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Executive Business Briefing

Here is a look at more of Tuesday's top business stories:


Credit card delinquencies rise

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WASHINGTON, March 26 (UPI) -- The American Bankers Association said more people were past due on their credit-card bills during the fourth quarter amid sluggish economic conditions.

The group said about 3.88 percent of credit card accounts were past due in the fourth quarter of 2001, up from 3.77 percent in the third quarter but down from 3.93 percent in the second quarter. The ABA noted that a year earlier 3.34 percent of accounts were overdue.

However, the composite ratio of non-revolving loans, such as auto and home equity loans, fell to 2.34 percent of all loans in the fourth quarter from 2.40 percent in the third quarter.

"These mixed results reflect a variety of factors that converged in the last quarter, not the least of which were the Federal Reserve's three rate cuts totaling 125 basis points," said James Chessen, ABA chief economist.

"Despite continued layoffs and marginal economic growth, it appears that the rate reductions through 2001, along with continued high mortgage refinancing and automotive financing incentives, helped keep delinquencies down," Chessen said.

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When viewed as a percentage of total outstanding dollars, rather than number of accounts, the fourth quarter delinquency rate was an unadjusted 4.67 percent, up from the third quarter's 4.45 percent and also up from 4.25 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

Direct auto-loan delinquencies fell to 2.27 percent in the fourth quarter from 2.56 percent in the third quarter of 2001.

For indirect auto loans, delinquencies fell to 2.35 percent in the fourth quarter from 2.45 percent in the third quarter.

For home-equity loans, delinquencies increased. The past-due rate for these loans was 1.38 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 1.24 percent in the third quarter. Home-equity loans continue to be the loan category with the lowest delinquencies, the ABA said.


Ciena cuts 650 jobs

LINTHICUM, Md., March 26 (UPI) -- Optical networking company Ciena Corp. said it would cut 650 jobs, or approximately 22 percent of its total work force, amid a slowdown in telecommunications spending.

"The telecom equipment market has changed dramatically in the last year and we have to adjust to those changes if we are to maintain our leadership position in the industry," said Gary Smith, president and CEO.

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"Ciena's future success depends on our ability to adapt the way we think and the way we run our business in this dynamic environment," Smith said.

Smith added the job cuts would help the company return to profitability.

Ciena, which currently employs slightly more than 2,900 people, last month cut 400 jobs, or 12 percent of its work force at the time. It also posted a record quarterly operating loss of almost $57 million in its fiscal first quarter and warned second-quarter results would lag expectations.

The company said the job cuts will save about $145 million to $155 million annually, including $85 million to $90 million at the operating expense level. Ciena expects most of the cost savings to be in place by the fiscal third quarter.

Including a previous $9 million to $11 million it forecast for the job cuts announced last month, Ciena expects to take total charge in the fiscal second quarter of $334 million to $371 million.

Of that total expected charge, Ciena expects to record a restructuring charge of between $125 million and $135 million related to the latest job cuts, lease terminations and the write-down of certain property. The rest is about $200 million to $225 million for excess inventory.

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Employees affected by the latest job cuts will be paid through May 24, be eligible for severance packages and receive outplacement assistance, Ciena said.


Boise Cascade sees wider loss

BOISE, Idaho, March 26 (UPI) -- Forest products company Boise Cascade Corp. said it expects to post a wider-than-anticipated first quarter loss between 15 cents a share and 20 cents a share.

Analysts on Wall Street had expected the company to post a loss of 3 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

While the company expects its office products business to see sales fall by 7 percent to 8 percent from a year ago, it also said its biggest problems relate to low prices for paper products such as containerboard and newsprint.

The company said that during the first quarter, net sales prices for its paper products averaged about $15 per ton less than prices in the fourth quarter of 2001.

Boise Cascade also said it accelerated downtime in its newsprint business, bringing total downtime for that unit to more than 30,000 tons in the first quarter. Additionally, the company expects to record about 30,000 tons of market curtailment in uncoated free sheet.


Involuntary Chapter 11 filed against Polymer Group

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C., March 26 (UPI) -- Polymer Group Inc. said that it has received notification that an involuntary Chapter 11 petition had been filed against the company in federal court in South Carolina.

The world's third largest maker of nonwoven fabrics said it has commenced discussions with petitioning creditors on a potential consensual and prompt withdrawal of the petition.

"If the petition is not withdrawn, the company anticipates that the court may dismiss the petition in light of the exchange offer and comprehensive financial restructuring currently in progress," the company said.

The company employs approximately 4,000 people and operates 25 manufacturing facilities throughout the world.


Singapore Press sees advertising revenues improving

SINGAPORE, March 26 (UPI) -- One of Asia's largest media companies, Singapore Press Holding, is seeing signs of bottoming out in the decline of advertising revenues.

While announcing the company's interim results, Executive Chairman Lim Kim San said the current operating environment was more benign. "However, there are no clear signs of sustained recovery as yet," he added.

The media group, which owns several newspapers and a TV station, reported a 20.3 percent decline in net profit to $89 million for the half year ended February 28, compared to the same period last year. Volume dropped 17.6 percent, while trading profit fell 39.6 percent.

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"Our advertising revenue was affected by the economic slowdown made worse by the terrorist attack in United States at the beginning of our financial year. There are signs of recovery in the United States but the benefit might take some time to filter through to Singapore," Lim said.

Late last year, the group implemented wage restraint measures, and right sized its Internet and TV operations. All of these resulted in a reduction of 7.5 percent in staff cost.

Newsprint cost also declined by 29.7 percent compared to the last half year mainly due to lower consumption.


Oversea-Chinese Banking names American chief executive

SINGAPORE, March 26 (UPI) -- After a 6-month search, Singapore's third largest bank Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. announced the appointment of a new Chief Executive, David Conner.

American national Conner will be leaving Citibank Japan where he was a managing director in charge of corporate banking, to take his new OCBC job on April 15.

Conner said his first priority would be to concentrate on completing the integration of OCBC and Keppel Capital, which the bank acquired last year. Conner will replace Hong Kong-born Alex Au who announced last year his intention to step down for personal reasons.

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