Around the World February 25, 2001

aroundworld.jpg STATE

Joblessness jumps

JUNEAU -- Unemployment in Alaska increased 1.7 percent to 7.8 percent in January, following a typical midwinter pattern, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported.

The number of unemployed Alaskans increased to nearly 25,000, said Rachel Baker, a labor economist.

January is typically the peak month for unemployment in Alaska as seasonal industries reach a midwinter low point. Jobless rates moved higher in most areas of the state except Kodiak, where tanner crab, pollock and cod openings shrank the island’s unemployment rate from 13.3 percent to 11.4 percent. Prince of Wales Island had the highest rate at 19.1 percent.

Retail trade, services, construction and government were the largest contributors to the loss of 7,100 jobs. Seafood processing employment provided the only employment boost in January, adding 3,200 jobs.

Unemployment rates elsewhere in the state were:

* Anchorage, 5 percent, up from 4.1 percent in December.

* Matanuska-Susitna Borough, 9.6 percent, up from 7.3 percent.

* Kenai Peninsula Borough, 13.1 percent, up from 10.4 percent.

* Fairbanks North Star Borough, 7.2 percent, up from 5.4 percent.

Judge rules for pulp firm

ANCHORAGE -- Alaska Pulp Co. has won another round in its ongoing claim of damages over the loss of its timber contract with the U.S. Forest Service.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims ruled Feb. 14 that the forest service erred in modifying the company’s 50-year timber contract, due to run through 2011, following passage of the Tongass Timber Reform Act in 1990.

Next up could be a further hearing to determine damages if the government does not appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alaska Pulp Co. is seeking $1.4 billion in damages.

Phillips promotes Meyers

Anchorage -- Phillips Petroleum Co. has promoted Kevin Meyers, senior vice president of Alaska production and operations, to executive vice president of Alaska production and operations. Meyers, 47, continues as president and chief executive of Phillips Alaska Inc. He was president and chief executive of Arco Alaska Inc. and senior vice president of Atlantic Richfield Co. when Phillips bought Arco’s Alaska assets last April.

Shellfish rules to ease

JUNEAU -- The state will change some of its proposed regulations for shellfish farming in response to an industry outcry that the rules made it too hard to get permits.

Farmers hope that under milder rules the current "dismal" number of farms, which produce only about $500,000 a year of product, will grow, said Bob Hartley, former president of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association.

The state also will extend this year’s deadline for applying for site leases and farming permits to June 30, so applicants can meet the requirements of the new rules. The agency expects to offer revised rules for comment late this month.

Thirty-eight shellfish farms produced about $485,000 worth of product in 1999, according to preliminary state figures. Most of that value came from oysters.


Eddie Bauer revamps

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. -- The Spiegel Group plans to close 25 Eddie Bauer stores this year as well as open 10 new stores with merchandise that extends beyond the retailer’s traditional casual, rugged style.

The Downers Grove-based company has not announced which stores will be closed, but spokeswoman Debbie Koopman said Feb. 16 they are stores whose leases expire this year. She did not know how many employees would be affected.

The closings, along with the new stores, will bring the number of Eddie Bauer stores to 451 nationwide by the end of the year, excluding outlets.

For the quarter ended Dec. 30, Spiegel reported a 13 percent drop in earnings to $65.4 million or 50 cents a share, from $74.7 million or 57 cents a share a year earlier.

Comparable-store sales at Eddie Bauer locations that have been open for at least a year fell 8 percent for the year and 9 percent in the fourth quarter. Net sales fell by 2 percent in the quarter to $670.3 million and 2 percent for the year to $1.75 billion.

Kmart speeds checkout

TROY, Mich. -- Kmart plans to install speedier cash registers that should cut a customer’s checkout time by about 20 percent.

The Troy-based retailer will allow IBM to replace registers in 2,100 Kmart stores with a faster, more powerful model. The deal is worth about $200 million.

The machines -- along with faster printers, hand-held bar code scanners and improved in-counter scanners installed by Kmart last year -- are expected to cut the wait, Kmart spokeswoman Mary Lorencz said Feb. 15.

Cashiers also will be able to tell customers when an out-of-stock item will be delivered or if the product is available at another store.

Lorencz said 300 stores are using the machines and installation in the remaining outlets should be completed by 2002.

Wal-Mart tops $2 billion

NEW YORK -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, managed to cross the $2 billion earnings mark for the first time despite what executives described as a "challenging environment." The fourth-quarter results beat Wall Street expectations.

For the three months ended Jan. 31, Wal-Mart earned $2.004 billion, or 45 cents per share, up 4.5 percent from $1.92 billion, or 43 cents per share, in the year-ago period, the Bentonville-based company said Feb. 20.

Analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial were expecting 44 cents per share.

Sales jumped 10 percent to $56.56 billion, up from $51.39 billion in the year-ago period.

The results come as many merchants struggle with a slowing domestic economy and plummeting consumer confidence.

United sets merger plans

CHICAGO -- Its proposal to buy US Airways is still under federal review, but United Airlines is charging ahead with a marketing campaign to promote the benefits of the merged airline to consumers.

A spokesman for United confirmed the plan Feb. 20, some six weeks before the U.S. Justice Department is expected to announce a verdict on the merger, which was announced nine months ago.

Spokesman Matt Triaca would not confirm or deny a published report that newspaper ads touting the benefits of the enlarged airline will appear in mid-March, ahead of the government’s decision.

"It just makes smart business sense to be thinking about these things in the event the merger is approved," United’s Matt Triaca said. "We want to get out there and tell our customers about it."

Compiled from business wire services.

02/24/2001 - 8:00pm