Business & Finance

Merrill Lynch & Co., the No. 1 US full-service brokerage, today will offer its 65,900 employees voluntary severance packages potentially worth more than a year's salary, as it cuts costs and staff, published reports said. The initiative has been common among New York brokerages this year, but Merrill Lynch's is believed to be the most sweeping to date. The offer expires early next month. According to a spokesman, employees who opt to remain could be vulnerable to as many as 10,000 additional job cuts once a cost-cutting review is completed. Merrill Lynch already has eliminated 6,800 positions since the third quarter of last year.

Intel Corp. said it is shutting down its Connected Products Division early next year and halting production of digital cameras, music players, and toys. The San Jose, Calif., company began selling electronic gadgets in 1997 but a spokesman said the business didn't meet long-term growth requirements.

Planet Hollywood International filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in two years. The Orlando, Fla.-based restaurant chain was backed by celebrity investors such as Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone when it was formed 10 years ago. Last year, it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings after agreeing to restructure and shed debt. The company owns 10 restaurants and franchises 25 others.

The pay of all 14,000 employees will be frozen next year at 2001 levels, Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp, the territory's largest, announced. Senior executives said the move was being made to try to avoid layoffs amid a deteriorating business climate since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

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