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Crude oil futures soared Friday to an eight-month high after the Clinton administration dispatched an aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf following violations of an Iraqi no-fly zone.

Crude futures had the biggest one-day gain since March 18 after the Defense Department said the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz would skip a port of call in Singapore and steam directly to the Persian Gulf, arriving within a week to help enforce a no-fly zone in southern Iraq. Crude oil for November delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 99 cents to $22.76 a barrel, the highest since Feb. 19.

November unleaded gasoline jumped 1.56 cents to 62.99 cents a gallon; November heating oil rose 2.21 cents to 62.01 cents a gallon. Natural gas for November delivery rose 1.2 cents to $3.125 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Inverpower to shut Tonawanda plant

Inverpower Controls Inc. will close its electrical power supply factory in Tonawanda next month, laying off 12 people, the company said.

The Burlington, Ont.-based company started operations at the 181 Cooper Ave. site in 1995 and employed as many as 23 people at one point, workers said.

Employees say the job total is now 18.

Inverpower makes specialized power supplies for medical imaging equipment, high energy physics research and ground power for military aircraft.

The work done at Tonawanda will be shifted to Burlington in a consolidation move, company officers said Friday.

"It wasn't an easy decision, because there's a good team down there," said Clemens van Zey, chief operating officer.

Although the North American Free Trade Agreement lessens the need for a U.S. factory, the trade law didn't cause the closing, van Zey said. "Mostly it's a change in strategic direction," he said. The Burlington factory will be able to take on the assembly tasks performed at Tonawanda without additional workers, he said.

GM's sales up 3%; Ford's off 2%

DETROIT (AP) -- General Motors Corp. on Friday said its September domestic vehicle sales rose 3 percent, but Ford Motor Co. posted a 2 percent drop.

GM's car sales were flat, but sales of pickups, vans and sport utilities rose 7 percent compared with September 1996. Ford said car sales were down 12 percent last month, while light-duty truck sales rose 8 percent.

The two were the last automakers to report September sales, and the final tally shows the industry's total sales dropped 4 percent last month. That mean consumers can expect more rebates and other auto-buying incentives, analysts said.

Overall, Asian automakers saw their U.S. sales fall 11 percent in September. The Big Three's sales were off 2 percent, while European automakers posted a 9 percent sales gain.

Boeing has trouble on 747, 737 lines

SEATTLE (AP) -- Boeing Co. will stop new production of 747 jetliners for 20 days, and slow some 737 production to try to unscramble problems caused by trying to more than double the number of aircraft it makes.

The 737 production also is being slowed because flight tests have revealed design problems in the newest version of the plane, Boeing said Friday.

Area stocks beat major indexes

The Buffalo Bloomberg Stock Index, an employee-weighted list of 58 companies with operations in the region, rose 5.39, or 2.92 percent, to 190.04 this week. The index is up 42.03 percent so far this year.

The index rose more, in percentage terms, than the three major U.S. stock indexes.

For the week, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index gained 19.81, or 2.10 percent, to 965.03, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 116.40, or 1.47 percent, to 8038.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 33.63, or 2 percent, to 1715.87.

In other business news

Gulf Union Bank in the Bahamas was shut down by authorities, citing

liquidity problems.

They termed the bank, owned by Sheikh Jabor bin Mohammed al-Thani of Qatar, as "relatively small" with assets of perhaps $40 million and 2,000 clients with deposits averaging $5,000 to $10,000.

Continental Airlines Inc. pilots union board voted against the company's latest contract offer, allowing negotiations to continue Monday, a union spokesman said.

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