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Executive Business Briefing

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


Polymer Group files Chapter 11

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NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C., May 13 (UPI) -- Polymer Group Inc. said the company and 20 domestic subsidiaries have filed voluntary petitions for a pre-negotiated reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, in order to reduce debt and strengthen its competitive position.

The company, whose products include non-woven fabric used in surgical gowns and facemasks, also said it has received up to $125 million in debtor-in-possession financing from a group of lenders led by JP Morgan Chase which will be used to fund ongoing operations.

The company, which has been in talks with lenders on restructuring operations, said it expects to emerge from the pre-negotiated reorganization in the third quarter of 2002.

In mid-March, Polymer disclosed details of a restructuring program aimed at cutting more than $550 million in debt.

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The company said its international operations and joint ventures are excluded from the filing and there should be no impact on the ability of non-U.S. entities to continue to meet the needs of their customers, employees and vendors.

The company said it expects to eliminate more than $550 million in debt through the reorganization and in addition, has a commitment for up to $75 million in the form of a new money investment from CSFB Global Opportunities Partners, L.P., a New York-based investment fund.

Polymer Group Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Jerry Zucker, said, "We are committed to completing our reorganization as quickly as possible and we are targeting emergence in the third quarter of 2002.

"We expect that the restructuring process will generally have no impact on the company's ability to fulfill its obligations to its customers and employees. During the restructuring period and beyond, we will continue to operate as one of the world's leading non-wovens companies and a major supplier of engineered fabrics."

Zucker also said, "We made our best efforts to negotiate a reasonable debt exchange, but unfortunately a number of note holders were unwilling to make the proposed concessions. I regret the impact that our filing will have on PGI shareholders, but after considering a wide range of alternatives, it became clear that this course of action was the preferable way to resolve PGI's restructuring challenges in a timely manner.

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"This step provides us with an expeditious alternative to reduce our debt and effectively restructure our balance sheet," Zucker added.

Polymer Group employs approximately 4,000 people and operates 25 manufacturing facilities throughout the world.


Toys R Us expects to post smaller loss

PARAMUS, N.J., May 13 (UPI) -- Toys R Us Inc. said it expects to report first-quarter earnings results that are better than current consensus estimates.

For the first quarter ended May 4, the retailer said it expects to post a loss per share between 2 and 3 cents. The company reported a net loss of $18 million, or 9 cents a share in the first quarter of fiscal 2001.

Analysts on Wall Street were expecting the company to post a loss of 9 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

Toys R Us said its total net sales for the quarter increased 2 percent to $2.1 billion, compared to the first quarter of last year.

Comparable sales, or sales at stores open one year, for the first quarter were down 2 percent in the United States toy stores, up 10 percent in the international toy stores and up 3 percent in the Babies-R-Us division.

Sales at Toysrus.com increased 57 percent to $46 million from $29 million a year ago.

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John Eyler, chairman and chief executive officer, said, "Our comparable U.S. toy store sales experienced softness during the quarter due to two factors -- a pronounced slowdown in the video business in April, and weakness in our outdoor seasonal categories.

"Comparable store sales in video and seasonal categories were negative for the quarter. However, comparable store sales of core toy merchandise in the U.S. toy stores increased 5 percent for the quarter. Our renovated Mission Possible stores maintained a positive sales gap over our unrenovated stores with the 2001 Mission Possible stores achieving a 7 percent comparable store sales gap in the first quarter," he said.

"Comparable store sales in the Kids R Us division fell below last year's levels primarily due to unfavorable weather and its impact on the sale of spring apparel," Eyler said.

"Our attention to gross margin improvements and ongoing expense reduction initiatives lead us to expect that we will improve operating results for the first quarter. In particular, operating earnings in our U.S. toy stores and our Babies R Us stores are anticipated to exceed prior year results. We also believe that we will reduce operating losses at Toysrus.com for the quarter," Eyler added.

Toys R Us, which currently operates 1,604 stores worldwide, plans to release its first quarter results on May 20.

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Earnings decline at May Department Stores

ST. LOUIS, May 13 (UPI) -- May Department Stores Co., parent of Lord & Taylor and Filene's, said its first-quarter net income fell about 36 percent to $70 million, or 23 cents a diluted share, from $109 million, or 34 cents a share during the same period last year.

Excluding charges, the department store operator reported earnings of $95 million, or 31 cents a diluted share.

Analysts on Wall Street had expected the company to post a net income of 31 cents a share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

May said its total sales in the quarter rose 1.2 percent to $3.15 billion from $3.12 billion a year earlier. Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, fell 2.4 percent.

On May 3, 2002, the company announced that, effective Aug. 3, it will combine its Kaufmann's division with its Filene's division, based in Boston, and its Meier & Frank division with its Robinsons-May division, based in Los Angeles.

The company anticipates these division combinations will save approximately $60 million pretax or 13 cents per share annually.

At the end of the first quarter, May operated 436 department stores in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

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Autobytel cuts staff

IRVINE, Calif., May 13 (UPI) -- Autobytel Inc., an online car seller, said it will cut 40 jobs, or about 15 percent of its work force, in a bid to save about $4 million a year.

The company said it would take a second quarter charge of $500,000 related to the layoffs.

Autobytel said it is making the changes as part of a continuing effort to reduce costs and improve operating efficiency following its purchase of Autoweb, a car retail Web site.

Jeffrey Schwartz, president and chief executive officer, said, "We reduced operating costs significantly following the acquisition of Autoweb and have continued to focus on driving even greater efficiencies throughout the business.

"We are encouraged by the progress we are making and remain quite confident in our business plan," he added.


Robbins & Myers sees results at low end of guidance

DAYTON, Ohio, May 13 (UPI) -- Robbins & Myers Inc. said it expects earnings for its fiscal year ending Aug. 31 to be at the low end of its previous guidance of $1.25 to $1.50 per share.

The company said it has sees only a modest improvement in backlogs and does not expect to benefit from any macroeconomic recovery affecting its markets until 2003.

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Robbins & Myers, which makes mixers and pumps for the pharmaceuticals and energy industries, also said earnings for its third quarter ending May 31 would be in the range 23 cents to 25 cents per share.

Gerald L. Connelly, president and chief executive officer, said, "While we have seen modest improvement in backlogs, we do not expect to benefit from any macro-economic recovery affecting our markets until our fiscal 2003."


Sonoco raises prices on uncoated recycled paperboard

HARTSVILLE, S.C., May 13 (UPI) -- Sonoco said it will raise prices on uncoated recycled paperboard by $50 a ton, effective June 4.

Jim Bowen, senior vice president, global paper operations, said, "We are initiating this increase as a partial pass through of increasing costs in energy, logistics, insurance, raw materials and other operating costs.

"Of course, we will continue to minimize the net costs that we must pass to our customers by maximizing rigorous cost-reduction and value-adding initiatives, just as we have done since our last increase almost 2 1/2 years ago," Bowen added.

Sonoco is a manufacturer of industrial and consumer products and provider of packaging services.


Schwab's daily average trades decline

SAN FRANCISCO, May 13 (UPI) -- Charles Schwab Corp. said its total client daily average trades declined 18 percent in April from the prior year, while net new assets totaled $2.6 billion.

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Schwab said average daily trades totaled 192,900 last month, down 6 percent from March.

Client daily average revenue trades were 133,600 in April, down 25 percent from the same month one year ago and down 8 percent from the prior month.

Total client assets were $836.8 billion as of the end of April, down 2 percent from both April 2001 and March 2002, Schwab said.

Net new assets brought to the company by new and current clients in April totaled $2.6 billion.

While asset inflows in April were comparable to March 2002, outflows increased, reflecting client cash disbursements during tax season. Total client assets were $836.8 billion as of month-end April, down 2 percent from both April last year and March 2002.


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