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Job cuts scaled back

Planned job cuts at American companies declined for a second straight month in March, falling to a 10-month low of 102,315, down 20.1 percent from the 128,115 layoffs announced in February, said Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the international outplacement firm that tracks layoff announcements on a monthly basis.

In a strong sign of an improving economy and job market, the March total was a steep 37 percent lower than the 162,867 job cuts announced a year ago, in March 2001.

But even with the declines in February and March, the total number of job cuts announced during the first quarter totaled 443,134, up 8.9 percent from 406,806 in 2001.

"Certainly the drop from nearly 250,000 job cuts last September is a welcome relief, but the March figure is still 133 percent higher than the monthly average job-cut figure in 1991 and 1992, during the last recession," said John A. Challenger, ceo. "In fact, the March figure is higher than the monthly average for every year since 1989 — when the tracking of job-cut announcements began — through 2000."

Retail, hard hit by sluggish consumer spending, notably in the department store channel, led all other sectors in March with 22,760 planned job cuts, more than six times the number of retail layoffs in February, a total of 3,540.

Mohawk 'buy' rating restated

Wall Street analyst Dennis Rosenberg of CS/First Boston reiterated his "buy" rating on Mohawk Industries, forecasting earnings growth of 15 percent this year, to $4.10 a share from $3.55 a year ago. At the same time, he projected 2003 earnings will increase by another 15 percent, to $4.70 a share.

The veteran textiles industry analyst set a 12-month price target of $73 for Mohawk stock, up 21.8 percent from the $59.92 at which the shares were trading on Thursday, April 4.

Rosenberg said, "Mohawk's earnings began to exceed expectations in the 2001 second quarter and growth accelerated in the third and fourth quarters.

The improvement was initially generated by a better-than-expected gross margin, which was then supplemented by a recovery in sales. Management provided guidance of 20 percent to 30 percent first-quarter 2002 earnings growth and 15 percent to 20 percent second-quarter growth."

Getting a lift from the company's recent Dal-Tile acquisition, Rosenberg forecast sales will grow by 31 percent this year, to $4.5 billion from $3.45 billion last year.

Burlington receives exclusivity

A U.S. bankruptcy court judge has given Burlington Industries Inc. six more months of Chapter 11 plan exclusivity, in which third parties are prevented from proposing their own reorganization plans for the troubled textiles producer.

Judge Randall Newsome extended the company's plan exclusivity through Sept. 16 from March 15. Burlington had sought the extension in February, saying it needed more time to allow key constituencies to assay the company's initial strategic business plan to give the company a chance to put it into effect.

Burlington filed for Chapter 11 protection Dec. 6 in a bankruptcy court in Wilmington, DE.

Wal-Mart tops Fortune 500

Only 40 years after its birth as a small-town Southern retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. tops the Fortune 500 list to become the world's largest company with annual sales of almost $220 billion.

In claiming the top spot, Wal-Mart, No. 2 on the Fortune 500 last year, bumped aside oil giant Exxon Mobil.

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