Housing starts fell 1.7 percent in August to the lowest level since the last recession eight years ago, the Commerce Department reported. The industry has declined from 1.81 million starts in 1986 to an annual rate of 1.13 million in August.

R.H. Macy & Co. said it plans to repurchase substantial amounts of its junk bonds and would consider selling a 20 percent equity stake in the company. The retailer has $1.6 billion of junk bonds outstanding that were issued after it was taken private in a 1986 leveraged buyout.

The Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board of Trade have formed a committee on common goals, with one official saying the action could lead to a marriage of the world's two largest commodities exchanges. END NOTESOlympia & York, the Toronto-based owner of Manhattan's World Financial Center and other holdings, has hired an investment banker to sell part ownership in its U.S. holdings, the New York Times reported. The developer is trying to raise cash for a complex of offices, stores and a hotel that it is building in London, the Times said.

The European Community's executive body rejected a plan by its top agriculture official for limited cuts in government farm subsidies, saying the proposal did not go far enough. The surprise move may improve prospects for breaking a deadlock between the United States, which opposes the subsidies, and the EC.