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Dan River gets break from lenders

Dan River Inc., the Danville, Va.-based home fashions and apparel fabrics producer, said it has entered into a third amendment agreement with its lending group, this one a move that opens the door for seasonal borrowing.

The latest amendment to the company's debt pact modifies the minimum levels of excess availability permitted by credit facility "in order to accommodate anticipated seasonal borrowing needs," the company said.

Chief executives hesitate

The nation's chief executives grew more modestly cautious about the nation's economy during the fourth quarter, but their confidence level still remains relatively high, pointing to a possible uptick in business, The Conference Board reported.

The New York-based business think tank's quarterly measure of CEO confidence, which had improved to a reading of 67 during the third quarter, dipped slightly to a reading of 66 during the last three months of the year. A reading of more than 50 reflects more positive than negative responses in the canvass of more than 100 CEOs in a cross-section of American business.

"The dip in CEO confidence was expected given the unsustainable pace of growth in the third quarter of 2003," said Ken Goldstein, Conference Board economist. However, CEOs remain quite optimistic about the first half of 2004, and that optimism should translate into a pick-up in business activity."

The CEOs' assessment of current economic conditions gained further ground during the closing quarter, rising to a level of 68 from 64 during the third quarter. Current economic conditions have improved, said the CEOs, the confidence level surging to a reading of 88, up from a level of 60 during the preceding three months.

But looking out six months, expectations are more subdued. The outlook for the economy slid to a reading of 66 from 73 during the third quarter.

Credit Managers grow antsy

The nation's corporate credit managers — watchdogs who grant or deny credit to companies — turned sharply bearish during December, growing more cautious about both the manufacturing and service sectors of the nation's economy.

The monthly Credit Manager's Index, compiled by the National Association of Credit Management (NACM), Columbia, Md., dropped by 6.6 percent during the month, to a current reading of 54.2. "While this is a significant decline," the NACM said, the current reading is still 410 basis points, or 4.1 percentage points, above its reading of a year ago.

"Both sectors contributed to the decline, with the manufacturing sector contributing the most," said the trade group.

The monthly canvass asks credit managers to rate favorable and unfavorable factors in their business cycle. Favorable factors include sales, new credit applications, dollar collections and the amount of credit extended. Unfavorable factors include rejections of credit applications, accounts placed for collections, the dollar amount of receivables beyond terms and filings for bankruptcy.

Particularly hard hit was the manufacturing sector, where the index dropped to 55.2 from 62.1 in November. "The decline in the manufacturing index was expected, given the extraordinary strength of the index for the prior three months and the weakening of the 'favorable factors' last month. With the exception of disputes, all measures were weaker this month."

Four measures "slipped below the critical 50 percent level," said NACM: new credit applications, accounts placed for collection; dollar amount beyond terms; and dollar amount of customer deductions.

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