The Conference Board said its composite index of leading economic indicators dropped by 0.3 percent in July to 116.0, offering more evidence that the nation's economic recovery is losing steam. The drop follows a revised decline of 0.1 percent in June, which was the first time in more than a year that the index had lost ground.

Mortgage Rates Lowest Since April

Rates for 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages declined to 5.81 percent, their lowest level since the week of April 8, Freddie Mac said in its latest nationwide survey. Rates on 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages, a popular refinancing option, also declined to 5.19 percent, it said.

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Delta Air Lines said it will cut fares by as much as 60 percent for domestic flights through its hub in Cincinnati. The Atlanta carrier said no fare there will be higher than $499 one way in economy class or $599 in first class, but the flights must be within the continental United States. Other airports in Ohio and Kentucky have for years advertised their cheaper fares to Cincinnati customers.

Initial U.S. jobless claims unexpectedly fell for the third straight week as more companies retained workers, a government report showed. Initial applications for unemployment insurance fell 3,000, to 331,000, the lowest level since 309,000 the week ended July 3, the Labor Department said. The four-week moving average, a less-volatile measure, slipped 2,500, to 337,000.

About 300,000 people applied in a special lottery for 3,000 temporary dockworker jobs at the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Officials plan to hire at the nation's largest port complex because of a crush of cargo arriving from the Far East. The jobs pay $20 to $28 per hour.

Best Buy, the No. 1 U.S. electronics retailer, was sued by Ohio's attorney general, who accused the company of deceptive sales practices, including repackaging used merchandise that was later sold as new and refusing to pay rebates or honor extended service warranties. Attorney General Jim Petro said his office has received hundreds of complaints over the past few years. Best Buy spokeswoman Susan Busch declined to comment.

Vibo, which sells generic cigarettes, agreed to pay as much as $1.7 billion over 10 years to states as it joins larger tobacco companies in a settlement over health care costs related to smoking. Vibo, based in Miami, is the largest company that had not been part of the 1998 settlement, New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey said in a statement.

Cendant settled a shareholder lawsuit over allegedly excessive compensation for chief executive Henry R. Silverman by agreeing to end Silverman's contract in 2007 instead of 2012 and link much of his bonus pay to company performance. Last year, Silverman's salary and bonus package was raised 55 percent, to $22.8 million. An attorney for the plaintiff, the Leonard Loventhal Account, said the changes could save the company more then $100 million.

Priceline.com and Ramada.com have agreed to make their Web sites more accessible to the blind and visually impaired, in one of the first enforcement actions of the Americans with Disabilities Act involving the Internet. The changes will allow users with screen-reader software to hear the Web sites' text, according to New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer.

Federal regulators are close to settling a lawsuit that accuses Invesco Funds Group and its former chief executive of improper trading in its mutual funds. "My sense is we are fairly close to a resolution," Robert Fusfeld, a Securities and Exchange Commission attorney, said during a court hearing. Attorneys for Denver-based Invesco and former chief executive Raymond Cunningham agreed with Fusfeld's assessment. State and federal regulators filed civil fraud lawsuits in December alleging that Invesco and Cunningham allowed certain clients to engage in market timing -- frequent, short-term trading that skimmed profit from long-term shareholders -- despite company policies against it.

ChevronTexaco was ordered by a state court jury to pay $41 million to more than 80 residents of Sunburst, Mont., population 415, whose property was affected by a 1955 underground pipeline leak near a now-defunct refinery.

INTERNATIONAL

Amazon.com agreed to pay $75 million for Joyo.com, China's largest online retailer of books, music and videos. The purchase will give the Seattle-based Internet retailer its seventh international Web site.

Parmalat said it was suing Credit Suisse First Boston to get back about $306 million that the Italian dairy giant's former executives paid the investment bank as part of a 2002 deal. The suit is part of a campaign by Parmalat's bankruptcy administrator to recover billions of dollars by suing financial institutions that the company alleges helped the former management deceive investors. Credit Suisse Group, which owns Credit Suisse First Boston, declined to comment.

Brazil plans to rescue Viacao Area Rio-Grandense (Varig), Latin America's largest airline, within 60 days and may use financing from the state development bank in the transaction, said Carlos Lessa, the bank's president.

EARNINGS

Gap said its second-quarter profit fell 7.2 percent, to $194 million, from the same period last year. Much of the profit decline was the result of repurchasing debt at a $65 million premium, which it did to regain an investment-grade rating.

Limited Brands' fiscal second-quarter earnings jumped 45 percent to a record $148 million, with help from successful sales at its Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works chains.

Navistar International, the world's fourth-largest truckmaker, said profit in the fiscal third quarter more than tripled, to $56 million, as truck sales rose and retirement and medical costs declined.

Nordstrom said second-quarter earnings climbed 62 percent, to $106.9 million, as shoppers bought more women's clothing and handbags at full prices.

Washington Savings Bank in Bowie said profit rose 16 percent in the fiscal fourth quarter because it boosted interest income by adding more high-yield construction loans to its balance sheet. Profit for the quarter ended July 31 rose to $2.3 million (28 cents a share) from $2 million (25 cents) in the same quarter a year earlier. For the year, profit rose 18 percent, to $8.9 million ($1.11) from $7.5 million (98 cents) in fiscal 2003. The stock closed unchanged at $10.40.

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

Pedestrians pass a Barnes & Noble store in New York. The world's largest book retailer said second-quarter earnings declined 35 percent, to $8.9 million, because of a debt-redemption charge, but said its revenue rose 13 percent from the same period last year, to $1.45 billion. Sales at stores open more than a year inched up 1.4 percent. The company raised its annual profit forecast.