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The first day of the traditional holiday shopping season appeared to confirm predictions that consumers would spend less than they did last year, due to such factors as a slowdown in the US economy, a downturn in financial markets, uncertainty over the presidential election, and higher prices for gasoline and home-heating fuel. Tele-Check, a payment-services unit of Atlanta-based First Data Corp. that monitors 27,000 retailers, reported a 4.6 percent rise in retail sales last Friday, compared to 6.2 percent for the same day a year ago, despite early openings and deep discounts offered by many retailers. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported first-day sales of slightly more than $1.1 billion, which projected to a 3 percent to 5 percent increase over the holiday buying period, compared to 6.3 percent last year. Economists generally were predicting many consumers would wait to spend the bulk of their gift-buying budget until the weekend before Christmas.

Royal Dutch/Shell attempted an end run around the management of Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd. by pitching a $5.3 billion takeover bid directly to the latter's shareholders. Shell already holds a 34 percent stake in Woodside, which produces natural gas off the continent's North West Shelf and explores for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico, off Mauritania, Cambodia, and Papua New Guinea. Woodside's directors have twice rejected offers that would give Shell at least a 56 percent stake in the company.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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