Automakers and their suppliers, citing sales incentives and a weak economy, are less confident of a rebound in profit than they were a year ago, a KPMG survey found. Just 18 of the 100 executives from companies operating in North America expect industry earnings to regain 2000 levels in 2004, the accounting firm said. About 30 percent expect that to happen in 2005. In KPMG's survey a year ago, 36 percent expected earnings to return to 2000 levels in 2003 and 24 percent said it would happen by 2004.

Offer Planned for Bethlehem Steel

An investor said he intends to make an offer for all or part of the assets of Bethlehem Steel, though it probably will be less than many creditors of the bankrupt steelmaker hope for. Wilbur Ross, chairman of International Steel Group and a longtime investor in troubled companies, recalculated his offer after the federal government moved to take over Bethlehem's pension plan. The government takeover secured the benefits of pensioners but had the effect of adding to costs that ISG would face to rehabilitate the company.

MORE NEWS

Goldman Sachs Group, one of the five biggest currency traders, predicted that the dollar will fall for a second year against the euro and yen. A research report said the dollar will weaken to 115 yen and $1.12 per euro by the end of 2003, from 118.74 yen and $1.0503 on Tuesday.

Injuries from gunshots result in $802 million a year in hospital charges nationwide, according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. It analyzed injuries from 1997, the most recent year with complete data. The $802 million represents hospital costs and does not include physician fees or follow-up care. Initial hospital stays cost, on average, almost $24,000 for assault cases and $30,000 for accident cases. Nearly a third of victims are uninsured.

A federal judge in Oakland cleared Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco of responsibility in the death of a longtime smoker. Frank Robert White's children and widow argued that his death in 1999 at age 81 was caused by the companies' failure to make safer cigarettes or to provide adequate warnings of smoking risks. White, who began smoking at 14, had heart disease and pulmonary disease when he died. He did not have lung cancer, the disease most directly linked to smoking.

Hillenbrand Industries agreed to pay $250 million to settle accusations it tried to monopolize the market for specialty hospital beds. A federal jury awarded $173.6 million to Kinetic Concepts of San Antonio in September. Under federal antitrust laws, the verdict could have been tripled. Under the settlement, Indiana-based Hillenbrand would pay Kinetic Concepts $175 million when the case is dismissed and $75 million more a year later.

American Airlines announced discounts of up to 40 percent on leisure rates for winter and spring travel, covering more than 200 domestic and international destinations. Tickets must be purchased by Jan. 20.

INTERNATIONAL

Chiquita Brands International said it cut off subsidies for a money-losing division in Panama because union leaders there rejected a proposal to allow the operation to be sold to a worker-owned cooperative. Chiquita said Puerto Armuelles Fruit can operate briefly without the subsidies, but if an agreement is not reached soon on the sale, the division will close for lack of money. Armuelles employs 3,200 workers along Panama's Pacific Coast. Chiquita said it has lost $90 million in six years at he division.

LOCAL BUSINESS

CompuDyne, a Hanover, Md., company that sells attack-resistant doors and windows, lowered it fourth-quarter earnings forecast. CompuDyne previously indicted that earnings for the fourth quarter would reach 23 cents per share, but it said this week that it would be "only nominally profitable" in the fourth quarter. On Tuesday, CompuDyne's stock price fell 99 cents, to $6.29.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers.