Business & Finance

American Express Co. announced the spin-off of its financial advisory business to shareholders. The unit generated $7 billion in business last year. Use of the American Express name will continue through an undetermined transition period, the company said. Thereafter, American Express will consist of a charge and credit-card network that processes more than $400 billion a year in transactions from merchants around the world. It also will continue to operate travel and travelers-checks units and an international bank.

Microsoft officially launched its much-anticipated search engine Tuesday, intensifying the competition with industry leader Google for Internet users. The new portal, which can be accessed through the company's msn.com website, had been in test mode since last November. It indexes 5 billion pages of documents that will be updated every two days; is able to provide direct answers to questions rather than referring users to pages where the needed information might be found; and offers a "search near me" feature that yields information specific to the user's geographical area. The new search engine can accept queries in 10 different languages, the company said.

Best Buy Co., the retail electronics chain, anticipates hiring 8,700 new employees as it adds 75 stores over the current fiscal year, it announced Monday. Sixty of the stores will be in the US and the rest in Canada, the Richfield, Minn., company said.

Marsh & McLennan Cos., the world's biggest insurance broker, has been given until 2008 to return $850 million to customers who were charged too much for their policies, under a settlement with New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer (D) and state regulators. The deal, announced Monday, stems from accusations by Spitzer's office that the company colluded with insurers to fix prices.

Calling it "the last chance to save large parts of the company," German construction-industry giant Walter Bau AG filed for bankruptcy Tuesday after failing to win unanimous approval from lenders for a $1.96 billion new line of credit. The company, which employs almost 10,000 people, blamed its problems on the deep recession in which the German economy has been mired since the mid-1990s. Three years ago, Bau's largest rival, Philipp Holzmann AG, collapsed under the same circumstances.

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