News In Brief

Higher prices for natural gas could increase consumers' heating bills by as much as 50 percent this winter, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Department of Energy told the newspaper that only a warm winter could prevent consumers from paying their most expensive heating bills in 15 years. Prices of natural gas have soared, analysts said, because of underproduction and consumers' extensive use of air conditioners this summer.

The total debt owed by bankrupt Japanese companies hit a postwar high last month, a research firm reported. The data from Teikoku Databank comes just days after the Bank of Japan ordered the nation's first interest-rate hike in a decade, lifting its overnight lending rate from almost 0 to 0.25 percent. Some economists were concerned the interest rate boost, which increases borrowing costs, could stifle the nation's effort to emerge from its worst recession in decades, and likely lead to more bankruptcies in the coming months.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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