Dozens of trial lawyers from across the country will meet in Washington tomorrow to coordinate about 40 private antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft. The meeting, which will be held in the offices of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, is the first attempt at devising a national strategy to attack the software giant for allegedly overcharging consumers and corporations. Michael Hausfeld, a prominent plaintiff's lawyer and partner at the firm, will host.

Honeywell International will buy alarm maker Pittway for $2.2 billion in cash and assumed debt in a move to expand its presence in the $10 billion fire protection and security systems market. The acquisition comes at a time when the newly formed Honeywell International, the result of a merger with AlliedSignal, is planning more job cuts than originally expected--8,000, up from 4,500.

Gasoline prices dipped a half-cent nationwide, to an average of $1.3412 per gallon, thanks to continued stabilization of oil prices and lower demand, said industry analyst Trilby Lundberg. The Lundberg Survey of 10,000 gas stations also said that the average price nationwide has risen 31.12 cents since Jan. 8 and that the average price for the year was $1.2184.

WHX, the steel company run by financier Ronald LaBow, said that it bought 1.6 percent of Bethlehem Steel and that it wants to discuss the investment with Bethlehem's management, a signal that LaBow may have larger plans. A WHX spokesman declined to say whether the ninth-largest U.S. steelmaker plans to buy more of Bethlehem Steel, the country's second-largest steel company.

Interpublic Group, the world's second-largest advertising group, will buy ailing market research firm NFO Worldwide in a stock deal valued at about $580 million. Meanwhile, NFO said fourth-quarter earnings would be no more than 5 cents a share, compared with the 28 cents predicted by analysts. NFO shares rose 60 percent on news of the acquisition, while Interpublic shares fell 4 percent.

Newsweek, a unit of The Washington Post Co., acquired Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel magazine from Group XXVII Communications; terms of the deal were not disclosed. Arthur Frommer and Jacob Hill will stay on as editor in chief and publisher, respectively.

Nordstrom won approval from the Office of Thrift Supervision to expand its state-chartered credit card unit into a federally chartered thrift that can make loans and accept deposits. The thrift, to be named Nordstrom Financial Services, will offer retail banking services in the Phoenix area, but its main business will continue to be issuing and servicing Nordstrom's store cards and Nordstrom Visa cards.

Wendy's chairman, Gordon Teter, 56, died Saturday at his home in suburban Columbus, Ohio, and company founder Dave Thomas, 67, will return to supervise the company. An autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of Teter's death, but the company said it apparently was of natural causes.

T-bill rates rose. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday rose to 5.40 percent, from 5.21 percent last week. Rates on six-month bills rose to 5.60 percent, from 5.41 percent. The actual return to investors is 5.566 percent for three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,863.50, and 5.859 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,716.90. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield on one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 5.85 percent last week, from 5.69 percent the previous week.

ATM surcharges levied against non-customers cannot be prohibited in Connecticut, the state's highest court ruled. It said the 24-year-old law on which Banking Commissioner John Burke based the ban was not drafted with ATMs in mind. Iowa prohibits banks from charging non-customers for using their automated teller machines. Bans in San Francisco and Santa Monica, Calif., are on hold until court challenges are resolved.

Regulators are investigating complaints that could cause recalls of as many as 4.13 million cars and trucks, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's monthly defect report. The probes involve fuel tank overflow, accelerator pedals and spare-tire winch cables in Ford pickups and SUVs; alternator failures in Subaru wagons and sedans; steering problems in Dodge pickups, Chevrolet Corvettes and Toyota minivans; spurting during fueling of Mercedes-Benz cars; and stoplight failure in the Chevrolet Malibu.

Saturn employees voted 2,220-271 to replace a risk-reward arrangement with a contract similar to those of other U.S. autoworkers, the United Auto Workers said. A union spokesman said the new contract calls for 3 percent pay raises each year for four years, plus a $1,350 upfront bonus. Under the risk-reward arrangement, the workers earned less in salary than other General Motors workers but received bonuses for reaching productivity and quality goals. When Saturn's sales fell, the bonuses shrank.


Micron Electronics, the third-largest direct seller of personal computers, said earnings for its fiscal first quarter, ended Dec. 2, rose 25 percent, to $14.6 million, from a year earlier, although sales fell 13 percent.

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter said its fiscal fourth-quarter profit surged 86 percent, to $1.63 billion, as a boom in mergers and stock offerings propelled the investment banking business of the second-biggest U.S. securities firm. The figures worked out to a profit of $2.84 per share, far surpassing the $1.95 predicted by analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial. For the fiscal year ended Nov. 30, profit rose 57 percent, to $4.79 billion.

Red Hat, a distributor of the Linux computer operating system that competes with Microsoft's Windows, said it lost $3.6 million in the third quarter, compared with earnings of $103,000 a year earlier. It blamed its overseas expansion for the shortfall. Red Hat also said it is planning a 2-for-1 stock split to shareholders of record on Dec. 27 and might also issue more common stock.


US Airways flight attendants voted to strike if authorized by federal mediators in the new year. The Association of Flight Attendants said two-thirds of the 10,000 members voted, and 98 percent favored a strike. The attendants are under orders from the National Mediation Board to continue contract negotiations with the Arlington-based airline. Talks are to resume Jan. 3.

Allegheny Power, based in Hagerstown, said it will buy Mountaineer Gas, the largest provider of natural gas in West Virginia, for $323 million, including the assumption of $100 million in debt. Allegheny serves customers in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.

Dominion Resources, a Richmond-based electricity supplier, said it has "begun identifying suitable buyers" for its financial services unit, Dominion Capital, and will use the proceeds for its $6.4 billion merger with Consolidated Natural Gas. It said it does not expect to sell Dominion Capital before it completes the merger with Consolidated around the end of January.

Magellan Health Services of Columbia will buy Atlanta-based Vivra, its largest competitor, for $10.25 million in cash. Magellan Health is the country's largest manager of mental health care plans, and its specialty health unit handles areas such as cardiology and oncology. Magellan might pay an additional $10 million if Vivra meets earnings targets.