The Internal Revenue Service, after having allowed hundreds of companies over the past decade to convert traditional pensions into now-controversial "cash balance" plans, acknowledged yesterday that the conversions raise "a number of complex and difficult questions" and said it is joining other agencies in studying whether they violate age-discrimination and other federal laws. IRS and Treasury officials also told a congressional committee that the Clinton administration backs more disclosure to workers when conversions are made, and is studying other possible legislation.

Priceline.com, the Internet service that lets shoppers name their own prices for airline tickets, hotel rooms, cars and home mortgages, will soon allow them to do the same for everything from chicken to cereal to coffee. On Nov. 1, the online merchant will launch WebHouse Club, offering thousands of brand-name grocery items shoppers can buy online and pick up at participating supermarkets. There is one catch: WebHouse will charge shoppers' credit cards the moment the price is matched online, regardless of whether they find a lower price at the store.

The Clinton administration asked Congress to support a sharp increase in debt relief for the world's poorest countries in a move that supporters praised as the dramatic gesture needed to salvage the effort.

INTERNATIONAL

Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer-products giant whose 1,600 brands include Lipton tea, Breyer's ice cream and other household names, plans to reduce its product line to 400 in an effort to cut $1.4 billion in costs. Unilever said it would keep brands that are No. 1 or 2 in their respective markets.

EARNINGS

Goldman Sachs Group said its fiscal third-quarter profit rose 94 percent, to $638 million, as trading and investment banking revenue surged at the fifth-biggest U.S. securities firm.

3Com, the No. 2 maker of computer networking equipment, said fiscal first-quarter profit from operations rose 38 percent, to $119.3 million, on sales of corporate networking systems and its Palm electronic organizers.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Hechinger asked a Delaware bankruptcy court judge to approve a massive sale of seasonal merchandise by this Sunday. Saying it could realize $296 million from the sale of merchandise at its 117 stores, Hechinger argued the sale should happen "as expeditiously as possible so as to ensure maximum recovery." The judge will rule today.