Business & Finance

Bank of America is planning to eliminate as many as 13,000 jobs as a result of its impending merger with FleetBoston Financial Corp., The Wall Street Journal reported, citing sources familiar with the company's business strategy. Shareholder approval was expected as the Monitor went to press Wednesday, allowing for completion of the $47 billion deal next month.

In other layoff news:

• The world's largest builder of railroad and subway trains, Bombardier Inc., said it will close seven assembly plants over the next two years, resulting in 6,600 job cuts. The affected facilities are in Britain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, and Germany. Bombardier, based in Montreal, cut 2,000 jobs in its aerospace division in late 2002.

• Electronics giant Thomson SA, the maker of RCA television sets in North America, announced the immediate closure of two plants in the Midwest that employ a combined 1,500 workers. The company cited a consumer shift away from traditional picture-tube sets as its reason for shutting its Marion, Ind., factory and a glass plant in Circleville, Ohio. The decision marks the end of TV and radio manufacturing in Indiana, which produced the first color sets 50 years ago. Thomson is based in Paris.

Troubled media giant Vivendi Universal cut its losses for fiscal 2003 to $1.4 billion, saying the achievement had exceeded its own expectations. The company lost almost $28.5 billion the previous year, one of the largest sums in French history. Chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou attributed the improvement to an ongoing program of asset sales - notably Vivendi's US entertainment holdings to NBC - and to strong performances by its Canal Plus pay-TV and SFR Cegetel telecommunications divisions in France. He predicted that Vivendi's debt - estimated at $42.8 billion when the company appeared in danger of collapse in 2002 - would drop below $6 billion this year. Fourtou also pledged to pay shareholders a dividend next year.

Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer, posted its first net loss in 97 years, attributing the $532.5 million in red ink partly to an "extreme tax burden." The company paid the German government $2.2 billion in 2003, one-quarter of that in deferred liabilities. Reinsurers sell backup coverage to other insurance companies, spreading risk so the system can cope with catastrophic losses from disasters such as the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the US.

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