Representatives of Microsoft, the Justice Department and state attorneys general will meet Tuesday in Chicago to begin negotiating a possible settlement in the landmark antitrust suit against the software giant. Richard A. Posner, the Chicago federal judge assigned last week to mediate the dispute, will oversee the meeting. A source familiar with the matter said the first meeting is likely to focus on procedural issues, such as the timing and structure of future talks.

Microsoft is being sued in federal and state courts in Ohio by Stanley Chesley, a class-action lawyer who was involved in the Big Tobacco litigation. Chesley's lawsuits, filed yesterday, are among several actions filed on behalf of computer users since a federal judge found on Nov. 5 that Microsoft is a software monopolist.

Metropolitan Life Insurance filed plans for an initial public offering that could raise as much as $6.5 billion, the most ever in a U.S. sale of new shares. The company plans to go public in March after 85 years of ownership by its policyholders.

QVC, the home shopping channel, and Quigley, a maker of zinc throat lozenges, agreed to Federal Trade Commission demands that they not make unsubstantiated health claims about Cold-Eeze lozenges. QVC carried programs in which hosts and Quigley representatives claimed that Cold-Eeze can prevent colds, relieve allergies and reduce cold symptoms in children, the FTC said. The settlement involved no admission of wrongdoing and no payment of damages by QVC, the company said. Guy Quigley, president of Quigley, also noted that the settlement is not an admission of wrongdoing.

A national group of plaintiffs' lawyers filed class-action lawsuits against five of the country's largest HMOs, alleging a variety of frauds. The group, led by Mississippi-based Richard Scruggs, one of the lead attorneys in recent tobacco litigation, accuses Cigna, Foundation Health Systems, Humana, PacifiCare Health Systems and Prudential Insurance Company of America of misrepresenting how the companies make medical decisions.

The yield on two-year Treasury notes rose in yesterday's auction to 5.946 percent, from 5.935 percent at the last auction on Oct. 27. The notes will carry a coupon interest rate of 5 7/8 percent, with each $10,000 in face value selling for $9,986.80.

RECALLS

Sunbeam is recalling more than half a million humidifiers that have caused dozens of fires and four injuries. The humidifiers were sold under the brand names Sunbeam, Hankscraft and SunMark, and have water tanks that glow in the dark. The Sunbeam brand has service numbers 644 through 646 on the back of the humidifier's motor housing. The Hankscraft brand has service numbers 1260 through 1262 and the SunMark brand has service number 1260. Hankscraft and SunMark service numbers are on the inside of the motor's plastic housing. All the recalled humidifiers have date codes stamped on the plugs beginning with I001 through J226. Customers can call Sunbeam for a free replacement at 1-800-440-4668, or access the company's Web site (www.sunbeam.com) for more information.

EARNINGS

Deere reported a fiscal fourth-quarter loss of $29.5 million, compared with a profit of $162.1 million a year earlier. The company blamed the loss on a $40 million charge for an early-retirement program and on weak demand for agriculture equipment caused by depressed commodity prices. For the full fiscal year, Deere reported a 75 percent decline in profit, to $239.2 million.

Royal Ahold, the world's sixth-largest supermarket owner, said third-quarter profit jumped 43 percent, to $172 million, boosted by the purchase of U.S.-based Giant Food and a stronger dollar.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Genicom of Chantilly said it lost $27.9 million in the third quarter on revenue of $84 million, compared with a loss of $609,000 in the same period of 1998. The systems-integration company chalked up the loss to continuing operating losses, a $9.2 million reserve for future taxes and clerical errors in its earlier inventory accounting that took $2 million off the bottom line. The company also restated its first- and second-quarter 1999 losses downward as a result of the inventory error.

Watson Wyatt, a Bethesda-based human resources consulting firm, said it plans an initial public stock offering early next year of about one-quarter of its shares--now owned almost entirely by its employees. There are about 15.3 million shares outstanding and the offering, if approved by shareholders, will include both employee-owned and company shares, the company said.

HomeServices.com of Minneapolis, the nation's second-largest independent real estate brokerage firm, is to gain a foothold on the East Coast by acquiring Champion Realty, Maryland's largest locally owned nonfranchise brokerage firm. An alliance of eight major independent firms in 12 states, HomeServices is focusing on offering home buyers electronic commerce, such as utility hookups and mortgage loans online. Champion, based in Severna Park, did $520 million in transactions in 1998 in 14 offices from Odenton east to Maryland's Eastern Shore.

Ciena, a Linthicum, Md.-based maker of fiber-optic equipment for telecommunications companies, unveiled a new product for phone networks as part of its effort to fend off challenges from start-ups Corvis and Qtera. The MultiWave CoreStream will reduce costs for phone companies because it transmits information on fiber networks over longer distances, Ciena said.

Smithfield Foods of Smithfield, Va., said fiscal second-quarter earnings rose 20 percent, to $22.2 million, boosted by big gains in processed meat sales.