NEW YORK (AP) -- Mounting worries about jobs and the business climate dragged consumer confidence in February to its lowest level in more than four years, and that pessimism was reinforced by bleak reports on factory orders and home buying Tuesday.
The Conference Board said its Consumer Confidence Index dropped to 106.8, down from 115.7 in January. It marked the fifth consecutive drop in the monthly index, which fell to its lowest point since June 1996.
Orders to U.S. factories for big-ticket manufactured goods plunged in January to their lowest level in 19 months, the Commerce Department said. Meanwhile, new-homes sales plummeted by 10.9 percent in January, the biggest drop in seven years.
FAIRFIELD, Conn. (AP) -- The European Commission has decided to launch an in-depth probe of General Electric's proposed $40.5 billion buyout of Honeywell International Inc., pushing back a decision on whether to clear the deal by up to four months.
While disappointed by the delay, GE said it remained confident its acquisition of Honeywell would eventually be approved.
GE chairman Jack Welch, who met with the EU's antitrust chief Mario Monti in Brussels on Monday, had originally expected the deal to meet all regulatory obligations and to be completed by April at the latest. It seems that timetable is now unrealistic.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Abandoning the usual deference shown colleagues, federal appeals judges weighing Microsoft's fate criticized the trial judge Tuesday for comments outside the courtroom. The chief judge questioned whether Thomas Penfield Jackson's conduct ''violates the whole oath of office.''
Microsoft lawyers relished the attention the appellate judges gave Jackson, wrapping up two days of arguments in their high-stakes appeal by accusing the trial judge of bias and eagerness to punish the software giant.
The seven U.S. Court of Appeals judges considered the bias issue and also raised concerns about technical aspects of Jackson's ruling. One raised the possibility the case might have to be sent back to a trial court.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The nation's premier environmental law withstood a major industry challenge Tuesday as the Supreme Court upheld the way the government sets air-quality standards under the Clean Air Act.
The court unanimously rejected industry arguments that the Environmental Protection Agency must consider financial cost as well as health benefits in writing standards.
The Clean Air Act became law in 1970, and the challenge by industry groups was viewed as the most significant environmental case before the Supreme Court in years.
The justices rejected industry arguments that the EPA took too much lawmaking power from Congress when it set tougher standards for ozone and soot in 1997.
Nevertheless, the court threw out the EPA's policy for implementing new ozone rules and ordered the agency to come up with a more ''reasonable'' interpretation of the law.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Rapidly chiseling away at its mountain of debt, AT&T Corp. has struck two separate deals to sell its 10 percent stake in Japan Telecom Co. for $1.35 billion and some cable TV systems in four states for about $2.2 billion.
The transactions, unveiled Tuesday, will help reduce AT&T's debt to about $42.5 billion, down from a peak of $62 billion in the fall. Credit agencies warned AT&T to reduce its debt load when the company announced plans to split into three independent companies.
The Japan Telecom stake is being sold to Vodafone Group PLC, giving the British wireless company 25 percent of Japan's third biggest phone company.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Personal bankruptcies have declined sharply in recent years, lessening the need for legislation up for a House vote this week that would make it harder for people to erase debts in court, a consumer group said Tuesday.
The legislation rewriting the bankruptcy laws would force many people ''into a virtual debtors' prison,'' Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America, said at a news conference.
The opposition came two days before a scheduled vote by the House on the bipartisan bill, which is being pushed by the banking and credit card industries and is likely to be signed by President Bush if it gets through Congress. It was passed overwhelmingly last year, then was vetoed in December by President Clinton, who felt it hurt ordinary people and working families who fall on hard times.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Jann Wenner, the publishing maverick who launched Rolling Stone in 1967, has finally found a partner in his effort to make US Weekly a mainstay in the celebrity journalism business: The Walt Disney Co.
Under a deal announced Tuesday, US Weekly is being spun off from Wenner's media group, which also includes Men's Journal and Rolling Stone, into a new company of which Disney will own half. Financial terms weren't disclosed.
Wenner will retain editorial control of US Weekly, but Disney will use the material from the magazine as well as appearances by its writers in creating US Weekly-branded segments to appear on shows broadcast by the ABC network, which Disney also owns.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A 1980s labor dispute over baseball salaries came to the Supreme Court on Tuesday, where the justices will decide how taxes should be paid on back wages.
The case arose from the 1994 cash settlement won by the major league players' union for collusion among 26 baseball teams to stop the steep escalation of salaries for free agent players.
Tuesday's oral argument, however, had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with arcana of Social Security laws and the effect of a heretofore obscure 1946 Supreme Court case.
The court's ruling, expected by summer, will affect Social Security and unemployment taxes on lump-sum labor settlements and other money that employers should have paid earlier but didn't. Successful race, sex and other discrimination claims against employers are a major source of such back pay awards.
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- Kim Woo-choong used to be an idol of young office workers.
Over a few decades, the workaholic founder of Daewoo Group built his company from a one-room textile exporter into one of South Korea's top conglomerates. Kim made his cars, refrigerators and television sets commonplace across the world.
Today, the silver-haired tycoon is South Korea's most wanted man, the alleged mastermind of the largest business fraud in the nation's history.
In early February, seven of Kim's lieutenants -- hard-driving executives who spearheaded the conglomerate's aggressive overseas expansion -- were arrested for alleged financial misdeeds. The charges include obtaining $20 billion by diverting Daewoo funds and securing illegal loans, and funneling at least $8 billion of that amount to an account for Kim's benefit.
By The Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) -- A report showing consumer confidence at a more than four-year low sent the Nasdaq composite index to its weakest finish in 26 months Tuesday. Analysts said investors were growing increasingly anxious about the economy and the Federal Reserve's ability to reverse its decline.
The selloff reflected Wall Street's disappointment that the Fed did not cut interest rates Tuesday -- a move that would have been an extraordinary step, coming three weeks before the central bank's next meeting.
The Nasdaq closed down 100.68 at 2,207.82, its worst finish since Dec. 31, 1998, when the technology-focused gauge closed at 2,192.69.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5.65 to 10,636.88, keeping most of the 200-point gain it racked up Monday on speculation that an interest rate cut was imminent. The Standard & Poor's 500 index dropped 9.71 to 1,257.94.
Energy futures at the New York Mercantile Exchange pared their losses to end modestly lower Tuesday, as traders braced for what was expected to be a hefty build in U.S. crude inventories.
April crude, which had fallen as low as $27.72 at one point, closed at $28.13 a barrel, down 29 cents.
March heating oil was unchanged at 74.70 cents per gallon, while March unleaded gasoline rose 11 cents to 84.11 cents but not before trading as low as 82.75 cents a gallon. Natural gas for April delivery rose 18.2 cents to $5.279 per 1,000 cubic feet.
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