U.S. crude oil output in September fell to the lowest monthly level in more than 55 years because of Hurricane Ivan and interruptions for maintenance in Alaska, the American Petroleum Institute said. The United States pumped 4.85 million barrels a day last month, down 830,000 barrels, or 15 percent, from a year earlier. Crude oil inventories fell 8.7 million barrels, to 273.1 million last month, leaving supplies 3.1 percent lower than in August.

U.S. to Appeal NAFTA Lumber Ruling

The Bush administration said it will appeal a NAFTA finding that imported Canadian softwood lumber poses no threat to American companies. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said the administration will take its case to a judicial panel composed of two U.S. judges and one Canadian judge. A NAFTA dispute panel earlier said the United States had failed to justify placing tariffs on Canadian lumber since 2002, and it ordered them rescinded.

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Hotel workers in San Francisco ended a two-week strike, but hotel operators imposed a lockout until a contract dispute is settled. Unionized workers who showed up at two hotels were met by police or security guards. The workers resumed picketing after managers said they were enforcing the lockout.

Allstate stopped writing new insurance policies covering wind damage in several Florida counties. Allstate also stopped insuring boats.

RCN, a provider of cable television, phone and Internet service, can ask creditors to vote on a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, a judge said. The plan involves trading $1.2 billion in unsecured debt for all of the Princeton, N.J., company's equity. About two-thirds of the company's creditors must vote in favor of the exit strategy before the court can consider the plan.

UBS Global Asset Management expressed concern about Mylan Laboratories' proposed $4 billion acquisition of King Pharmaceuticals. UBS in a letter said it is concerned that King's sales force will not be capable of launching and supporting Mylan's Nebivolol drug for hypertension. UBS held a 3.61 percent stake in Mylan as of June 30, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Pfizer failed to get a court order to block Alpharma from selling a generic form of the epilepsy treatment Neurontin. A federal judge denied Pfizer's request to stop Alpharma's sales until he considers a patent-infringement lawsuit over the drug later this year.

Quality Dining, which operates Burger King franchises, agreed to a buyout by five shareholders led by chief executive Daniel B. Fitzpatrick. Shareholders will receive $3.20 for each share, the Mishawaka, Ind., company said. The shareholder group said it wanted to take Quality Dining private "to avoid the burdens of being a public company."

Kroger employees in southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana rejected a contract offer from the grocery chain and authorized their union to call a strike if necessary. The union had recommended both the rejection and authorization. The current contract expires at 10 p.m. Friday.

A priest who helped financier Martin Frankel loot insurance companies of millions of dollars was sentenced to five years of probation. Peter Jacobs, 78, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and to launder money. Jacobs agreed to be named on a Vatican bank account through which Frankel wanted to launder money. He also allegedly misrepresented to Mississippi insurance regulators the source of money for a phony charity that Frankel formed.

INTERNATIONAL

Canada's Competition Bureau said it does not object to the proposed merger of brewers Molson of Montreal and Adolph Coors of Golden, Colo. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission approved the deal last week.

The European Commission expanded its investigation into whether the governments of France, the Netherlands, Finland and Sweden are illegally requiring that the computers they buy contain microprocessors made by Intel or chips whose speed only Intel can provide. The commission said it thinks such requirements violate European law on public procurement.

Wal-Mart Stores said it might close its only unionized North American store -- in Jonquiere, Quebec -- unless the United Food and Commercial Workers proposes a contract the company finds acceptable. The world's biggest retailer said a delay in starting talks with the union is hurting business at the three-year-old store.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Raytheon said a Reston-based unit won a contract to be one of eight companies supplying engineering services to extend the life of weapons systems for the Defense Microelectronics Activity program. The contract is worth up to $4.7 billion over 15 years.

EARNINGS

Host Marriott reported a loss of $47 million in its third quarter, which ended Sept. 10, compared with a loss of $88 million in the comparable quarter last year. Revenue was $810 million, up from $727 million.

The New York Times Co. said third-quarter profit was $48.3 million, down from $50.1 million in the comparable quarter in 2003. Sales rose 2 percent, to $773.8 million from $759.3 million.

Harley-Davidson said profit was $229 million its third quarter, which ended Sept. 26, up from $190.1 million in the comparable quarter last year. Revenue was $1.3 billion, up from $1.13 billion.

Accenture, the world's largest management and technology consulting company, said profit surged 52 percent to $183 million in its fiscal fourth quarter. Revenue was $3.81 billion, up from $3.46 billion in the comparable quarter last year.

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

The European Commission took Germany to court to challenge a law that protects Volkswagen from hostile takeovers. The commission objects to provisions of a 1960 law privatizing Volkswagen that cap a shareholder's voting rights at 20 percent, regardless of the number of shares held, and requires an 80 percent majority for "important decisions."