- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Here is a look at Wednesday's top business stories:


Losses narrow at Continental Airlines

HOUSTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Continental Airlines, the nation's fifth-largest airline, said its fourth-quarter loss narrowed to $109 million, or $1.67 a share, from $149 million, or $2.58 a share during the same period last year.

Continental said its revenue grew more than 17 percent to $2.04 billion from $1.74 billion a year earlier.

Analysts on Wall Street had expected the airline to post a loss of $1.99 a share, according to Thomson First Call.

Continental posted a $451 million loss, or $7.02 a share for the full 2002 year, more than four times the shortfall it reported for 2001.

Continental's net loss for the year included a charge for fleet disposition/impairment and other special items totaling $161 million, or $254 million before taxes. Excluding the special items, the net loss would have been $290 million, or $4.52 diluted loss per share.

"In spite of these extraordinarily difficult times, we again demonstrate that not all airlines are alike," said Gordon Bethune, chairman and chief executive officer.

"Thanks to a dedicated and focused team of professional employees, we continue to outperform our competitors in almost every measure," he said.

The airline said its fourth quarter passenger revenue rose 16 percent to $1.9 billion from the same period last year. Mainline jet load factor increased 1.0 point over the fourth quarter of 2001 to 71.1 percent due to an 8.9-percent increase in revenue passenger miles on a 7.4-percent increase in available seat miles.

Other revenue during the fourth quarter increased 36.4 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2001, reflecting strong demand for cargo shipments and charter services.

Revenue per available seat mile for the mainline jet operations in the fourth quarter increased 5.7 percent compared to the fourth quarter of 2001.

The airline also reported that its mechanics and related employee groups overwhelmingly ratified a 4-year collective bargaining agreement between the company and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters by a 73-percent majority. The agreement includes competitive wages and benefits, Continental said.


Pfizer to put bar codes on pills to cut errors

NEW YORK, Jan. 15 (UPI) — The Wall Street Journal reports that drugmaker Pfizer Inc. will begin printing bar codes on individually packaged pills used in hospitals in a bid to reduce medication errors.

The Journal said by the end of year Pfizer expects each dose of all the 30 medicines it sells in blister packs for hospital use to feature a bar code and text that identify the medicine, its dosage, lot number and expiry date.

The Journal said Pfizer says it was able to tap existing printing technology to apply the codes at little additional cost, though it did not disclose how much it spent.

Byron Bond, director of trade operations for Pfizer, said he believes the company's decision will encourage hospitals and others in the drug industry to follow, the Journal reported.


Stocks rise in Asia

TOKYO, Jan. 15 (UPI) — Stock prices on the Tokyo Stock Exchange ended higher Wednesday in active trading, lifted by news that a Japanese bank will raise capital in a sign of accelerated efforts to clean up bad loans.

The blue-chip Nikkei Stock Average, which gained 82.61 points Tuesday, rose 58.69 points, or 0.7 percent, to 8,611.75. The broader Topix Index, which rose 8.20 points during the previous session, gained 9.76 points, or 1.2 percent, to 855.66.

Advances outpaced declines 1,018 to 343, while another 128 issues settled unchanged. Volume jumped to an estimated 878.86 million shares from 680.63 million shares changing hands on Tuesday.

Analysts said stocks got a boost near the end of the session on news that Sumitomo Mitsui Banking plans to raise fresh capital by issuing shares to Goldman Sachs.

Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group, the listed parent of Sumitomo Mitsui Banking, jumped 8.5 percent on the information. Other major banks also benefited from the report, with UFJ Holdings rising 5.1 percent, Mizuho Holdings gaining 6 percent and Mitsubishi Tokyo Financial Group rising 4.5 percent.

Prior to the bank sector news, the benchmark Nikkei index had been straddling the previous day's closing level, as investors showing mixed reactions to Intel's earnings report late Tuesday and the dollar's continued weakness on global currency markets.

The yen's strength in currency markets triggered moderate selling of auto stocks early in the session, but they recouped those losses. Toyota Motor rose 0.6 percent, Nissan added 1.4 percent, but Honda eased 0.5 percent.

Meanwhile, Tokyo Electron slipped 1 percent, Advantest lost 2.1 percent, Sony lost 1.2 percent, Matsushita Electric Industrial slipped 0.3 percent, but Hitachi added 2.8 percent.

Elsewhere in Asia, prices ended higher in moderate trading on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. The blue-chip Hang Seng Index, which lost 37.77 points during the previous session, rose 77.18 points, or 0.8 percent, to 9,873.49, boosted by Wall Street's gains and buying of export and banking shares.

Several technology and telecom issues drew buying, with China Mobile rising 0.8 percent, China Unicom rising 0.8 percent and Legend Group rising 2.5 percent.

Cathay Pacific Airways fell 0.8 percent after jumping 4.4 percent previous day. Speculations are mounting that Cathay and Hong Kong Dragon Airlines are in talks about a possible code-share deal on mainland flights.

Prices ended slightly lower on the South Korean Stock Exchange. The Korea Composite Stock Price Index, or Kospi, which rose 1.99 points during the previous session, eased 1.76 points, or 0.3 percent, to 648.29, pressured late in the session by futures-led program selling.

In trading, Samsung, the world's biggest maker of computer memory chips, lost 1.4 percent. The company is due to release its fourth-quarter business results on Thursday. Steel giant POSCO ended flat also ahead of the company's fourth-quarter results due out Thursday.

Prices ended higher on the Taiwan Stock Exchange. The key Weighted Index, which added 1.16 points during the previous session, gained 25.28 points, or 0.5 percent, to 5,017.70, lifted by strength in chipmakers.

In trading, China Steel rallied 5.3 percent and Taiwan Cement climbed 3.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Singapore stocks ended lower, snapping their five-day winning streak as gains in technology shares failed to offset weakness in banking stocks. The key Straits Times Index, which rose 15.32 points during the previous session, lost 14.75 points, or 1.1 percent, to 1,386.62.

Elsewhere around the Pacific region, prices ended fractionally higher in lackluster trading on the Australian Stock Exchange. The blue-chip All Ordinaries Index, which added 6.50 points during the previous session, added 0.60 point to 3,049.60.

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