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Retail sales rose in September for the fourth consecutive month as increases at furniture stores and auto showrooms helped offset a slump at department and clothing stores.

The 0.3 percent increase, to a seasonally adjusted $215.5 billion, followed stronger gains in June, July and August, the Commerce Department said today.

The overall performance in September was a bit stronger than many economists expected. Still, the report didn't contradict analysts' belief economic growth is moderating.

Receipts at department stores and other general merchandisers fell 0.6 percent, while sales dropped 0.7 percent at clothing and accessory shops. Both were the sharpest declines in five months.

Auto sales last month rose 0.6 percent, the fourth consecutive advance but not nearly as strong as increases in the previous three months. Furniture dealers also reported a 0.6 percent increase in September, the sixth month without a decline.

Sales fell 0.5 percent, the second consecutive drop, at hardware stores, garden centers and building supply outlets. They rose 1.4 percent at food stores, only the second gain in six months. Sales also increased at drug stores and gas stations but fell at restaurants and bars.

Microsoft may invest in TCI
NEW YORK (AP) -- Microsoft Corp. may invest as much as $1 billion in Tele-Communications Inc., one of the country's largest cable-operating companies, The Wall Street Journal reported today.

An influx of Microsoft dollars could give TCI the money it will need to pay for the next generation of digital cable boxes, which are expected to provide high-speed Internet connections and access to hundreds of digital cable channels.

Microsoft executives have said penetrating the "living room" market for consumer electronic devices, particularly television, will be crucial to the company's long-term success.

The Redmond, Wash.-based computing giant is worried that any rival operating system that becomes widely used in consumer electronics could eventually compete with its Windows PC operating system, the Journal said.

Compaq chops notebook prices
HOUSTON (Bloomberg) -- Compaq Computer Corp. cut prices on its Armada notebook computers targeted at business customers as much as 24 percent, and will begin leasing the machines to customers for as little as $70 a month.

Among the reductions, the world's top-selling PC maker said it trimmed prices on the Armada 4131T to $1,999 from $2,499, and on the high-end Armada 1590DMT to $3,299 from $3,699.

WorldCom puts the heat on MCI
NEW YORK (AP) -- WorldCom Inc. on Tuesday kicked off an aggressive campaign to convince MCI shareholders to reject British Telecom's proposed merger so WorldCom can instead buy MCI for $30 billion.

WorldCom sent 250,000 preliminary proxies to MCI shareholders, weaving in praise for its unsolicited offer from eight well-known Wall Street analysts who follow the industry.

"Don't Just Take Our Word For It. Here's What the Expert Financial Analysts Have Publicly Said," WorldCom says in introducing quotes.

WorldCom argues that its bid, made Oct. 1, is worth about $9 billion more than what British Telecom is offering. In addition, WorldCom says its offer, unlike BT's, is structured to be tax-free to MCI shareholders.

WorldCom also contends a combined WorldCom-MCI would have far more potential to grow in the United States, particularly in markets for local telephone customers.

The company said it believes MCI shareholders will reject BT's proposal "based on the strong support we have received from the financial community as well as the very favorable reaction from MCI's shareholders."

For its part, MCI Communications Corp. is scrutinizing whether WorldCom's proposal, all in stock, will hold its value by the time a deal is signed. BT is offering a combination of cash and stock.

Pennzoil board rejects Union Pacific
HOUSTON (Bloomberg) -- Pennzoil Co.'s board rejected Union Pacific Resources Group's revised hostile takeover bid, saying it's still inadequate. Last week, Union Pacific Resources offered $84 in cash for each Pennzoil share. Its original bid, made in July, offered stock and cash.

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