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Business in brief: Feds reiterate warning about recalled Fords

The government on Thursday warned owners of about 4.6 million recalled Ford vehicles to bring their cars and trucks immediately to dealerships to disconnect cruise control switch systems that have been linked to engine fires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued the consumer advisory to owners of certain unrepaired Ford, Lincoln and Mercury sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, vans and passenger cars who have not yet responded to past recalls.

The recalls have vexed the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker, affecting its popular F-Series pickup trucks, prompting hundreds of complaints and dozens of lawsuits over engine fires. Three deaths have been tied to the fires and Ford has struggled to produce enough parts to fix the problem.

About 9.6 million Ford vehicles have been recalled since 1999 and about 5 million have been fixed, raising concerns about the remaining vehicles on the road. The NHTSA said they have received about 60 complaints of engine fires in the Ford vehicles since August 2007.

The NHTSA issued a lengthy list of older vehicles covered by the consumer advisory, including 1993-2004 Ford F150 trucks, 1994-2002 F250 through F550 Super Duty trucks with gasoline engines, and 1998-2001 Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer SUVs.

A complete list was available at

For additional details, owners can call Ford at (888) 222-2751.

– Associated Press


Sears, Kohl’s profits drop

More evidence of a consumer spending malaise surfaced Thursday as Sears Holdings Corp. and Kohl’s Corp. reported double-digit profit drops in the fourth-quarter.

Meanwhile, Gap Inc. closed out its third consecutive year of declining sales with a 21 percent earnings increase in the period, reflecting the gains from cost cutting triggered by the worst slump in the clothing retailer’s history.

“The consumer is retrenching, and retailing is three steps behind,” said retail analyst Patricia Edwards, of San Francisco-based Wentworth Hauser and Violich. “There is a real tough path that retailing is going to have to tread. … It is going to be about having good merchandise and cutting appropriately. Gap and Wal-Mart are further down that path.”

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. last week reported a 4 percent profit gain in the fourth quarter as its renewed focus on low prices paid off.

As the three merchants reported the results, it was clear that a top priority this year will be slashing inventory and other expenses to better manage the spending downturn. Sears is even considering more dramatic measures to turn its business around.

The financier who leads the struggling retailer hinted Thursday at a plan that would allow some of the chain’s most popular and exclusive brands – Kenmore, Craftsman and DieHard – be sold at other stores.

– Associated Press


Anti-illegal worker law stays

A federal appeals court has refused to temporarily block Arizona from implementing its new law to penalize employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

The order by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denies a request for an injunction during an appeal. Opponents are appealing a federal judge’s order that upholds the 2007 law aimed at helping curb illegal immigration.

Business and other advocacy groups made the emergency requests to the 9th Circuit.

The appellate court’s order says it balances the seriousness of the issues, the challengers’ likelihood of success, the possibility of irreparable harm to the challengers and hardship to both sides.

The law took effect Jan. 1, but prosecutors have temporarily withheld filing any cases so courts could consider the legal challenge.

– Associated Press