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BUSINESS TODAY

Consumer confidence plunges to lowest level in 7 1.2 years

NEW YORK (AP) -- Consumer confidence plummeted in October to its lowest level in 7 1/2 years as the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks sapped Americans' optimism about job security and the economy.

The New York-based Conference Board said that its Consumer Confidence Index sank to 85.5 from 97 in September. Analysts were expecting a reading of 96.

The index, based on a monthly survey of some 5,000 U.S. households, is closely watched because consumer confidence drives consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.

The index compares results to its base year, 1985, when it stood at 100. The October figure is the lowest since February 1994.

Consumers have been one of the main factors preventing the economy from sliding into recession. But many economists now believe a recession is inevitable because of the fallout from the attacks. Employers have slashed hundreds of thousands of jobs since hijackers rammed commercial jets into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But companies had already started trimming payrolls well before the attacks in response to an economic slowdown that triggered weakened earnings and a slump in stock prices.

Ford extends 0% finance offer

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) -- Pressed to keep pace with competitors, Ford Motor Co. said Monday it is extending its no-interest finance offer through Nov. 20.

The extension runs two days longer than General Motors Corp.'s offer and a day longer than that offered by DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group.

The program offers Ford customers 36-month, zero percent financing on most of the automaker's cars, sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks except the Thunderbird and Escape, the automaker said.

Such incentives help increase an automaker's market share, but also shave their profit margins per vehicle.

DaimlerChrysler AG said last week that it will extend until Nov. 19 its offer of no-interest financing on certain 2002 vehicles. GM's offer expires Nov. 18.

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