U.S. mortgage rates fell again this week, according to Freddie Mac, the No. 2 buyer of mortgages. The average rate on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage dropped to 5.79 percent from 5.91 percent, compared with 5.61 percent in mid-March -- the lowest since Freddie Mac began keeping records in 1971. The average rate on a 15-year mortgage, a popular refinancing option, dropped to 5.06 percent from 5.21 percent. The average rate on a one-year adjustable rate mortgage fell to 3.82 percent from 3.84 percent.

Microsoft to Ease Browser Switch

Microsoft, bowing to federal government demands, will make it easier for computer users to substitute rival Web browsers for its Internet Explorer, sources said. The revisions address charges from competitors that Microsoft was flouting an antitrust settlement by continuing to make it difficult for consumers to use non-Microsoft applications, the sources said. Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler confirmed one change, saying the company will put a function allowing Explorer to be disabled in a more prominent place in its Windows XP operating system. The company also agreed to put in the Windows Help function a tutorial explaining how to switch to other browsers, the sources said.


The New York Stock Exchange nominated William J. McDonough, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, to its board to replace Citigroup Chairman Sanford I. Weill, who withdrew his name last month after critics said he was an inappropriate advocate for investors. The exchange also nominated Robert B. Fagenson, vice chairman of Van der Moolen Specialists USA.

Internet music broadcasters and the record industry settled their dispute over how much big webcasters must pay to play songs over the Internet. The deal calls for webcasters -- including Yahoo, America Online, Microsoft and RealNetworks -- to pay slightly lower royalties than those imposed last year by the U.S. Copyright Office, whose approval is still needed.

The University of California said it will sue AOL Time Warner to recover $450 million in lost investments. The university will withdraw from a class-action suit in federal court to pursue its own case, a spokesman said. It will claim that AOL and some senior executives violated California securities laws by misstating the New York-based company's advertising revenue.

A U.S. appeals judge questioned a court order that forced Microsoft to put rival Sun Microsystems' Java programming language into Microsoft's Windows operating system. In December, a U.S. district judge ordered Microsoft to place Java into Windows, which is used by 95 percent of the world's personal computers. U.S. Circuit Judge Paul Niemeyer agreed with Microsoft's argument that the injunction was unprecedented in an antitrust case because it ordered Microsoft to do something before a full trial.

A Houston judge froze the assets of Rocky Mountain Energy and two executives who allegedly inflated the company's share price with false news releases and then sold more than $800,000 of stock. The Securities and Exchange Commission filed the complaint against Rocky Mountain, chief executive John N. Ehrman and General Counsel W. Roderick Johnson.

Alliance Resource Partners, which operates coal mines in Maryland, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky, plans to eliminate about 120 jobs and end production at two Hopkins County, Ky., mines in June because of reduced demand for coal. Tulsa-based Alliance said closing the mines will reduce annual production by about 800,000 tons.

Bayer won the second case to go to trial over the withdrawn Baycol cholesterol medication. A jury in Jackson, Miss., cleared the company of responsibility for a patient's illness. Plaintiff Virgie Hardy had said the drug caused her severe fatigue and muscle weakness; she was seeking $50,000 in damages.


DaimlerChrysler recalled about 211,000 Mercedes M Class sport-utility vehicles, model years 1998 through 2003, to replace a hose clamp and prevent leaks in the power-steering system. The part may not have enough clamping force and may allow fluid to leak, making steering difficult, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said. Dealers will install smaller clamps on the recalled vehicles, the company said.


Uruguay plans next week to ask holders of as much as $6.5 billion in bonds to accept new securities worth less than what they own, which credit-rating companies said would constitute a default. The government wants to exchange bonds with a maturity of a year or more for securities that would come due on average five years later and pay equal or lower interest. Uruguay is trying to avoid an economic collapse like the one that occurred in Argentina when the government in late 2001 stopped all payments on $95 billion of bonds.

Ukraine ended a 15-month ban on the import of chicken from the United States, allowing Tyson Foods and Perdue Farms to reenter what had been a $15 million-a-year market. Ukraine will require that U.S. producers certify that no drugs or other chemicals were used to stimulate chicken growth.

The European Union opened an investigation into the competitive consequences of General Electric's proposed $2 billion acquisition of Finnish medical-equipment maker Instrumentarium. The EU's concerns focus on equipment for breast screening, monitors for patients under anesthetic and mobile "C-arm" X-ray machines.

IDC expects worldwide information technology spending in 2003 to increase 2.3 percent, to $825 million, less than it previously forecast, because of uncertainty about an economic rebound and the length of a war with Iraq. The company earlier forecast growth of 3.7 percent.


Goodyear Tire & Rubber reported its biggest loss ever. The world's largest tire company lost $1.1 billion in the fourth quarter, compared with a loss of $174 million in the quarter in 2001. Sales rose to $3.53 billion from $3.47 billion. Goodyear had said earlier that it would take a $1.1 billion fourth-quarter charge for deferred tax assets. For 2002, Goodyear lost $1.1 billion on revenue of $13.85 billion. It lost $203.6 million on revenue of $14.15 billion in 2001. Sales fell 2.3 percent last year, to 214.3 million tires.

Research in Motion, the Canadian company that makes BlackBerry wireless e-mail devices, said its fiscal fourth-quarter loss was $12.6 million in the quarter ended March 1, compared with a $8.6 million loss a year earlier. Sales rose to $87.5 million from $66.1 million. Research in Motion said it had a $6.9 million expense related to litigation over a patent dispute with NTP. It is in addition to a $23.1 million jury verdict reached in November.

American Greetings reported a fourth-quarter profit of $45.4 million, compared with a loss of $13.1 million in the same period last year, as costs fell after the company closed plants and fired workers. Sales fell 6.4 percent, to $525.9 million.

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

A Northwest Airlines Boeing 747-400 at Metropolitan Airport near Detroit displays the new company logo and fuselage color. Northwest said the simplified logo will cut painting costs 20 percent.Bombardier president and chief executive Paul Tellier announces in Toronto that the company will spin off its recreational-products division -- whose products include Ski-Doo snowmobiles and Sea-Doo jet skis -- to focus on its aircraft and rail equipment businesses.