BUS BRIEFS Retailers brace for weak holiday sales

LOS ANGELES -- Toy makers and major retailers are bracing for potentially weak Christmas sales this year amid concerns that consumers, many squeezed by skyrocketing gas prices or uneasiness over the economy, will spend less on holiday shopping.

On Monday, No. 1 toy manufacturer Mattel Inc. and No. 2 Hasbro Inc. both reported weak third-quarter sales.

They also warned investors that their fourth-quarter earnings might suffer if the consumer sluggishness carries forward into the critical holiday season.

Oil prices fall after hitting $55 a barrel

Oil prices fell sharply Monday in what traders described as a wave of profit-taking after futures hit a new high above $55 a barrel and after gasoline futures fell sharply on indications of declining demand.


November crude futures plunged $1.26, or 2 percent, to settle at $53.67 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The slide in prices might not last, analysts said, explaining that it could provide the basis for fresh buying in a market that is still ill-at-ease about the world's limited supply cushion.

Resurgent Kmart chooses fast-food veteran

DETROIT -- Kmart Holding Corp. has chosen fast-food industry veteran Aylwin Lewis to lead the retailing company, a decision some analysts said could point to a new push to improve operations following the discounter's successful financial turnaround. Its shares rose 5 percent.

Kmart announced Monday that Lewis, formerly an executive at the restaurant operator Yum Brands Inc., will replace Julian Day as chief executive and president.

Lewis, 50, is a 13-year veteran of Yum, whose brands include Pizza Hut, KFC, Taco Bell, Long John Silver's and A&W; All-American Food, and most recently served as president and chief operating officer.

3M falls short of expectations

MINNEAPOLIS -- 3M Co. reported a 17 percent increase in third-quarter profits on Monday, but the maker of Post-it notes and Scotch tape missed analyst expectations .


Investors got cautious about 3M, at one point driving the Dow component's shares down more than 5 percent. 3M stock recovered to close down $1.88, or 2 percent, at $76.10 on the New York Stock Exchange.

Insurance companies stop using incentives

NEW YORK -- Two major insurance companies named in the New York attorney general's investigation into questionable sales practices have discontinued the use of incentive fees, which are at the center of the probe.

Joe Norton, a spokesman for New York-based American International Group Inc., said Monday that the company had stopped using incentive fees. AIG officials last week had said they were studying the issue.

ACE Ltd., a Bermuda-based insurer, said in an announcement on its Web site late Sunday that it was halting the use of "placement service agreements," also known as contingent commissions or market service agreements.

Delphi loses $114 million in third quarter

DETROIT -- Delphi Corp., the world's largest automotive supplier, said Monday it lost $114 million in the third quarter, reflecting lower North American vehicle production and higher material costs. Its loss was in line with its forecast delivered earlier this month and the company reaffirmed its guidance for the fourth quarter.

The July-September loss, which amounted to 20 cents a share, was far less than the loss of $353 million, or 63 cents a share, posted in the year-ago quarter when Delphi took a $356 million charge for restructuring.


Pfizer plans major study on pain medication

NEW YORK -- Pfizer Inc. said Monday it plans a major study to see if its pain medication Celebrex can help osteoarthritis patients at risk for cardiovascular disease.

The announcement comes almost three weeks after Merck &; Co. pulled Vioxx, its rival drug that is also a COX-2 inhibitor, from the market because it doubled the risk of heart attack and strokes in patients taking the medication longer than 18 months.

And just last week, Pfizer said a study showed that Bextra, another COX-2 inhibitor it sells, increased the risk of heart attacks in patients that had coronary bypass operations. Pfizer shares closed down 2 percent on Friday to $28.50.

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