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With the outcome of today's vote by Hewlett-Packard shareholders on the proposed $21 billion merger with Compaq Computer Corp. seen as too close to call, attention focused on two asset-management institutions that could tip the balance but had yet to say which way they lean. Capital Research & Management and State Street Global Advisors jointly hold 5.9 percent of Hewlett-Packard's stock. The Financial Times reported that H-P believes State Street will support the merger. The newspaper also cited a recent survey that found both institutions are inclined to back it. The Hewlett and Packard families strongly oppose the merger. Official results of the vote aren't expected to be announced for several weeks.

Mitsubishi Electric and Hitachi Ltd., two of the largest electronics manufacturers in Japan, announced they'll merge their chipmaking operations early next year. Based on recent earnings reports, the move will raise the combined venture to No. 3 in the world, behind Intel and Japanese rival Toshiba. Japan's five semiconductor makers are expected to post a combined $11.4 billion in net losses for the fiscal year ending March 31, and analysts have long cited the need for consolidation if they wish to remain competitive.

Struggling Corus Group said it has put its aluminum business up for sale, because "the possibility of taking any meaningful growth steps ... is not realistic." The company formerly known as British Steel did not say how much it hopes to realize from the sale, although the aluminum operations are estimated to be worth $1.2 billion. Proceeds are expected to be applied to reducing Corus's debts and to help the company brace for the impact of President Bush's decision to raise tariffs on steel imports by up to 30 percent. Corus has been shipping about 740,000 tons of steel to the US per year.

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