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A deal for Vivendi Universal's entertainment assets in the US appeared nearer amid reports that discussions between the French conglomerate and General Electric have intensified. The Wall Street Journal, citing sources familiar with the situation, said Vivendi's management probably would recommend exclusive negotiations to merge the company's film and cable-TV properties with GE subsidiary NBC-TV, provided the key points of a stock-swap are resolved by Tuesday. Such a scenario would risk alienating other bidders, however, if GE ended up walking away from the deal, the newspaper said. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported that cable-TV giant Liberty Media will increase its stake in UnitedGlobalCom Inc. (UGC) from 72 percent to 75 percent, a signal that it is dropping out of the bidding for Vivendi Universal. UGC, which, like Liberty, is based in Denver, provides cable, telephone, and broadband Internet access to subscribers in Europe, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region.

EchoStar Communications offered $1.45 billion for the assets of bankrupt Loral Space & Communications Ltd., Dow Jones News Service reported. Acquisition of the satellitemaker would mark an expansion for EchoStar, the nation's No. 2 satellite TV broadcaster. It also would derail Loral's agreed $1 billion sale of its North American satellite fleet to Intelsat.

Insurer Aetna agreed to a more than $6 million settlement with the American Dental Association, in a class-action lawsuit that accused the carrier of excessive delays in paying claims and of murky reimbursement policies. The settlement must be approved by a federal court in Miami, and is similar to one Aetna reached in May with physicians who also sued over payment and treatment issues.

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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings warned employees to expect job cuts as part of a restructuring to be announced by the end of October. Last month, the parent of the nation's No. 2 maker of cigarettes posted net income of $70 million for the April-June quarter, down from $211 million last year.

Angry employees were expected to protest outside the headquarters of Indonesia's government-owned aircraft manufacturer, PT Dirgantara, after reports that it will cut two-thirds of its work force, or 6,000 jobs. The company has had to rely on heavy subsidies since the near-collapse of the Indonesian economy in 1998. Last month, it suspended all employees, only to reinstate them after they appealed to the government to intervene.

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