The index of leading economic indicators fell in October for the fifth straight month, suggesting that the economy may be slowing, a private research group said. The Conference Board said its main indicator of future economic growth fell 0.3 percent in October, following declines of the same size in September and August. The index is calculated by combining factors considered to be good indicators of the economy's direction, such as manufacturing, interest rates, consumer expectations, stock prices and money supply. The Labor Department said that initial jobless claims fell by 3,000 last week, to 334,000. Weekly claims have averaged 344,109 so far this year, compared with 402,000 for all of 2003, a sign businesses are holding on to workers as demand improves, the department said.

Judge Upholds US Airways Pay Cuts

A bankruptcy judge left intact temporary 21 percent pay cuts on some US Airways workers that he imposed last month to help the airline conserve cash and avoid liquidation. Lawyers for the International Association of Machinists and Association of Flight Attendants had asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stephen S. Mitchell to reconsider his ruling, saying the airline had requested steeper pay cuts than were necessary to ensure the airline's survival while in bankruptcy.

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Continental Airlines said it will seek to cut $500 million a year in wages and benefits. The reductions, which would take effect Feb. 28, are in addition to $1.1 billion in cost savings the company has already identified, Continental said.

Kevin Nordick, accused by prosecutors of bilking $58 million from 15,000 investors in 60 countries, pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges related to the scheme. Investigators called the Tri-West Investment Club one of the nation's largest Internet investment scams. Nordick faces up to 20 years in prison, and sentencing has been scheduled for Feb. 4.

SBC Communications and Yahoo are expanding their alliance to market delivery of news, entertainment and other services on computers, cell phones, televisions and other devices. Details of the multiyear agreement were not disclosed.

Marsh & McLennan, the insurance broker sued by New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer last month, said five company executives stepped down from the board: Mathis Cabiallavetta, Peter Coster, Charles A. Davis, Ray J. Groves and A.J.C. Smith. The company seeks to adhere to "corporate governance best practices," lead director Robert F. Erburu said in a statement.

UnumProvident will pay $15 million in fines and reassess 200,000 denied disability claims to settle federal and state investigations into inappropriate denials of benefits. The company estimates the settlement, which includes restitution to policy holders and reforming claim handling procedures, will cost $100 million.

MBIA, the world's biggest bond insurer, said it received subpoenas from the Securities and Exchange Commission and the New York attorney general's office for information about non-traditional, or loss-mitigation, products sold by the company since 1998.

An Ohio stock trader impersonated stock market officials to persuade companies to issue news releases that helped him cover short positions in their shares, the Securities and Exchange Commission said in a lawsuit. Peter J. Wilson, 43, posed as a Nasdaq and American Stock Exchange official and called companies after he noticed an unusual rise in their share price or trading volume, the SEC alleges. Wilson then told company officials to state publicly that there was no reason for the activity so their share prices would fall, according to the agency.

A former Wal-Mart Stores executive pleaded guilty to taking a kickback from a supplier. Clifford H. Pruitt Jr., who was a regional vice president with the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer, faces a sentence of up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Members of Walt Disney World's largest union group approved a new three-year contract hours before the old contract was set to expire. Union members, representing 40 percent of the resort's 51,000 employees, had rejected three previous proposals since talks began in May.

Chrysler will add electronic systems that limit rollovers on 750,000 sport-utility vehicles as it matches moves by Ford and General Motors to make SUVs safer. The electronic stability systems will be on some SUV models next year and standard on all Chrysler SUVs starting in 2006, the automaker said.

RECALL

J.C. Penney has voluntarily recalled about 41,300 pairs of the Okie Dokie Alligator Football Pajama Set that present a choking hazard because a patch could come loose, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The pajamas, sold in infant sizes 12M to 24M and toddler sizes 2T to 5T, were about $22 in Penney stores nationwide from June through September. The "Okie Dokie" name appears on the collar tag.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Lockheed Martin got a $525 million, seven-year contract to modernize the Social Security Administration's information technology systems. Joining the company on the project are Global Commerce and Information, Pointe Technology Group, Computer Programs and System and RS Information Systems.

Washington Savings Bank reported first-quarter earnings of $2.4 million, a 23 percent increase from the same period last year. The Bowie-based bank said total assets for the quarter ended Oct. 31 rose 36 percent, to $553.1 million from $406.2 million.

INTERNATIONAL

South Korea's economy grew 0.6 percent in the third quarter, as exports and consumer spending slowed. The government of Asia's third-largest economy is cutting taxes and has lowered a key interest rate to revive domestic demand.

EARNINGS

Walt Disney Co. reported fourth-quarter earnings of $516 million, a 24 percent increase from $416 million in the same period last year, on strong results from cable channels and the ABC television network. Revenue for the period ended Sept. 30 rose to $7.5 billion from $7 billion.

SABMiller, the world's second-largest brewer by volume, said strong sales helped profit more than double in the first half of the fiscal year. The London company said profit for the six months ended Sept. 30 rose to $699 million, compared with $308 million during the same period a year ago. Sales rose 14 percent, to $7.2 billion from $6.3 billion.

Novell, a seller of network software and consulting services, had fourth-quarter profit of $13.3 million, compared with a loss of $109 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Sales rose for a fourth straight quarter, to $300.7 million.

Gap said third-quarter earnings rose less than 1 percent, as sales declined at stores open at least a year. The clothing chain said third-quarter net income was $265 million, compared with $263 million during the year-ago period. Sales in the quarter ended Oct. 30 rose to $3.98 billion from $3.93 billion.

Williams-Sonoma said third-quarter earnings rose 19 percent, boosted by store openings and catalog sales. Net income at the operator of home furnishings chains was $28.5 million, compared with $23.9 million in the year-ago period. Sales for the quarter ended Oct. 31 increased 14 percent, to $722.8 million from $632.8 million.

Dillard's said its third-quarter loss widened to $18.7 million, from $15.8 million in the same period last year. Sales fell to $1.7 billion from $1.76 billion. Same-store sales fell 4 percent. The department store chain said operations in the East suffered during hurricane season.

Limited Brands' third-quarter earnings fell 40 percent, to $78.3 million, because of fewer extraordinary gains, the operator of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works said. Revenue for the three months ended Oct. 30 rose slightly, to $1.89 billion.

Restoration Hardware, which has been unprofitable for the past five years, said its fiscal third-quarter loss widened to $3.12 million, from $2.86 million in the same quarter a year earlier, on higher advertising, distribution and other costs. Sales climbed 23 percent, to $118.2 million.

Foot Locker said third-quarter profit grew to $74 million, from $62 million in the same quarter last year. Sales grew by 14 percent, to $1.37 billion, as same-store sales increased 1.2 percent.

Petco Animal Supplies said its third-quarter earnings climbed to $21 million, from $19.2 million in the same quarter a year earlier, on higher sales and a better product mix. Revenue grew to $455.5 million from $403.6 million. Same-store sales increased by 7 percent.

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

MetLife, Prudential, Cigna and UnumProvident were sued by California's insurance regulator for allegedly paying hidden fees to a broker in exchange for business. The broker, Universal Life Resources of San Diego, settled with California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi and will help with the case. Garamendi, right, with San Diego attorney John Stoia, announced the lawsuit at a news conference yesterday.