News In Brief

A $6 billion loan from two investors with a reputation for buying troubled companies was agreed to by Finova Group, a struggling commercial lender based in Scottsdale, Ariz. Under the proposed deal, Leucadia National and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway would lend the money after Finova files for bankruptcy reorganization. The two lenders would get 51 percent of Finova's shares. The deal must be OK'd by creditors, who already rejected a previous offer.

Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection was sought by Phenix Biocomposites, maker of a construction material resembling granite from soybean flour, recycled newspapers, and a secret ingredient. The Mankato, Minn., company laid off most of its workers last October, telling them the plant was shutting down temporarily so its machinery could be adjusted to make a new product. More than 1,000 farmers had invested in Phenix.

Bad news came in waves in Japan:

* Analysts used such terms as "shocking" and "very bleak" to describe the Tokyo government's report that industrial production fell by 3.9 percent in January while inventories rose 0.6 percent - both evidence of an economic slowdown spilling over from the US. Economists polled by the Reuters news agency had expected an industrial production jump of about 0.1 percent.

* The yen slid to 117.50 against the US dollar, a two-week low, after the Bank of Japan reduced two key interest rates, citing mounting evidence of a weakening economy.

* The Nikkei, key index of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, ended trading Wednesday at 12,883, its lowest close in 29 months. But that was after the index had tumbled at one point in the day to 12,784, lower than at any other time since Nov. 29, 1985.

* Nippon Telegraph & Telephone, the dominant land-line communications operator and one of the nation's largest employers, said it would cut 6,700 jobs and reduce spending by 9 percent in the fiscal year beginning April 1 due to growing competition from cellphones and Internet services.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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