Business & Finance

Retail spending in the final stretch before Christmas came nowhere near what merchants had hoped for, casting further gloom on a shopping season already expected to be the leanest in at least a decade. Instead of the traditional surge on the final pre-Christmas weekend, analysts said traffic, sales, and profits all were likely to be down by as much as 10 percent on already conservative expectations. The holiday season had five full weekends and was 32 days long, one more than last year, but many shoppers apparently held back because of lingering concerns over the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the sluggish economy, and unseasonably warm weather across much of the US. (Related story, page 1.)

Delegates from OPEC member nations are to begin arriving in Cairo tomorrow for an "extraordinary" meeting that is expected to result in the year's fourth announced production cut. The drop, which industry analysts say will be as much as 1.5 million barrels a day, would take effect Jan. 1 in an effort to push futures prices back into the cartel's desired $22-to-$28 range. With most traders idle Monday and Tuesday, the price in London of a barrel of North Sea Brent crude for February delivery was $19.50. In New York, the comparable price was $19.62 as the market closed last Friday for Christmas. Earlier this month, the cartel announced it would lower production again only if nonmembers agreed to a combined 500,000-barrel-a-day cut in their exports. That target hadn't been met as the Monitor went to press. But Russia, Mexico, Norway, Oman, and Angola had pledged a cut of 462,500, which some members were saying was close enough.

In a deal valued at $1.7 billion, US brewing giant Adolph Coors said it will buy the Carling brand from European rival Interbrew. Analysts said the decision to sell to Golden, Colo.-based Coors was a surprise; the Dutch brewer Heineken was assumed to be the likely buyer.

Bertelsmann, the multinational media giant, said it will pay $1.35 billion to raise its stake in Europe's largest broadcaster, RTL, from 67 percent to 89 percent. The deal takes the seller, Pearson PLC, out of the commercial television business. London-based Pearson's remaining properties include the publishers Prentice Hall, Penguin, Viking, and the Financial Times. Bertelsmann said it now will attempt to buy the remaining publicly traded shares in RTL, which operates 23 TV and 17 radio stations across Europe as well as production facilities in the US and 35 other countries.

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