Productivity gainsThe productivity of U.S. workers was...

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 09, 1994

Productivity gains

The productivity of U.S. workers was improving at the fastest rate in eight years as 1993 came to a close, while the cost of their labor was falling at the steepest pace in 10 years.

The Labor Department said nonfarm productivity -- output per number of hours worked -- shot up a revised 6.1 percent at a seasonally adjusted annual rate from October through December.

Unit labor costs shrank at a 3.1 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter, the largest decline since a 4.8 percent drop in the second quarter of 1983.

Met Life to pay fines

Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. agreed yesterday to pay $20 million in fines to settle charges of deceptive sales of life insurance.

But the nation's largest insurance company could end up spending nearly $100 million in fines and restitution to settle charges that agents wrongfully sold consumers life insurance policies masqueraded as retirement plans.

The settlement, endorsed by insurance commissioners of 28 states, involves a $20 million fine to be divided among the states. Met Life also agreed to pay about $76 million in restitution to some 60,000 customers nationwide.

Maclean Hunter merger OKd

After a five-week standoff, publisher Maclean Hunter Ltd. agreed to a slightly sweetened takeover bid from Rogers Communications Inc. yesterday in Canada's largest-ever media merger.

Under the merger of Maclean Hunter, Canada's oldest publisher, and Rogers, its largest cable firm, Maclean Hunter shareholders will get C$17.50 ($12.90) a share. That includes C$17 ($12.52) cash under Rogers' original offer, plus an added C50 cents (37 cents) through a special dividend paid by Maclean Hunter.

Maclean Hunter Chief Executive Ronald Osborne said that although Rogers is not actually paying out additional cash, it will assume any debt Maclean Hunter takes on to finance the dividend.

U.S. job cuts reported

U.S. companies eliminated 143,564 jobs in the first two months of this year, outpacing the record-breaking 140,187 shed in the same period last year, according to a report released yesterday.

But the number of job cuts dropped by 68 percent in February, to 34,618, from January's 108,946, said the report, by Chicago consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.

Columbia Bancorp dividend

Columbia Bancorp, parent of the Columbia Bank, with nine offices, has declared its first quarterly cash dividend on its common stock. The 3-cents-a-share dividend will be paid April 6 to stockholders of record March 21.

The bank holding company, traded over-the-counter, also reported 1993 earnings of $1.74 million, or $1.13 a share, representing a 73 percent increase over the prior year.

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