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Newly lowered interest rates did little to help the Nikkei, Japan's main stock index, which closed at its lowest level in 15 years Thursday. The Nikkei stood at 12,681.66, a point not reached since Nov. 20, 1985, after rallying from a midday low of 12,528. Analysts recommended, however, that investors focus on the broad Tokyo Stock Price Index, still comfortably above its record-low level, for a truer picture of where the Japanese market stands. In a surprise move Wednesday, the Bank of Japan cut two interest rates to try to stimulate a weakening economy.

The Limited, a specialty clothing retailer, announced plans to sell its Lane Bryant operations and reorganize its Structure division. At the close of its last fiscal year, The Limited had 688 Lane Bryant stores, which sell women's plus sizes. Structure, which carries men's clothing, will be renamed Express Men's.

Dole Foods Co. will stop growing table grapes, peaches, plums, and nectarines on four ranches in California that employ 1,200 seasonal workers, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Westlake Village, Calif., company hopes to sell the affected 5,000 acres by year's end and use the proceeds to pay down debt. Economists have attributed Dole's unprofitable California fruit-growing operation to consolidation on the processing side, changing eating habits, and competition from imports. But Dole, the world's largest fruit and vegetable producer, will continue to market imported fruit from Chile, the Times said.

In layoff news:

* WorldCom, the second-largest US provider of long-distance service, furloughed about 6,000 employees, or 7 percent of its worldwide workforce, a company source said. The move is part of a restructuring plan announced last year.

* Lego, the maker of internationally popular plastic building bricks for children, said it will close two factories in Switzerland, eliminating 400 jobs.

* Circuit City Stores, the Richmond, Va.-based retail electronics chain, announced plans to cut about 300 workers from corporate and division offices.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society


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