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The producer price index took its biggest one-month leap of the decade in September, the US Labor Department reported. The index, which measures inflation before it reaches consumers, rose 1.1 percent. Over the past year, producer prices have risen 3.2 percent, their largest 12-month increase since 1991. The news led analysts and investors to predict another interest-rate hike by the Federal Reserve when its policymaking body meets Nov. 16. The price report - and a warning against excessive investor optimism from Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan - sent US stock prices down Friday to their lowest levels since April and the dollar tumbling against the yen and euro.

Board meetings were to be held as soon as today at three major Japanese insurance underwriters to decide on a proposed megamerger. Mitsui Marine & Fire, Nippon Fire & Marine, and Koa Fire & Marine have acknowledged they are in the final stages of negotiations to form a holding company that would be the industry's largest in Japan in terms of assets: $57.1 billion. Together with their agent networks, the nonlife underwriters have a work force of 118,461 people.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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