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Consumer confidence, a key indicator measuring the force behind the economy's long expansion, soared in January to the highest level ever reached in the 32 years that the data has been compiled, the Conference Board reported today.

The consumer confidence index rose to 144.7 in January, up from 141.7 in December. It was the highest level measured in the 32 years that the business-financed research group has been keeping records on the data. The performance was stronger than expected.

Consumer sentiment is closely watched by economists since spending by consumers is a major engine behind the current economic boom, making up about two-thirds of the nation's overall economic activity.

The monthly survey of 5,000 U.S. households reported 47 percent of those responding rated the current business environment "good" and 54 percent said jobs were "plentiful."

Mexican retailer buys CompUSA

DALLAS (AP) -- Shares of CompUSA, the troubled computer retailer, soared 40 percent Monday after the company announced it is being purchased by Grupo Sanborns, a Mexican retail group that already owns nearly 15 percent of the firm.

A spokeswoman for Dallas-based CompUSA said the deal was valued at about $1 billion in stock and debt. Grupo Sanborns will pay $10.10 in cash for each common share of CompUSA that it doesn't already own -- a 50 percent premium over the chain's Friday closing price of $6.75.

Shares of CompUSA were up $2.75 to $9.50 on the New York Stock Exchange Monday.

CompUSA operates a store on Niagara Falls Boulevard in Amherst.

Overnite files suit against Teamsters

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Overnite Transportation Co. is seeking at least $5.2 million from the Teamsters for costs, damage and losses stemming from the union's 3-month-old strike against the trucking firm.

A federal lawsuit filed Monday also accuses Teamsters president James P. Hoffa and other union leaders in a string of violent and illegal activities aimed at extorting a labor contract with Overnite. The lawsuit also alleges a pattern of violence, including 57 acts of attempted murder and 131 acts of extortion.

The Teamsters launched a strike Oct. 24 at Overnite terminals in seven states. The Teamsters and Overnite have been trying for several years to negotiate a contract for 22 terminals where the union represents Overnite workers.

Overnight operates a terminal on Kenmore Avenue in the Town of Tonawanda.

Yields mixed on Treasury bills

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

The Treasury Department sold $7.5 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 5.385 percent, up from 5.350 percent last week.

An additional $6.5 billion was sold in six-month bills at a rate of 5.520 percent, down from 5.535 percent.

The new discount rates understate the actual return to investors -- 5.549 percent for three-month bills with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,863.90, and 5.774 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,720.90.

Separately, the Federal Reserve said that the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, the most popular index for making changes in adjustable rate mortgages, rose slightly to 6.13 percent last week from 6.12 percent the previous week.

American Express settles lawsuits

NEW YORK (AP) -- American Express Co. disclosed a $215 million settlement of claims on Monday that it misled people into buying insurance products without fully disclosing fees. But the company managed to report a 15 percent profit in the fourth quarter that met Wall Street projections.

American Express, which did not admit any wrongdoing, said the preliminary settlement of three class-action lawsuits covered 2 million people who bought annuity products from the company starting in 1985.

The company cited strength in its charge card and investment management businesses for its profit growth in the three months Dec. 31, when it earned $606 million, or $1.33 a share. That was up from a profit of $530 million, or $1.16 a share, in the year-ago period. Revenue grew 15 percent to $5.23 billion from $4.56 billion.

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