Retailers announced another month of disappointing sales, with department stores and apparel retailers again the hardest hit. Analysts pointed to the effects of winter cold and the Presidents' Day snowstorm. Wal-Mart Stores had February same-store sales at the low end of its expectations, up 2.6 percent. Same-store sales were down 1.4 percent at Target, 8.9 percent at May Department Stores, 4.6 percent at Kohl's and 8.6 percent at AnnTaylor. Gap was an exception: Its same-store sales rose 8 percent.

Card Numbers on Receipts to Be Cut

Visa will begin limiting the display of credit card account numbers on receipts to combat identity theft. While many merchants already truncate the 16-digit card numbers on receipts, Visa will require, beginning July 1, that new credit card machines display only the last four digits, chief executive Carl Pascarella said. All machines that accept Visa cards must comply with the change by mid-2006. MasterCard spokeswoman Sharon Gamsin said MasterCard's policy on limiting the display of card numbers will take effect a year before Visa's, and American Express said that for the past year it has programmed its new terminals to truncate card numbers.

MORE NEWS

U.S. crude-oil prices will average $33.60 a barrel this year, up 29 percent from 2002, as inventories and spare global capacity dwindle, the U.S. Energy Department predicted. Retail gasoline prices will average $1.687 per gallon during the second and third quarters of 2003, up 20 percent from the same period last year and 4.3 percent from a February estimate, the department's Energy Information Administration said.

Lawyers and other professionals involved in the government's civil fraud lawsuit against WorldCom must submit their fees to court-appointed monitor Richard Breeden for approval to ensure that company assets aren't depleted, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ruled. Voicing concern that expenses in the bankruptcy might get excessive, Rakoff ordered the professionals to submit quarterly budgets, including the maximum amount they plan to bill WorldCom.

The House Education and the Workforce Committee approved a bill to give employees more rights in diversifying their investments in 401(k) and similar retirement plans and provide greater access to investment information through their employers. The measure, which contains provisions sought by President Bush, is similar to one passed by the full House last year. The bill would also make it easier for a small business to start and maintain a traditional pension plan.

A federal judge dismissed a multistate class-action suit that sought to force cell-phone companies to provide free headsets to protect users from potential radiation damage. U.S. District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that the suit, organized by Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, was "a disguised attack" on federal safety regulations already in place.

Microsoft released Greenwich, an instant-messaging program for businesses. The product, which will include audio and video features, was released in a test version and will be widely available by midyear, Microsoft said. The company said it wants to give businesses the benefits of instant messaging without problems such as poor security. Microsoft also said it will invest $2 billion in its next fiscal year, which starts July 1, to sell programs to companies with fewer than 500 workers.

United Airlines plans to lay off another 900 flight attendants next month as it continues to lose money while under bankruptcy court protection.

First Data, owner of the Western Union money-transfer business, agreed to pay the Treasury Department a $3 million fine to settle charges under anti-money-laundering laws. First Data said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the settlement may serve as a "nationwide resolution of Western Union's liability" under the Bank Secrecy Act for failing to disclose suspicious transactions. The company paid $8 million to New York state banking regulators to settle a similar case in December.

EBay said it would shut down Half.com, its fixed-price subsidiary for used books, CDs, videos and other common household items, in late 2004. Half.com founder Josh Kopelman also said he would leave the company's office in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., effective April 15. EBay purchased Half.com in a June 2000 stock swap.

Freedom Communications, one of the nation's last family-owned media companies, will explore a sale or merger as a way to buy out dissatisfied family members. Freedom's board has directed investment bank Morgan Stanley to begin soliciting offers for all or part of Freedom, which owns 28 daily newspapers, including its flagship, the Orange County (Calif.) Register. It also owns 37 weekly publications and eight television stations.

RECALLS

Makita U.S.A. is recalling about 350,000 electric sanders because pieces of the sander can break apart and hit consumers during use. The company has received 13 reports of pads coming apart, including three minor injuries from pieces of the pad striking consumers, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The recalled sanders have model numbers BO5000 and BO5001 and are blue with the name Makita printed in large white letters.

Atico International USA is recalling about 37,000 electric hot pots because the bottom of the pot can separate, posing a burn hazard to consumers. The firm has received five reports of Kitchen Gourmet hot pots separating, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. No injuries have been reported. The recalled pots are made of white plastic and have a date code of 0702 on the bottom of the pot and box. They were sold at Walgreens stores from September 2002 to January 2003.

INTERNATIONAL

The European Union's headquarters said it plans to ask the EU's 15 national governments by July to accept Cuba's request to join the bloc's trade and aid pact with African, Caribbean and Pacific nations.

Japan imposed a temporary ban on poultry imports from the United States after receiving a report from the U.S. Embassy that U.S. health officials suspect an avian influenza among chickens at a Connecticut farm. The ban will be lifted when Japan is sure proper measures have been taken to contain the disease, Agriculture Ministry official Hiroyuki Ohtomo said.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Allegheny Energy chairman Alan J. Noia announced his retirement but said he plans to lead the troubled utility until a successor is found. The announcement comes on the eve of a shareholder vote that Allegheny officials have said is crucial to their plan to raise cash through a private stock sale. Noia, 57, joined the Hagerstown, Md.-based company as an intern in 1966 and was named its chairman and chief executive 30 years later. He said in a statement that the completion last week of a $2.4 billion debt refinancing deal made it "the right time for me to retire."

Motorola said it will pay $12 million to settle five lawsuits by Chase Manhattan Bank concerning Motorola's ill-fated involvement with Washington-based satellite phone company Iridium. A lawsuit by unsecured Iridium creditors seeking more than $4 billion from Motorola is still pending. The agreement includes settlement of a suit that had sought the unpaid balance of an $800 million loan plus interest and expenses, claiming that Motorola and Iridium "fraudulently induced" Chase and 17 other lenders to enter into a credit agreement. Iridium's assets were purchased in bankruptcy in December 2000, and the company relaunched operations in 2001.

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

Vivendi Universal Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou discusses the firm's 2002 results. The French media giant posted a loss of $25.6 billion, the largest in French corporate history. Vivendi's board met to discuss the possible sale of the company's vast entertainment empire.