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RONALD'S NOT CLOWNING AROUND

AFTER YEARS of gimmicky flops, McDonald's has decided its biggest problem is that some customers just don't like warmed-over burgers.

The hamburger chain plans to install new computerized and partially robotic kitchens in all its U.S. outlets by the end of next year that can deliver fresher, made-to-order Big Macs, Quarter Pounders and new items that would slow down the old kitchens too much.

Best of all: Heat lamps won't be needed.

M&T makes the honor roll

FIRST EMPIRE State Corp. can go to the head of the class, according to Keefe, Bruyette & Woods Inc., a Wall Street brokerage firm.

First Empire, which owns M&T Bank, was added to Keefe, Bruyette's honor roll of 13 U.S. banking firms that have managed to continually report higher earnings per share over the last decade.

First Empire, which has seen its earnings per share grow at a compound annual rate of 18.1 percent over the last 10 years, had the highest growth rate of any of the honor roll companies.

At the same time, First Empire stock is trading at 3.12 times its book value, which is less than the 3.98 median multiple among the honor roll banks. And its shares, which trade at 15.6 times First Empires estimated 1999 earnings, are selling for a lower estimated price-to-earnings ratio than all but one of the other honor roll stocks.

Well, what about flashlights?

THERE'S A MEAN rumor going around that heart pacemakers face a year-2000 problem.

The year-2000 bug is getting a lot of attention in the computer world, where some mainframes need to be reprogrammed to keep from reading 2000 as 1900. It's an especially big problem in computing interest.

The false rumor is that the circuitry in pacemakers and other medical devices is date-sensitive and will stop working properly on Jan. 1, 2000.

Medtronic Inc., the world's largest manufacturer of pacemakers and other such devices, says not to worry. Pacemakers don't know what day it is. The millennium won't dawn with heart attacks. (Well, not unless you account for the stress of all those upcoming millennial New Year's Eve parties.)

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