Gillette warned of an unexpected drop in fourth-quarter profit and said it may sell its Braun appliance and stationery-products businesses such as Paper Mate and Parker pens, which have been pulling down its earnings. The maker of Mach3 razors, Duracell batteries and other consumer products has now warned about its earnings four times since April. It reported its third-quarter earnings fell to $352 million from profit from operations of $353 million a year ago. In the year-ago quarter, a charge of $347 million for a restructuring resulted in net income of $6 million.

The number of Americans making new claims for unemployment benefits rose by 9,000, to 298,000, last week, the Labor Department said. Some economists said the increase might be the long-awaited harbinger of a slowing economy, but others said it was simply a blip in an otherwise historically tight labor market.

Goldman Sachs said it will promote 157 employees to managing director, the highest title before executive or head of a division at the fifth-largest U.S. securities firm. Since it went public the firm no longer has partners. Including the new appointments, New York-based Goldman will have 536 managing directors, about 4.8 percent of its 14,500 employees worldwide.

Funeral industry practices lack adequate government oversight, a congressional report said. The Federal Trade Commission "does not have a systematic or structured process for measuring funeral homes' compliance" with rules for the fair treatment of consumers, the General Accounting Office study concluded. The FTC disputed the findings and said it was satisfied that compliance with consumer protection rules has improved. The GAO report also said the FTC does not enforce penalties against funeral homes and cemeteries found violating consumer service rules.

RECALLS

Holmes Products is recalling 45,000 portable heaters with improperly positioned thermostats that can cause fires, the government said. The "wide-angle" Model HFH-297 heaters were made in 1998 and sold by mass merchandisers through July. Consumers should immediately stop using the heaters and call Holmes toll free at 1-888-227-8936 for information on how to get a refund, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The Web site http://www.holmes-

products.com also has information.

EARNINGS

Coastal, an oil refiner and natural-gas pipeline owner, said third-quarter earnings rose 11 percent, to $102.1 million, because of higher oil and gas prices and growth in its power-plant business. The results did not include a $2.3 million one-time loss from a discontinued trucking joint venture in the 1998 quarter.

Coca-Cola, whose stock is on track for its first annual decline in almost two decades, said third-quarter profit fell 13 percent, to $787 million, from slow international sales and a recall in Europe. It was the fourth earnings decline in a row.

Colgate-Palmolive posted an 11.5 percent earnings increase, to $239.7 million, for the third quarter. The company cited new consumer products and global sales growth for its improved results.

Duke Energy said third-quarter profit was $436 million, as the company took a charge of about $23 million to restructure its Duke Engineering & Services unit. In the year-earlier quarter, earnings totaled $424 million as the company had a gain of $25 million because it spent less to buy out some gas supply contracts than first estimated. Profit from operations rose 15 percent in the latest quarter, to $459 million, because of growth in its power and natural-gas businesses outside the Southeast.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber reported a 47 percent decline in third-quarter profit, to $97.2 million, saying earnings were hurt by the company's inability to keep up with growing demand for tires in North America.

GTE's third-quarter profit, excluding one-time items, rose 16 percent, to $952 million, compared with $822 million in the year-earlier quarter.

Halliburton said its third-quarter profit fell 70 percent as demand was slow to rebound. Net income fell to $58 million, from profit from operations of $195 million a year earlier.

Mattel's third-quarter profit fell 42 percent, to $135.3 million, on slow software sales, and warned that earnings for the year will be lower than expected.

McDonald's said third-quarter profit rose 12 percent, to $540.9 million, on higher sales in the United States and overseas.

Merck's third-quarter earnings rose 13 percent, to $1.54 billion, as it sold more of its cholesterol reducer Zocor, high-blood-pressure pill Cozaar and a new painkiller, Vioxx.

Nokia reported its third-quarter profit rose 36 percent, to $686 million, as demand for the Finnish company's mobile phones drove a big jump in sales.

Nucorp's profit from operations in the third quarter rose -- for the first time in eight quarters -- 4.7 percent, to $68.2 million.

Quaker Oats reported third-quarter net income of $137.3 million, including a pretax charge of $6.7 million and a gain for an accounting adjustment. In the year-ago quarter, Quaker reported net income of $107.8 million, including a gain of $7.6 million on the sale of two food-service businesses, and pretax charges of $9 million for efforts to cut costs and $40.5 million for an accounting change. Third-quarter operating income rose 8.6 percent, to $141.1 million, on a rebound in sales of its hot and cold cereals and as new varieties of its top-selling Gatorade sports drink became available on more store shelves.

Raytheon posted a third-quarter loss of $169 million, taking a pretax charge of $599 million as a result of problems with military contracts, revenue shortfalls, narrower profit margins and difficulties in integrating new acquisitions with its operations. The company earned $11 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Reebok took a third-quarter restructuring charge of $24.3 million, making net income $3.3 million. The company said third-quarter profits from operations fell 2.3 percent, to $27.6 million from $28.2 million a year earlier, on declining sales of Reebok sneakers and clothing and Rockport boots.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco's ongoing net income fell to $110 million in the third quarter, compared with $158 million a year earlier. Earnings were hurt by higher cigarette prices and lower consumption.

Seagram posted a smaller-than-expected $95 million loss in the fiscal first quarter, aided by gains in its music business and at its theme parks. The company posted a pro forma profit of $4 million in the same quarter a year ago.

Sears reported third-quarter earnings of $236 million, compared with earnings of $44 million in the year-ago period, the result of charges totaling $254 million. Profit from operations fell 11 percent, to $265 million, as the company lost sales to lower-priced or trendier rivals.

U.S. Steel reported its third-quarter profit plunged 86 percent, to $8 million.

Viacom reported net earnings of $96.7 million in the third quarter, which take into account one-time factors including a restructuring charge related to the merger of Spelling Entertainment and discontinued publishing and music operations, down from $123.4 million a year earlier. The company posted an almost 29 percent increase in profits from continuing operations, $110.9 million compared with $86 million a year earlier. It credited strong results from its cable networks group, which includes MTV, VH1 and Nickelodeon.

LOCAL BUSINESS

America Online said it made a marketing deal in which online postage firm Stamps.com will pay Dulles-based AOL $56 million over three years to be featured on AOL, Netscape and CompuServe properties. AOL also said it would make a multimillion-dollar investment in Stamps.com.

Ryland Group agreed to purchase the home-building assets of Thomas Builders, which specializes in entry-level town houses and single-family homes in the Baltimore area. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Thomas, founded in 1991, builds about 120 homes a year.

Atlantic Coast Airlines, the Dulles-based regional carrier that operates as United Express, announced that co-founder Ed Akers will step down as chairman Jan. 1. ACA President Kerry Skeen will assume the chairmanship while retaining his position as chief executive. Thomas Moore, currently executive vice president, will become president and chief operating officer.