Business & Finance

MONY Group, a leader in the life insurance and financial services industry, agreed to be acquired by French rival Axa for $1.5 billion in cash. Although it has yet to be OK'd by shareholders, the deal would be the latest push by a major European group into the US market. Britain's HSBC Holdings and Royal Bank of Scotland already are well-established on the East Coast, and BNP Paribas of France is active in retail banking in California.

Sprint Corp. said layoffs are a near certainty as it outlined a major consolidation of sales, customer service, and marketing teams to generate $1 billion in annual savings, the Financial Times reported. The telecommunications giant has experienced more than two years of revenue declines in its long-distance business and losses in its PCS wireless unit.

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco said it will cut 2,600 jobs under a plan to reduce spending by $1 billion by the end of 2005. The nation's No. 2 maker of cigarettes, based in Winston-Salem, N.C., said it intends to focus on premium brands amid intense competition from discount rivals.

Alstom SA, the troubled heavy-engineering conglomerate, was granted an indefinite suspension of trading in its shares. It sought the measure after the European Union blocked an emergency bailout by the French government until the impact on competitiveness can be studied in-depth, as required by EU law. Alstom was to receive $8 billion in aid - almost half of it from the government - to stave off bankruptcy and the potential loss of tens of thousands of jobs. The company builds high-speed trains, cruise ships, and power-generation machinery.

AOL Time Warner was expected to drop "AOL" from its name at its board meeting Thursday. The push for the change follows ongoing troubles at the America Online unit and the ouster of several top executives responsible for the merger that created the media and online titan three years ago.

United Airlines will join competitors in offering a no-frills budget carrier next year, the company said. The yet-to-be-named subsidiary will be based in Denver and initially will fly to destinations favored by leisure travelers, such as Orlando and Tampa, Fla.; New Orleans; Las Vegas; and southern California. Delta Air Lines already has a low-fare subsidiary, and American, Air West, and other carriers have been experimenting with variations on the theme, such as reduced last-minute fares.

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