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News Comment
"A View From Across The Pond" an Englishman's personal view of the week's news in the USA -
from Erithacus

25th August 2001

As the Dow Jones index climbed 194.02 points on Friday and the Nasdaq managed to rise 73.83 points, some heralded this as the start of a recovery for the stock markets.
Many analysts, however, are much more cautious. The cut in interest rates again this week marked the eighth month of what may be the most determined campaign of rate-slashing by the Federal Reserve in its entire history, leaving rates now at the lowest point since 1994. Whether this is now having the desired effect remains a subject of debate, and opinions differ as to whether the U.S. economy is really now poised for renewed growth.

An announcement from the Federal Reserve following the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Tuesday indicated it felt the economy remained beset with problems. Worries about whether slowing growth abroad would have an impact, weakening of capital spending would be reversed, and whether consumer spending could be maintained were all primary features of its concerns.

Anger erupted among Toshiba employees worldwide as it was announced they would cut 20,000 jobs, more than 10% of its workforce. The announcement follows similar moves by its rivals NEC and Fujitsu, and, like them, the majority of the job losses are expected to be outside Japan. Toshiba’s shares have lost a quarter of their value since the start of this year.
Other job cuts announced this week include: DirecTV, the largest U.S. satellite television service provider (numbers undisclosed, but rumored to be around 1000 jobs); Deere & Co blame recent poor sales of agricultural equipment for the loss of 81 jobs; Lucent has cut another 290 jobs in Massachusetts to bring its total workforce there down to 6,100 from 9,500 just eighteen months ago, and expects shortly to have halved its worldwide workforce from the 123,000 employees it had in January; the shutdown of Ford Motor Co’s plants is affecting 7,900 workers and follows the announcement of 5,000 job losses, but Ford says the three plants affected will resume production on September 4th; AOL announced 1,700 layoffs on Tuesday, although mass job cuts had been expected for some weeks; a California law firm, Cooley Godward, specializing in handling work for start-up technology companies, is dismissing 86 of some 500 associate lawyers – seen by some as the long-awaited signal to other law firms who have more staff than work and will now follow Cooley Goodward’s lead with their own cuts.
Others cutting jobs included: Fairmarket, ICQ, Equant, Finnish Telecom, Tellabs, Yahoo, Bank One, Baltimore, Agilent Technologies, Intuit, Steelcase, Look Communications, JP Morgan Chase, Sony Music, Engage, Excite, and General Semi.

Yet, despite the seemingly never-ending stream of cuts, a report in the New York Times this week talks of serious labor shortages. They don’t mean tomorrow, or next month, or even next year, but a study released in November 1999 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that by 2008 there will be more than six million more jobs vacancies than there are people to fill them. Analysts had thought that the more recent economic slowdown would have reversed this situation, but indications seem to be that it has merely shifted the likely shortages across industry sectors. "Companies will have to grapple with changes in the work force structure," said Ronald E. Bird, chief economist for the Employment Policy Foundation, a business- oriented research group based in Washington.

In a moment of brightness amidst the doom and gloom, I see a report that the average bra size for women (naturally!) has grown from 34B to 36C. Smart clothing manufacturers have noticed the change, and production is shifting to market lighter and more revealing bras for the full-figured woman. With the shift in production comes higher profits, according to some manufacturers. Larger women expect to pay more for their clothing say the marketing gurus, and profits follow. "If you look at dress sizes for Size 14 plus, that's 35 percent of the apparel market, and that segment has been growing by 15 percent a year,'' said Ray Nadeau, president of Sara Lee's Playtex Apparel in Stamford, Connecticut.

As a resident of the UK where handguns are completely banned (except, of course, for criminals who reportedly can now buy them more easily than they could when it was legal for a law-abiding citizen to apply for a "firearms certificate" for a handgun), the attitude of the U.S. never fails to surprise me. This week, for example, I read that residents of Salt Lake City will be asked to hand in their concealed weapons before entering Utah’s Republican Party Convention at which Vice President Dick Cheney will be speaking. "We've offered to provide lockers to protect the rights of the gun owners and to ensure the safety of the vice president," said Paul Murphy, spokesman for the Utah Attorney General. It seems reasonable: Utah has, apparently, nearly 40,000 people who have a permit to carry concealed weapons.
What really startled me about the story was that apparently the gun owners will merely be asked to hand over their weapons. No compulsion. Would that be against their constitutional rights?

25th August 2001                        



Links to previous news comments:

31-March 2001

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