Business & Finance

WellPoint Health Networks said it will pay $1.3 billion in a cash-and-stock deal for fellow insurer RightChoice Managed Care of St. Louis. Right Choice is the largest managed-care company in Missouri, serving 2.8 million customers through Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based WellPoint has managed Blue Cross of California and Blue Cross of Georgia.

Sprint, the US's third-largest provider of long-distance telecommunications service, said it will lay off 6,000 employees and cut its ties with 1,500 contract workers by the middle of next month. About half of the layoffs will come in Kansas City, the company's headquarters. As part of the move, Sprint said it is halting its struggling ION project, a type of digital subscriber line that allows customers to connect to the Internet while simultaneously using multiple telephones through a single cable.

In other layoff news:

• Merrill Lynch & Co. has cut 2,300 jobs this quarter as its profit dropped by 52 percent, the giant investment broker said. On Wednesday, the company was declining to confirm reports that the layoffs would number 10,000.

• Celestica Inc., one of the world's leading "outsource" manufacturers of electronics, announced it will reduce its workforce by up to 30 percent and close some plants. The Toronto-based company had roughly 29,000 employees as of Feb. 1.

• Adding details to a reorganization plan announced last week, McDonald's Corp. said it will cut up to 700 jobs.

• The Stanley Works, the world's No. 1 maker of tools, will cut its salaried-employee staff by 10 percent, a company announcement said. Stanley's headquarters are in New Britain, Conn.

The Atlanta Journal, one of the US's few remaining big-city newspapers with an afternoon edition, will end that service over the next few months, its publisher announced. Subscriptions will be converted to the morning Journal-Constitution, which has a joint news operation. No layoffs were anticipated, reports said.

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