Business & Finance

US Steel acknowledged it has been discussing a merger with at least three smaller US rivals aimed at saving their sagging industry. But it said help would be needed from the federal government and from the United Steelworkers Union if consolidation were to succeed. Two of the other companies, Bethlehem Steel and Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel, were identified. A fourth company and other potential partners were not, and such producers as National Steel, Nucor, and LTV did not return calls seeking comment on the matter. Besides the challenge of winning agreement on terms of a merger with the other parties, the union would have to accede to the likelihood of deep job cuts, and the government to requests for protection against imports, analysts said.

Cavin in to heavy pressure from OPEC, the prime minister of Russia announced his country's oil industry will cut exports of crude by 150,000 barrels a day, beginning Jan. 1. Word of the move quickly sent futures prices for crude back above the $20-a-barrel mark on key markets. OPEC is aiming to keep prices in the $22-$28 range. Originally, Russia, which is not a member of the cartel, was willing to reduce production by only 30,000 barrels. OPEC now is expected to impose a new 1.5 million-barrel-a-day production cut Jan. 1 after voting four times this year for reductions totaling 3.5 million barrels. The cartel has been unwilling to vote for another unilateral reduction out of worry that Russia, the world's No. 2 oil exporter, would fill the void, keeping prices depressed.

ExciteAtHome will cease operations Feb. 28, throwing 1,300 employees out of work, the high-speed Internet service provider announced. The date was chosen to give Excite's remaining cable-operator clients, who paid $355 million to keep the service going until then, time to develop their own networks. The announcement came after AT&T withdrew a $307 million offer for Excite's broadband business, claiming violation of agreements in cutting service to 850,000 subscribers. Earlier, however, a federal court authorized Excite to cancel unprofitable deals with its cable partners.

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