ECONOMY Business inventories fell 0.7 percent in December, led by a 3.5 percent decline in automotive stocks as car sales outpaced production, economists said. Gasoline prices fell at self-service pumps another 2.7 cents in the Washington area last week, to $1.155 for a gallon of unleaded -- the lowest since Aug. 6, a few days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, said the American Automobile Association. Nationally, the average price fell to $1.164. Oil company profits at the nation's 18 largest companies rose 77 percent in the fourth quarter, the Energy Information Agency said. But profits of independent refining companies dropped 54 percent.

COMPANIES Japanese chipmakers Toshiba, Fujitsu, Matsushita and Mitsubishi announced production of experimental 64-megabit devices. The chips, two generations ahead of the 4-megabit designs that are the most powerful now on the market, hold about 64 million units of binary information. Weirton Steel will temporarily lay off workers because of falling prices and low demand for steel, the Intelligencer newspaper of Wheeling, W.Va., reported.

ACQUISITIONS Amax Coal Industries, the nation's No. 3 coal producer, strengthened its position in the industry by buying Cannelton Holding and its large, low-sulfur West Virginia reserves for $100 million. Nordica acquired Austrian Kastle, a subsidiary of the ski equipment manufacturer Fischer AG. Terms were not disclosed.

EARNINGS Campbell Soup said its second-quarter earnings were up 29 percent, a gain the company attributed to the success of its worldwide restructuring.

INTERNATIONAL Germany said its trade surplus contracted by 20 percent in 1990, as companies sold more goods to their former communist neighbors to the east and exported less. Mongolia became the 155th member of the World Bank. It also joined the affiliated International Monetary Fund. The European Community should help European airlines endure the Persian Gulf War through measures that would include easier competition rules, emergency state aids, tax breaks and higher prices, a top EC official said. Brazil announced it will lower tariffs, effective today, on hundreds of imported goods, ranging from cars to food.

COURTS Windward Properties of Atlanta, a Mobil Corp. subsidiary, faces a civil suit for violations of the Clean Air Act. According the Justice Department complaint, Windward failed to obtain required permits before placing fill material in creeks and wetlands just north of Atlanta. Harris Tube and two company officials were convicted by a federal jury of defrauding the government by producing faulty parts for the M-2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle -- using glue to conceal defects in gear boxes. Thomas J. Rattigan, former chief executive of Commodore International, won a jury verdict against the computer giant stemming from his ouster in 1987. Rattigan is seeking damages of up to $9 million.

PEOPLE James Rouse, the developer of Columbia, Md., plans to develop a new cruise-ship port and resort town in the Bahamas. Rouse's real estate business, Enterprise International Development Co., wants to "create a place that is not exclusive, where all kinds of people can live." Billionaire investor John Kluge said his investment company, Metromedia, has hired Salomon Brothers to advise on the possible sale of his controlling stake in Orion Pictures.