Business memo 04/08/02

Monday, April 8, 2002

Big River to get grant to support Internet services

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson has announced that the Big River Telephone Co. of Cape Girardeau has been awarded a $290,591 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The funds are intended to be used to support Internet services in Scott, Dunklin and Stoddard counties.

Big River will use the proceeds from the grant to extend its high speed telecommunications network further into communities in the three counties. Big River's network currently extends as far as Sikeston. As part of the program, Big River will be able to offer advanced Internet services to various social service and community agencies, with a specific concentration to those working in health care, education and work force development.

Weak demand causes drop in orders

Orders to U.S. factories dipped 0.1 percent in February as weaker demand for computers and cars eclipsed gains for household appliances and industrial machinery.

The decline was the first drop in overall orders since November and followed a solid 1.1 percent advance in January, the Commerce Department reported last week.

The weaker-than-expected performance in orders for a wide variety of manufactured goods comes just one day after a more forward-looking report offered some good news for the nation's struggling manufacturing sector.

The Institute for Supply Management reported that a key gauge of manufacturing activity flashed a growth signal in March for the second straight month, a sign that the manufacturing sector is staging a comeback after a year and a half long slump.

Electronic stores report growth

The nation's two largest electronics stores reported high double-digit sales growth in the fourth quarter. Best Buy Co. Inc.'s earnings for the period surpassed analysts' expectations by a penny a share, while Circuit City Stores Inc. met Wall Street estimates.

Best Buy, the nation's leading electronics chain, credited strong sales of digital products and entertainment software as well as expense controls, for its 84 percent surge in profits. But while sales in the current quarter are modestly ahead of expectations, the company expects that per-share earnings, under pressure by acquisition-related matters and softening music sales, will be below analysts' estimates.

Best Buy is expected to open a store in Cape Girardeau later this year.

Meanwhile, its closest rival, Circuit City, said sales of big screen TVs and digital televisions as well as wireless phones helped boost its profits by 51 percent.

Obesity programs now tax deductible

The cost of weight-loss programs that are part of the treatment for obesity are tax deductible, the Internal Revenue Service ruled last week.

Taxpayers who participate in these programs for medically valid reasons will now be able to deduct amounts above 7.5 percent of their adjusted gross income, similar to any other medical expense not covered by insurance or other reimbursement. A taxpayer's spouse and dependents would also be covered.

Still not deductible, however, are the costs of weight control programs intended "to improve the taxpayer's appearance, general health and sense of well-being."

Diet foods also are not be deductible, even though they are often an integral part of a weight control program under a physician's supervision.

-- From staff, wire reports

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