Business digest 10/08/05

Saturday, October 8, 2005

September job figures dip because of Katrina

WASHINGTON -- Hurricane Katrina bruised the economy in September, causing the first nationwide job loss in two years, but the damage wasn't as awful as many had feared. Payrolls fell by 35,000, with jobs in retailing, lodging, bars, restaurants and leisure pursuits such as gambling all taking a hit. The unemployment rate climbed to 5.1 percent, from a four-year low of 4.9 percent in August. The snapshot, released by the Labor Department on Friday, provided the most extensive picture of the jobs climate in the aftermath of Katrina, the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The impact of the next hurricane, Rita, was "negligible" on the latest figures, the department said.

Crude oil prices break five-day run of declines

Crude oil prices rose Friday, ending a five-day decline, but still finished the week down 7 percent amid signs of faltering U.S. fuel consumption. Light, sweet crude for November delivery rose 48 cents to $61.84 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Heating oil gained less than a penny to settle at $1.9601 per gallon, while gasoline fell more than a cent to $1.8292. Natural gas futures slipped 14.9 cents to $13.226 per 1,000 cubic feet. Analysts attributed Friday's rise to the anticipated onset of the Northern Hemisphere winter, the continuing Atlantic hurricane season and the slow recovery of U.S. Gulf of Mexico facilities after back-to-back hurricanes.

House OKs refinery bill; Senate fate uncertain

WASHINGTON -- The House narrowly approved a Republican-crafted energy bill Friday aimed at encouraging construction of new refineries, although opponents said it would do nothing to ease energy prices while handing unneeded benefits to a profit-rich oil industry. Supporters of the measure said that hurricanes Katrina and Rita made clear that the country needs more refineries, including new ones outside of the Gulf region. Critics argued it would allow the oil industry to avoid environmental regulations that would lead to dirtier air. The bill passed 212-210. Its prospects in the Senate were uncertain.

Delphi ups exec benefits; stock price plummets

DETROIT -- Auto supplier Delphi Corp. said Friday it has beefed up severance packages for top executives in order to encourage them to stay on as the company prepares for a major restructuring that could include bankruptcy. Delphi shares plummeted $1.08, or nearly 50 percent, to close at $1.12 on the New York Stock Exchange. In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Delphi said 21 top executives will be eligible for 18 months of severance pay and at least a portion of their bonus if Delphi terminates their employment or they leave for "good reason." Previously, severance packages were capped at 12 months. Delphi said it made the change after determining its severance package for top executives wasn't competitive.

Judge bars defense witness in Vioxx case

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- The judge in the second Vioxx product-liability trial delivered a stunning blow to Merck & Co. Friday when she barred the testimony of its first defense witness from the record. With the jury out of the courtroom, Superior Court Judge Carol Higbee said she felt misled and sickened upon rereading the transcript of Thursday's testimony by a Merck researcher who said studies in the late 1990s showed the pain reliever would not cause heart damage. Higbee struck the testimony of Merck researcher Dr. Briggs Morrison from the record because she said he was not an expert on the studies he had told the jury about Thursday, nor did Merck give the court sufficient notice about what he would discuss. Morrison was Merck's opening witness in the three-week trial over whether Vioxx caused the 2001 heart attack of Idaho postal worker Frederick "Mike" Humeston. Merck in August lost its first multimillion dollar product liability case in Texas over the death of another Vioxx user, and 5,000 similar lawsuits are pending.

Adelphia execs face new indictments

PHILADELPHIA -- The founder of Adelphia Communications Corp. and his son, both already convicted of a massive fraud at the bankrupt cable-television company, have been indicted on charges they and other family members didn't pay $300 million in taxes. Former CEO John J. Rigas failed to report income of $143 million and his son Timothy J. Rigas, the company's former chief financial officer, failed to report income of $239 million, according to a federal grand jury indictment unsealed on Friday.

-- From wire reports

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