The consumer confidence index soared from 141.7 in December to 144.7 in January, the highest level recorded since the index was created in the 1960s, the Conference Board reported. Both components of the monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households improved-- consumers' assessment of current business conditions as well as their expectations for the future.
Sales of existing homes soared 4.6 percent in 1999 to a record 5.197 million as Americans snapped up homes despite rising mortgage rates. Sales surpassed the previous record of 4.97 million set in 1998, the National Association of Realtors said. In December, however, sales fell 1.4 percent from the month before to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.06 million units. Economists read the December decline as a sign that rising mortgage rates have begun to dampen demand.
Microsoft must ship products featuring the Java programming language that conform to standards set by the language's owner, Sun Microsystems, a federal judge has ruled. However, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte amended an earlier ruling that said Microsoft could be in violation of Sun's copyright of the Java language as well as in violation of its contract with Sun. At the urging of an appeals court, Whyte dropped the copyright claim. Microsoft is accused of trying to extend the Java language for special use with its Windows operating system, which Sun contends is a violation of both the contract and its copyright.
Webvan Group, which sells groceries online in San Francisco, said it formed alliances with Kellogg, Quaker Oats, Nestle and Pillsbury to help attract shoppers as it expands to serve more cities. Financial terms weren't disclosed. Webvan, started by Borders Group founder Louis Borders, lets customers place online orders for meats, fresh fish and other products that will be delivered within a 30-minute time period. The company plans to expand its service to Atlanta, Seattle and Chicago this year.
American Home Products said fourth-quarter profit rose less than 1 percent, to $593 million, as increased costs ate into revenue from higher drug sales. Procter & Gamble said Monday that it ended talks to acquire American Home and its intended merger partner, Warner-Lambert. American Home and Warner-Lambert had agreed to a $53 billion merger in November.
AT&T's earnings declined as expected in the fourth quarter despite rising revenue, as the company continued to invest heavily in its strategy to use cable TV lines for telephone and Web service. Excluding one-time factors, the company earned $1.84 billion, down from $1.99 billion a year earlier. For all of 1999, AT&T's profit fell to $5.45 billion, from $6.40 billion.
Burlington Northern Santa Fe, the second-largest U.S. railroad, said fourth-quarter earnings rose 6.4 percent, to $315 million, as it carried more imports, grain and automobiles.
Compaq Computer, the largest maker of personal computers, said fourth-quarter profit fell 56 percent, to $332 million, as its commercial PC business kept losing money, and the company predicted that sales growth this year will slow from its 1999 pace. Sales fell 3.5 percent, to $10.5 billion.
Chevron, the third-largest U.S. oil company, posted a 63 percent increase in earnings in the fourth quarter as oil prices reached an eight-year high. Profit from operations rose to $819 million.
EBay said fourth-quarter profit rose 85 percent, to $4.9 million, as sales more than doubled. The auctioneer was the second most-visited Web site during the holiday season, according to Media Metrix, which tracks Internet use.
Exxon Mobil, in its first earnings report since it was formed by the biggest oil industry merger ever, said fourth-quarter profit rose 34 percent. The average price of oil was almost twice that of the year-earlier period, and earnings from oil sales more than doubled. Exxon Mobil said oil exploration profit climbed to $2.3 billion while Chevron's rose to $840 million. But profit margins on gasoline and other fuels plummeted. Its refining business lost $19 million in the quarter, compared with a profit of $945 million a year earlier.
Immunex, one of the world's biggest biotechnology companies, said fourth-quarter profit rose 10 percent, to $16.2 million, buoyed by sales of the arthritis drug Enbrel.
Johnson & Johnson said its fourth-quarter profit from operations rose 12 percent, to $796 million, on increased sales of surgical equipment and drugs.
McGraw-Hill said its fourth-quarter profit from operations rose 30 percent, to $96.6 million, driven by its textbook business and its Standard & Poor's unit.
Merrill Lynch said fourth-quarter profit more than doubled, to $764 million, driven by resurgent brokerage sales and higher fees from mergers and stock underwriting.
Occidental Petroleum said it had fourth-quarter profit from operations of $192 million, compared with a loss of $35 million in the year-earlier period, because of higher oil and natural gas prices and cost cutting.
Procter & Gamble said its fiscal second-quarter profit rose 11 percent in the quarter ended Dec. 31, to $1.26 billion, as overseas economies rebounded and P&G introduced a flurry of new products such as Swiffer mops and the Dryel home-dry-cleaning kit.
Qualcomm, the best-performing stock on the Standard & Poor's 500 index last year, said it may ship fewer chips and cellular phones in its fiscal second quarter than the first quarter, sending its shares down. The warning came as Qualcomm said profit from operations rose to $192 million in the quarter ended Dec. 26, up from $48.5 million. Qualcomm rose $8.93 3/4 to $149 on the Nasdaq in regular trading and dropped $14 to $135 on electronic networks in after-hours trading.
Raytheon, the world's third-largest defense and aerospace company, said fourth-quarter profit fell 79 percent, to $72 million, because of fewer missile shipments, accounting adjustments, and project delays in its aircraft and construction divisions.
SBC Communications, the nation's largest regional telephone company, said fourth-quarter profit from operations rose 8.2 percent, to $1.85 billion, as sales of data and Internet services surged and it drew more customers to its wireless business.
Xerox said it will take a new round of cost-cutting steps and roll out new products to improve its bottom line after reporting that fourth-quarter profits fell 52 percent. Net income in the fourth quarter was $294 million, compared with $615 million a year earlier.
America Online of Dulles said Vice Chairman Kenneth J. Novack, 58, has been elected to AOL's board of directors. Novack will fill the seat vacated by Thomas Middelhoff, Bertelsmann's chairman and CEO, who resigned his board position. Novack is one of AOL's leading strategists and dealmakers and was instrumental in negotiating the acquisitions of Netscape Communications and CompuServe. Novack is also part of a four-man "integration" team charged with restructuring the merged AOL Time Warner.
U.S. Enrichment, the Bethesda-based company that owns and operates the nation's only two uranium enrichment plants, is considering cutting jobs and closing one of the facilities because of falling prices and increased production costs, a spokeswoman said.