A Week's Worth

• Fragile recovery: New orders for long-lasting manufactured goods plunged unexpectedly last month, the biggest tumble since September 2002. The weakness was widespread - including cars, communications equipment, computers, and machinery - and raised questions about how strongly US factories were on the mend. But many economists called November's drop a blip rather than a sign of things to come. Meanwhile, claims for unemployment benefits dipped a little last week, suggesting the jobs outlook is stabilizing.

• Better than coupons? In a growing number of cases, retailers are offering rebates that can fund a shopper's retirement or college-tuition plans. Several of the best-known programs are run by Upromise and Vesdia. Atlanta-based Vesdia says it expects by next year to double its network of off-line merchants (those with bricks-and- mortar stores).

• What! No e-mail? Slightly over half the nation's workers experienced at least one e-mail outage this year, according to a recent survey sponsored by MessageOne. Separately, consumers told The Conference Board their biggest Internet frustrations were: shipping charges, spam e-mail, and having to provide a credit-card number online.

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