Business & Finance

Microsoft announced it will appeal a federal court ruling that requires it to distribute some of rival Sun Microsystems' programming language with its dominant Windows operating system. The decision Monday by Judge Frederick Motz of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Baltimore could cost Microsoft tens of millions of dollars in repackaging and shipping expenses, reports said. Analysts suggested that the ruling also means the judge believes Sun Microsystems likely will win its antitrust suit against Microsoft, which is due to go to trial next year. That suit seeks $1 billion in damages. Sun's attorneys argued that, whereas the company offers updated Java programming language, Microsoft has enjoyed an unfair advantage by distributing only an outdated version with Windows.

In a deal valued at $3.6 billion, the two largest Coca-Cola bottlers in Latin America agreed to merge. Coca-Cola Femsa, the largest company of its type in Mexico, and Panama-based Panamerican Beverages Inc. will serve a market ranging from the US border as far south as Brazil.

With one of the most turbulent years in its history winding down, the Italian industrial giant Fiat absorbed yet another hit, as Moody's Investors Service dropped its credit- worthiness to junk status. A statement by the company called the move "unjustified." But Moody's said Fiat may need to take even stronger steps to improve its financial profile than those already announced: massive layoffs in its money-losing automaking division and the sale of various assets. The company is reportedly $33 billion in debt. Standard & Poor's, the other major investors service, is expected to issue its decision on Fiat's credit-worthiness next month but already has the company on a watch list.

The United Steelworkers Union and International Steel Group announced tentative agreement on a new six-year contract that both said could set a new standard for the industry. The pact, covering more than 2,700 employees at mills formerly operated by bankrupt LTV Steel of Cleveland, calls for pay rates of $15 to $20.50 per hour, tied to gains in productivity. It also provides for cross-training workers to perform multiple tasks in an effort to avert layoffs if demand slows, although the union would have an expanded say in such decisions. International Steel, also of Cleveland, was formed in March when a buyout specialist paid $325 million for LTV's operations.

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