Business & Finance

J.C. Penney Co., the department-store chain, was poised to announce the sale of its 2,800-store Eckerd pharmacy unit for $4.4 billion in cash, The Wall Street Journal reported. The buyers: CVS Corp. of Woonsocket, R.I., the nation's No. 2 pharmacy chain; and the Jean Coutu Group of Montreal. CVS will pay $2 billion for 1,200 Eckerd stores, mostly in Florida and Texas, overtaking Walgreen Co. as the biggest US drugstore chain in the process. Coutu, Canada's second-largest drugstore chain, will pay $2.4 billion for the remaining 1,600 Eckerd stores, most of them in Northeastern states.

Google and Yahoo!, two of the most popular Internet search engines, announced independently of each other that they'll stop accepting advertisements from online gambling casinos by the end of the month, The New York Times reported. The decisions occur as federal prosecutors turn up the heat on companies seen as "aiding and abetting" online gambling businesses based offshore. Online casinos are illegal in the US, although it is permissible in some states for Internet users to place bets over the web.

A settlement appeared near between tobacco giant Philip Morris and the European Union over allegations that the company has colluded in smuggling cigarettes into EU countries, reports said. The Financial Times said Philip Morris's offer - in exchange for dropping EU threats of legal action - was $1 billion. A company statement described the offer only as "substantial" and payable "over a number of years" to fund a new crackdown on smuggling and on the manufacture of counterfeit cigarettes in Europe. R.J. Reynolds also is accused of collusion to evade European customs and taxes. Both companies have insisted that they deal only with reputable traders. The issue is of special concern because of the scheduled May 1 enlargement of the EU to include former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Belarus.

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