Business & Finance

An official declaration that the US is in recession is expected as soon as today by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the Cambridge, Mass.-based committee that traditionally fixes the point at which business growth has stopped. According to reports, the bureau is likely to declare that the current downturn dates to March of this year, meaning the unparalleled expansion lasted almost exactly 10 years. The US's last previous recession began in July 1990 and ended in March 1991. An NBER declaration is expected to have little impact on financial markets, but could affect the contentious deliberations in Congress over the shape of an economic stimulus package sought by the Bush administration.

Early reports from retail stores for the start of the holiday

shopping season were encouraging, considering the slowing US economy and predictions of as much as a 4 percent decline in sales over last year. Still, many retailers were discounting merchandise to lure customers, which economists warned would cut into profit margins. The nation's largest check-authorization company, TeleCheck Services of Houston, said same-store sales Friday were 2.4 percent higher than for the same date a year ago, spurred by generally mild weather. The National Retail Federation has forecast a 2.5 percent rise in holiday sales over 2000, to $2.6 billion.

Brooks Brothers, one of the US's oldest and most prestigious clothing retailers, was sold at a deep discount by its British parent, Marks & Spencer Plc. The struggling London-based department store chain, which bought Brooks Brothers in 1988 for $750 million, said Friday it was unloading the company and its roughly 160 upscale outlets for $225 million to Retail Brands Inc. The latter operates the Casual Corner and Petite Sophisticates chains.

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