Consumer confidence fell for the fourth straight month in October, dragged down by worries over the volatile stock market and growing unease about the U.S. economic outlook, an industry group reported. The Conference Board said its consumer confidence index fell to 130.1 this month, from 134.2 in September and nine points below its June level. Economists had predicted a smaller decline in October, to 132.8.

Treasury Secretary Lawrence H. Summers urged a gathering at the Treasury of bank, insurance and securities lobbyists to tout the benefits that a banking overhaul bill will have for consumers and small and medium-size businesses. The push by Summers is intended to try to counter a perception among consumer groups that the bill will mainly benefit big businesses. The bill could go for a final House vote as early as Friday and to the Senate next week.

Ford workers represented by the United Auto Workers have overwhelmingly ratified a new four-year contract, the union announced. The ratification, which was backed by 85 percent of union members voting, ends months of negotiations with the Big Three automakers that saw the UAW win gains in wages and pensions without a major walkout.

IBM said it plans to buy back up to $3.5 billion of its stock, about 2 percent of the computer giant's outstanding shares.

Dun & Bradstreet, which is under shareholder pressure to boost earnings and consider selling assets, said Volney Taylor, 59, has resigned as chairman and chief executive. The financial information company, the parent of Moody's Investors Service, said Clifford L. Alexander Jr., a board member, will act as interim chairman and CEO.

Fidelity, the nation's biggest mutual fund company, has received permission from federal regulators to operate a savings bank that will offer personal trust services to customers. The approval by the Office of Thrift Supervision makes Fidelity the latest in a string of companies to get new federal savings and loan charters in recent months.

The Federal Communications Commission announced the creation of a new enforcement bureau as part of its effort to address the flood of complaints and counterclaims spawned by the deregulation of the communications industry. In creating the new bureau, which will serve as the primary vehicle to enforce the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and the commission's rulings, the agency is recognizing its growing role as a referee in high-stakes battles over communications markets.


Air France said it will buy eight Airbus Industrie jetliners for its long-range routes, giving the European planemaker its fifth victory over Boeing in a month. The French carrier will place a firm order for eight A330-200s and take options on five more, giving the total transaction a potential value of $1.6 billion.

Mitsubishi Motors said it plans to slash its global work force by 11 percent, the latest belt-tightening move among Japan's top companies. The struggling automaker said it will cut the 9,900 workers mostly through attrition.


DaimlerChrysler surprised Wall Street analysts with a third-quarter profit from operations well above expectations, thanks to vigorous sales of Chrysler trucks and Mercedes-Benz luxury cars. The German-

American company said its earnings were up 14 percent, to $1.6 billion, after adjustments for one-time charges and gains. The results worked out to a profit of $1.65 per share, which surpassed Wall Street estimates of $1.39 a share.

Compaq Computer, coming off an executive shake-up and more than 7,000 job cuts, reported net income of $140 million in the third quarter, compared with $115 million a year ago. But not counting $868 million in charges related to a restructuring and a $1.2 billion one-time gain on the sale of its AltaVista Internet portal, Compaq earned $117 million in the quarter.

EBay, the online auction site, said its third-quarter profit reached $1.35 million, up from $476,000, as new partnerships and expanded auction offerings such as cars and art led to a sharp increase in registered users. Excluding charges for stock compensation plans and acquisitions, operating income was $3.2 million, compared with $1.8 million a year ago.

Loral Space & Communications said its third-quarter loss from operations widened to $46.1 million, from $45.7 million, or 20 cents, in the year-ago quarter. The company attributed the widening to continued start-up and development costs for its satellite-telephone and data-services businesses.

Lucent Technologies posted a profit from operations of $972 million for its fiscal fourth quarter ended Sept. 30, a 50 percent increase from a year earlier. The company attributed the improvement to strong growth in sales of wireless, data and optical networking equipment.

Newell Rubbermaid, the maker of Levolor blinds and Calphalon cookware, said third-quarter profit from operations fell 3.9 percent, to $124.5 million, on low sales of Rubbermaid Home products and Little Tikes toys.


Columbia Energy Group, a Herndon-based natural-gas utility that rejected a sweetened buyout offer from NiSource this week, said it plans to build a power plant in Maryland to increase electricity sales. The gas-fired plant in Southern Maryland will be able to generate 550 megawatts of electricity, enough to light 550,000 homes. The cost wasn't disclosed, though similar plants have cost about $300 million, Columbia said. Construction is expected to begin in 2001 and take two years.