The Motion Picture Association of America is suing people it accuses of distributing pirated copies of movies with peer-to-peer Internet file-sharing programs. It did not say how many defendants were sued or where the suits were filed. The MPAA said the suits seek injunctions. Copyright laws allow penalties up to $30,000 for each movie traded over the Internet and up to $150,000 if infringement is proved to be willful.

Murdoch Considers Business Channel

News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch said he hoped to launch by the summer a business news cable channel that would offer more "positive" programming. Murdoch also said he planned to meet with Liberty Media Chairman John C. Malone, who recently moved to increase his voting stake in News Corp., from 9 percent to 17 percent. Malone's action prompted News Corp. to adopt a "poison pill" defense strategy. News Corp., the world's fifth-largest media company, will be added to the Standard & Poor's 500-stock index on Dec. 17.

MORE NEWS

Merck lost its "AAA" credit rating from Standard & Poor's because of revenue losses and potential liabilities following the company's September recall of the painkiller Vioxx. The ratings service reduced its assessment of Merck's corporate credit and senior unsecured debt by three levels to "AA-." Its action came a week after Moody's Investors Service lowered its rating of Merck's long-term debt by two levels to "Aa2."

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow said the department would use an accounting maneuver to avoid breaching the $7.4 trillion ceiling on the national debt and allow the government to keep paying its bills. He called on Congress to raise the debt limit "immediately". The Senate is scheduled to vote Thursday; the House schedule is unclear.

Global Crossing workers and retirees will receive $79 million under a settlement approved by a federal judge. Former employees of the Bermuda-based builder of fiber-optic networks lost about $250 million as the company's shares fell before it filed for bankruptcy protection in January 2002. Global Crossing emerged from bankruptcy in December.

SBC Communications in January will start selling residential phone service using high-speed Internet connections. SBC, the second-largest U.S. regional carrier, said it hopes the service will help it keep customers from switching to cable and wireless competitors. The service will be marketed in all 13 states it serves, most of them in the western half of the country.

Cigarette company lawyers are arguing that their clients should not have to make another payment to tobacco farmers because the leaf quota system is being bought out. At a hearing, the lawyers argued that the quota buyout should negate a second phase of payments, which was intended to compensate tobacco growers for expected losses due to higher cigarette prices following a 1998 settlement. A North Carolina judge expects to rule on the dispute before Christmas.

Cinergy, an Ohio utility owner, agreed to pay $3 million to settle U.S. allegations that two natural-gas traders made false reports about prices and the amount of fuel that changed hands to industry publications from at least August 2000 through July 2002. The publications compile indexes used in some contracts to set gas prices, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said. Cinergy did not admit wrongdoing.

Newsday overstated its daily circulation by nearly 17 percent and its Sunday circulation by 14.5 percent, the Audit Bureau of Circulations said. The Long Island, N.Y., newspaper, which previously admitted overstating its circulation, reported weekday circulation of 481,816 copies for the year ended Sept. 30, 2003, down from the 579,599 copies originally reported.

Jonathan Adelstein will continue as a Federal Communications Commission member. President Bush nominated the Democrat, who originally joined the FCC in December 2002 to finish Gloria Tristani's term, to a new term expiring June 30, 2008.

IAC/InterActiveCorp, the parent company of Ticketmaster and Expedia, named Thomas McInerney chief financial officer, effective Jan. 1. He will succeed Dara Khosrowshahi, who will move over to spearhead the company's IAC Travel unit.

RECALL

Nautilus Group recalled nearly 680,000 Bowflex Power Pro systems and 102,000 Bowflex Ultimate Fitness Machines after customers reported that the units' seats and backboard benches can unexpectedly break and cause injuries. The machines were sold from 1995 through April 2004, the Consumer Products Safety Commission said.

INTERNATIONAL

Worldwide economic growth will slow to 3.2 percent in 2005 and 2006 from 4 percent this year because of higher oil prices, the World Bank said. Oil prices, which have risen more than 40 percent so far this year, had already cut growth forecasts for next year by half a percentage point, the bank said.

Ravelston Corp., the holding company used by owner Conrad Black to control his media businesses, offered $61 million to buy Hollinger Inc. in a bid to take it private. The purchase would allow Black to extricate himself from feuds with minority shareholders over control of his newspapers. Hollinger also agreed to sell the Jerusalem Post to an Israeli media company and Canada's largest newspaper publisher for $13.2 million, leaving Hollinger with the Chicago Sun-Times and a number of community newspapers.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Danaher, which makes Craftsman hand tools and Fluke electronic testing equipment, named Daniel L. Comas, senior vice president of finance and corporate development, as its chief financial officer, replacing Patrick W. Allender, who is retiring. District-based Danaher said Comas will assume his new role April 4.

EARNINGS

Wal-Mart Stores, the world's largest retailer, reported a 12.7 percent rise in its third-quarter earnings, to $2.29 billion from $2.03 billion in the same quarter a year earlier, meeting Wall Street expectations. Revenue for the three months ended Oct. 31 was $69.26 billion, up from $63.04 billion

Hewlett-Packard said its fourth-quarter profit rose 27 percent, to $1.09 billion, exceeding analysts' expectations. The Palo Alto, Calif., company's sales rose 7.7 percent, to $21.4 billion, fueled by a rebound in purchases of servers and storage devices.

Home Depot, the nation's largest home-improvement store chain, reported a nearly 15 percent jump in third-quarter earnings, to $1.32 billion from $1.15 billion in the same quarter year earlier. For the three months ended Oct. 31, revenue rose 13.1 percent, to $18.77 billion. Same-store sales increased 4.5 percent.

Borders Group swung to a third-quarter loss of $1.5 million, compared with profit of $500,000 in the same period last year, on slower store traffic and lower sales of best-selling books. The No. 2 U.S. bookstore chain blamed Florida hurricanes, televised presidential debates and the Olympics for keeping people out of its stores. Revenue rose to $838.6 million, from $817.1 million a year ago.

Staples, the nation's largest office products retailer, reported a 26 percent increase in its third-quarter profit, to $208.9 million from $165.8 million in the same quarter a year earlier, attributing the performance to increased customer traffic and strong sales of office furniture, supplies and copying services. For the August-to-October period, revenue grew 12 percent, to $3.83 billion.

Nordstrom said third-quarter profit rose to $77.8 million, up from $45.5 million in the same period last year as expenses fell and same-store sales increased 8.1 percent. Revenue rose to $1.5 billion, from $1.4 billion a year ago. The company raised its earnings estimates for the full year to $2.68 to $2.73 per share, up from $2.46 to $2.50 a share.

Saks, the retailer that owns Saks Fifth Avenue and other department stores, reported a third-quarter loss of $24.8 million, compared with a profit of $12.4 million in the same quarter a year earlier, blaming hurricanes and a string of planned store closings. Revenue rose to $1.48 billion from $1.47 billion.

J.C. Penney said its fiscal third-quarter profit nearly doubled to $149 million. Revenue in the period ended Oct. 30 rose 3 percent, to $4.46 billion.

TJX, the parent of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls chains, said fiscal third-quarter profit rose 10 percent to $200.9 million , helped by cooler weather. Sales at the discount clothing and home fashions chains rose 13 percent, to $3.82 billion, in the quarter ended Oct. 30.

Discount clothing retailer Ross Stores reported a 25 percent decline in third-quarter profit from a year ago as net income fell to $38.1 million. Sales rose 5 percent, from $977 million to $1 billion.

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

Auction signs line the road to the home of Daniel Gordon, the former chief energy trader at Merrill Lynch who pleaded guilty a year ago to embezzling $43 million from the securities firm. Gordon sold his estate in Old Lyme, Conn., for $3 million to Jon T. Lorensen, who owns car dealerships in Florida. Lorensen bought the five-bedroom house for almost $600,000 less than what Gordon paid two years ago.