The U.S. economy is poised to keep growing, at least through the first half of 2000, leaving it on track for the longest expansion ever, the Conference Board said in releasing its index of leading economic indicators for June. The private research group said the index rose 0.3 percent, matching May's 0.3 percent gain. The longest economic expansion in U.S. history lasted for eight years, 10 months, starting in 1961. The current expansion, which began in March 1991, will break the record if it continues past January.

The SEC announced the filing of 26 enforcement actions against companies and people involved in what it described as fraudulent micro-cap schemes. The Securities and Exchange Commission has targeted 82 defendants who, it says, profited by more than $12 million and cost investors several millions more. The agency applies the term micro-cap stocks to companies with very low assets or market capitalization. There are 6,500 companies whose stocks are quoted on the over-the-counter bulletin board, but less than half of these file reports with the commission. Poor and unreliable public information about such companies, then, facilitates "pump and dump" or stock manipulation.

Excite At Home shares soared by more than 10 percent in early trading, after a report by Business Week Online that the company might be acquired by rival Internet portal and access company Yahoo. But after Excite At Home President George Bell stated during a speech there was "no truth to the rumors" the stock plunged, ending only 43 3/4 cents higher at $43.37 1/2. At Home completed its $6.7 billion acquisition of Excite only two months ago, billing the combined operation as "the new media network for the 21st century."

Mortgage rates passed 8 percent for the first time in two years, according to HSH Associates, a financial publisher that surveys mortgage lenders. HSH said the average lending rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage had climbed to 8.07 percent, up from a two-year low of 6.85 percent in September 1998.

Xoom.com, a San Francisco-based online direct-marketing company, said it has acquired privately held LiquidMarket for about $46.8 million in stock to add comparison-shopping technology to its Web site. Los Angeles-based LiquidMarket's software is designed to search for the best prices for products being sold by major Internet retailers.

The Federal Trade Commission announced cases against five travel companies--American International Travel Services, Cerkvenik-Anderson Travel, First Impressions, All Around Travel Club and ASQ--accused of defrauding customers by not disclosing the full terms and costs of their trips. An additional 20 companies face charges by state regulators.

Humana said chief executive Gregory Wolf resigned unexpectedly to pursue other interests. The Louisville-based health-care firm named Chairman David Jones interim CEO and said it had begun searching for a permanent successor.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief executive, said in an SEC filing that he intends to sell 10 million common shares of the software maker, valued at almost $849 million. The sale would amount to less than 1 percent of Gates's holdings in the company. Gates regularly sells parts of his holdings in the company.

Nearly half the banks, thrifts and credit unions in a survey have not taken all the necessary steps to limit risks to consumers using Internet banking, congressional investigators reported. But the report by the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said its investigators found no financial losses or security breaches in online banking. The GAO's review of banking regulators' examinations of 81 financial institutions found that 35 of them, about 44 percent, hadn't taken all the risk-limiting steps regulators have said are needed.

Converting the New York Stock Exchange into a for-profit corporation is "inevitable" and should be done "sooner rather than later," Chairman Richard Grasso said in a letter to members. The NYSE's board will take up the issue of converting from a not-for-profit membership organization on Sept. 2, he said.

Sales of cars and light trucks rose again in July as consumers took advantage of deep summer discounts, keeping the industry on pace to break its 13-year-old annual sales record. At General Motors, the world's No. 1 automaker, sales rose 21 percent from last year when GM was hobbled by a 54-day work stoppage. Daimler-Chrysler said its sales were up 10.1 percent from a year earlier, while Ford posted a 4 percent increase. Toyota's sales improved 13.8 percent, and Honda's were up 7.9 percent.

Mattel, the world's largest toy company, said it will lend its Barbie and Hot Wheels names to a line of personal computers in September to add more sales from popular computer-based children's products.

LOCAL BUSINESS

America Online and Knight Ridder announced that the newspaper publisher will provide news and sports stories for the Dulles-based online service's Digital City network of community guides.

Ameritrade Holding, a Nebraska-based online brokerage, announced it will open a technology development center in a building being constructed for it in Annapolis Junction. About 300 people will work in the 120,000-square-foot building in the National Business Park, a development at routes 295 and 32 owned by Corporate Office Properties Trust.