whose watermark technology imbeds digital data into pictures, won the rights Monday to buy bankrupt Polaroid Corp.'s identification card business for $56.5 million in cash.

The purchase, approved by a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge Monday after a weekend auction, was a defeat for a group of the division's managers who wanted to buy Polaroid's ID Systems, which operates in Bedford, Mass., and Fort Wayne, Ind.

The division, with 300 employees and an estimated $50 million to $60 million in annual revenues, makes driver's licenses for 36 states. It was considered one of the most valuable assets of Cambridge-based Polaroid, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Oct. 12.

Beleaguered Enron lays off 4,000 workers

HOUSTON - Enron Corp. laid off about 4,000 employees Monday, a day after the former energy trading giant filed for bankruptcy protection.

Most of the job cuts were at the company's Houston headquarters, where the remaining 3,500 or so workers were sent home to await further instructions.

GOLDEN PARACHUTES

As many as 71.1 percent of large corporations last year offered their senior execs "golden parachutes" -- severance packages that typically include an annual salary and bonuses times three -- if they lost their jobs because of changes such as mergers or downsizings, shows a new study of 350 companies by human resource consulting firm William M. Mercer Inc.

That's up from 69.7 percent in 1999 and 62.9 percent in 1996.

Kelly Crean, a senior consultant with Mercer, said in an uncertain, "merger economy," employers realize they need to offer job security and income protection if they want to retain executives.

COMING UP SHORT:

The news seemed bad enough when the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that total employment dropped by 619,000 in October, but there was more bad news in a number that rarely makes the evening news: The number of people unwillingly working part-time increased by 274,000.

Since August, the bureau said, the number of people who want to work full time but can find only part-time work or whose hours have been cut back has increased by 1.1 million.

Silver lining

Despite months of layoffs, there'll be more jobs than workers come 2008. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this gap will grow to 6 million during the next seven years and will become wider before the shortage peaks during 2015 to 2025. These are the years when as many as 60 million workers born between 1946 and 1964 reach retirement age.

Occupations with large numbers of older workers such as construction inspectors and secondary-school teachers are expected to suffer. So are fields creating jobs at a fast pace, such as computer engineering.

For workers, the imbalance means opportunities in engineering, education and health care where the shortages will be the most acute. For companies, the shortages could mean sending more jobs overseas and turning to immigrants to do the work.