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Surging demand for semiconductors, stereos and other electrical equipment in July powered the largest increase in orders for long-lasting factory goods in eight months.

Orders to U.S. factories for durable goods, big-ticket items expected to last at least three years, rose 2.4 percent to a seasonally adjusted $187.5 billion, the Commerce Department said today.

The increase far exceeded projections by analysts, who had expected spillover from Asia's economic slump would hold growth in orders to a standstill.

July's sizable increase, the most since November, followed a small, 0.2 percent rise in June -- which previously had been reported as a 0.1 percent decline -- and a 3.3 percent drop in May, the worst in five months.

Durable-goods orders now have risen three of the last four months, despite Asia.

Durable-goods orders are an important signal of how busy factories will be in the months ahead. Since the start of the year, Asia-related sluggishness in manufacturing has led to declining factory employment.

In July, orders were led by a 12 percent surge in electrical and electronic equipment. A big increase in electronic components more than offset a drop for communication equipment. The category also includes radios, telephones, televisions, VCRs, lamps, cooking equipment and refrigerators.

Credit firm ordered not to sell data
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Trans Union Corp., one of the nation's largest credit bureaus, is under a judge's orders to stop distributing and selling detailed lists of customers names based on consumer credit information.

James P. Timony, an administrative law judge for the Federal Trade Commission, ruled that Trans Union "invades consumers' privacy when it sells consumers' credit histories to third-party marketers without consumers' knowledge or consent."

Timony's ruling doesn't prevent companies that gather credit information from selling some details to marketers, but requires credit reporting agencies to ask consumers whether they can use the information.

The ruling that Trans Union violated the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act stems from a 1992 complaint by the FTC against the company, which was accused of selling detailed information about people.

The FTC originally accused Trans Union in 1992, and another administrative law judge and the full commission upheld those charges. But a federal appeals court overturned the law judge's ruling and returned the case to the FTC, which handed the case over to Timony.

Applied Materials to cut 2,000 jobs
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) -- Applied Materials Inc., the largest manufacturer of chip-making equipment, plans to cut 2,000 jobs, or 15 percent of its work force as it grapples with the Asia economic crisis and a shift to cheaper computers.

The announcement Tuesday came two weeks after the company reported a 75 percent drop in quarterly profits and was the latest sign of a downturn in the semiconductor industry.

Applied Materials said it would eliminate 750 jobs in Santa Clara, Calif., and 600 in Austin, Texas.25.

Canadian dollar hits record low
TORONTO (Bloomberg) -- The Canadian dollar fell to a historic low against the U.S. currency Tuesday on renewed concern a world oversupply of commodities won't be absorbed soon and demand for Canadian raw materials will weaken further.

The dollar fell to 64.45 U.S. cents, the lowest in its 140-year history, after earlier rising as high as 64.76 cents in early trading. The currency finished the North American trading session at 64.50 U.S. cents -- its lowest close ever.

Praxair gets FDA warning letter
WASHINGTON (Bloomberg) -- Praxair Inc., the world's No. 3 industrial gas supplier, didn't follow proper procedures at its medical gas manufacturing facility in Baltimore, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said in a warning letter.

The FDA's July 22 letter stemmed from a June inspection of the Baltimore facility. Inspectors found quality control violations including failure to document testing methods and failure to have proper controls against mixing up cylinders.

The company, which has a large complex in the Town of Tonawanda, is waiting for a response back from the FDA, said Praxair spokesman Bill Hoerger.

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