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Business Briefs

Health insurers to reduce rates, Volkswagen announces sharp drop in sales, inflation rate slips in Germany and more.


Germany's largest health insurer is voluntarily cutting its premium rates.

Health insurers to reduce rates

With the government threatening to force reduced health insurance premiums by law, a handful of Germany's public health insurance funds announced Friday they would voluntarily reduce monthly rates. The country's largest health insurer, Barmer, said it would reduce premiums from the current level of 14.9 percent of a person's gross earnings to 14 percent for its 8 million customers. Health insurer KKH said it would lower premiums by between 0.7 and 1 percent. However, health insurer AOK said it had no plans currently to reduce rates and dismissed threats by the government to make cuts legally binding as "senseless."

Volkswagen announces softer sales

Volkswagen, Europe's largest carmaker turned in disappointing second-quarter figures Friday. A slip in demand sunk profits by 49 percent in the second quarter, with net income falling to €394 million from €776 million in the same period a year earlier. VW says sales have been hurt by the strong euro and declining demand for its aging models. The company has been losing marketshare to France's PSA Peugeot Citroen and Renault SA, whose cars compete head to head with the aging Golf. Volkswagen is banking on the fact that sales will increase again after the release of its next-generation Golf model in September. Despite Friday's negative news, the company's shares rose by close to 2 percent on Friday. The sales report came the same day VW reversed an earlier decision to lay off up to 4,000 workers in Brazil following considerable pressure from unions.

Prices fall in Germany

Prices in Germany dropped slightly in July. The Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden said the rate of inflation rate dropped to 9/10 of a percent this month, down from 1 percent in June. The International Monetary Fund has warned that Germany faces a risk of deflation, after the economy shrank in the first quarter and the strong euro slowed the country's mighty export sector and weakened corporate earnings. But the strong euro also meant import prices fell a fourth month in June.

Germans getting poorer

For the first time in postwar history, Germans grew poorer than the previous year in 2002. The combined monetary assets of people living in Germany fell to €3.65 billion ($4.19 billion) last year, according to a report issued Thursday by the German Banking Association (BdB). One year earlier that figure was €15 billion. The association attributed the steep loss to drops in the market. The value of private stock assets in Germany was halved in 2002, from €347 million to €166 million.

Group wants trainee posts for pizza and Doner Kebab makers

Pizza and kebabmakers in Germany may soon have to undergo training before they can knead dough or stuff pitas with lamb shavings. The head of the Liberal Turkish-German Association said Friday he would submit a petition to Germany's upper legislative chamber calling for obligatory vocational training for workers in pizza parlors and Doner Kebab stands. Chairman Achim Dörfer of Göttingen said the move would create hundreds of trainee positions for Turkish and Italian students at a time when training positions are in high demand and short supply. In Germany, Doner Kebab stands and pizza parlors provide close to 50,000 jobs. As its model, the group is looking to Italy, where pizza bakers are required to undergo three to four years of training before they are supplied with a master's certificate entitling them to become official pizza makers.

Compiled with information from wire services.