Business briefs: O'Neal retires

Stan O'Neal, the departing Merrill Lynch CEO, will walk away with $161.5 million in stock, options and benefits after announcing his retirement Tuesday. O’Neal, 56, was under pressure to leave after the investment bank reported a $2.24 billion quarterly loss — Merrill’s largest since being founded 93 years ago — and a $7.9 million writedown of revalued assets backed by shaky mortages.

CONSUMER CONFIDENCE

With Christmas only about eight weeks away, shoppers are feeling more forlorn about the economy than they have since Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The New York-based Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index fell to 95.6 from a revised 99.5 in September. The report, which showed its third monthly decline in a row, heightens worries about the holiday shopping season.

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