Major retailers planning early start for holidays

NEW YORK — It's not even Thanksgiving, but the nation's retailers, including Wal-Mart and Toys "R" Us, are jump-starting holiday sales with big discounts and door-buster specials starting Friday, ahead of what's expected to be a lukewarm Christmas season.

The sales blitz comes three weeks earlier than the usual debut the day after Thanksgiving. The new strategy shows the nervousness of merchants amid a deepening housing slump and higher food and energy costs.

With Dec. 25 about eight weeks away, the retail industry is struggling with shoppers' eroding confidence amid higher daily living expenses and problems in credit availability.

While many stores, including KB Toys and Circuit City Stores, say the holiday sales events set for this weekend were planned months in advance, analysts said the early discounting doesn't bode well for the industry's profit picture.

Google stock advances above $700 for first time

SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc.'s stock price rose above $700 for the first time Wednesday, propelled by a belief that the Internet search leader will become even more profitable as it plants its products and services in new markets.

Google's shares closed at $707, up $12.23, or 1.8 percent. It took less than a month for the stock to climb from $600 to $700, building on a fervor that has lifted Google's market value more than 30 percent since mid-September.

The latest surge came after Google confirmed plans to become a bigger player in the Internet's social networking scene. The recent rally has made Google Silicon Valley's most valuable publicly held company, surpassing networking supplier Cisco Systems Inc.

Dairy prices drag down earnings at Kraft Foods

CHICAGO — Kraft Foods Inc. said Wednesday that soaring dairy prices weighed down its third quarter profit, which fell 20 percent from 2006 results that included a one-time gain.

For the quarter ended Sept. 30, net income fell to $596 million, or 38 cents a share. Excluding one-time charges, the company earned 44 cents a share, beating Wall Street forecasts. Revenue rose 10 percent to $9.05 billion.

Bleach to beauty goods: Clorox to buy Burt's Bees

MORRISVILLE, N.C — Clorox Co., looking to expand into the natural beauty products business, said Wednesday it would purchase lip balm maker Burt's Bees for $925 million in cash.

Burt's Bees makes beauty products that contain at least 95 percent natural ingredients. The deal is expected to close by the end of the year.

Chinese toys are recalled for lead contamination

WASHINGTON — Toys "R" Us recalled about 16,000 Chinese-made Elite Operations toys because of lead contamination, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said Wednesday.

The recall affects four Elite Operations toy sets: the Command Patrol Center, the Barracuda Helicopter, the Super Rigs set and a three-pack of 8-inch figures.

The toys were sold at Toys R Us stores and online between July and October. They can be returned to any Toys R Us store for a refund or credit.

CPSC: No unsafe lead in toys pulled by Wal-Mart

WASHINGTON — Tests by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission did not find a lead problem in toy animals that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. pulled from its shelves this month over what the retailer called high lead levels.

A spokeswoman for the agency said Wednesday that the government tests did not find lead levels that were higher than federal safety standards. The commission will not be seeking a wider recall of the toys, which Wal-Mart said might be sold by other retailers.

Wal-Mart said Oct. 19 that it was pulling sets of plastic farm and jungle animals and dinosaurs out of stores and offering a refund to shoppers. The company said its safety testing found "high" lead levels in the material used to make the animals.

A commission spokeswoman said Wednesday that the agency ran its own tests and closed the investigation based on the results.