Business Briefs

Reported by Star-Bulletin staff & wire

Monday, March 1, 1999

First Hawaiian investor net up

Profits at First Hawaiian Bank and California-based Bank of the West helped the third-biggest bank in France to produce an improved second-half profit.

Banque Nationale de Paris reported a profit of $589 million for the second half of 1998, up 20 percent from a year earlier.

BNP said a surge of activity at branches in France boosted domestic profits, and its international retail banking profit, which includes returns from its 45 percent share of Honolulu-based BancWest Corp., was up 40 percent.

A&B expands stock buyback program

Alexander & Baldwin Inc.'s directors have given the company approval to buy another 2 million shares of A&B stock in the open market when conditions are right.

The authorization expands a share buyback program approved in 1996.

Personal incomes jumped in January

WASHINGTON -- Americans' personal incomes increased a robust 0.6 percent in January and their spending rose moderately, reflecting a strong start for the economy in 1999.

The increase, following a fluky 0.1 percent decline in December, suggests Americans will have the wherewithal to power the economic expansion briskly past its eighth anniversary in March. Personal spending in January rose 0.3 percent following a 0.7 percent surge in December, the strongest in seven months, the government said.

The National Association of Purchasing Management also said manufacturing activity surged higher in February, reversing an eight-month decline.

More Americans filing bankruptcy

WASHINGTON -- More Americans filed for bankruptcy in 1998 than ever before but the rate of increase dropped from the previous year, federal court officials reported today.

More than 1.44 million bankruptcy petitions were filed last year -- an increase of 38,000, or 2.7 percent, from the more than 1.4 million filed in 1997.

In other news . . .

Patriot American Hospitality Inc. said Chairman Paul Nussbaum quit as the No. 4 U.S. hotel company agreed to a $3.45 billion financial rescue . . . A judge hearing the Microsoft Corp. antitrust trial concluded the defense phase of the lengthy proceeding Friday, rebuking the software giant's last witness. The trial resumes in April . . . ETrade Group Inc. joined the Standard & Poor's MidCap 400 Index today.


Of Mutual Concern

News for mutual fund investors

Vanguard 'cooling off' Health Care Fund

NEW YORK -- The Vanguard Group closed its popular Vanguard Health Care Fund on Thursday to new investors.

Vanguard, the nation's second-largest mutual fund firm, said it closed the $10 billion fund to avoid speculative investors that chase top-performing mutual funds, only to dump shares when performance cools. Vanguard said the fund reeled in $564 million in January alone, more than four times the amount it took in during January 1998.

Closing to new investors will not change how the fund manages money. Vanguard said it expects the closing to last between six months and a year, referring to it as a "cooling off" period in a written statement.

"We are taking these strategic steps to protect the fund's long-term shareholders from the high costs and other potentially negative effects of speculative investing in the fund," said Vanguard Chairman John Brennan.

Merrill Lynch buying 'Net tech group

NEW YORK -- Merrill Lynch and Co. Inc., the nation's largest brokerage, said it would buy the Internet technology group of troubled investment firm D.E. Shaw to beef up its fledging online services.

Merrill, which up to now had resisted offering Internet trading to its 4.9 million clients, is planning to make online trading available for 55,000 account holders by the end of March. The D.E. Shaw unit's acquisition will help Merrill implement that strategy, said Howard Sorgen, the chief technology officer of the firm's private client group. The D.E. Shaw deal was first reported by the Wall Street Journal, which said Merrill paid about $25 million to $35 million for the unit's assets.

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