EchoStar Communications' proposed $26 billion purchase of satellite TV rival Hughes Electronics will be challenged in court by U.S. and state antitrust enforcers, possibly as soon as this week, people familiar with the matter said. The Justice Department and state officials, led by Missouri Attorney General Jeremiah W. Nixon, are preparing to file lawsuits claiming that competition would be hurt by the combination. The Federal Communications Commission ruled earlier this month that combining EchoStar's Dish Network and Hughes's DirecTV would reduce competition for pay TV services, but it invited the companies to modify their proposal for reconsideration.

GM Extends Free Financing

General Motors said it will extend its offer of no-interest loans on all 2002 and most 2003 models by two months until Jan. 2 after the U.S. government said consumer confidence had tumbled to its lowest level in nine years. The GM "Zero, Zero, Zero" incentive program also allows no down payment and no monthly payment for 90 days. Ford and DaimlerChrysler's Chrysler unit also began offering no-interest loans last year to spur sales in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and have kept them amid slumping consumer confidence.

MORE NEWS

WorldCom should be barred from winning future government contracts, nine labor and advocacy groups contended in a letter to the General Services Administration. WorldCom contended the letter was orchestrated by the regional telephone giants, which have asked the Federal Communications Commission to revoke WorldCom's operating licenses. They maintain it would be bad for the industry and consumers if WorldCom emerged from bankruptcy without its massive debt load.

HealthSouth Chairman Richard M. Scrushy did not know about a pending change in Medicare rules or its impact until a week after he sold about $25 million of company stock, an outside law firm retained by the company concluded. Numerous shareholder lawsuits have been filed since HealthSouth announced in August that Medicare changes in billing rules would reduce profits by $175 million. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating. HealthSouth is the nation's largest provider of outpatient surgery, diagnostic imaging and rehabilitation services.

INTERNATIONAL

Vivendi Universal is close to selling its U.S. publisher Houghton Mifflin to a group led by Blackstone Group for about $1.67 billion, people familiar with the company said. Vivendi and Blackstone are in exclusive negotiations after two other bidding groups led by Washington-based Carlyle Group and Ripplewood Holdings dropped out, the people said.

Sony said it will invest $100 million over three years in the Chinese movie industry. The Tokyo-based company, which produced last year's Academy Award-winning "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," hopes to produce four to five movies a year in China, a spokesman said.

Nintendo was fined $146 million by European Union regulators for fixing the prices of its video games. Nintendo worked with seven distributors from 1991 to 1998 to block sales between European countries and keep prices higher, the European Commission said.

EARNINGS

Alcatel said its loss for the third quarter widened dramatically as its revenue sank 37 percent and it absorbed restructuring costs and write-offs. The French telecom-equipment supplier said its net loss was $1.19 billion, compared with $345 million in the same period of 2001. Revenue tumbled to $3.45 billion.

Chubb posted a third-quarter loss of $242.1 million, about the same result as a year ago, as the business insurer set aside $625 million to pay asbestos claims. But earnings excluding the reserves beat analysts' estimates.

Clorox's first-quarter profit rose 84 percent, to $145 million, as the largest U.S. household-bleach maker lowered expenses and increased sales of new products. Sales rose 6.4 percent, to $1.05 billion, a growth rate that tripled analysts' forecasts.

Corning, the world's biggest maker of optical fiber for carrying telephone calls and data, reported a sixth straight quarterly loss. The third-quarter loss was $133 million, compared with a loss of $220 million in the third quarter of 2001. Sales fell to $837 million from $1.51 billion.

CVS's third-quarter profit rose 33 percent, to $164.4 million, the first increase in more than a year, as the drugstore chain reduced losses from shoplifting and sold more higher-margin generic drugs. Sales grew 8.6 percent, to $5.88 billion.

Dynegy reported a $1.8 billion third-quarter loss, compared with a profit of $286 million in the year-ago period, after writing down the value of its trading business and other assets. Revenue fell 25 percent, to $1.71 billion.

Electronic Data Systems said that its third-quarter profit plunged 59 percent, to $86 million, and that it plans to cut 1,000 jobs by year-end and shift other jobs overseas. EDS said new contract signings fell by more than half, evidence of the difficult market for selling technology services to businesses. Revenue slumped to $5.41 billion, from $5.56 billion a year earlier.

Goodyear Tire & Rubber reported that its earnings tripled in the third quarter, largely from strong international sales. The tiremaker earned $33.7 million in the quarter.

Qwest Communications, the local-telephone company that has disclosed more than $1.5 billion in accounting errors, posted its 10th straight quarterly loss. The third-quarter net loss widened to $214 million, from $142 million a year earlier. Sales fell 13 percent, to $3.8 billion. But the year-earlier figures may change because Qwest is restating results.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers

A trader monitors prices at China's first gold exchange after it began formal trading yesterday in Shanghai. The launch marked a key step in liberalization of one of the world's largest precious-metals markets. Previously, the central People's Bank of China acted as the sole intermediary between domestic gold buyers and sellers. Europe's biggest automaker, Volkswagen, reported that earnings dropped by 51 percent in the third quarter even as sales recovered, citing less favorable exchange rates and other factors.