Business: Cash on the Line

As profit margins dwindled this year, investors awaited dividend meetings with forebodings of bad news. Last week they got a pleasant surprise from some of the industries hardest hit-by the recession—steel, autos and other consumer durables. Two of the U.S.'s biggest steel companies voted to maintain their dividends, even though first-quarter earnings were below the dividend rates. Bethlehem Steel reported first-quarter earnings of 52¢ a share, but voted to continue paying the 60¢ dividend, drawing on reserves, said

President A. B. Homer, as "some indication of our confidence in the future." Jones & Laughlin Steel continued its 62½¢ dividend, though its first-quarter...

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