Downshifting at Ford

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Downshifting at Ford

Ford Motor Co. announced that it would close 14 plants in North America and lay off up to 30,000 workers over the next six years. It also declared a $1.6 billion loss from its North American operations last year. Ford Chairman William C. Ford Jr. characterized the retrenchment as the road to recovery. But it also is part of a painful trend. General Motors Corp. has announced similar layoffs and factory closings, and DaimlerChrysler AG plans job cuts of its own, primarily from its managerial ranks.

Ameriquest Settles

Ameriquest Mortgage Co. agreed to pay $325 million to settle charges by state regulators that the lender defrauded and misled consumers through high-pressure tactics to sell mortgage loans . Ameriquest denied the allegations but agreed to alter some of its practices in the so-called subprime-lending market, which offers loans to people whose lack of assets or weak credit history disqualify them for lower-priced loans. Ameriquest, a subsidiary of ACC Capital Holdings Corp., is the nation's largest subprime-lending company.

Buying Nemo

Walt Disney Co. said it would buy Pixar Animation Studios for $7.4 billion in stock as a way to revive its animation-production efforts. Disney, creator of Mickey Mouse, has found that audiences have cooled to hand-drawn films. It said it hoped to get a creative boost from the expertise at Pixar, responsible for such huge, computer-generated hits as "Toy Story" and "Finding Nemo." In the bargain, Disney will also tap the advice of Pixar chief executive Steve Jobs, who is head of Apple Computer Inc., maker of the iPod.

Teflon Manufacturing

Eight U.S. companies, including DuPont Co., agreed to virtually eliminate a harmful chemical used to manufacture Teflon. The chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, would still be used to make Teflon, a ubiquitous nonstick material. But processes will be developed to insure that PFOA would no longer be released into the environment. PFOA has been linked to cancer and birth defects in animals and is in the blood of 95 percent of Americans. The pact was crafted by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Big Fine for Data Breach

ChoicePoint Inc. agreed to pay a $10 million federal fine over security breaches that exposed more than 160,000 people to possible identity theft . The Alpharetta, Ga., firm, one of the country's largest buyers and sellers of personal information such as Social Security numbers, birth dates and addresses, also agreed to pay $5 million into a fund to compensate people who suffered from the breaches. The fine, imposed by the Federal Trade Commission, was seen as a warning to companies to tighten their protections.

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