Business & Finance

In a deal valued at $6.2 billion, giant wireless service provider Vodafone said it will buy out the shares of two rivals in Cegetel, the industry's second-largest company in France. The sellers: BT Group (formerly British Telecom) and SBC Communications of the US. Vodafone said it also has offered $6.6 billion for the 44 percent stake owned by financially troubled French media group Vivendi Universal. If accepted, the bid would give Vodafone total control of Cegetel, but it expires Oct. 30. Vivendi still could exercise its right of first refusal for the BT and SBC Communications shares, but a company spokesman declined to comment on all aspects of the situation. France is the only major European country in which Vodafone does not own a wireless service provider.

Whirlpool Corp. will add 700 workers during a three-year, $40 million expansion of a plant in Fort Smith, Ark., the company said. The plant will produce a new-model refrigerator that is currently under development. Whirlpool is the top maker of home appliances in the US and No. 2 in the world after Sweden's AB Electrolux.

Rite Aid Corp., the US's third-largest drugstore chain, is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, both parties confirmed. The probe reportedly centers on consumer-privacy and advertising practices. Three former Rite Aid executives, plus a fourth official who is under suspension, were indicted in June on charges of inflating the company's 1998-99 earnings. Those ultimately were revised downward by $1 billion.

An 11th-hour deal was reached by negotiators for Daimler Chrysler and the Canadian Auto Workers Union that averted what would have been the first in the dominion against a Big Three automaker since 1996. The negotiations for a new three-year contract had come down to one main issue: the future of almost 1,300 jobs at a Windsor, Ontario, assembly plant that is scheduled to close next year. Union spokesmen said DaimlerChysler agreed to find new work for all affected employees. Union members are to vote on the new contract Sunday.

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