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Earnings in 1997 were the lowest in a decade for Niagara Mohawk Power Corp., which had to take an unexpected $123.5 million write-off in the final quarter as part of its PowerChoice rate settlement.

Nevertheless, an analyst on Friday said the company has positioned itself for a swift financial turnabout as it enters into a new era of competition in New York's power industry.

The Syracuse-based utility finished fiscal 1997 with earnings of $22.4 million, or 16 cents a share -- a nearly 70 percent fall from 1996 when it earned $72.1 million, or 50 cents a share.

It was Niagara Mohawk's lowest year-end profit in the 1990s and its worst year since 1987 when it lost $609 million.

The write-off wiped out the utility's fourth-quarter earnings and left it with a $124.9 million loss for the last three months of the fiscal year.

The company also warned that in the first quarter of fiscal 1998 it may have to absorb $125 million in unrecoverable costs related to the January ice storm in northern New York that left 150,000 Niagara Mohawk customers in the dark and cold.

Despite the depressed earnings, Niagara Mohawk still earned praise from an industry analyst for Oppenheimer & Co.

"The company is on a significant road to improvement," said Jonathan Raleigh.

The company reported electric revenues of $3.3 billion in 1997, which was essentially unchanged from 1996. Its natural gas revenues totaled $657 million, down 3.6 percent from a year earlier.

Largest TV plant to close early

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) -- Thomson Consumer Electronics said Friday it would close the world's largest television factory four days earlier than planned because it had met production goals.

The French government-owned maker of RCA, GE and ProScan televisions and other products had announced last year it would end production here April 1 because cheaper labor was available at its factories in Mexico.

But the last production shift will end at 1 a.m. Saturday, the company said. Employees will be paid through April 1.

The average labor cost of $2.10 per hour there amounts to just a fraction of the $19 per hour the average Bloomington worker earns. The move eliminates approximately 1,100 jobs in Bloomington and approximately 400 more in Indianapolis.

Union against Anheuser-Busch offer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Teamsters leaders said Friday they will recommend workers reject the final contract offer from Anheuser-Busch because it does not do enough to ensure job security.

The offer that increases wages and benefits will be given to 8,000 Teamsters on Sunday. Voting by mail was expected to take 30 days.

The current contract expires at midnight Sunday. Union workers have already voted to authorize a strike. If workers strike, Anheuser-Busch said it would operate its 12 breweries with salaried personnel and retirees.

Anheuser-Busch operates a brewery in Baldwinsville, N.Y.

100,000 to apply for 8,500 jobs

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The city's costliest megaresort is betting there won't be a crush of paperwork next week at Bellagio, even if more than 100,000 workers show up looking to get one of 8,500 jobs. A unique computer system is at the ready to streamline things.

The $1.6 billion Bellagio won't open until Oct. 15, but Mirage Resorts Inc. began preparing more than a year ago for the unprecedented hiring process.

Mindful of the snaking lines that have surrounded other resort openings, Mirage set up a $2.5 million job center just to handle the new hirings.

A bank of phone operators will begin taking calls Monday and setting appointments for applicants to show up.

Buffalo stock index lower in week

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