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April 18, 2006 > Shoppers got back in the groove in March

Shoppers got back in the groove in March

AP Wire Service

WASHINGTON (AP), Apr 13 _ Shoppers got back in the groove in March, sending sales at the nation's retailers up by 0.6 percent.

The rebound, reported by the Commerce Department on Thursday, provided further evidence that the economy snapped out of an end-of-year funk and was chugging along at a decent clip in the recently ended January-to-March quarter.

The increase in March came after shoppers took a breather in February, pulling down merchants' sales by 0.8 percent, according to revised figures. That drop wasn't as deep as first reported a month ago _ offering another encouraging sign.

The latest snapshot of retail activity was slightly better than the 0.5 percent gain that economists were forecasting.

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DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co., which is closing plants and cutting jobs in an effort to improve results from its North American auto business, said Thursday that it will shutter assembly plants in Norfolk, Va., and St. Paul, Minn., in 2008.

The two plants employ about 4,300 hourly and salaried workers.

The nation's second-biggest automaker announced in January that it would close 14 plants by 2012, but only identified five of them. It said at the time that it would name two more plants later in the year.

Ford, in a news release announcing the closures, said the staff reductions in Virginia and Minnesota are part of the 25,000 to 30,000 job cuts announced in January.

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STAMFORD, Conn. (AP) _ General Electric Co. said Thursday its first-quarter profit rose 9 percent as strong sales of aircraft engines, locomotives, medical equipment and financial services offset weaknesses in energy and its NBC television network.

The Fairfield, Conn.-based company said net earnings for the three months ended March 31 were $4.3 billion, or 41 cents per share, compared with $3.96 billion, or 37 cents per share, a year ago.

Total revenue climbed 10 percent to $37.8 billion in the latest quarter from $34.4 billion a year ago.

Earnings from continuing operations were 39 cents per share, which matched the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.

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OAK BROOK, Ill. (AP) _ McDonald's Corp. said Thursday it expects to report first-quarter earnings of about 49 cents per share, in line with Wall Street's expectations but down more than 12 percent from a year ago when it recorded a substantial tax gain.

The update came as the world's largest fast-food company announced that comparable sales in March rose 5.3 percent overall and 6.6 percent in U.S. restaurants, marking 35 straight months of gains for worldwide sales.

The company said its quarterly results will reflect a reduction to earnings of 1 cent per share from a weak dollar, a charge of 5 cents related to store actions and a 4-cent gain from the initial public offering of Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Several newspaper publishers reported lower first quarter results Thursday as sluggish advertising, higher newsprint prices, new costs for expensing stock options and one-time charges took their toll.

McClatchy Co.'s results came in well below analysts' expectations, sending the company's stock down more than 4 percent to a new 52-week low. The shares had already been under pressure following the company's March 13 announcement that it would buy the much larger publisher Knight Ridder Inc.

Tribune Co.'s net profit fell 28 percent on lower revenue, stock compensation costs and one-time charges. The results beat analysts expectations but still reflected the difficulties facing newspapers, with revenues in that division down 1 percent and circulation down 3 percent.

The New York Times Co. came in a penny ahead of analysts' expectations, but there too advertising was uneven.

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Mobile-phone maker Sony Ericsson on Thursday said first-quarter earnings more than tripled as demand grew for its popular Walkman music phones and the company upped its global market forecast for 2006.

The world's No. 5 handset maker said net profit rose to 109 million euros ($132 million) in the three months ending March 31, up from 32 million euros in the same period in 2005.

Quarterly sales grew 55 percent to 1.99 billion euros ($2.42 billion) from 1.29 billion euros a year earlier.

The London-based company, a joint venture of Japan's Sony Corp. and Sweden's LM Ericsson, said the number of handsets shipped rose 41 percent to 13.3 million in the first quarter, compared with 9.4 million in the same period last year.

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BERLIN (AP) _ Bayer AG on Thursday made its official takeover bid for fellow German drugmaker Schering AG, offering 16.5 billion euros ($20.01 billion), slightly more than its previous 16.3 billion euro ($19.76 billion) offer that Schering's board had recommended be accepted.

Leverkusen, Germany-based Bayer said it made a final takeover offer of 86 euros ($104.28) per share. The increase over the previously announced offer came primarily because Schering AG had issued shares from its own shareholding for fulfillment of employee options in the interim, Bayer said in a statement.

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DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Corp. said Thursday that it could take a charge of as much as $3 billion in the first quarter for payments it needs to make to a new health fund for retired workers, according to a filing with federal regulators.

Under a settlement with the United Auto Workers that was approved by a federal judge on March 31, U.S. hourly retirees will pay more for their health care, and active workers and GM will contribute to a fund to help pay health costs.

GM said it has agreed to pay $1 billion each year in 2006, 2007 and 2011.

GM said it is talking with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission about how to account for the payments. It may take a $1 billion charge in the first quarter, or it may lump the payments together and take a $3 billion charge, the company said.

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NEW YORK (AP) _ Honda Motor Co. may cut production of the Honda Accord hybrid because sales have been so slow, Honda Executive Vice President Dick Colliver said Thursday at the New York Auto Show.

Colliver was the second executive in as many days to question the direction of hybrid sales during media previews for the show, which opens to the public Friday. Nissan Motor Co. Chief Executive Carlos Ghosn said Wednesday that hybrid sales appear to be slowing down, something he has warned could happen as consumers decide whether hybrids are worth their additional cost.

Colliver wouldn't give exact sales for the Accord hybrid, which went on sale in December 2004, but said they make up a tiny percentage of Honda's overall sales. Overall Accord sales were down 4 percent last year, according to Autodata Corp.

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HOUSTON (AP) _ Former Enron Corp. Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling struggled to hold his temper Thursday at being pegged a liar and a crook by federal prosecutors, telling jurors in his criminal trial that he was devastated the company he cherished became a symbol for scandal.

``I think they have purposely not looked at facts they should have looked at if they wanted to come to a more balanced and accurate conclusion,'' Skilling declared with hardened eyes and a stiff jaw.

His comments came as defense lawyer Daniel Petrocelli led him through the government's indictment, which accuses him of minimizing bad news in 2001 so investors and Wall Street would remain bullish on failing Enron ventures in broadband and retail energy.

Skilling almost took over the questioning, interrupting when Petrocelli said, ``Let's go on to the next sentence'' in the indictment, with a tense, ``Yes, let's go on to the next sentence.''

Finally, he tried to rein in his visible anger.

``I'm sorry, I have to calm down here,'' Skilling said in a tight voice.

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By The Associated Press

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 7.68, or 0.07 percent, to 11,137.65.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.00, or 0.08 percent, to 1,289.12 and the Nasdaq composite index rose 11.43, or 0.49 percent, to 2,326.11.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery rose 70 cents to settle at $69.32 a barrel Thursday on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

May gasoline futures rose 1.68 cent to settle at $2.1079 a gallon, after rising as high as $2.1119 _ a level not reached since early September.

May heating oil rose nearly a cent to settle at $1.9831 a gallon.

Natural gas rose about 18 cents to $6.990 per 1,000 cubic feet.

On London's ICE Futures exchange, Brent crude for June rose 71 cents to settle at $70.57 a barrel.

 
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