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Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan today characterized as virtually nonexistent the threat that the United States will suffer massive computer failures because of the Year 2000 date change.

But he cautioned that the economy could still be effected, depending on how many businesses and consumers alter their normal buying patterns because of unwarranted fears.

"The probability of a cascading of computer failures in mission-critical systems is now negligible, given the testing that has been done, the backup plans that are in place and the great adaptability and ingenuity of the American worker," Greenspan said at a conference of federal regulators on Year 2000 preparations.

The conference was convened to survey what has been done and what is left to do in getting the U.S. economy ready to handle the Y2K bug.

U.S. probes faulty wipers, air bags
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A federal safety agency is investigating hundreds of consumer complaints that windshield wipers are prone to failure on nearly 1.5 million cars built by General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Thursday that it is upgrading an investigation into 61 complaints of air bags deploying inadvertently in some GM cars to study the engineering of the air bag systems.

Motorists claimed to have 38 injuries from the air bags suddenly bursting open on Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, Buick Regal and Pontiac Grand Prix cars from the 1995 and 1996 model years. Nearly 600,000 of the cars are on the road.

More than 300 consumers complained that windshield wipers failed on Pontiac Grand Prix, Buick Century, Buick Regal or Oldsmobile Intrigue cars from the 1997 and 1998 model years, the report said. There are about 900,000 of those cars on the road.

About 470 motorists claim the windshield wipers failed intermittently or completely on their 1993 Ford Taurus or Mercury Sable cars. There are about 555,000 cars from the 1993 model year on the road.

The agency already has an ongoing investigation into complaints of windshield wiper failures on some 1997 through 1999 model Ford Explorer and Mercury Mountaineer sport utility vehicles. There are nearly 1.5 million of those vehicles on the road.

Housing starts up 0.4% in month
WASHINGTON (AP) -- New construction of homes and apartments rose 0.4 percent in August, keeping a brisk pace despite rising mortgage rates.

Builders started new homes at a seasonally adjusted rate of 1.68 million units last month, the Commerce Department reported today.

Revising earlier estimates, the agency also said that in July, housing starts climbed 3.9 percent, recovering from a slide of 3.7 percent in June. Both monthly swings were smaller than first reported.

In August, new construction on single-family homes fell 1.3 percent to an annual rate of 1.3 million units, following a rise of 1.2 percent in July. Starts on condos and apartment buildings, however, jumped 6.6 percent last month, adding to a huge 15.6 percent gain in July.

Mortgage rates decline in latest week
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The average interest rate on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages settled back to 7.82 percent this week. The average was down from 7.88 percent last week, Freddie Mac, the mortgage company said Thursday.

The rate for fifteen-year mortgages, a popular option for refinancing, averaged 7.43 percent last week, down from 7.49 percent the week before.

On one-year adjustable-rate mortgages, lenders were asking an average initial rate of 6.22 percent, up from 6.21 percent the week before.

In other business news
With digital cameras too pricey for many amateur photographers, Eastman Kodak Co. and America Online Inc. have teamed up to offer a new service will allow people dropping their film off at the photofinishers the option of having electronic copies of their pictures e-mailed to their AOL account. The e-picture service -- You've Got Pictures -- will cost AOL subscribers $5.95 per roll of film.

Eleven companies have agreed to spend $200 million to clean up contaminated drinking water under the San Gabriel Valley. The deal announced Wednesday is one of the largest good-faith offers ever made to remove dangerous chemicals from groundwater in the history of the Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund program, officials said.

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