Washington Gas customers are likely to pay about 2 percent more on their bills during this year's winter heating season compared with last year, the company announced yesterday. Last year the average residential customer paid about $930 for November through April gas bills, and is expected to pay about $944 this year, officials said.

U.S. Favors Grants for Debt Relief

The United States is considering ways to have organizations such as the World Bank eliminate the debts of the world's poorest nations, Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said, but he suggested he won't back Britain's proposal to have individual countries pay for it. Snow said the United States prefers a plan that would replace International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans with grants, to "give the poorest countries a chance to reach their international development" goals without adding to their debt burdens. IMF and World Bank officials say that unless the world's richer countries support debt relief with cash contributions, their organizations could be left financially strapped.

MORE NEWS

A group of Democratic lawmakers will file a complaint with the U.S. trade representative today alleging China's currency peg gives that country an unfair trade advantage, according to a document describing the filing. Lawmakers including Sen. Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) and Rep. Sander M. Levin (Mich.) will call on China to immediately raise the value of the yuan, which they say is as much as 40 percent undervalued.

Bayer's U.S. unit agreed to plead guilty and pay a $33 million fine for conspiring to fix prices of a chemical used to make plastic grocery bags, shoe soles and other consumer products. The guilty plea would be the first in a U.S. government investigation into price fixing for the chemical additive, the Justice Department said. In July, Bayer's parent company, based in Germany, agreed to pay a $66 million fine to settle a U.S. charge that it conspired to fix the price of chemicals used to make rubber products.

Lucent Technologies failed to properly credit female employees who took pregnancy leaves, according to a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. The suit said Lucent credits women who took pregnancy leaves before 1979 with a maximum of 30 days of service, while employees who took leaves for other reasons received credit for their entire time. The discrepancy results in a lower pension for the women.

Red Hat, the largest distributor of the Linux computer operating system, agreed to buy Netscape security software from Time Warner's America Online for $20.5 million. The Raleigh, N.C., company could pay an additional $2.5 million if sales targets are reached, it said in a regulatory filing. Red Hat said it will begin selling the software, which organizes information about a network's users and confirms their identities, in six to 12 months.

Alabama's pension fund received $111 million from three securities firms and an accounting firm to settle claims over the bankruptcy filing of the former WorldCom, now MCI. The settlement resolves claims against J.P. Morgan Securities, Citigroup Global Markets, Banc of America Securities, their three parent companies and Arthur Andersen, WorldCom's former auditor.

Two firms won government contracts totaling more than $200 million to produce a possibly safer smallpox vaccine. Acambis of Massachusetts and Bavarian Nordic of Denmark are researching a vaccine that would use a modified version of the virus in today's shots. The current vaccine is unsafe for people with weakened immune systems and can even make healthy people seriously ill.

Waste Management's former vice president, Bruce D. Tobecksen, agreed to pay more than $800,000 to settle regulatory allegations that he and others conspired to overstate profits by $1.7 billion between 1992 and 1997. The overstatement caused shareholders to lose $6 billion, the Securities and Exchange Commission said.

Raymond James Financial and its former president, J. Stephen Putnam, were sued by the SEC for failing to supervise a broker accused of fleecing investors. The SEC said that Dennis Herula, a former Raymond James broker in Rhode Island who was fired in 2001, solicited $44.5 million from investors, promising them "astronomical returns." It said that Putnam and David Ullom, a former branch manager, knew of Herula's suspicious conduct and failed to do anything about it.

The recording industry sued 762 more people in its ongoing legal fight against individuals who swap music over the Internet. The suits include complaints against 32 people at 26 universities suspected of using the schools' computer networks to send music over the Internet. The Recording Industry Association of America has sued more than 5,000 individuals on allegations of copyright infringement.

The defense rested in the perjury trial of Larry Stewart, the Secret Service ink expert who testified for the government against Martha Stewart, who is no relation. Judge Denny Chin of Manhattan federal court set closing arguments for Monday morning and said jurors would get the case later that day.

Nortel Networks, detailing previously announced job cuts, said it would eliminate 1,400 U.S. jobs by June. Worldwide, Nortel will cut 3,250 jobs.

Help-wanted advertising in major U.S. newspapers held steady in August after declining for two straight months, according to the Conference Board's ad index, which tracks advertising volume in 51 newspapers but doesn't include ads placed on the Internet. Monster Worldwide's index, which tracks job ads on 1,500 Web sites, rose 8.2 percent in August.

Netflix and TiVo, a mail-order video-rental service and a maker of digital video recorders, said they will work together to develop a service offering movies downloaded from the Internet.

Toyota will double the allocation of Prius hybrid cars for the U.S. market in 2005, part of a company-wide goal to sell 300,000 gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles worldwide by the end of next year. The Japanese automaker has sold more than a quarter-million hybrid vehicles since it introduced the Prius in December 1997.

Vail Resorts said one if its largest shareholders, the New York investment firm that took the company public in 1997, is dissolving its stake. Apollo Advisors, which owns 17.8 percent of the Colorado ski area, is converting its 6.1 million Class A shares, representing virtually all of Vail's Class A stock, into common shares. Vail said it also would stop paying Apollo an annual management fee.

Four Frito-Lay factories will close by the end of the year as parent company PepsiCo moves to streamline production. The plants are in Allen Park, Mich.; Council Bluffs, Iowa; Beaverton, Ore.; and Visalia, Calif. About 250 of the 780 jobs that will be lost will be added to other Frito-Lay sites.

Microsoft's 1996 patent on technology for saving files on computers using easy-to-remember names was rejected in a preliminary ruling by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Microsoft vowed to appeal.

Federal regulators said they will not reopen an investigation into Bridgestone/Firestone's Steeltex tires because records show that the tires are no more likely to fail than other brands. A California law firm requested an investigation of Steeltex tires made after 1995, saying they have a defective design that causes tread separation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the rate of tire failure was not higher than normal, especially since the tires are often used in severe conditions.

Capital One Financial announced plans to consolidate its operations by eliminating 220 positions at its call center in Irving, Tex., and moving the vast majority of the work to its Richmond facility. The McLean company intends to close its Irving site by the end of the second quarter of 2005.

Intermet, a Troy, Mich., auto-parts maker, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, citing higher prices for scrap steel and other raw materials. The company said it applied to the court to use cash collateral with the consent of its lenders, which would fund operations at least through the middle of the month. Founded in 1846 as Columbus Iron Works, Intermet has nearly 6,000 employees.

EBay, the Internet auction giant, said it will increase fraud coverage to a maximum $1,000 for U.S. buyers who use its subsidiary PayPal electronic payment service. The previous maximum was $500.

INTERNATIONAL

Air Canada, having pared debt and labor costs by one-third, emerged from 18 months under bankruptcy protection with Deutsche Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce among its biggest shareholders. Like its U.S. counterparts, the airline had to cut expenses to compete with low-cost carriers.

Parmalat Finanziaria will seek significant damages from its founder and other former executives who are being investigated in Italy's biggest bankruptcy, a company lawyer said. A government-appointed administrator will seek damages that may rival the $10 billion already requested from Citigroup, one of the dairy's lenders, the lawyer said.

Former officials at Mitsubishi Motors pleaded not guilty to professional negligence in a fatal accident in which a wheel flew off a truck and crushed a pedestrian in Japan. The two men are charged with failing to take proper action when they should have known about the potential dangers of the defective wheel.

EARNINGS

PepsiCo reported third-quarter profit of $1.36 billion, up from $1.01 billion in the same period last year. Revenue for the three months ended Sept. 4 was $7.26 billion, up from $6.83 billion in the same quarter last year. The company said it will take a fourth-quarter pretax charge of about $160 million for the closing of four Frito-Lay plants.

El Paso Corp., the country's largest natural-gas-pipeline company, said it lost $1.93 billion last year and that it restated its 2001 and 2002 financial results. The company also disclosed in an SEC filing that one of its divisions was subpoenaed for records related to the United Nations' Oil for Food Program.

Research in Motion, the Canadian maker of the BlackBerry handheld device, reported significantly higher second-quarter profit and increased sales. Earnings for the three months ended Aug. 28 were $70.6 million, up from $2.1 million in the same period last year. The results include an $18.3 million charge for litigation expenses. Sales were $310.2 million for the quarter, more than double the $125.7 million reported for the period in 2003.

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

General Mills is converting all its breakfast cereals to whole-grain this month. The Minneapolis company said the switch, which will affect 29 products that aren't already whole-grain, is designed to make it easier for consumers to eat healthful food. It follows a recommendation by a federal advisory panel to eat whole-grain products rather than refined grains to reduce the risk of heart disease and other conditions.