Business & Finance

Nestlé SA responded to a published report that it offered $11.5 billion for rival candymaker Hershey Foods Corp. by refusing to comment on "market fantasy." USA Today reported that the Swiss food giant made a "preliminary" bid of $82 to $85 per share after its senior executives examined Hershey's factories and finances last week. Kraft Foods also has expressed interest, and the newspaper said Cadbury Schweppes is expected to bid as well. Last month, the charitable trust that owns 77 percent of Hershey authorized the company's management to seek offers for its stake.

Only 24 percent of companies responding to a new survey said they plan to hire workers this year, Manpower Inc. reported. The US's largest staffing company said 9 percent of those surveyed anticipate layoffs. The remainder of the 16,000 employers questioned said they'd maintain current staffing levels or were uncertain about their future plans. Despite the findings, a Manpower executive predicted hiring would pick up again as the economy recovers.

At least 95 percent of the unionized automobile workers in Canada voted to authorize strikes against General Motors, Ford, and DaimlerChrysler unless negotiations appear headed for success by the time current contracts expire Sept. 17. The 46,000-member Canadian Autoworkers Union is seeking substantial pay increases, although plant closures also are expected to be a sticking point in the negotiations. One in every 7 jobs in Canada is tied to the auto industry.

Principal Financial Group said it will take a 50 percent loss on the fund-management business in Australia that it paid $1.1 billion for less than three years ago. The Des Moines, Iowa, company announced that almost all of BT Financial Group will be sold to Westpac Banking Corp. for $500 million, plus another $80 million that will be contingent on Westpac's success at fund management. Principal outbid Westpac for BT Financial in 1999.

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