U.S. factories’ output inches up in September

U.S. factories barely boosted their output in September, adding to other signs that the economy was slowing even before the government shutdown began on Oct. 1.

Manufacturing production rose only 0.1 percent, the Federal Reserve said Monday. That’s down from a 0.5 percent gain in August, which was slightly lower than previously reported.

Automakers boosted their output in September, but the gain was offset by declines at makers of computers, furniture and appliances.

Home-sale contracts fall to a nine-month low

The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy existing homes fell in September to the lowest level in nine months. The decline reflects higher mortgage rates and home prices that have made purchases more costly.

The National Association of Realtors said Monday that its seasonally adjusted pending home sales index dropped 5.6 percent last month from August to a reading of 101.6. That also pushed the index below its year-ago level, the first time that’s happened in nearly 2½ years.

There is generally a one- to two-month lag between a signed contract and a completed sale. The drop suggests final sales will decline in the coming months.

Merck& Co. takes 3Q hit as copycat drug sales soar

Merck & Co.’s third-quarter profit plunged 35 percent because of competition from generic drugs, lower sales of its top-selling medicine, and restructuring and acquisition charges.

It still beat Wall Street’s profit expectations, but sharply lowered its own forecast for the full year, sending shares down.

Generic competition continues to hammer asthma and allergy pill Singulair, cutting sales 53 percent to $280 million. The drug brought in $5.5 billion a year until its patent expired in August 2012 and cheap copycat versions flooded the market.

Burger King credits low-cal ‘Satisfries’ for sales trend

Burger King says it’s attracting more customers with its new lower-calorie fries, but is being careful not to call them a home run yet.

The Miami-based company said Monday that it saw sales trends in North America turn positive after last month’s launch of “Satisfries,” which have 20 percent fewer calories than its regular fries because of a batter that absorbs less oil.

The move into positive sales territory in October comes after Burger King said that sales slipped 0.3 percent at North America restaurants open at least a year during its third quarter. Satisfries, which cost around 30 cents more than regular fries, weren’t introduced until the last week of the quarter, which ended Sept. 30.

— From news service reports