In brief: Jobless rate up to 6.4 percent in February

The unemployment rate in Spokane County crept upward in February, but job numbers remained ahead of those for 2007.

Figures released today by the Washington Employment Security Department show 6.4 percent of the labor force was jobless last month, compared with 6.1 percent in January and 5.8 percent a year ago. Employment stood at 222,890, off from 223,480 in January but ahead of the 221,050 in February 2007.

The unemployment rate for Washington was 3.9 percent not seasonally adjusted, 4.5 percent adjusted. Seasonally adjusted numbers are not available for Spokane County.

The aerospace sector remained strong, and construction remained resilient despite a downturn in residential building. Chief Economist Evalina Tainer said commercial construction, especially in Eastern Washington, was offsetting weakness in homebuilding.

Although Ferry County, with 11.4 percent, became the first in Washington to report double-digit unemployment in more than a year, Tainer expects average unemployment for the year to stay below that threshold.

– Bert Caldwell


18 states sue Tricor maker

Washington and 17 other states have sued Abbott Laboratories in federal court, alleging the drug maker blocked generic competition for a widely used cholesterol medication, state officials said Tuesday.

The antitrust lawsuit against Abbott and French drug company Fournier Industrie et Sante and Laboratories Fournier SA, charges the companies sought to block competition for a cheaper, generic version of the prescription drug TriCor.

The cholesterol drug accounted for more than $1 billion of Abbott’s sales last year. The North Chicago, Ill.-based company had total revenue of $25.9 billion in 2007.

The states allege in U.S. District Court in Wilmington that the companies continuously made minor changes in the formulation of TriCor to prevent cheaper generic versions from being marketed. The complaint seeks triple the amount of damages incurred by the states’ public health agencies and individual consumers.

Abbott spokeswoman Melissa Brotz said the company’s actions are lawful. Abbott has not prevented the marketing of drugs similar to TriCor, she said, adding there are eight such products available.

– Associated Press


Lower auto sales forecast

A leading auto information firm on Tuesday lowered its 2008 forecast for U.S. new vehicle sales by nearly 5 percent to the lowest levels since 1994.

J.D. Power and Associates said declining consumer confidence and spending, along with turbulence in the financial markets, have driven its revised forecast from 15.7 million cars and light trucks to 14.95 million. Westlake Village, Calif.-based J.D. Power said the industry’s slow performance in January and February also prompted it to update the forecast it released late last year.

“All of these (factors) aren’t new; I think it’s the magnitude of them,” said Jeff Schuster, J.D. Power’s executive director of automotive forecasting. “There was some assumption in the previous forecast that something would ease up. … All of those things have not improved.”

The firm said retail sales are expected to drop to 12.3 million units, down from the original forecast of 12.6 million. That expected decline is driven by general economic conditions and fewer incentives.

A further decline in fleet sales also is anticipated, the company said, as daily rental sales are not expected to return to pre-2007 levels.

– Associated Press


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