Berkshire Hathaway, billionaire Warren E. Buffett's investment company, said second-quarter earnings fell 4.2 percent, hurt by weaker results from two of its major insurance holdings, Geico and General Re. Profit from operations, which excludes gains on the sale of securities, fell to $299 million from $312 million a year earlier. At Geico, profit was $20 million for the first half of the year, down 87 percent from $154 million a year earlier.

The Fed, stressing its readiness for dealing with the year 2000 computer glitch, has scaled back the amount of new currency it ordered from Treasury for fiscal 2000, which starts Oct. 1. The central bank said it ordered 9 billion currency notes, worth $67 billion, down from the 11 billion notes, worth $267 billion, it ordered for fiscal 1999.

Goldman, Sachs has amassed $124 million of gold bullion, saying it expects demand to improve in the months ahead. Goldman has taken control of half the gold in New York Mercantile Exchange warehouses, according to exchange records. Goldman described the transactions as normal business activity, though some traders speculate that a shortage may be developing.

MCI WorldCom said its U.S. frame-relay network will be out of service today as it tries to fix a problem that has plagued the system for eight days. Shutdown of the network for high-speed Internet access will start at noon Eastern time and continue for about 24 hours. Some customers of Internet service providers will not be able to connect to their service through local access numbers, MCI WorldCom said. As many as 30 percent of the businesses that use the network have been affected by the problem. For example, an electronic-trading system at the Chicago Board of Trade that relies on it failed again yesterday.

IMF board members approved a plan agreed to in June by the Group of Seven major industrial nations to reform a debt program for some of the world's poorest nations, but now lacks the funding to implement the plan. The initiative is on hold while the U.S. Treasury and IMF reconsider earlier plans to sell a portion of the agency's gold reserves on the open market.

AztraZeneca lost a bid to rein in generic drug competition when a federal court in Baltimore upheld approval of a generic version of Diprivan. The ruling validated an FDA decision to let Sicor market its version of the injectable anesthetic propofol, as a generic alternative to Diprivan.

Volkswagen's Beetle was the only 1999-model compact car to score a top safety rating of five stars for the front seat in side-impact tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the best results for other compacts were three stars in the front, and the Beetle's back seat won a three-star rating.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Hechinger has drawn up an incentive plan designed to keep experienced workers at the 117 home-improvement centers it will continue to operate. Employees have been quitting in large numbers ever since the Largo retailer filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection two months ago. At that time, the company announced plans to close 123 stores. Hechinger said in the statement that it wanted to offer "financial incentives for key employees." A copy of Hechinger's incentive plan was not available yesterday.

Sweetheart Cup will build a $20 million distribution center near Hampstead, Md., and enter into a joint venture with Baltimore-based EarthShell to make environmentally friendly food packaging. Sweetheart has submitted a proposal to the Carroll County Department of Planning for a mid-Atlantic distribution center that would be just over 1 million square feet and sit on 141 acres of near Route 30. Construction of the center is expected to be finished by next summer.

Cybermotion said it will make security patrol robots for the Army. The Roanoke company's CyberGuard is an indoor robot that uses sensors to detect and report fires, intruders and environmental hazards. The Army's initial order--four robots for a total of $500,000--is the first military production order for robots. Cybermotion is the hardware vendor of the robot. The prime contractor is Robotic Systems Technology of Westminster, Md., which will buy the robots from Cybermotion and sell them to the Army.