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OSAKA — More than 3,000 employees applied for early retirement programs offered by about 30 domestic subsidiaries of Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., exceeding initial expectations, company officials said Tuesday.

Most of the applicants had already retired by the end of July, the officials said.

The subsidiaries include 22 regional sales units due to be merged into a single entity by October as well as Matsushita Leasing Co. and Matsushita Credit Co., which will also merge later this year.

The subsidiaries, which accepted applications for the early retirement programs until March 31, received more applicants than expected after offering higher-than-usual retirement allowances, the officials said.

Matsushita Electric said last Tuesday it incurred a consolidated net loss of 19.37 billion yen in the first quarter of fiscal 2001, a turnaround from a profit of 9.4 billion yen a year earlier.

The group posted a consolidated operating loss for the quarter, its first since it began reporting quarterly group business performance in 1971, it said.

On the heels of the slack performance, Matsushita announced it will introduce an early retirement program for itself in September, a move viewed as a break with the firm’s decades-long tradition of lifetime employment.

The Matsushita group reportedly has an excess of about 5,000 workers.

Credit rating change

Standard & Poor’s Corp. on Tuesday placed its long- and short-term ratings on Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. and its subsidiary Victor Co. of Japan Ltd. on CreditWatch with a negative outlook.

The reassessment of Matsushita’s credit rating “reflects a decline in the company’s profits, attributable to its inefficient cost structure,” the U.S. credit-rating agency said.

Matsushita’s long-term corporate credit rating is AA-minus, while the short-term rating is A-1-plus.

JVC’s long-term corporate credit rating is BBB-plus, while its short-term credit rating is A-2. Matsushita holds a 52.4 percent stake in JVC.

S&P said the placement “is also based on a deterioration in the company’s business environment as a result of weaker demand in the global information technology and communications markets, as well as the unfavorable effects of low demand in the mature home electric appliances market.”

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