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In brief

Small phone firms combine

CenturyTel Inc. Monday said it will buy Embarq Corp., a larger fellow phone company, for stock initially valued at $5.8 billion.

Analysts said the move was a harbinger of further deals for rural phone companies, which are suffering from line losses as consumers choose phone service from wireless or cable companies.

The combined company will have about 8 million lines spanning 33 states.

Frontier Communications Corp., formerly Citizens Communications Co., bought Dallas-based Commonwealth Telephone in March 2007 for $1.29 billion. At the time, Citizens said it had become the 7th-largest local telephone company in the country with nearly 2.6 million access lines.

Bank fees on rise

Fees for bounced checks and withdrawing cash from an out-of-network ATM rose again this year, according to a survey released Monday by Bankrate.com.

The average cost of using another bank’s ATM is now $3.43 while a bounced check now costs an average of $28.95, up 2.5 percent from a year ago, according to the survey.

The good news is that more banks are offering free checking accounts. To avoid fees, an average balance of $109.26 is needed, down from $155.49 last year.

British beer sales down

The British Beer and Pub Association reported Monday that total beer sales fell about 7 percent in the third quarter — the equivalent of 161 million fewer pints compared with the same period in 2007.

Sales of the iconic British pint in pubs have been in decline for years, leading to the closure of thousands of hostelries around the country.

Now the association’s Quarterly Beer Barometer reveals that supermarket and liquor store sales fell 6 percent between July and September compared with the same period last year.

Wal-Mart slows growth

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said Monday it’s scaling back the growth of its discount stores in the U.S., while focusing on remodeling existing locations as the retailer navigates through a tough consumer spending climate.

A Wal-Mart executive said the company plans to open 191 stores in fiscal 2009 and from 142 to 157 stores in fiscal 2010. That compares to 218 stores opened in 2008.

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