Business Briefs
Reported by Star-Bulletin staff & wire

Sunday, April 22, 2001



Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan, who hacked his way back into the good graces of Wall Street by springing a half-point rate cut on brokers who were just beginning to wonder how to pry open the 32nd floor windows: Greenspan fooled most Street seers, who wrongly predicted the Fed would wait until its May meeting to cut rates.

First Hawaiian Bank parent BancWest, which banked record first-quarter earnings of $61.7 million, up nearly 25 percent from a year ago. The bank also beat analysts' per-share profit estimates of 45 cents by 4 cents. A portion of the company's gains came from the quiet sale of its even more quiet 5 percent investment in Star Systems Inc.

Persistent investors, who can see optimism for the first time this year after holding tight through okole-clenching market downturns. To be sure, stocks have not returned to their former stratospheric levels, but may be in line for growth that bears some passing resemblance to their real value.


The Hawaii economy? Statements buried in the earnings reports of CB Bancshares and Alexander & Baldwin hint that there could be rough water ahead. CB Bancshares subsidiary City Bank is increasing reserves to cover bad loans and A&B reported shipments to Hawaii on Matson Navigation Co. were flat through the quarter.

Hawaii Federal Credit Union got a rough lesson in the perils of computer security when one of its computers was stolen. Not too long ago, the crime would have necessitated only a call to the police and insurance company. However, in the online age, the Credit Union not only reported the theft to law enforcement, it installed new network firewalls and sent a cautionary letter to its 49,000 members.

The 150 employees St. Francis Healthcare System is cutting as it tries to offset continuing losses: So far this year, the non-profit is more than $5 million in the red, which it blames on rising costs and falling government reimbursements.

Korean consumer confidence up, again

Seoul >> South Korean consumers may boost spending in the next six months as they become more confident about an economic rebound, a government survey showed. The index of consumer expectations, which points to spending plans over the next half-year, rose to 94.1 points in March from 92 in February. That's the third straight gain since December's two-year low of 82.2, though a reading below 100 still means more people plan to cut than increase spending.

The index of current spending habits rose to 74.1 in March from 73.2 in February, and the gauge of expectations for economic growth rose to 88.9 from 86.6. That's translating into better-than-expected sales for retailers like Hyundai Department Store Co., the country's second-biggest department store chain. "We're seeing a recovery in spending earlier than we expected," said Kim Min Duk, an official in the retailer's management and coordination department.

Philippine imports dip 11.7 percent

Manila >> Philippine imports fell in February for a third straight month as electronics makers, bracing for a drop in overseas sales, cut orders of parts and raw materials by almost half.

Imports slipped 11.7 percent from a year earlier to $2.2 billion after declining 6.8 percent in January, the National Statistics Office said. That left a $612 million trade surplus, compared to a $419 million a year ago. Exports for the month fell 3.3 percent to $2.8 billion, the government reported earlier.

The drop in imports suggests exports are set to fall further -- a worrying sign for an economy that's already one of Asia's worst performers. The government earlier this month slashed its 2001 export growth target to 4 percent from 8.7 percent.

Japan defends whaling in the name of research

TOKYO >> The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries defended its "research" whaling in an annual report released Tuesday, countering criticism from the United States and other antiwhaling countries.

In the fiscal 2000 report on fisheries endorsed at a cabinet meeting, the ministry stressed the research hunting last year in the northwest Pacific helped it confirm that minke, Byrde's and sperm whales are consuming large amounts of Alaskan pollack and squid, indicating ample stocks of the three species.

Japan has been pressing for the resumption of commercial whaling, arguing that stocks of whales have recovered and the amount of fishery resources they consume is a major factor behind diminishing supplies. According to Japanese estimates, the annual global yield of fisheries is 90 million tons, while the amount of marine resources whales consume is 440 million tons.

Japan gave up commercial whaling in compliance with an international moratorium in 1986. But the following year it turned to what it calls "research" whaling under rules set up by the International Whaling Commission.

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