Housing construction in August reached its highest level in five months. The number of new projects was a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2 million units, a 0.6 percent increase from July's level, the Commerce Department said. Housing construction increased in all regions of the country except for the West.

TD Waterhouse to Pay $2 Million Fine

TD Waterhouse Investor Services agreed to pay a $2 million civil fine to settle allegations that it made undisclosed payments to three investment adviser firms to lure their clients' business, the Securities and Exchange Commission said. Two of the investment advisers -- Kiely Financial Services and Rudney Associates -- and their principals settled charges that they did not disclose the payments. The SEC's administrative case against the third investment adviser -- Brandt, Kelly & Simmons -- is pending.

MORE NEWS

Lucent Technologies is cutting benefits for thousands of its retirees for the second time in a year. The telecommunications equipment maker said it will no longer pay for health insurance for dependents of management workers who retired on or after March 1, 1990, at a salary of $65,000 or more. The cut affects 7,400 dependents; it takes effect Jan. 1.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, operator of the Sheraton, Westin and W Hotels brands, appointed former Coca-Cola Co. president and chief operating officer Steven J. Heyer as chief executive to succeed company founder Barry S. Sternlicht, effective Oct. 1.

Spain's second-largest bank said it has agreed to buy Laredo National Bancshares of Texas for $850 million in cash. Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria said Laredo National will be integrated into its U.S. operations, which include Bancomer Transfer Services, a leading money-transfer company in the U.S.-to-Mexico market.

Adelphia Communications said it divided its cable systems into seven regional groups that will be sold in an auction. The company, which has been in Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since June 2002, is selling its assets to raise the money to repay creditors, which are owed more than $18 billion.

Walt Disney Co. President Robert A. Iger is expected to be the only internal candidate to replace chief executive Michael D. Eisner when Eisner retires in September 2006, board Chairman George J. Mitchell said. The board will also interview outside candidates and hopes to name a successor by June 2005 who would work with Eisner in transition over the following year, Mitchell said.

PeopleSoft strengthened its ties with International Business Machines, hoping to boost its recently sagging sales as it continues to fight Oracle's $7.7 billion hostile takeover attempt. PeopleSoft and IBM agreed to make a $1 billion, five-year investment in a joint effort to make software applications run more cohesively while enabling customers to retrieve information from computers more efficiently.

Philip Morris USA, the world's largest cigarette maker, won a second reduction to what was once a $3 billion jury verdict. A California appeals court cut the award to $50 million, ruling that even the reduced amount of $100 million in punitive damages to the estate of Richard Boeken was excessive.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is considering civil action against American International Group and its AIG Financial Products unit, alleging violations of federal securities laws. AIG of New York, one of the world's largest insurers, said the SEC issued a so-called Wells Notice stemming from its investigation of AIG in 2002. Wells Notice recipients can respond to the SEC before it recommends actions against companies. AIG said the proposed action would be unwarranted.

Forstmann Little reached a $15 million settlement with the state of Connecticut after a jury found that the investment firm was in breach of contract involving the state's pension fund. The state sued Forstmann Little over the loss of $125 million that it claimed was invested improperly in two communications companies that the firm did not control. Connecticut had sought $120 million, which was its share of the loss.

Kraft Foods said the Securities and Exchange Commission does not intend to recommend an enforcement action against the company in connection with the government's investigation of bankrupt food distributor Fleming. The SEC in November told Kraft and other suppliers that it was examining whether they helped Fleming artificially book revenue more quickly.

Goldman Sachs said it would seek shareholder approval to have the firm's directors elected every year, rather than for staggered, three-year terms. The proposal will be on the ballot at Goldman's 2005 annual meeting next spring and will require 80 percent support from shareholders to pass.

INTERNATIONAL

WPP Group, the world's second-largest advertising and marketing group, said its J. Walter Thompson division will buy a 30 percent stake in Chinese agency Guangzhou Newsun Insight Advertising.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Hovnanian Enterprises purchased the home-building assets of Rocky Gorge Homes of McLean for an undisclosed cash price. Rocky Gorge develops land and designs, builds and sells houses in the Washington area. The acquisition includes 133 homes and about 1,250 lots. Rocky Gorge will remain a developer.

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers said it plans to open about 40 stores in the second half of fiscal 2004. The men's clothier, which is based in Hampstead, Md., and has 238 stores in 38 states and the District, said it intends to grow to about 500 stores over the next four years.

EARNINGS

Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers reported increased earnings in their latest quarters. Lehman Brothers said profit in its third quarter rose 4 percent, to $487 million. Goldman Sachs said profit rose 30 percent, to $469 million.

General Mills said its first-quarter profit was $183 million, down from $227 million during the comparable period last year. Revenue was $2.59 billion in the quarter ended Aug. 29, up from $2.52 billion.

Stride Rite said its third-quarter profit was $6.2 million, down from $6.4 million in the comparable period last year. Sales rose to $140.4 million, from $139.7 million, in the quarter ended Aug. 27.

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

Nintendo said its $150 handheld Nintendo DS, left, will go on sale Nov. 21. Sony said a slimmer, reworked PlayStation 2, above left, would be introduced in North America on Nov. 1, for the same $149 price as its predecessor.