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BUSINESS TODAY

Jobless rate climbs to 4.2%

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's unemployment rate climbed to 4.2 percent in January, the highest level in 16 months, as the dramatic slowdown in economic growth forced thousands of layoffs in autos and other manufacturing industries.

The nation's jobless rate rose 0.2 percentage point from a 4 percent rate in December, the biggest one-month jump since April 1999, the Labor Department reported today. The unemployment rate last stood at 4.2 percent in September 1999.

Manufacturing was the hardest-hit sector, losing 65,000 jobs last month and bringing total factory losses to a quarter million since June.

This huge job decline is seen as evidence that manufacturing is already in a recession.

Blockbuster is target of suit

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A group of some 200 owners of private video stores has sued Blockbuster Inc., claiming the company is monopolizing the video rental market and trying to drive independent stores out of business.

The lawsuit filed this week in Los Angeles Superior Court claims that because Blockbuster is owned by media giant Viacom Inc., the chain has "substantial market power and influence with the Hollywood studios."

Agreements Blockbuster made with studios in 1997 and 1998 to share rental revenues increased Blockbuster's market share and drove competitors out of the market, the lawsuit alleges.

Blockbuster, headquartered in Dallas, is the leading video rental chain, with some 7,500 stores worldwide. A statement released by the company Thursday called the legal action a desperate maneuver.

GE calls layoff report 'false'

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- General Electric Co. dismissed as false and mere guesswork Thursday a BusinessWeek magazine report that it plans 75,000 job cuts over the next two years.

Spokesman Gary Sheffer said that while chairman Jack Welch announced last month that significant layoffs were likely, the number has yet to be determined.

The magazine, citing analysts who have spoken to GE executives, said some 50,000 of the cuts would come from GE's $45 billion merger with Honeywell International Inc. The report is in the Feb. 12 edition released Thursday evening.

Honeywell operates a research facility in South Buffalo.

Tire production reduced

DECATUR, Ill. (AP) -- Officials at the Bridgestone/Firestone will cut the seven-day work week to six at two plants to slow production and avoid additional layoffs.

Company officials said that, effective immediately, the Decatur plant will close every Monday, while the Bloomington plant will close on Sundays.

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