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Nov. 14, 2003 at 7:00 PM
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, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Markets close out a down week

NEW YORK, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- U.S. stocks fell Friday for a fifth day in the last six, pulled down by technology shares in a market characterized by traders as uninspired.

The Standard and Poor's 500 index lost 8.06 or 0.8 percent to 1,050.35, after touching a 17-month high in the first few minutes of trading. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 69.26 or 0.7 percent, to 9,768.68. The Nasdaq composite index, which gets 42 percent of its value from technology shares, dropped 37.09 or 1.9 percent, to 1,930.26.

More than seven stocks declined for every five that advanced on the New York Stock Exchange Friday. Some 1.34 billion shares traded on the Big Board, in line with the three-month daily average.

Market watchers predicted stocks would meander for the next few weeks, with the start of the holiday shopping season distracting investors and scant economic readings and corporate news to clear up the outlook.

"There isn't much to drive the market, and you don't have anything all that big for the remaining part of the month," said Paul Nolte, chief investment officer for Hinsdale Associates in Hinsdale, Ill.

In Europe, the London FTSE-100 share index index rose 24 to 4,397 and in Japan the Nikkei 225 stock average fell 170.61 to 10,167.06.

The euro fell against the dollar to $1.1778 and the dollar closed lower against the Japanese Yen at 108.335.

House, Senate strike deal on energy bill

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- House and Senate Republican negotiators reached a compromise Friday on the hotly debated comprehensive energy bill.

In a Capitol Hill news conference Friday, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and Rep. Billy Tauzin, R-La., chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, announced that a compromise had been reached after two months of deliberations.

The energy bill had been delayed by negotiations on such issues as the future of coal, nuclear power and energy conservation. Democrats were angered by the fact that they have been shut out of negotiations, while Vice President Cheney was forced to broker an 11th hour deal to restart stalled talks.

A vote could come as soon as Tuesday on the compromise in the House, where it faces little opposition. The real contest is in the Senate, where Democrats have threatened to filibuster or otherwise block the proposal.

Few details about the bill were made public Friday. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., said that Democrats would have to read the legislation over the weekend when it would be made available on the Internet.

Tax refunds expected to jump 27%

WASHINGTON, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- Taxpayers' refund checks will increase nearly 27 percent to an average $2,500 per family early next year, a Washington newspaper reported Friday.

The report said the tax experts and economists believe the windfall will aid consumers, the economy and President Bush's re-election effort, USA Today reported.

As a result of the 2003 tax cut, about 8 million families who did not receive refunds this year will likely get them in 2004, according to tax software publisher Petz Enterprises.

It estimates the refunds will go to 108 million households, compared to 100 million this year and will total $227 billion.

The Treasury Department estimates it will collect $100 billion less in taxes in the first half of 2004 than it would have without the tax cut. That reflects not only the higher refunds but also reduced tax payments by those who don't get refunds.

The refunds will fatten bank accounts and, if spent, boost the economy because consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

That will help ensure that the economic gains underway do not fizzle out, and it will ultimately benefit the 9 million Americans who are out of work, the report said.

Microsoft hustles to settle Europe suit

BRUSSELS, Nov. 14 (UPI) -- After four years of legal wrangling, Microsoft appears keen to reach a settlement of the European Union's antitrust case, the New York Times reported Friday.

Microsoft made an eight-hour presentation Thursday in the second day of a three-day hearing on accusations it unfairly dominated the market for operating software.

"We have come to Brussels not only to discuss the issues but to work things out," Microsoft's general counsel Brad Smith said.

But a source close to the European Commission's antitrust regulators said the company's statement indicated Microsoft was more eager to reach an agreement than it has been in the last four years.

"Judging by today's remarks, it looks like Microsoft finally realizes that the commission is serious and that its case is strong," the source said.

Lawyers said making Windows more compatible with other applications like rivals' server software would be one solution. There is a precedent from 1984, when IBM ended a four-year investigation by the European Commission by agreeing to license certain interface information to competitors in Europe.

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