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Mailboxes, etc.

National | Catalog retailers reassure consumers, energy prices fall through the floor, and other business news

Issue: "Politics Post 9/11," Nov. 17, 2001

Safer snail mail
With some Americans seeming to view their mailboxes as weapons-delivery systems, catalog retailers are in a bind. In response, they're moving to reassure consumers of the safety of their products. Mail order apparel giant Lands' End and Fingerhut, one of the nation's largest catalog retailers, now affix packages with more prominent logos, stickers, and trademarked nameplates. In addition, Fingerhut officials are publicizing new mailroom safety measures such as security personnel and restricted mailroom access. Meanwhile, direct-mail advertisers hope e-mail pitches might offer an alternative route into the homes of consumers now wary of snail mail from strangers. Advertisers will spend $1.8 billion this year on e-mail marketing-an increase of nearly 80 percent over last year, according to Jupiter Media Matrix, an Internet research firm. Jupiter projects that number could climb if the direct mail "open rate"-or number of times consumers read and respond to so-called junk mail-suffers due to consumers' fear of bioterror. Awash in oil
Just six months ago, analysts predicted summer gas prices might reach $3 a gallon. Now a gallon of regular gas sells for under $1 in many parts of the country, while home-heating prices could drop by a third this winter. Ample crude supplies, the national economic slump, and the post-9/11 travel slowdown are combining to drive down prices. Tom Kloza, director of the Oil Price Information Service in Lakewood, N.J., said members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are producing about a million barrels a day in excess of their own crude-oil quotas. Also, commercial demand for gasoline, jet fuel, and petroleum-based distillates that manufacturing plants use has declined since summer's end, sending the price of oil down to just over $20 a barrel, its lowest ebb since July 1999. But bad news for oil companies may be good news for consumers. Lower prices for heating oil, gasoline, and natural gas arrive just as third-quarter consumer spending fell by 1.8 percent. Americans should expect big energy savings this winter, analysts say, about 30 cents on the dollar for natural gas, for example, according to the Energy Department. The wealthy weigh in
More than two-thirds of the nation's wealthiest people remain optimistic about the economy, according to a report by insurance industry analysis firm A.M. Best. Life insurer The Phoenix Companies in June completed the survey of 1,000 millionaires and updated it after the Sept. 11 attacks. The study showed that while most wealthy people think the worst is over for the economy, they expect the recovery will be slow. The downturn may also be sparking more fiscal restraint among people with the most money to spend. About a quarter of the respondents said they are spending less this year on small luxuries such as dining out and will rely more on professional financial advisers than they did a year ago. Privatization of terror
The financial attack on the financial props holding up the al-Qaeda terrorist network is focusing on the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Bush administration last week prepared a new list of businesses and groups linked to terror, as the UAE continues to officially cooperate with the United States, freezing terrorist assets and cutting ties with the Taliban. Terrorist money and manpower flowed heavily through private UAE channels before the 9/11 attacks. Ten of the 19 hijackers entered the United States via flights that originated in the UAE province of Dubai, with two carrying passports issued there. Investigators also have traced at least $500,000 of the money that financed the attacks back to UAE banks. Meanwhile, terrorists also used the UAE's hawalas, or informal banking networks, to move questionable funds through the country. And in September, suspicion fell on Islamic charities in the UAE that investigators said may have funneled millions to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda movement. Analysts called the charity operations the "privatization of terror."

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