Business & Finance

Cattlemen won a $1.28 billion verdict in federal court in Montgomery, Ala., against Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., the nation's largest beef packer. At issue was a deal with selected ranchers who provided the food giant with an assured supply of cattle on advantageous terms when market prices were high. The arrangement allowed the company to enter and exit the cash market at opportune times to ensure the prices it paid were always low. Tyson, known as IBP Inc. in 1996, when the suit was filed, said it will appeal the verdict. Similar trials involving rival packers Swift & Co. and Excel Corp. are pending in Nebraska, and analysts said the aggregate verdicts ultimately could affect the pork and poultry industries, where the practice also is widespread.

Google, the search engine of choice for millions of Internet users, announced a one-third increase Tuesday in the number of pages it indexes, to better position itself for impending competition with Yahoo! and Microsoft. A Google spokesman said the index has been expanded to 4.28 billion pages and the number of images from roughly 400 million to 880 million. In all, the Internet comprises an estimated 10 billion pages. Yahoo! expects to end its partnership with Google by spring to develop its own search engine, using technology acquired in last year's purchases of networking software specialists Inktomi Corp. and Overture Services Inc. Microsoft, meanwhile, is investing millions of dollars in a sophisticated search engine that will be available on its MSN.com site.

Walt Disney Co. announced it will add Kermit the frog and Miss Piggy of "Muppets" fame to its cast of characters. Terms of the purchase from the Jim Henson Co. were not disclosed, but it was seen as another boost for Disney chief Michael Eisner, who has come under fire from ex-board members. He won a vote of confidence from those still on the board earlier this week when the company rejected Comcast's takeover bid. Eisner had pursued the two icons for 14 years. The deal does not include other Muppet characters such as Big Bird and Elmo, which are owned separately by the Sesame Workshop.

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