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TRADE DEFICIT DWINDLES: A pickup in foreign demand for American industrial supplies, household appliances and cosmetics helped narrow the U.S. trade deficit to $41.1-billion in January. Even with the improvement, however, the trade gap marked the second-biggest monthly deficit on record, the Commerce Department reported. The deficit slimmed down by 8.4 percent in January from December's record $44.9-billion. The gap narrowed as U.S. exports rose, helped out by a weaker U.S. dollar, and imports fell, reflecting the more cautious mood of American consumers and businesses. Exports of goods and services went up by 1.6 percent to $81.9-billion in January.

MCDONALD'S SALES SLIP AGAIN: McDonald's Corp. reported lower comparable sales for a 12th-straight month, continuing its worst-ever slump despite a recent management overhaul. Worldwide sales at its restaurants open at least 13 months dropped a worse-than-expected 4.7 percent in February. McDonald's stock skidded to the latest in a series of 10-year lows. The shares, which have lost half their value in the past seven months, fell 9 cents to $12.38 on the New York Stock Exchange _ their lowest closing price since July 1993. Same-store sales were down 4.4 percent in the United States and 3.9 percent in Europe excluding changes in foreign currency rates. Total systemwide sales for February rose 4 percent to $3.1-billion, although without the beneficial effect of changed currencies they would have been down 1 percent.

PROGRESS SELLS RAILCARS: Progress Energy Inc. said Progress Rail Services Co.'s Railcar Ltd. unit signed a nonbinding agreement to sell most of its assets to a new company created by The Andersons Inc., a Maumee, Ohio, grain merchandiser. Terms of the deal, which aren't yet final, weren't released. Railcar would sell about 7,000 railcars and 48 locomotives to the new company. Progress said the sale proceeds would be used to pay Railcar's lease obligations.

PENSION FUND SUFFERS: Three years of slumping financial markets and low interest rates have sapped U.S. Steel's pension fund, leaving one of the steel industry's sturdiest funds with a deficit for the first time in almost a decade. The Pittsburgh steelmaker's pension fund was $391-million underfunded Dec. 31 _ a year after a $1.2-billion surplus, according to a report filed with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission. U.S. Steel's pension portfolio lost $434-million, or 5.1 percent, last year. In 2001, U.S. Steel's pension fund lost $26-million on investments, according to the SEC report. The loss leaves U.S. Steel's pension plan about 95 percent funded with $7.2-billion in assets to cover $7.6-billion in liabilities.

BELLSOUTH, SPRINT CASE: An arbitrator extended a restraining order Wednesday that prevents BellSouth Corp. vice chairman Gary D. Forsee from taking the top job at rival Sprint Corp., but plans to decide the matter by next week. The decision came after a three-day hearing involving Forsee, BellSouth's No. 2 executive. BellSouth went to court in January to stop Forsee from taking William Esrey's job as chief executive of Sprint.