Dollars & Sense

Printer cuts 4 jobs at Merced plant As rumors swirl about

the future of Quebecor World Inc. printing operations, four positions at the Merced plant were eliminated because less work is expected in coming months, a company spokesman said Thursday.

The multinational firm employs about 900 employees in Merced and is one of the largest private employers in the county -- second only to Foster Farms. It prints national magazines, including Newsweek, Time and The Economist. The firm has been plagued by a recent string of problems, which have depressed its stock price, prompted top management changes and triggered rumors it would close the Merced plant.

Lender for sale?

A buyout of hobbled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial likely would be approved by regulators, analysts say, because otherwise the company could file for bankruptcy, further disrupting the market for home loans. Bank of America Corp. reportedly is in talks to acquire Countrywide. The transaction would put the country's largest mortgage lender, which has experienced a surge in home-loan defaults and has seen its share price plummet, in the hands of the largest U.S. bank by market capitalization.

Soft month for retail

The economic outlook became more uncertain Thursday after many of the nation's big retailers reported weaker-

than-expected holiday sales, the result of consumers cutting their spending because of higher energy prices and the ongoing housing slump. The UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers' same-store sales tally was up a meager 0.9 percent in December, worse than the original prediction of 1.5 percent -- the weakest holiday period since 2002, when holiday sales rose 0.5 percent.

Mortgage workshop

Roundtable discussions about the home mortgage crisis, how it is affecting communities and what legislative efforts might be needed to address the situation will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at the Stockton Civic Auditorium, North Hall, 525 N. Center St. Sen. Barbara Boxer's legislative director, Polly Trottenberg; Stockton Mayor Ed Chavez; San Joaquin County Supervisor Victor Mow; Sutter County Supervisor Dan Silva; and other officials will attend.

Coming Saturday

Bob Kinsinger recently was honored for his management practices of 400 acres of timber near Twain Harte -- a resource that has been in his family since 1892.