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U.S. factory orders reach 5-month high

U.S. factories saw demand for their products rise in December by the largest amount in five months, a spot of welcome news that failed to change the picture of an economy struggling to stay afloat. The Commerce Department reported Monday that orders placed with U.S. factories rose by 2.3 percent in December. That was an improvement from the 1.7 percent gain posted in November and marked the biggest increase since July. For all of last year, total orders -- durable and nondurable goods -- placed with U.S. factories went up by just 1.4 percent. It was the worst performance since 2002, when the economy was struggling to recover from the 2001 recession. In 2006, factory orders rose by 5.1 percent.

Broadband rates up

Beginning next month, AT&T Inc. will raise the price of its most common broadband Internet services in many of the states where it operates, a company spokesman said Monday. The $5-per-month hike will apply in all but the states acquired with the buyout of BellSouth. It will affect customers who have the company's three slowest broadband tiers, ranging from 768 Kbps to 3 Mbps, AT&T spokesman Michael Coe said. The 1.5-Mbps service is the most common among AT&T's 14.2 million broadband customers. The hike does not affect new customers who sign up for the slowest broadband service, Coe said. The price increase goes into effect in March, and affected customers began getting notices via e-mail or in their bills late last week, Coe said.

Banks tighten credit

Many U.S. banks have made it harder for creditworthy borrowers to get a mortgage, according to a Federal Reserve survey released Monday that underscored the spread of a painful credit crunch. "About 55 percent of domestic respondents indicated that they had tightened their lending standards on prime mortgages," the Fed survey said. That was up from about 40 percent in a previous survey released in November. Problems first cropped up in the market for risky "subprime" mortgages made to people with tarnished credit or low incomes and have been spreading to more creditworthy borrowers. Foreclosures have hit record highs.

Coming Wednesday

Employees coping with recession fears, stock fluctuations and mortgage problems can increase stress in the workplace.

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