Business & Finance

Merrill Lynch, the largest US investment bank, announced 9,000 more layoffs and said it will pull the plug on 20 of its 28 branch offices in Japan. A $2.2 billion restructuring charge will be posted for the fourth quarter of last year to cover the cost of the job cuts, the company said. The moves were not unexpected. In October, Merrill Lynch offered voluntary severance packages to many of its 65,900 employees and said those who declined them could be vulnerable to layoffs. At that point, it already had eliminated 6,800 jobs. Then, in late December, a spokesman confirmed that a workforce reduction in Japan was under consideration.

Another 800 jobs are to be cut by engineering giant Bombardier, the company said. The layoffs, affecting aerospace workers at facilities in Tucson, Ariz., and Wichita, Kansas, come on top of 3,800 announced after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Montreal-based Bombardier is the world's largest manufacturer of rail-system equipment and No. 3 maker of civil aircraft.

On top of other recent problems, Gateway Inc.'s debt rating was lowered to junk status by Moody's credit agency, with at least one financial analyst declaring that the Poway, Calif., maker of personal computers is "struggling with an unsustainable business model." The action by Moody's will increase Gateway's cost of borrowing money. Gateway's sales fell 15 percent in the final quarter of last year in an intensely competitive market. Its share price lost $2.56 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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