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PSC MAY SEEK BETTER OFFER FOR NINE MILE POINT PLANTS

To break a stalemate over the proposed sale of the Nine Mile Point nuclear plants to AmerGen Energy Co., state regulators might invite others to bid on the plants in hopes of raising the price.

The state Public Service Commission has not yet indicated what action it will take, but PSC staff representatives have made it clear they are not satisfied with AmerGen's $163 million offer. They say it gives inadequate compensation to utility ratepayers, who owe $1.8 million toward the cost of building the plants.

In a memorandum Wednesday, PSC staff attorney Kevin Lang said his office intends to file a motion to dismiss the commission's review of the AmerGen purchase "and to immediately explore, in conjunction with the utilities and interested parties, other scenarios for the future ownership and operation of the Nine Mile nuclear plants," The Post-Standard of Syracuse reported Thursday.

The PSC will wait to hear from other interested parties before ruling on Lang's proposal. If AmerGen's petition is rejected, most observers expect the PSC to encourage competitive bidding.

Lang's letter drew cheers from officials at Rochester Gas & Electric Corp., who intend to pursue their own purchase of the Nine Mile plants on the same terms offered by Philadelphia, Pa.-based AmerGen.

As a 14-percent owner of Nine Mile 2, RG&E has exercised a contractual "right of first refusal" to match AmerGen's offer.

Ford workers to get $8,000 bonus
DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. hourly employees will take part in the company's banner year and receive a record average $8,000 in profit-sharing checks for 1999, the automaker announced Thursday.

The amount exceeds the former record payout of $6,100 for 1998.

For the year, Ford earned $7.2 billion, or $5.86 per share, up 22 percent over operating earnings of $5.9 billion, or $4.72 a share, in 1998.

About 109,000 people will receive checks on March 3. Only hourly workers were covered under the company's profit sharing plan for 1999. Salaried employees were to be compensated through a performance bonus plan.

Mortgage rates mixed in week
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages edged down slightly this week after hitting their highest level since September 1996 the week before.

The average interest rate on 30-year mortgages fell to 8.25 percent for the week ending Jan. 28, down from 8.26 percent last week, according to a weekly survey released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the mortgage company.

Fifteen-year mortgages, a popular option for refinancing, also inched down this week with an average rate of 7.84 percent compared with the average rate of 7.86 percent last week.

But on one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, lenders were asking an average initial rate of 6.65 percent this week, up from 6.56 percent the previous week.

Separately, the Mortgage Bankers Association of America said mortgage loan applications for the week ending Jan. 21 decreased 5.8 percent from the previous week and were down 37.9 percent compared with the same week last year.

In other business news
The volume of help-wanted advertising in major U.S. newspapers edged up in December, the Conference Board said in a report Thursday. The business-financed research organization said its Help-Wanted Advertising Index rose to 86 in December from 85 in November. It was 87 one year ago.

The new company being created by the merger of Monsanto Co. and Pharmacia & Upjohn Inc. will be called Pharmacia Corp., the drugmakers said Thursday.

Amazon.com is laying off about 150 employees due to an internal reorganization. The cuts, announced Thursday night in a company meeting at Amazon's Seattle headquarters, represent about 2 percent of Amazon's entire work force of about 7,500.

Lockheed Martin Corp. slashed its dividend in half today on the heels of announcing it is eliminating 2,800 jobs in its troubled aeronautics and space divisions.

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