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Friday, October 17, 2008

Business news in brief

American Express Co.'s credit-card delinquencies rose about twice as much as late payments for other credit companies in September, according to Credit Suisse Group. The largest U.S. credit-card company by purchases saw payments more than 30 days late rise 34 basis points to 4.05 percent last month. Losses increased 45 basis points to 6.08 percent.

Another 1,600 workers at three General Motors Corp. factories will be laid off indefinitely over the next few months as the company tries to control its inventory amid a worsening U.S. sales slump. The reductions will affect about 700 workers at a pickup truck plant in Pontiac, 500 at a sedan factory near Detroit and 400 at a sports car assembly plant in Wilmington, Del.

Even sex isn't selling. Playboy Enterprises said it plans to cut 55 employees, eliminate 25 vacant positions, consolidate facilities and reduce travel and overtime in hopes of reducing costs by $12 million a year. The company had 789 full-time employees in February, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing. Playboy reported a second-quarter loss of $2.1 million in August.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Thursday it closed a unionized Quebec tire and lubrication shop because of costs tied to the first labor agreement imposed at any of its

North American locations. The closing is effective immediately because it would have raised operating costs by at least 30 percent and triggered ''dramatic'' price increases on products, the retailer said. The Quebec Labour Relations Board imposed the three-year labor contract in August after the union and company failed to reach an agreement.

Third quarter profit fell sharply at Harley-Davidson Inc., whose motorcycle sales dipped sharply because of the slowing economy and tighter credit markets. Earnings for the quarter ended Sept. 28 dropped 37 percent to $166.5 million, or 71 cents per share, from $265 million, or $1.07 per share, in the same quarter last year. Revenue fell 8 percent to $1.42 billion from $1.54 billion a year earlier.

New York's top court upheld the convictions of two former Tyco International executives sentenced to prison for fraud and larceny involving more than $100 million in bonuses. The Court of Appeals rejected claims by former CEO L. Dennis Kozlowski and former CFO Mark Swartz that they were wrongly convicted at a flawed trial in 2005.

Shares of Peabody Energy Corp. surged after the coal producer reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit from strong global demand and higher prices. Peabody - which fuels one-tenth of all U.S. electricity generation - reported net income of $369 million, or $1.36 cents per share, in the third quarter compared to $32.3 million, or 12 cents per share, a year earlier.

Sponsors of Nascar, the No. 2 sport on U.S. television after professional football, are slamming on the brakes because of the world's financial crisis. General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp., Sears Holdings Corp. and Chevron Corp. will cut or drop sponsorships next season. Dario Franchitti, the 2007 Indy 500 winner, was forced out of the stock-car series by a lack of sponsors.

Hershey Co., the largest U.S. chocolate maker, said third-quarter profit doubled as price increases helped counter higher costs for cocoa, packaging and transportation. Sales jumped 6.4 percent to $1.49 billion while net income increased to $124.5 million, or 54 cents a share, after costs from job cuts pushed profit down a year ago.

UnitedHealth Group Inc., the second largest U.S. health insurer, reported a 28 percent drop in third-quarter profit, but also met or surpassed expectations in several areas. UnitedHealth said net earnings fell to $920 million, or 75 cents per share, in the quarter ending Sept. 30, down from $1.28 billion, or 95 cents per share, in the same quarter last year. But revenue rose 8 percent to $20.2 billion from $18.7 billion a year ago.

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