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Consumer spending propels expansion

U.S. economic growth accelerated over the summer and early fall, keeping alive the possibility of a late-year interest-rate increase from the Federal Reserve. The strongest consumer spending in 5{ years propelled the latest gain for the long-running economic expansion. The gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced within U.S. borders, rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 3.5 percent in the July-September quarter, the Commerce Department said Friday. Average growth over the past 12 months _ 4 percent _ is the best since 1984. Analysts said it is remarkable for an economy that has gone more than 6{ years without a recession and with inflation dwindling to a 30-year low.

JUDGE OKAYS MONTGOMERY WARD PLAN: Montgomery Ward Holding Corp. won a judge's approval Friday for lucrative severance and bonus packages to keep top managers with the retailer during bankruptcy reorganization. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Peter Walsh approved the incentives to ensure that the 125-year-old chain has stable leadership while it struggles to regain profitability. Under the new plan, Montgomery Ward's top 14 executives can get bonuses of as much as 125 percent of their salary and bonus if the company emerges from Chapter 11 by April 1, 1999. They are also in line to get three times their compensation package if the Chicago-based company is taken over and they are forced out of their jobs within three years. Roger Goddu, Montgomery Ward's chairman and chief executive, could get a $3.9-million severance payment if he loses his job.

US AIRWAYS PILOTS SIGN CONTRACT: US Airways pilots ratified a new five-year labor contract with the airline Friday, opening the way for the company to lower its costs and proceed with the purchase of new Airbus Industrie planes. The Air Line Pilots Association, which represents 4,800 US Airways pilots, said about 88 percent of members voted and that 84 percent of them approved the contract. The contract ends 18 months of sometimes contentious negotiations.

CONTINENTAL AIRLINES MUST PAY: A federal judge has approved a multimillion-dollar settlement in an age-discrimination lawsuit filed against Continental Airlines. Houston-based Continental will pay $6-million in cash and $1-million to $2-million in flight benefits in a deal approved Thursday by a U.S. district judge. Each member of the class action is expected to receive about $20,000. The lawsuit accused Continental of discriminating against its oldest and most senior airport workers when it replaced them with younger, lower-paid hires for America West Airlines.

Tampa Bay

BENTLEY PHARMACEUTICALS INC.: The Tampa company on Friday reported a net loss of $659,000, or 20 cents a share, in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, compared with a loss of $710,000, or 22 cents a share, a year ago. Sales were were $3.1-million, compared with $4-million a year ago (including sales generated by its French subsidiary, which was divested during the second quarter of 1997.)

NICHOLAS FINANCIAL INC.: Nicholas Financial said Friday profits were $250,123 for the second quarter ended Sept. 30, up from $236,719. The Clearwater finance company said net income for both periods was 11 cents a share, adjusted to reflect a one-for-three reverse stock split that took place in September. Revenues climbed 21 percent, from $1.6-million to $2-million, and assets 37 percent, from $21.7-million to $29.7-million.

SUPERIOR SURGICAL MFG. CO. INC.: The Seminole company announced Friday an increased dividend, to 12{ cents a share from 11 cents a share, payable Nov. 21 to shareholders of record Nov. 10. For 1997, the company's dividend payments will total 45 cents a share. The company is one of the nation's largest makers of uniforms, career apparel and accessories.

DOW DOLLAR YIELD

30 INDUSTRIALS VS. JAPAN'S YEN 30-YR. U.S. BOND

7442.08 120.37 6.15

+60.41 +0.09 +0.01

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