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Consumer confidence fell for a second straight month in August as Americans worried about gyrations in global stock markets and new political turmoil.

The Conference Board reported today that its index of consumer confidence fell 4.1 points to 133.1 in August from a revised 137.2 reached in July. August's decline was larger than Wall Street analysts' had expected.

Consumer sentiment is important because consumer spending accounts for two-thirds of the nation's overall economic activity.

The report comes as economists scour new data for signs pointing to the direction of the economy. Many worry that Asia's economic crisis, as well as financial troubles in Russia and Latin America, will drag down the U.S. economy.

The summer drop in confidence from the 29-year high reached this year reflects worries that business conditions will worsen in the coming months, and jobs will be tougher to find.

Existing home sales up 4% in July
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Sales of existing single-family homes jumped 4 percent in July to a record, propelled by low interest rates and healthy income growth.

The increase brought the seasonally adjusted annual sales rate to 4.93 million units, surpassing the previous record, set in March, of a 4.89 million unit rate, the National Association of Realtors said today.

Interest rates on 30-year, fixed-rate mortgages have hovered under 7 percent since mid-June, a level that hasn't been seen -- except for a stretch of 1993 -- since the late 1960s.

Nationwide, the median sales price of an existing home, meaning half sold for more and half for less, was $133,900, up 5.8 percent from a year ago.

Sunbeam will keep 4 plants open
DELRAY BEACH, Fla. (AP) -- Sunbeam Corp.'s new management reversed former chairman Al Dunlap's decision to close four factories, saying there was no "business or economic justification" for the closings.

Monday's announcement came from Jerry Levin, the replacement for "Chain Saw Al" Dunlap, who was ousted in June after failing to boost Sunbeam's flagging shares even after big job cuts.

The total number of jobs to be retained couldn't immediately be determined. In all, Dunlap had planned to cut 6,400 jobs as Sunbeam acquired the Coleman, First Alert and Mr. Coffee brands.

Northrop to cut 2,100 more jobs
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Northrop Grumman will cut 2,100 more jobs by the end of the year 2000 in an effort to reduce annual operating expenses by $300 million.

The cuts announced Monday bring to 10,500 the number of jobs lost in recent months as Northrop Grumman faces dwindling demand for military work and a competitive aerospace market.

The company had previously announced it would lay off 4,300 workers as the B-2 stealth bomber program ended at the company's plant in Pico Rivera.

Northroup has an electronics and systems integration division in Bethpage, N.Y.

Yields mixed on Treasury bills
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Interest rates on short-term Treasury securities were mixed in Monday's auction.

The Treasury Department sold $5.75 billion in three-month bills at an average discount rate of 4.920 percent, up from 4.910 percent last week.

An additional $7.25 billion was sold in six-month bills at an average rate of 4.940 percent, down from 4.945 percent.

The new discount rates understate the actual return to investors -- 5.050 percent for three-month bills with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,874.30, and 5.136 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,750.30.

In other business news
Merrill Lynch & Co. agreed Monday to pay $2 million to settle government charges it was negligent in warning investors about the risks of buying bonds issued by Orange County, Calif., before the municipality plunged into bankruptcy in 1994.

Thousands of U S West workers began their second week on the picket lines in 13 states as negotiators went back to the bargaining table Monday in efforts to end the strike. In Connecticut, meanwhile, Southern New England Telecommunications Corp.'s customers braced for delays after thousands of workers walked off the job over the weekend.

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