In what could be music to consumers' ears, five major record distributors settled allegations with the government that they overpriced compact discs. Under the agreement, the companies will discontinue "minimum advertised price programs" that required retailers to sell CDs at or above a set level in return for substantial funding to underwrite advertising. The programs cost consumers $480 million since 1997, the Federal Trade Commission estimated. The affected companies are BMG, EMI, Sony, Time Warner, and Universal, which together distribute 85 percent of music CDs sold in the US. (Editorial, page 10.)
Retail sales fell by 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted $266 billion last month, the Commerce Department reported. The decline, which surprised many analysts, was the biggest since July 1998. A sharp drop in sales at gasoline stations led the way, followed by falling sales for cars, clothing, and building supplies. Some analysts attributed the decline to damp, cold weather, while others suggested recent increases in interest rates may be starting to cool the economy.
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