Consumer confidence dipped in July for the first time in nine months, the Conference Board reported. The group's index dropped to 135.6, from its 30-year high of 139.0 in June, a larger drop than analysts expected. Higher interest rates, tighter credit and a less rosy job market were cited as possible causes.

Federal securities regulators will go to court starting Dec. 1 to shut down brokerage firms that are not ready for the year 2000. In a 5 to 0 vote, the Securities and Exchange Commission set a target date of Aug. 31 for brokerage firms to complete their year 2000 compliance efforts but allowed additional time for unprepared firms to show that they will be ready no later than Nov. 15. "Any firm that cannot achieve Y2K compliance in a timely fashion will be required to cease doing business by Dec. 1," SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt said before the vote.

Internet users' private information isn't protected under Federal Trade Commission guidelines because few Web sites adhere to them, according to a study by the Center for Democracy and Technology. The group said Congress should pass legislation to force compliance with the privacy guidelines.

Binney & Smith, maker of Crayola, the world's best-selling crayon, said its deep reddish-brown color known as "indian red" will now be called "chestnut," to dispel any link with Native Americans. Binney & Smith, a unit of Hallmark Cards, said it settled on the name after a contest earlier this year drew more than 250,000 suggestions from almost 100,000 people. Teachers had complained that some kids wrongly associated "indian red" with the skin color of American Indians.

AT&T, which acquired cable television company Tele-Communications Inc. in March, will replace the TCI brand name across more than 600 local cable systems on Aug. 3. With the TCI acquisition and AT&T's planned purchase of MediaOne Group, AT&T would become the largest U.S. cable TV operator.

An Olivetti SpA subsidiary has been accused by 3Com's Palm Computing, the world's top seller of hand-held computers, of infringing on copyrights for software used to operate the Palm line of small computers. In a federal lawsuit, Palm contends Bridgewater, N.J.-based Olivetti Office USA, and an accessory supplier, CompanionLink Software of Brookings, Ore., are wrongly marketing copies of the Palm software in their inexpensive, Chinese-made, hand-held computers. Officials of Olivetti said they were investigating the allegations.

Computer Sciences Corp. is among the companies selected to a contract team to manage information-technology support services at the U.S. Census Bureau. As a subcontractor to Global Management Systems Inc. of Bethesda, CSC's contract work will support the Census Bureau's Census 2000 Program, which prepares state-level census counts, derives detailed geographic statistics and provides demographic data on the Internet. The contract has an estimated total value of $150 million over one base year and four one-year option periods.

First Union, the nation's sixth-largest bank, said it has joined with MCI WorldCom to offer prepaid telephone cards through 2,900 of the bank's automated teller machines from Connecticut to Florida. First Union also offers postage stamps at more than 200 ATMs, a service it plans to expand to 1,000 machines by year's end.

Gary Wendt, former chief executive of GE Capital Services, and three other former GE Capital executives plan to start a $3 billion private equity fund, aiming to split their investments between Europe and Japan, a person familiar with the plan said.

INTERNATIONAL

British Telecom has agreed to pay $5 billion to Securicor Group for the 40 percent of Cellnet it didn't already own. Cellnet, the second-largest mobile telephone operator in Britain, is thus effectively valued at $12.5 billion; the deal is subject to approval by Securicor shareholders.

EARNINGS

Chubb said second-quarter profit from operations, excluding gains on securities sales, rose 6 percent, to $163.5 million, as the property and casualty insurer benefited from higher sales of car and home insurance as well as fewer severe-weather claims.

Computer Sciences said its fiscal first-quarter profit rose 22 percent, to $78.3 million, thanks to a surge in new contracts awarded to the El Segundo, Calif.-based computer services company.

Cox Communications, the fifth-largest U.S. cable TV provider, said its second- quarter loss widened as the company introduced new services and programming costs rose. The company's loss from operations increased to $40 million, from a pro forma loss of $12 million a year earlier.

EToys posted a $20.8 million first-quarter loss, compared with a $2.2 million loss for the same period last year, in the Palo Alto, Calif.-based online toy seller's first earnings report since going public in May.

Homestake Mining reported a second-quarter profit $116,000, compared with a loss of $43.1 million a year earlier. North America's fourth-largest gold producer attributed the turnaround to job and cost cutting.

Monsanto reported second-quarter earnings of $344 million, up by 34 percent from a year earlier. It attributed the improvement to strong sales of its Roundup herbicide and Celebrex arthritis- treatment drug.

Nortel Networks, North America's No. 2 phone-equipment maker, had a second-quarter loss because of costs from its purchase of Bay Networks and other acquisitions. The company lost $138 million.Without the acquisition costs, Nortel would have had a profit of $375 million.

Qwest Communications International, the long-distance phone company that is merging with US West, posted a second-quarter profit of $18.5 million, compared with a year-earlier loss of $808.9 million, on rising Internet and data services sales. The year-earlier results included expenses related to the acquisitions of Phoenix LCI and Icon.

Tenneco said second-quarter profit from operations fell 27 percent, to $83 million, in part because of the cost of selling a majority stake in its containerboard unit and splitting its remaining two businesses.

Unocal said second-quarter profit from operations fell 69 percent, to $19 million, because corporate expenses rose while oil production and fertilizer prices declined.

LOCAL BUSINESS

An Ohio state legislator called for "a full-scale investigation" of the hostile takeover bid for Herndon-based Columbia Energy Group by NiSource of Indiana. Republican Rep. David Goodman said that he is concerned about the potential loss of jobs at Columbia Gas of Ohio and the potential for higher costs. Columbia, in opposing the NiSource bid, has said that state regulators were likely to oppose it.

Carlyle Group bought the Bank of the West building in San Francisco for $67 million, continuing a string of investments in the area by the investment firm headed by former U.S. defense secretary Frank Carlucci. The 20-year-old building was set to be sold two times in the last year, but both times the buyer was unable to secure financing. That enabled Washington-based Carlyle to step in and acquire the property for $240 a square foot, compared with the $300 a foot some San Francisco landmarks have fetched.

Royal Bank of Canada has invested $60 million in America Online's AOL Canada subsidiary, giving the bank a 20 percent equity stake. The bank and its U.S. subsidiaries Security First Network Bank and Bull and Bear Securities also signed a marketing deal with AOL under which they will collaborate on secure online payments, and AOL will collect $7.5 million from them.

CareerBuilder, a Reston-based provider of interactive Web recruiting services, reported a $5.2 million loss for the second quarter, compared with a loss of $3 million for the same period a year ago. For the first six months, the company posted a loss of $9.6 million, compared with a $6.1 million loss a year earlier.

LaSalle Hotel Properties, a D.C.-based hotel owner, reported funds from operations of $12.5 million for the second quarter vs. $10.2 million in funds from operations for the same period a year earlier. Funds from operations are a key financial measure for real estate investment trusts. For the first half of the year, the company generated an 11 percent increase in funds from operations of $21.3 million, from $19.2 million in FFO for the same period in 1998.

BioReliance, a Rockville developer and tester of biomedical products to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, reported a loss of $347,0000 in the second quarter, down from $1.3 million for the same period a year ago.