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New orders to US factories rebounded in December, but the gain wasn't enough to prevent 1998 from being the weakest year for manufacturing since the recession of 1991. Orders jumped 2.3 percent in December, to a seasonally adjusted $343.5 billion, the Commerce Department said. It was the biggest increase in 13 months. However, the $4.03 trillion volume of orders for 1998 was just 2.1 percent higher than the previous year - making it the worst showing since factory orders posted a 2.3 percent decline seven years earlier.

Those who would have to agree to easing Japan's huge government debt by having the central bank print new money to cover it flatly rejected the idea. Bank of Japan Gov. Masaru Hayami said the proposal, most recently advanced by senior US Treasury officials, would be illegal under Japanese law, would damage the institution's credibility abroad as well as at home, and would lead to higher long-term interest rates.

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