Business Notes


2009 coal production ispredicted to decline 4 percent

The National Mining Association is predicting that U.S. coal production will decline 4 percent this year. Hal Quinn, president of the industry group, blamed the anemic U.S. economy in a speech to the West Virginia Coal Association on Thursday. Preliminary government figures show that U.S. production totaled 1.17 billion tons in 2008. The Washington, D.C.-based trade group expects electricity demand to dip less than 1 percent this year as industrial customers scale back. Quinn says electricity demand is expected to grow 1.3 percent in 2010 as the economy rebounds. As a result, production of utility coal is expected to dip 1.2 percent. Production of coking coal for firing blast furnaces is expected to fall 11 percent because of plunging demand for steel. Quinn says exports likewise are expected to drop 11 percent. Soaring international demand pushed exports up 38 percent in 2008.


Unemployment closes in on 5 million

February is shaping up to be another brutal month of job losses: The number of laid-off workers receiving unemployment benefits hit an all-time high of nearly 5 million, and new jobless claims are at levels not seen since the early 1980s. The Labor Department reported Thursday that the number of people receiving regular unemployment benefits rose by 170,000 to 4.99 million for the week ending Feb. 7, marking the fourth straight week continuing claims have hit a record. The surge in joblessness has pushed those claims far above the 2.77 million people getting benefits a year ago. The number totals 6.54 million with the inclusion of an additional 1.5 million people who are getting extended benefits under a program passed by Congress last summer.

Best Buy net job loss to be 40 positions

Best Buy Co. Inc. said Thursday that 250 workers at its corporate headquarters in suburban Minneapolis would lose their current jobs as the electronics chain pares its work force, though most might get new positions with the company. The company hoped the displaced employees would fill 210 new jobs being posted by the retailer, for a net loss of 40 jobs. In December, the Richfield, Minn.-based chain said it was offering voluntary severance packages to virtually all 4,000 corporate employees to help it survive what it called the “most challenging consumer environment” in its history. After 500 workers accepted the offer, Best Buy said it would have to resort to involuntary layoffs and informed workers of the cuts on Thursday.

Texan sought in $8 billion fraud is found

Texas financier R. Allen Stanford has been found in Virginia and served with legal papers in a multibillion-dollar fraud case. FBI spokesman Richard Kolko says FBI agents, acting at the request of the Securities and Exchange Commission, served Stanford papers Thursday in Fredericksburg, Va. On Tuesday, the SEC accused Stanford and three of his companies of committing an $8 billion fraud that lured investors with promises of improbable high returns. Stanford has not been charged with a crime.

P&G stressing quality over price cuts

Procter & Gamble Co.'s chief executive said Thursday the consumer products maker's emphasis on value will carry it through the recession. P&G executives told analysts that they don't expect any major price rollbacks in the near future. They are telling consumers, in some 100 current promotions, that their products offer more for the dollar than competitors'. “Right now, it's a consumer value play,” said A.G. Lafley, P&G's chairman and chief executive. Products such as Tide laundry detergent, Dawn dish liquid and Bounty paper towels get more done than cheaper rivals, he said. Lafley also said Cincinnati-based P&G is seeking cost savings everywhere from energy to packaging.

Nestlé, Hormel pushing low-cost items

Nestlé SA, the world's largest food company, and Hormel Foods Corp., the maker of pork-in-a-can icon Spam, said Thursday they plan to keep pushing low-cost products as consumers trim their budgets amid the deepening recession. Since May, Spam sales have been growing by double-digit percentages as consumers flock to the value they see in the brand, said Chief Executive Jeffrey Ettinger. Hormel's plants have boosted production and even run on weekends, he said. Nestlé said Thursday it aimed to increase sales with low-cost products such as bouillon cubes and instant coffee during the global downturn.

Compiled from Staff, wire reports