Business digest 02/03/06

Friday, February 3, 2006

Worker efficiency rises at slowest pace since '01

WASHINGTON -- The efficiency of American workers rose in 2005 at the slowest pace since the recession year of 2001 while a key gauge of wage pressures rose at the fastest pace in five years, the government reported Thursday. The Labor Department said productivity rose by 2.7 percent last year while labor costs rose by 2.4 percent, the biggest jump since a 4.2 percent increase in 2000. For just the final three months of the year, productivity actually fell by 0.6 percent, the first decline since early 2001, and labor costs rose by 2.4 percent.

January surpasses retailers' expectations

NEW YORK -- The nation's retailers reported better-than-expected sales in January, as shoppers armed with holiday gift cards and lured by mild weather returned to stores and malls in search of clearance and spring merchandise. The shopping surge wasn't expected to last, however, as consumers face higher interest rates, a cooling housing market and high energy costs in the months ahead. As merchants reported their results Thursday, winners cut across all categories. Overall, merchants' reports provided some encouraging news about fourth-quarter profits, as many stores at least backed their earnings forecasts. earnings fall in fourth quarter

SEATTLE -- Inc. said Thursday that fourth-quarter earnings fell 43 percent in the all-important holiday season compared to the same period a year ago, when the company had a big one-time gain. For the three months ended Dec. 31, the Internet retailing giant said it earned $199 million, or 47 cents per share, compared with $347 million, or 82 cents per share in the last three months of 2004. The Seattle-based company said the most recent results included a one-time tax benefit of $38 million. In the last three months of 2004, Amazon said it recorded a $239 million one-time tax gain from losses incurred in previous years. Without one-time items, the company would have earned 26 cents per share in the most recent quarter, compared with 24 cents per share in the year-ago period, chief financial officer Tom Szkutak said.

-- From wire reports

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