ECONOMY

The Conference Board warned that growing illiteracy among the ranks of potential workers represents "a softly ticking time bomb" for employers in the 1990s. The private business research group issued the warning in a study called "Literacy in the Work Force."

Oil and natural gas rigs in the United States increased by 17 this week to 1,064, Baker Hughes Inc. reported. The count represents the number of rigs actively exploring for oil and gas.

COMPANIES

Continental Airlines ordered 25 Boeing 757s worth $1.2 billion and placed options for 25 additional aircraft. The announcement said financing arrangements will include "significant participation by the aircraft and engine manufacturers."

Schick will launch a new razor, the Tracer, with a flexible cartridge designed to follow the contours of the user's face. The move was seen as a response to Gillette's introduction of a pivoting Sensor system last January.

Corroon & Black Corp. shareholders approved a merger with Britain's Willis Faber PLC, paving the way for creation of the world's fourth-largest insurance brokerage company.

Nova Pharmaceutical Corp. of Baltimore signed an agreement with Mediventures of Grosse Pointe, Mich., for joint development of psychiatric products.

Universal Security Instruments of Owings Mills, Md., settled claims with its insurance carrier for damage resulting from a fire in March. As a result, Universal will report an extraordinary gain of $1 million for its second fiscal quarter ended Sept. 30.

Ford said it would idle its plants in Lorain and Avon Lake, Ohio, next week because of a shortage of new orders, giving about 5,600 workers an unplanned vacation.

ACQUISITIONS

Bertelsmann AG, the German media giant, acquired the top book publisher in former East Germany, Graphischer Grossbetriev Poessneck. Terms were not disclosed.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco purchased Club, the third-largest cigarette brand in what had been East Germany, from the former East German State Trust.

INTERNATIONAL

Benetton of Italy agreed to set up a joint venture to produce clothes in Armenia. The goods will be sold in an unspecified number of stores that Benetton will open in the republic and in other Soviet cities.

EARNINGS

Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal, said net income declined 17.5 percent in the third quarter and 69.9 percent in the year's first nine months as the acquisition of Telerate Inc. weighed on profits.

Interco reported a loss of $35.3 million in the second quarter compared with a profit of $118.6 million in the same period of last year.

PEOPLE

Time Warner named Mark R. Mulvoy, the managing editor of Sports Illustrated, as publisher. Mulvoy will be replaced as managing editor by John Papanek, currently the managing editor of Sports Illustrated for Kids.

ODD LOTS

A Soviet stock exchange could start trading shares next year, but foreigners probably will remain on the sidelines until the ruble is convertible, according to John Phelan, chairman of the New York Stock Exchange. Phelan was in Moscow to take part in a seminar on running a stock market.