Housing starts fell 6 percent in September from August's annual high, as construction of single-family homes dropped the most in 19 months, the Commerce Department said. Work began on 1.898 million residences in September, compared with 2.02 million in August.

Subcontractor Sues Halliburton Unit

Halliburton's Kellogg, Brown & Root was sued in U.S. District Court by a Kuwaiti subcontractor. La Nouvelle General Trading & Contracting, which supplied U.S. troops with food, clothing, fuel, tents and trucks, said KBR failed to pay $224.4 million for services. KBR cannot make the payment because the U.S. government is withholding money in a billing dispute. The La Nouvelle suit also accuses KBR of making direct payments to one of La Nouvelle's subcontractors. KBR denied the allegations.

MORE NEWS

Cox Enterprises said it reached a deal to take its cable division, Cox Communications, private in an $8.35 billion purchase of outstanding stock. It owns 62 percent of the division. The deal is structured as a tender offer, at $34.75 per share in cash, followed by a merger that should be completed by mid-December.

Four-week T-bill rates rose. The Treasury sold $10 billion of discounted four-week bills at 1.57 percent, up from last week's 1.555 percent. The return to investors is 1.594 percent, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,987.79.

Constellation Brands, a producer and marketer of alcoholic beverages, says it bid $970 million for California winemaker Robert Mondavi. It is also offering more than $300 million in debt assumption. Mondavi this week said it received an unsolicited offer for the company's wine business but declined to identify the prospective buyer.

Former El Paso Corp. natural gas traders pleaded guilty to making false reports used to calculate the index price of the commodity. Donald J. Guilbault and William L. Ham admitted to reporting inaccurate data to Inside FERC Gas Market Report, a federal prosecutor said.

The Louisiana Supreme Court threw out a $1.3 billion judgment for oystermen who claimed a coastal restoration project ruined their businesses. The 130 plaintiffs, who leased water bottoms, sued the state after a 1991 program channeled some Mississippi River water and sediment into Breton Sound, destroying their oyster beds. The court said all but 12 of the leases renounced legal claim to damages from such projects.

Insurers in New York cannot sue tobacco companies for deceptive practices and recover damages for the smoking-related health costs of the people they cover, the state's highest court ruled. The decision removes the legal basis for a $17.8 million verdict against the tobacco industry in June 2001. Based on their share of the cigarette market, Philip Morris and R.J. Reynolds faced the largest payments under the verdict -- more than $6 million each.

Craig A. Conway, the PeopleSoft chief executive who was fired Oct. 1, will get at least $3.2 million in severance pay, the company said. Conway, who led resistance to Oracle's hostile takeover bid, also will get cash for some previously restricted stock options that will now vest immediately.

UnumProvident said it received subpoenas from New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer seeking additional information about the company's compensation of insurance brokers. UnumProvident said it plans to review its broker compensation structure and not make new compensation deals during Spitzer's inquiry.

General Motors and Ford Motor said the Securities and Exchange Commission asked them about their pension and retiree health care plans as part of an inquiry into how companies prepare estimates used to calculate pension costs. The SEC said its inquiry started with six companies it did not name.

A federal judge rejected a request by news-gathering organizations to unseal docket records on motions, briefs and orders filed in the fraud and money-laundering case of HealthSouth founder Richard M. Scrushy, but the judge said she will issue another order specifying what parts of Scrushy's sealed court record will be made public. Scrushy's trial is scheduled for January.

INTERNATIONAL

General Motors workers in Europe rallied against a plan to cut as many as 12,000 jobs. Unions called for the "day of action" after GM said it wants to cut $620 million in costs annually at its money-losing Opel, Vauxhall and Saab operations.

AOL Europe and Google signed a multiyear agreement under which AOL users will get targeted advertising from Google's AdWords advertisers. Terms were not disclosed.

NEC, Japan's biggest computer maker, said it has developed the world's fastest supercomputer, with a processing speed double that of IBM's supercomputers. The Tokyo company said it has received 100 orders.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Fannie Mae acknowledged that the SEC had upgraded an inquiry into its accounting practices into a formal investigation. The District-based mortgage giant said in a securities filing that it is cooperating fully with regulators at the SEC and with the Justice Department.

MCI was given more time, until Jan. 31, to object to more than 250 claims by state tax authorities seeking billions of dollars from the company. Ashburn-based MCI, which filed the largest bankruptcy ever in 2002 when it was called WorldCom, has already objected to about 20,000 claims.

EARNINGS

McDonald's said third-quarter earnings increased 40 percent to $778 million, compared with the same quarter last year. Revenue rose to $4.9 billion from $4.5 billion.

Ford Motor swung to a third-quarter profit of $266 million, compared with a loss of $25 million in the third period last year, largely because of the strong performance of its credit arm. Revenue rose to $39 billion from $36.7 billion.

Mercantile Bankshares Corp., a Baltimore bank holding company with branches in the Washington region, said third-quarter profit increased 20 percent to $56.8 million, compared with the same period last year. Mercantile credited its loan portfolio and the addition of F&M Bancorp, which it bought in August 2003.

Motorola said third-quarter profit rose to $479 million from $116 million in the same quarter last year. Revenue rose to $8.62 billion from $6.83 billion.

AT&T Wireless Services said third-quarter profit fell 25 percent to $117 million. The company, which is being bought by Cingular Wireless, said sales fell to $4.21 billion from $4.37 billion.

Continental Airlines lost $16 million in the third quarter, compared with a $133 million profit in the third quarter last year.

Monster Worldwide, owner of the Web site for employment advertising, said third-quarter profit rose 64 percent to $20 million. Revenue was $227.1 million, up from $170.8 million.

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

Safeway said its third-quarter profit fell 21 percent, to $159.2 million, from the comparable quarter last year on revenue of $8.3 billion, up from $8.28 billion. Safeway blamed the lingering effects of a Southern California grocery-workers strike, among other things.