Automobile dealers are taking longer to sell sport-utility vehicles and selling them for less as gasoline prices climb to records and automakers discount SUV prices, J.D. Power & Associates said. It said that SUVs sat in dealer showrooms an average 73 days in July, almost two weeks longer than a year earlier, and that the average price dropped by $620, or 2 percent, while prices for cars and pickups increased. U.S. SUV sales rose 7 percent in 2004's first seven months and 7.5 percent in July, according to Autodata.

Wal-Mart to Check Applicants' Pasts

Wal-Mart Stores announced yesterday that starting in September it will begin putting job applicants who receive employment offers at its stores through criminal background checks before they are hired. Wal-Mart said in a statement that any employee found to have lied on an applications regarding a criminal past will be disqualified for the job. The announcement comes on the heels of two cases in South Carolina in which Wal-Mart employees who were convicted sex offenders were charged with sexually abusing children in stores.

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Dresser, a seller of oil field equipment once owned by Halliburton, said it may have violated U.S. sanctions by selling valves and other parts to Iraq, Iran and Sudan without government permission. It disclosed the sales to the Commerce and Treasury departments and may face criminal or civil penalties, including fines, it said. Dresser didn't disclose the value of the sales or whether they occurred between 1998 and 2001, when Halliburton owned Dresser. Dresser hired outside lawyers to conduct an investigation of its sales to the sanctioned countries, which were made through the company's Dubai office.

DirecTV Group will receive $2.6 billion, $200 million less than was originally agreed upon, for its 80.4 percent stake in PanAmSat from Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, Carlyle Group and Providence Equity Partners after a satellite propulsion system failed, DirecTV said.

Former HealthSouth chief executive Richard M. Scrushy sold his mansion in Palm Beach, Fla., for $12.75 million to Joel Glazer, whose family owns the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers and part of the Manchester United soccer club in England. Scrushy faces criminal charges in HealthSouth's fraud case.

The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Sterling Watters Group and the hedge fund's president, Angelo Haligiannis, for allegedly defrauding investors. Sterling sent out quarterly account statements to clients that showed balances of tens of millions of dollars, though the fund was virtually insolvent as of the third quarter of 2003, the SEC said in its complaint.

Perrigo and Alpharma, the only two U.S. makers of generic liquid children's ibuprofen, will pay $7.75 million to settle charges they agreed not to compete for sales of the anti-inflammatory drug, the Federal Trade Commission said.

Travelers Insurance and United Healthcare Insurance agreed to pay $10.9 million and $9.7 million, respectively, to settle a civil suit by the U.S. government accusing them of cheating Medicare by overbilling for care provided by doctors and hospitals. Neither admitted or denied wrongdoing.

Mortgage rates fell to the lowest level in nearly four months, providing more support for the booming housing market. Thirty-year, fixed-rates mortgages fell to 5.85 percent, from 5.99 percent last week, according to Freddie Mac's weekly nationwide survey.

The U.S. Treasury sold $14 billion of 10-year notes at a yield of 4.27 percent, down from 4.83 percent at the previous auction on June 10.

Nissan engineers inspecting the company's Canton, Miss., plant traced vehicle paint flaws and scratches to the watches, wedding rings, belt buckles and bracelets that assembly-line workers wore. J.D. Power and Associates had published consumer complaints about Nissan vehicles manufactured in the United States. Workers were then required to remove all jewelry and other metal accessories.

Two ex-Thyssen executives accused of reaping the profit of a decade-long, $6.5 million kickback scheme were found guilty of conspiracy and fraud charges. Kenneth J. Graham, the former chief executive, and Kyle E. Dresbach, the steel company's former executive vice president, were accused of using company funds to purchase multimillion-dollar cranes and machinery at fraudulently inflated prices and face up to nine years in prison.

International Business Machines raised its estimate for the number of people it expects to hire this year to 18,800, up from an earlier forecast of 15,000, citing strong growth in consulting, grid computing and Linux. One-third of the positions are in the United States, a spokesman said.

A Norwegian released software that helps unlock the encryption used for Apple's AirPort Express, a device that lets users listen to music from its online music store using a stereo that's not plugged into a computer. Some security consultants say Jon Lech Johansen has helped pave the way for software applications other than Apple's iTunes to work with AirPort Express. Johansen earlier gained fame for developing DVD encryption-cracking software.

National-Oilwell agreed to acquire rival oil-well-drilling equipment manufacturer Varco International for approximately $2.52 billion in stock. The combined company, which will be called National Oilwell Varco, will have a more than $5 billion market capitalization.

Corporate directors saw their pay increase 13 percent last year to an average of $176,000, a reflection of the increased workload as a result of new stock exchange and federal oversight rules, according to a study by compensation consultant Pearl Meyer & Partners.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia said it spent $6 million to buy two health publications, Body & Soul magazine and Andrew Weil's Self Healing newsletter.

INTERNATIONAL

Former Dutch transportation minister Neelie Kroes was named the European Union's competition commissioner, a surprise selection for one of the most prominent and powerful posts in antitrust enforcement. Kroes, 63, replaces Italy's Mario Monti, known for blocking the merger of General Electric and Honeywell International in 2001 and for levying a record fine on Microsoft last year. Kroes would not detail what her priorities would be as commissioner.

A judge deciding whether to suspend European Union sanctions against Microsoft reportedly asked the software giant for more evidence to back up its contention that its intellectual property rights were under threat if the company were forced to divulge information on its server systems. The E.U. antitrust authority declared Microsoft guilty in March of abusing its dominant position in operating systems.

A group of Canadian beef producers is suing the U.S. government in a bid to reopen the Canada-U.S. border to live cattle. The claims seek damages for investments in feedlots and farms hurt by the May 2003 border closure, which followed the discovery of a lone case of mad cow disease in Alberta.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Watson Wyatt & Co. Holdings of the District said profit and revenue were flat for the last quarter of its fiscal year as its benefits consulting business grew but technology consulting sagged. Profit was $12.68 million (39 cents a share) for the quarter ended June 30, compared with $12.77 million (38 cents) in the same quarter a year earlier. Revenue rose to $180 million from $178.4 million. For the full year, profit fell 11.5 percent, to $50.6 million, and revenue fell 1 percent, to $702 million. The stock fell 27 cents, to $24.62.

Lockheed Martin said it will sell equipment for the latest version of the Patriot missile-defense system to the Netherlands. The Bethesda defense contractor will sell the equipment under a $33.9 million award, which will allow the Netherlands to fire Lockheed's latest missile. A follow-up agreement to buy the new missile is expected by the end of the year, Lockheed said in a statement.

MCI said its board members will get 25 percent of their pay in company stock to help improve corporate governance. The move fulfills one of the recommendations to help restore investor trust made by Richard C. Breeden, Ashburn-based MCI's court appointed-monitor. Directors must hold shares until six months after leaving the board, a spokesman said.

RECALL

General Motors is recalling 199,793 1999 Buick Regal and Century sedans, nearly five years after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration determined their headlights did not shine at the proper angle, making it difficult for drivers to read overhead signs at night. GM petitioned twice against a recall, saying the problem did not affect the vehicles' safety, before NHTSA finally determined that the recall should proceed.

EARNINGS

Wal-Mart posted an 8.5 percent increase in second-quarter profit, to $2.65 billion from $2.44 billion in the same period a year earlier. For the quarter ended July 31, revenue was $70.46 billion.

Tiffany & Co.'s second-quarter profit fell 11 percent, to $36.6 million, due to sales declines in Japan and a lower profit margin. Sales for the jeweler rose 7 .7 percent, to $476.6 million.

Payless ShoeSource said its second-quarter earnings declined 29 percent to $3.7 million.

Deutsche Telekom said second-quarter profit increased as its T-Mobile cell phone business improved and it benefited from a large, one-time boost from the revaluation of U.S. cell phone licenses. Profit for the German telecom company rose to 1.66 billion euros ($2 billion), compared with 256 million euros in the same quarter last year.

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

A Super Target opened in Leesburg last month. Target quadrupled its second-quarter profit, to $1.42 billion from $358 billion in the same quarter a year earlier, due to a one-time gain from the sale of its Marshall Field's department stores to May Department Stores. Revenue was up 10 percent, to $10.56 billion, driven by a 3.9 percent increase sales at stores open at least a year.