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Construction of new us homes and apartments fell sharply in June to the lowest level in just over a year, a possible sign that rising interest rates may be cooling what has been a strong sector of the economy. Last month, builders started 1.57 million units at a seasonally adjusted annual rate - a drop of 5.64 percent from May, the Commerce Department said. It was the lowest level since May 1998.

Pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson will buy Centocor Inc. in a stock swap worth $4.9 billion, the companies said. Johnson & Johnson will pay about $61 in stock for each share of the Malvern, Pa.-based biotechnology firm.

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It may be temporary, but crude oil prices were retreating

from their highest levels in more than a year and a half. Futures contracts for September were trading at $18.41 a barrel in London - a drop of 78 cents in less than two days. The plunge was attributed to three factors: an unexpected rise in US crude inventories; concern that speculators holding multiple futures contracts were about to engage in profit-taking; and a recommendation by Venezuela's state oil-company chief that OPEC members should ratchet up production if prices rose much higher.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society