General Motors, challenging a jury award of $4.9 billion to six people badly burned when their Chevrolet Malibu exploded in a 1993 accident, requested a new trial. The automaker said the trial judge, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest Williams, failed to investigate possible jury misconduct and improperly excluded evidence of drunk driving by the motorist who rear-ended the Malibu.

Natural gas prices rose for a sixth session, reaching a 20-month high, on expectations that unusually strong demand from utilities will keep U.S. supplies tight. Heat and humidity have kept air conditioners humming this summer, forcing utilities to burn gas to make electricity instead of storing it for the heating season, when demand is greatest. Commodity funds and other speculators bought contracts yesterday in a bet that above-normal temperatures forecast for the central region will send prices still higher.

NBC said it will acquire an equity stake in Net2Phone, which lets people make phone calls over the Internet. Financial terms were not disclosed. Shares of Net2Phone rose 23 percent after the announcement that visitors to the NBC.com, Snap.com and NBC Interactive Neighborhood Web sites will be able to search phone listings and click any listing to automatically dial the number using Net2Phone's service.

IBM Chairman Louis Gerstner sold 328,000 shares, earning about $37 million in his fourth share sale since joining IBM in April 1993. In May he sold 185,000 shares for a profit of $25.3 million. He still has options for 7.145 million shares and owns 860,000 shares, a company spokesman said.

Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com are shipping hate literature to Germany, including Adolf Hitler's "Mein Kampf," in violation of German law, a Jewish organization said. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center said it complained to the German Justice Ministry about the shipments by the online booksellers. The center said it had received confirmation from the ministry that it was investigating the two Internet retailers.

Four major U.S. retailers have settled a class-action lawsuit by agreeing to an unprecedented court-supervised monitoring of factories that produce their clothing in Saipan, a U.S. territory known for labor abuses. Nordstrom, Cutter & Buck, Gymboree and J. Crew Group admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement but agreed to pay $1.25 million to help finance monitoring by the nonprofit group Verite of Amherst, Mass.

Spending on machine tools in June fell 2 percent from May but was down 30 percent from June 1998, the Association for Manufacturing Technology said.

EBay, the online auctioneer whose Web site has been shut down periodically by computer glitches, said it named Gateway executive Maynard Webb to oversee its technical operations. Webb, who will be president of eBay Technologies, was chief information officer and senior vice president at Gateway. The computer maker, the No. 2 direct PC seller after Dell Computer, hired Webb a year ago to help with its expansion and business operations over the Internet.

Bell Atlantic cleared a major hurdle in its effort to break into the $80 billion long-distance market when KPMG Peat Marwick released a report on the ability of the company's computer systems to handle large volumes of customer service orders from competitors. Although KPMG stopped short of saying Bell Atlantic meets requirements, the phone company suggested it would file a long-distance application with the FCC next month.

Polaroid said marketing chief Jerry Noonan, 40, resigned after more than seven months at the post. A number of executives have left the company, whose sales have hovered at $2 billion for more than a decade. Sandra Lawrence, 49, will replace Noonan.

American International Group formed a unit to operate a market for trading forward contracts of telecommunications minutes and bandwidth, placing AIG in a new area of commodities trading. New York-based AIG, the largest U.S. insurer by market value, said the unit will oversee trading and delivery of telecommunications network capacity, allowing bandwidth and telephone minutes to be bought and sold anonymously as a commodity. Participants will receive market information in real time over a secure Internet link.

Paxson Communications, owner of the largest group of TV stations in the country, hired investment bank Salomon Smith Barney to explore a possible merger or sale of a stake in the company. The move follows last week's ruling by the FCC that will allow broadcasters to own two TV stations in one large market. A Paxson official said the company could sell as much as 32 percent of its stock to a TV network as part of a programming alliance involving its fledgling PAX TV network.

MCI WorldCom said it will spend $100 million on the World Wide Web-hosting centers operated by its UUNET Technologies subsidiary, including expanding the data center in the District. As part of an effort to capitalize on rising demand for Internet services, new data centers will be built in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and four other markets, bringing the total to 15.

T-bill rates rose. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday rose to 4.790 percent, from 4.695 percent last week. Rates on six-month bills rose to 4.915 percent, from 4.750 percent. The actual return to investors is 4.930 percent for three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,877.60, and 5.125 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,751.50. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for changing adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 5.13 percent last week, from 5.07 percent the previous week.

Most health maintenance organizations lost money for the second year in a row in 1998, prompting many plans to raise premiums and cut benefits, according to a study by Weiss Ratings. HMOs lost a combined $490 million last year, compared with a $768 million loss in 1997. About 56 percent of HMOs lost money last year, down slightly from 57 percent in 1997.

Cisco Systems, the leading maker of equipment that runs the Internet, is investing $1 billion in accounting and consulting firm KPMG to offer business functions online, KPMG said. Cisco will get a stake of less than 20 percent in KPMG, the U.S. unit of accounting firm KPMG International. KPMG will hire 4,000 engineers and service professionals, build six technology centers and offer services using Cisco equipment.

Ameritrade Holding of Omaha said it will buy a rival Internet broker, R.J. Forbes Group of Melville, N.Y., for an undisclosed price and move the R.J. Forbes business to Omaha by the end of the year.

Shares of Excite At Home, an AT&T-backed company that provides Internet access over cable TV lines, fell more than 10 percent to close at $38 following a New York Times report that AT&T and America Online were discussing an access-sharing deal that would "diminish the role of Excite At Home." AT&T said there is "no specific proposal currently under discussion between AT&T and AOL."

Computer hacker Kevin Mitnick, a computer vandal once on the FBI's most wanted list, was ordered to pay "token" restitution of $4,125 to companies that suffered millions of dollars in damage from his exploits. U.S. District Judge Mariana Pfaelzer said she doubts Mitnick, 37, can earn more than minimum wage.

INTERNATIONAL

Merrill Lynch's London arm was sued for $75 million by a Slovak oil firm that alleges the securities firm tricked it into taking risky and expensive loans. Slovnaft accused Merrill Lynch International of fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty and contract and other claims in connection with four loans totaling $175 million from 1994 to 1997. A Merrill spokesman called the action unwarranted and said "we intend to defend ourselves vigorously."

EARNINGS

Salon.com, an online magazine that recently went public, said it lost $4.6 million in the quarter ended June 30, compared with a $1.4 million loss a year earlier. But it said revenue more than doubled.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Dominion Resources, which is buying Consolidated Natural Gas for $9 billion, said it will sell Virginia Natural Gas, which is owned by Consolidated, to win state regulators' approval of the Consolidated acquisition. Dominion will have one year after the merger is completed to sell the utility. If no buyer is found, it said it will spin off Virginia Natural Gas and distribute its stock to Dominion shareholders.

Glen Burnie Bancorp. of Glen Burnie, parent company of the Bank of Glen Burnie, reported second-quarter net income of $361,000, up from $230,000 for the same period a year ago.

America Online formed an alliance to enable Juno users to exchange instant messages with one another and with users of AOL's Instant Messenger service. On Friday, Dulles-based AOL announced similar deals with EarthLink Network and MindSpring Enterprises.

Columbia Energy Group's chairman, Oliver G. Richard III, in a letter to NiSource Chairman Gary Neale, reiterated his company is not for sale, at least not to NiSource. The letter came in response to NiSource's announcement that it would extend its $68 a share cash tender offer for Columbia to Oct. 15 after receiving pledges for 60 percent of the outstanding common stock of the Herndon gas and electric utility company.

Frederick Brewing said an agreement giving Snyder International Brewing Group the exclusive right to negotiate a purchase of the company expired Sunday. Under the deal, Snyder would purchase a controlling interest in the Maryland beer maker, but Frederick said it is working toward completing the agreement without the exclusivity clause.

Heilig-Meyers of Richmond, the nation's largest furniture retailer, completed the sale of a controlling interest in Mattress Discounters to Boston-based Bain Capital for $204 million. It will use the money to pay down its debt.