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Dow dips slightly after weak report from Wal-Mart

| Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2006

Wall Street ended an erratic session narrowly mixed Monday, largely shrugging off a lackluster sales report from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and news of weak consumer spending last month. The market's ability to withstand bad news -- especially from Wal-Mart, seen by many traders as a barometer of consumer sentiment -- illustrates the confidence many investors seem to have in the overall direction of the economy and Wall Street itself. Still, it was clear that investors were somewhat tentative after Friday's weaker-than-expected reading of the gross domestic product, the broadest measure of the economy. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 3.76, or 0.03 percent, to 12,086.50 after changing course several times.

CEO: AK Steel not on market

As a lockout of union employees nears its ninth month, AK Steel executives insist that they are not shopping the Ohio company even though some analysts think it is being eyed for a possible takeover. "We are all about improving our competitiveness," Chief Executive James Wainscott told investors. "If in the process of doing that it makes us more attractive, so be it; but we are not actively marketing AK Steel." Some analysts believe that potential suitors are just waiting for AK to resolve its labor problems. The company has been operating its largest mill, the Middletown Works, about 30 miles north of Cincinnati, with replacement workers since a lockout began March 1. AK Steel also has a plant in Butler County.

Urban Settlement sells stake

Urban Settlement Services in the Hill District said Monday it sold a 35 percent stake for undisclosed terms to Fiserv Inc., which processes financial data and manages related information. Based in Brookfield, Wis., Fiserv also has an operation Downtown. Urban Settlement provides home-mortgage settlement services to such banks as PNC, Citizens and Bank of America. Fiserv's investment will enable Urban Settlement to expand its product line and enhances the firm's "credibility in the settlement industry," said CEO Charles Sanders. Urban Settlement employs about 135 people, including 35 locally. It is certified by the National Minority Supplier Development Council.

Green alliance gets boost

The drive by the Green Building Alliance to establish southwestern Pennsylvania as the nation's center for manufacturers of Green Building products has received $1.25 million boost. The funding is through a $1 million grant from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority and a $250,000 grant from the Heinz Endowments. The South Side-based Alliance will release a report, "Green Building Products: Defining and Verifying the Opportunity for Western Pennsylvania," and announce Wednesday that the funding will help it work with local economic development groups -- such as the Allegheny Conference on Community Development -- to attract manufacturers to the region and help those already here to expand.

Mellon to lay off 60

Mellon Financial Corp. has notified the about 60 workers who remain at its U.S. passport application processing unit Downtown that they will be laid off between Dec. 28 and Jan. 10, when the government contract extension expires. Forty other workers in that business had been laid off at the end of September. Mellon had processed passport applications for the U.S. Treasury Department since 1988 but lost the contract last year.

Phone firm to mark century

North Pittsburgh Telephone Co. employees can expect breakfast on the go and cake at lunchtime Wednesday, to mark the company's official centennial. North Pittsburgh has been celebrating all year, giving $1,500 grants to each of the eight school districts in its service area and running various promotions. But it was on Nov. 1, 1906, that the company was chartered to bring phone service to residents and businesses north of the city. North Pittsburgh today serves 68,000 access lines in parts of Allegheny, Butler, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties; sister company Penn Telecom Inc. provides business communications.

SAR may create 40 jobs

SAR Plastics of Donora on Monday received a $50,000 grant from Innovation Works to improve the way the company produces molded polyurethane millwork, which could create 40 jobs within three years. SAR Plastics will engage polymer research experts at the Plastics Manufacturing Center and the Plastics Technology Center, resources of Penn State University. Pittsburgh-based Innovation Works is a state-funded agency that provides investment and business support for technology companies in nine area counties. SAR Plastics, which employs about 10 workers, is a subsidiary of RAS Industries of Charleroi, which employs 65 workers.

Stein Mart store coming

Stein Mart, a Jacksonville, Fla., discount department store, will open its first Pittsburgh location at McIntyre Square in Ross at 10 a.m. Nov. 9. The company, which offers a variety of merchandise for women and men, plus accessories, gifts, linens and shoes with prices below the manufacturer's suggest price, will have a 36,488-square-foot showroom at 8050 McKnight Rd., with 40 to 50 full and part-time workers. A opening store event will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 7 to benefit Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Tickets will be required, and the event will include refreshments, three $100 gift vouchers and two $50 gift baskets as prizes. The Ross location will mark Stein Mart's fourth Pennsylvania store, but the company has more than 260 stores in 30 states.

Earnings

• Verizon Communications Inc.'s third-quarter profit edged higher to beat expectations, led by another stellar showing at Verizon Wireless. The company said Monday it earned $1.92 billion, or 66 cents per share, in the July-September quarter, up from $1.87 billion, or 68 cents per share in the same period last year. Third-quarter revenue totaled $23.25 billion, rising from $18.49 billion a year earlier. A big chunk of that nearly 26 percent increase came from the addition of MCI's consumer long-distance and corporate telecom businesses.

Other business news:

• Mine Safety Appliance Co.'s manufacturing plant in Murrysville is one of the safest in the country, according to the U.S. Labor Department's Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It said the Murrysville plant had a 62 percent reduction in reportable accident rates since 2001, which is 65 percent below industry averages. Fewer than 1,100 workplaces across the country across the country have earned the distinction since 1982.

• Alcoa Inc. said Monday it opened a new 15,000-square-foot automotive assembly plant in Modena, Italy. Alcoa is the sole supplier of aluminum spaceframes for three Ferrari model cars. The company's expanded plant employs 75 workers using two robotic machining centers. The $1.2 million facility replaces a plant located in a Ferrari factory in Modena. Alcoa has six operating locations in Italy.

• Barnes & Noble, which plans to close its Downtown Pittsburgh book store in early 2007 -- when its lease expires at 57 Heinz Center -- will establish a presence at Duquesne University. The firm, which currently operates the University's book store, will be situated in the new one-story building under construction on the campus.

• Three tenants at Raceway Plaza in Heidelberg have been relocated within the shopping center to make room for a 140,000-square-foot Lowe's Department Store. Radio Shack, H&R Block and Advance America have new sites within the complex, said Rob Glimcher, president of Glimcher Group, owner of the complex. The complex is fully leased, he said.

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