The U.S. economy grew more vigorously during the first quarter than thought earlier, the Commerce Department reported, while corporations reaped their biggest profit increase in four years. Gross domestic product expanded at a 4.3 percent annual rate in the first three months, instead of the 4.1 percent estimated last month, as trade became less of a drag on growth.

Government and Microsoft lawyers met three weeks ago to discuss settling their antitrust dispute, sources close to the case said. The meeting did not produce an agreement, but both sides intend to continue talking. They each accused the other of disclosing the secret meeting, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The Justice Department criticized "Microsoft's repeated disclosures to the press to spin its position in settlement talks" as "a significant obstacle" to progress. Calling that allegation "categorically false," Microsoft said it is keeping its promise not to comment on any talks.

Lucent Technologies, the world's No. 1 maker of telephone equipment, will buy closely held Nexabit Networks for about $900 million in stock to get the Internet products it needs to compete with Cisco Systems. Lucent will issue about 14 million shares to pay for Nexabit, a startup developer of powerful switches for data networks.

Ross Financial Corp., owned by billionaire Kenneth Dart, disclosed in a regulatory filing that it was investing in RJR Nabisco's tobacco business as Carl Icahn was selling his stake. Icahn sold 25 million shares of RJR Nabisco on June 14, and the next day the company spun off R.J. Reynolds and Ross Financial crossed the 5 percent threshold requiring public disclosure of its R.J. Reynolds stake. Ross said it holds 10.7 million shares, or 9.9 percent of the stock.

Sales of existing homes dropped 4 percent in May, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.04 million units. But the National Association of Realtors said sales were up from 4.82 million units in May 1998.

The National Mediation Board ordered a vote next month on union representation for 9,500 employees of US Airways Group who staff ticket counters and airport gates. A board spokesman said ballots will be mailed July 16 and will be counted Aug. 20. It will be the third vote in 2 1/2 years.

Hicks, Muse, Tate & Furst, a U.S. buyout fund, will begin selling liquor after agreeing to purchase the G.H. Mumm and Perrier- Jouet champagne brands for $310 million from Seagram.

PepsiCo, the second-largest U.S. soft-drink company, will promote Steven Reinemund, 50, chairman and chief executive of its Frito-Lay snack-food business, to president of PepsiCo.

Planet Hollywood International said its president and chief operating officer, William Baumhauer, has left the company after one year to pursue other interests. The theme restaurant operator lost $34.7 million in the first quarter.


The Dutch government charged a number of large oil companies with price-fixing in the retail gasoline and diesel markets, a Rotterdam District Court spokeswoman said. She would not name the companies, but Dutch newspapers said they include the Dutch units of Royal Dutch/Shell and Exxon, both of whom denied the charges.


First National Bank of Maryland will become Allfirst Financial Inc. on Monday. The Baltimore bank's parent, First Maryland Bancorp, wants a new identity to reflect its varied businesses in Maryland, the District, Virginia and Pennsylvania. Checks and debit cards with the old names still will be honored, and account numbers will not change, a spokesman said.

Global Vacation Group of the District said that second-quarter and full-year earnings will fall short of analysts' expectations. The provider of vacation and travel services said problems with its Globetrotters brand led to revenue shortfall.

Columbia Energy Group of Herndon may buy back a large portion of its shares to fend off a $5.7 million hostile tender offer made to shareholders by NiSource of Indiana. The strategy was one of many discussed at an analysts' meeting this week, company officials said.