Business & Finance

Vivendi Universal and General Electric signed a deal to form NBC Universal, a media giant worth an estimated $43 billion, after finalizing details of an accord announced last month. The French conglomerate will receive $3.3 billion for its US entertainment assets - the Universal movie and TV studios and theme parks, as well as three cable channels. NBC also will assume $1.7 billion in Vivendi debt. GE will own 80 percent of the merged company, to be known as NBC Universal, with the remainder going to Vivendi shareholders.

Speculation was rife in the healthcare industry on which company may be close to offering multibillion-dollar takeover terms to Amersham PLC, a leading maker of diagnostics equipment and dyes for X-rays and other test scans of the body. An Amersham executive confirmed it had been approached but said no further details would be provided until the time was appropriate. Spokesmen for industry giants Johnson & Johnson of New Brunswick, N.J., and the Roche Group of Basle, Switzerland, either were unavailable or declined to comment on the matter. Amersham, which is based in Little Chalfont, England, reported sales of $2.7 billion last year.

Bankrupt Weirton Steel Corp., the industry's fifth-largest integrated producer in the US, filed a restructuring plan that would cut 950 jobs and end the pension and healthcare plan that covers thousands of retirees and their dependents. Such moves would be necessary, the company told a federal court in nearby Wheeling, W. Va., if it's to remain independent. It also is awaiting a decision on its application for a federally guaranteed $175 million loan. However, Weirton acknowledged for the first time that it has approached a potential buyer, identified by the Associated Press as International Steel Group Inc. The latter, a takeover specialist, is based in Cleveland and was formed from the remnants of rivals Bethlehem Steel and LTV Inc.

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