Office occupancy rates in the United States and Canada have fallen to 81.8 percent at mid-year from 83.1 percent a year ago, according to a survey by the Building Owners and Managers Association International. The survey also showed an increase in suburban occupancy rates, apparently at the expense of downtown office markets.

McDonald's said it has decided to cook its french fries and hash browns in cholesterol-free vegetable oil instead of the blend of beef tallow and vegetable shortening it uses now that has been criticized for its fat and cholesterol content.

NVR's subordinated debt rating was lowered by Standard & Poor's to triple-C from single-B-minus. S&P said about $220 million of subordinated debt of the McLean-based home builder is affected.

Charles Schwab was fined $375,000 by the New York Stock Exchange for using clients' stock without their permission to generate profits for the discount brokerage firm. Schwab, which agreed to the fine without admitting or denying guilt, earned a profit of $2.4 million on the trades, the NYSE said.

Four Andean counties would get special duty-free treatment of selected exports under a proposal by President Bush as a step toward "a comprehensive free trade zone for the Americas." The proposed preferential trade treatment would affect Ecuador, Colombia, Bolivia and Peru.

Penny-stock markets would be subject to tighter SEC control under a bill passed by the House. The Senate has approved a similar bill, and the two chambers are expected to work out a compromise version of the legislation.