HOUSING

Existing Home Sales Hold Steady

Sales of previously owned homes continued at the second-highest pace on record in September, buoyed by quick, cash purchases of homes for hurricane refugees by big employers, the key real estate trade group said. The National Association of Realtors said national sales of existing homes last month held steady at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 7.28 million, the same as in August. The performance was stronger than expected.

The national median price of an existing home in September was $212,000, up 13.4 percent from a year earlier but down from the price in August, when the national median was $220,000

TAXES

Firms to Offer Free Filing

Intuit, H&R Block and 18 other companies that sell tax-return-preparation services agreed to offer free electronic filing to as many at 93 million taxpayers in a four-year agreement that keeps the IRS out of the tax software market.

The agreement makes taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $49,600 eligible for free filing services from the companies, which qualifies about 70 percent of the taxpaying public. About 5.1 million tax returns were filed for free under the program last year.

The agreement also prevents the IRS from developing its own free tax-filing systems and making them available to the public.

ECONOMY

Consumer Confidence Falls

Consumers are growing more pessimistic about the economy, two leading business groups suggested. The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index fell from September's revised reading of 87.5 to 85 in October because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, higher gasoline prices and a weakening labor market.

STOCK

Chipotle Files for IPO

Chipotle Mexican Grill, a restaurant chain owned by fast-food giant McDonald's, filed with regulators for an initial public offering of $100 million in stock.

The Denver company did not say how many shares it planned to offer or give an estimated price range but said it will apply to trade its shares on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol "CMG."

DEFENSE

Alabama Approves Airbus Facility

Airbus won approval from Alabama state officials to build an engineering center in Mobile in anticipation of winning an Air Force tanker contract.

The installation, which would open in January 2006 and employ 150 people initially, would expand if Airbus parent European Aeronautic Defense & Space and Northrop Grumman win a U.S. Air Force contract for midair refueling tankers. The two companies are trying to break Boeing's monopoly on tankers for the U.S. military.

EMPLOYMENT

FedEx Settles Discrimination Suit

FedEx will pay $500,000 to settle a class-action lawsuit by 20 black employees who say they were denied promotions and assignments because of their race, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said.

The EEOC alleged that American Freightways, acquired by FedEx in 2001, discriminated against blacks in making promotions from part-time to full-time dockworker positions, promotions to dock-supervisor positions and work assignments at its St. Louis terminal.

DuPont, the third-biggest U.S. chemical maker, reported its first quarterly loss in two years after hurricanes disrupted production. The loss was $82 million, compared with profit of $331 million in the comparable quarter a year earlier. Revenue grew 4.7 percent, to $6.31 billion. The company also said it will buy back $5 billion in stock, responding to pressure to be more aggressive with its $5 billion in cash reserves.

International Paper, North America's biggest paper maker, had a third-quarter profit of $1.04 billion, compared with a loss of $470 million in the same period a year ago, after selling a majority stake in a New Zealand lumber unit and resolving a tax dispute that resulted in a gain. Sales were unchanged at $6 billion.

HCA, the biggest U.S. hospital company, said third-quarter profit rose 23 percent, to $280 million, on higher prices won for care in contracts with insurers. Revenue rose 3 percent, to $6 billion.

U.S. Steel, the biggest U.S. steelmaker, said third-quarter profit plunged 70 percent, to $107 million from $354 million in the comparable quarter a year earlier, because of lower steel prices and shipments, as orders from distributors dwindled and energy costs jumped. Sales fell 13.7 percent, to $3.2 billion.

Chubb, an insurer of commercial property and high-end homes, said third-quarter profit fell 32 percent compared with the year-ago period, to $246.4 million, on claims from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The storms and other catastrophes cost Chubb $568 million before taxes.

Compiled from staff and news service reports.

Chipotle said it hopes to raise $100 million.