"Baby Bell" US West plans to announce that it will enter into merger talks with Qwest Communications International, a spokesman said. US West had previously agreed to merge with transoceanic long-distance company Global Crossing and resisted Qwest's attempts to break up that deal, but Global Crossing share prices have dropped significantly. The US West spokesman said Global Crossing had consented to US West's decision to open talks with Qwest. Earlier this week, Frontier -- which had also agreed to merge with Global Crossing and was being courted by Qwest -- said that it, too, would begin talks with Qwest.

MCI WorldCom created a business unit, Global Solutions, to handle the company's $1 billion-a-year business of designing, building and maintaining communications systems for corporate customers. Based in McLean but drawing on a staff of 2,000 people around the world, the unit will be headed by Anthony Russo, an MCI WorldCom veteran. Customers include GE Information Services, the Nasdaq stock market and Sea-Land Service.

Starbucks shares fell 28 percent after the coffee retailer said its investments in Internet ventures will cut into this year's profit. Starbucks stock dropped $10.62, to $26.93 3/4, in Nasdaq trading. Chairman Howard Schultz has been investing in online companies outside the coffee business, hoping to capitalize on the Internet's growth.

Ask Jeeves, which operates an Internet search service that lets people ask questions in plain English, saw its stock more than quadruple in price in its first day of trading following an initial public offering. Shares of the Berkeley, Calif.-based company rose $50.93 3/4, to $64.93 3/4, on the Nasdaq stock market. The closing price gave the company, which had reported a loss of $4.9 million for the three months ended March 31, a market value of $1.58 billion. The 364 percent rise was the third-biggest gain for a U.S. stock in first-day trading.

Susan Ness will be nominated by President Clinton to a second term as a commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission. A Clinton appointee, Ness was sworn in as FCC commissioner in 1994 and is now the most senior of the commissioners. Her nomination is subject to Senate approval.

EBay, the No. 1 online auctioneer, had computer- related problems this week that led to periodic shutdowns, less than a month after the service crashed for almost a full day. EBay suspended its service for about an hour Tuesday and for about 90 minutes Wednesday.

Amtrak agreed to settle a racial discrimination lawsuit filed by African American managers and applicants for management positions. The settlement, which requires federal court approval, would create an $8 million fund to provide economic relief for the employees who sued. Amtrak did not admit to any wrongdoing but agreed to extensive changes in corporate practices designed to prevent race discrimination.

Hundreds of former F.W. Woolworth workers claim they were fired because they were over age 40 and are suing the parent company of the defunct five-and-dime chain for millions of dollars in back pay and damages. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which filed the class-action suit on behalf of 300 to 400 fired workers, said its investigation uncovered "a very clear pattern of age discrimination" between September 1995 and November 1997, when Woolworth began closing all its stores around the country. A spokesman for Venator, the new name of Woolworth, which now operates Foot Locker and Champs stores, declined to comment.

Aetna, the nation's largest health insurer, plans to withdraw Medicare health-maintenance organizations from five counties in California and Ohio next year in response to a decision to slow the growth of Medicare payments. The withdrawals will affect almost 1,700 members.

Cigna, the third-largest U.S. health insurer, plans to withdraw Medicare health-maintenance organizations from some markets in 12 states next year in response to cuts in projected payment growth. Some 39,000 customers will be affected.Monsanto said it plans to sell its artificial sweetener business, which includes such well-known brands as NutraSweet, as part of a restructuring aimed at trimming debt. Monsanto said it will also sell its unit that makes biogums, ingredients used to thicken food products such as sauces and gravies.

U.S. Bancorp agreed to pay several states and charities $3 million to settle allegations it illegally sold confidential customer information to a telemarketer. The amount equals the commissions the bank earned on the sale of the information. U.S. Bancorp, the nation's 13th-largest bank holding company and parent company of US Bank, did not admit wrongdoing.

Loews, the holding company controlled by the billionaire Tisch family, plans to sell three of its New York City hotels as it shifts the focus of its lodging business to more upscale properties.

Natural gas futures contracts fell sharply on the New York Mercantile Exchange after a report showed supplies in storage rose at a sharper- than-expected rate last week. August natural gas fell 8.5 cents to $2.309 for each 1,000 cubic feet.

DuPont said it will cut 800 jobs in its agricultural chemicals business, or about 15 percent of the unit's work force, to trim costs and boost profit. The cuts would result in pretax savings of $200 million annually in DuPont's crop protection business. DuPont expects to take an unspecified third-quarter charge for the job cuts and is also considering writing off assets.

Lazard Group is considering changing how its pays its 155 partners by linking bonuses to the performance of the whole firm rather than letting them keep most of their fees, a partner said.

AT&T and Lucent Technologies were hit with a class action suit claiming that the two knowingly sold phone systems that may be damaged by the year 2000 computer bug.

LOCAL BUSINESS

DynCorp, a Reston-based technical services contractor, has signed a contract with the federal government to recruit and train the 450 police officers the United States is contributing to the civil administration in Kosovo. DynCorp has previous experience recruiting civilian police officers for Bosnia, eastern Slavonia and Haiti. It also provided personnel for the short-lived Kosovo Verification Mission set up under an October 1998 agreement. The value of the contract was not immediately available.