Business & Finance

Holiday shoppers helped to push online retailers' sales from 11 percent to 43 percent higher than those of last year, according to market trackers cited by the Los Angeles Times. The newspaper said New York-based Jupiter Media Metrix put online sales at $11.9 billion, while Nielsen/Net Ratings of Milpitas, Calif., projected they would top out as high as $17 billion - a sign that consumers are willing to embrace the Internet even in a recession. Overall, the Times said, holiday sales on the Web did not match last year's, when they doubled over the 1999 volume. Still, analysts compared them favorably to in-store sales, which appear to have been flat this season.

Storekeepers were raising prices by 20 percent and canceling traffic-building discounts in Argentina in what analysts said was the first sign that the peso will be devalued after all by the nation's interim government. Those moves came as new Finance Secretary Rodolfo Frigeri announced he was preparing an "orderly exit" from the longstanding one-to-one convertibility ratio between the peso and the US dollar. Frigeri said the widely publicized new third currency, the argentino, already was being printed to be used in paying state employees starting next month. The argentino will be allowed to depreciate against the dollar, he said, although it will be backed with "all the assets of the state."

Merrill Lynch, the US investment bank, hinted it will cut 1,700 jobs in recession-hobbled Japan, mostly through an offer of buyout packages. But a spokesman said details of a restructuring plan would not be made public until next year and repeated a denial that the company will pull out of the retail brokerage business there. Merrill Lynch operates 30 branches in Japan, with a workforce of 3,000 people. Rival Morgan Stanley Dean Witter announced last month that it is withdrawing from Japan's retail brokerage market, and the French banking giant Société Genérale abandoned online stock trading there yesterday.

Over the next four years, 4,000 jobs will be cut by the Japanese engineering giant Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the company announced. As much as possible, the layoffs will be accomplished through attrition, a spokesman said.

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