A challenging year in labor relations also brought Saturn Corp. its first red ink since 1993, the General Motors subsidiary said. Officials wouldn't divulge the loss, but blamed it largely on low demand for small cars. By one estimate, the loss was $25 million. Saturn sold 231,786 cars in 1998; 243,000 are believed necessary to break even. The company fought off a threatened strike as well as efforts to bring its 8,000 workers under the same union contract that covers other GM employees. Analysts in Tokyo were applauding the Bank of Japan (BOJ) for its timing in propping up the US dollar. The BOJ spent less than $1 billion yesterday to buy dollars as their value was falling to a 28-month low of 108.21 against the yen. But its move had the effect of pushing the dollar's value back up to 112.50 in late trading. The US and Japan intervened jointly last June to weaken the dollar. This, however, was the BOJ's first move to strengthen it since February 1996. A too-strong yen makes Japan's exports more expensive and cuts into profits overseas.