The Communications Workers of America gave its final strike notice to SBC Communications, meaning that the union's 102,000 SBC workers could walk off the job as soon as today. CWA President Morton Bahr said negotiations with the nation's No. 2 local-phone provider had stalled over several issues. A strike would likely affect local phone service in SBC's 13-state coverage area, which includes Texas, California, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Connecticut.

Move to Halt OT Changes Blocked

House Republicans blocked for the second time this week a Democratic attempt to force a vote on the Bush administration's new overtime pay rules, which take effect in August. The 216-199 vote barred an effort by Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) to require the Labor Department to retain the eligibility of all workers who qualify for overtime pay.

MORE NEWS

Continental Airlines is raising its fares $10 to $20 each way to offset surging fuel costs and said it will be forced to consider layoffs and wage and benefit cuts for remaining workers if the higher fares don't help company finances. The airline also expects to post a "significant" loss for the year because the higher jet fuel costs will add $700 million in operating expenses this year.

Coca-Cola President Steven J. Heyer, passed over two weeks ago for the chief executive job, said he plans to stay at the world's largest soft-drink maker. "I think I have one of the best jobs in the world," Heyer, 51, said at an investor meeting in New York sponsored by Goldman, Sachs. Retired Coca-Cola executive E. Neville Isdell, 60, was hired to succeed chief executive Douglas N. Daft, 61, who is leaving by the end of May.

Marsh & McLennan is buying security consultant Kroll for $1.9 billion in cash and folding it into a portfolio that includes insurance, financial management and business consulting.

An Internet scammer who used e-mail and a fraudulent Web site to steal 473 credit card numbers was sentenced to almost four years in jail, one of the stiffest penalties evert handed down for online fraud. Zachary Hill, 20, of Houston, used a "phishing" scheme to make his e-mail look like it came from America Online or PayPal, the online payment subsidiary of auction giant eBay. The message told victims that their accounts had lapsed and that the companies required their credit card numbers and passwords to restart them. Hill then used the credit card numbers to buy $47,000 worth of goods and services.

International Steel Group acquired bankrupt Weirton Steel for $253 million. ISG in two years has become the world's largest steelmaker by buying bankrupt companies, cutting costs and producing steel at competitive prices.

Time Warner might bid for bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications, Time Warner chief executive Richard D. Parsons said. "Adelphia is a situation that anyone interested in expanding in the cable space will want to look at," Parsons said. Time Warner can be "more aggressive" now that it has reduced debt, he said. Time Warner's net debt, or total borrowings minus cash and marketable securities, is now $18.8 billion, the lowest since before the America Online-Time Warner merger in 2001.

The Treasury sold $21 billion of its four-week bills at a discount rate of 0.90 percent, up from 0.895 percent the previous week. The return to investors was 0.913 percent, with a $10,000 Treasury bill selling for $9,993.00.

INTERNATIONAL

Nortel Networks insiders have been barred by the Ontario Securities Commission from buying or selling the company's shares until the company issues audited financial results for 2003. The order, affecting 161 current and former employees, came amid reports that Nortel paid millions of dollars in cash bonuses to executives in February -- shortly before announcing that accounting problems would force it to delay its audited statements.

Japan's economy grew at a better-than-expected annual pace of 5.6 percent during the first three months of this year, marking eight straight quarters of expansion, the best showing in a decade for the long-struggling nation.

Australia signed a free trade agreement with the United States that would eliminate most tariffs on manufactured goods but maintain U.S. barriers on imports of Australian sugar, beef and dairy products.

European Union governments killed a proposal for an EU-wide patent that was considered key in the drive to make European businesses more competitive. The proposal was done in by disputes over language and liability. Ministers from the 25 EU countries did, however, reach initial agreement on a directive backed by big European high-tech companies that would allow software that is part of a mechanical device -- such as a mobile phone -- to be patented.

No-frills airline EasyJet is trying to reverse the February merger of Air France and KLM, arguing in an appeal filed with a European court that the combined business stifles competition. EasyJet has asked a court in Luxembourg to annul the European Commission's approval of the deal, which created the world's biggest airline group by sales.

EARNINGS

Barnes & Noble, the world's largest book retailer, had a fiscal first-quarter profit of $12.5 million, compared with a net loss of $2.03 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Its main competitor, Borders Group, had a similar turnaround, reporting a profit of $3 million, compared with a loss of $4.8 million a year earlier.

Deere & Co. reported a record second-quarter profit of $477.3 million, up 86 percent from the same period last year, as farmers and yard-tending consumers bought more equipment and the company cut costs.

Hewlett-Packard's quarterly earnings jumped 34 percent but analysts remained cautious about the computer maker's long-term outlook amid fierce competition from rivals Dell and IBM. HP reported a profit of $884 million on record revenue of $20.1 billion.

Home Depot said better customer service and strong sales helped it post a 21 percent jump in first-quarter profit, to $1.1 billion. Same-store sales increased 7.7 percent.

J.C. Penney said its profit fell 33 percent in the first quarter, to $41 million, due to charges related to the sale of Eckerd drugstores. Revenue from ongoing operations -- about 1,000 department stores and the company's Internet and catalog business -- rose 8.7 percent.

Staples, the world's largest office-supplies retailer, said its first-quarter profit rose fivefold to $125.7 million as increased spending by small businesses boosted sales.

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

Martha Stewart points to a calendar where she tracks her monthly chores on the set of her syndicated television show, "Martha Stewart Living." With its star facing a possible prison sentence, the show will be put on hiatus after the current season, producers announced. The show's market reach has been nearly halved since Stewart's conviction in March for lying about why she sold 3,928 shares of ImClone Systems stock in 2001. Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia also will cut 40 jobs in the TV business segment by June 30, leaving 35 positions.