Business & Finance

Major retailers were opening as early as 6 a.m. the day after Christmas and were offering even deeper discounts than before in an effort to clear out unsold merchandise amid reports that the holiday gift-buying season was the leanest in at least 30 years. Some merchants were holding out hope that a late rush in buying gift certificates would lift their bottom line: Such sales are recorded only when the certificates are redeemed. The National Retail Federation had forecast a 4 percent jump in sales this year as the buying period began late last month. But at least one tracker, Michael Niemira of the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd., projected that combined November-December sales would be 1.5 percent - even lower than the 2 percent he forecast as the period opened.

Electronic Data Systems Corp. (EDS) won a $1.3 billion, five-year contract to manage the technology services and related applications for Dutch banking giant ABN Amro Holding, The Wall Street Journal reported. It said that the deal calls for EDS to absorb about 2,000 ABN Amro employees who operate the services. Earlier this year, the Plano, Texas-based company was hired for a similar project by Bank of America.

AT&T Wireless announced it will scale back and delay its introduction of third-generation high-speed cellphone service in the US. The service, based on a technological concept known as W-CDMA (wideband code-division multiple access), will be offered only in Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, and Dallas and not until December 2004, the company said. Originally, the service was to have been available in 13 markets by July 1, 2004. W-CDMA licenses cost major cellphone service providers $100 billion two years ago, but, since subscribers have been slow to sign up, some networks are only now being opened. W-CDMA phones can receive and send data faster than those of previous generations, but their batteries do not last as long and few applications have been developed to take advantage of the speed.

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