Business & Finance

Delta Air Lines reached a tentative agreement with its pilots' union Wednesday for additional concessions that may allow the carrier to avert bankruptcy. Details of the proposal weren't disclosed, but Delta had been seeking $1 billion a year in wage and benefits cuts. Delta, which has lost more than $6 billion since early 2001, has spent 15 months negotiating with the union, which, in its most recent public response, offered $705 million in givebacks.

Seeking to turn around the most turbulent year in its history, oil industry giant Royal Dutch/Shell announced it will drop its dual structure and combine operations under a single executive board with a single chairman. The company will be based and will pay taxes in the Netherlands but will be incorporated and its shares traded in London. The slash in its name also will disappear, the Financial Times reported. The company's troubles began with multiple restatements of its oil and natural gas reserves; followed by resignations of senior executives, lawsuits filed by investors in the US, Britain, and the Netherlands; and the payment of fines totaling more than $150 million to regulators in the US and Britain.

Northrop Grumman said it will buy back $1 billion worth of stock from investors, rewarding them for participating in the company's growth. The announcement was the second of its type this week by a giant defense contractor. On Tuesday, Lockheed Martin announced it will spend at least half of its free cash on dividends and share buybacks.

Fonterra Group, the world's largest exporter of dairy products was rejected after offering $1.1 billion for the stock it doesn't already own in Australia's National Foods Ltd. But industry analysts described the Auckland, New Zealand, cooperative's bid as only the opening salvo in a long-term battle to consolidate the Oceania dairy market.

In layoff news:

• General Motors said it will drop 9,000 employees as it idles five plants in Michigan, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Texas due to an oversupply of sport/utility vehicles and pickup trucks. The cuts are designed to bring production in line with "market forecasts and demand," a spokesman told the Detroit Free Press, and are in addition to 900 layoffs announced Oct. 19 at GM's truck assembly plant in Pontiac, Mich.

• The Houston Chronicle and Dallas Morning News, the two largest newspapers in Texas, announced more than 300 layoffs combined - 243 of them at the Chronicle.

• Sprint Corp. eliminated 300 jobs in its local telephone division, about half of them at a call center in Las Vegas.

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