Business & Finance

Only the size of the fine to be levied against Microsoft Wednesday by antitrust regulators remained unknown as representatives of European Union governments took less than an hour Monday to endorse the recommended penalty. Earlier this month, the same representatives unanimously OK'd a draft ruling that finds the US software giant guilty of marketing abuses on the Continent. In addition to the fine, the company is expected to be placed under new restrictions on how it may conduct business in Europe. A spokeswoman for the European Commission, the executive branch of the EU, refused to comment on speculation that the fine will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The largest so far imposed by the commission was $568 million, but that was three years ago against a pharmaceutical manufacturer whose annual sales are smaller than Microsoft's.

For reasons not explained, a key step in the merger between Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines has been delayed until at least "the end of this month," a spokeswoman for the former said. But she denied that problems with the US Securities and Exchange Commission were behind the decision to push back the swap of 11 Air France shares for every 10 of KLM. The French daily newspaper Le Figaro reported Monday that the SEC has requested additional details on the planned merger, which would create the world's largest carrier. The airlines said they still expect the stock swap to close April 30.

Royal Dutch/Shell announced plans to streamline operations in Nigeria, which represents about 10 percent of its crude oil production. The company said it will increase extraction there from 1 million barrels a day to 1.5 million, will relocate its base from the commercial capital, Lagos, to Port Harcourt in the center of the oil region, and will reduce its workforce. The number of job cuts wasn't specified, but a senior company official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would be 1,500 employees.

More than $1 billion worth of bonds will be sold by Tesco PLC, Britain's largest supermarket chain, to raise cash for expansion, Bloomberg.com reported.

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