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The reluctance of consumers in Japan to spend helped push that nation's trade surplus to an all-time high last year, the government announced. Despite international pressure to pump up the weak Japanese economy and generate new demand for imports, the surplus rose to $121.8 billion - 40 percent higher than in 1997. The gap with the US topped the $58 billion mark, a 33 percent increase. Steel exports to the US went up 91 percent.

Pending the approval of shareholders, Microsoft Corp. proposed a two-for-one split that would make its stock more "broadly accessible." The company had about 2.5 billion shares of common stock outstanding as of Jan. 1. They were trading at $160.25 as markets opened Monday. Microsoft is embroiled in an antitrust suit brought by the US Justice Department and 19 states.

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A boycott against all products from Intel Corp. was to be announced by privacy groups opposed to new technology in the company's Pentium III computer chips. The chips, due on the market later this year, are designed to make Internet shopping more secure for buyers and sellers by transmitting a unique serial number that verifies the identity of each user. But opponents say it also allows a user profile to be compiled that could be sold without authorization. The feature can be turned off, but it turns itself back on each time a computer is restarted.

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