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Whether merger talks between department store giants Federated and May are dead or simply dormant was in question as the parties declined to comment for a Wall Street Journal report that they couldn't agree on how much Federated would pay. Speculation in the industry centered on whether Federated, which operates such chains as Macy's and Bloomingdale's, would instead explore merger possibilities with Saks Inc., the report said. Citing sources close to the situation, it said the Federated-May negotiations broke off last Friday and that the latter now will turn its attentions to finding a new chief executive officer. But the Journal also noted that would-be merger partners often engage in gamesmanship by walking away from their talks only to return later. May, which owns the Lord & Taylor, Filene's, and Marshall Field's chains, is based in St. Louis. Federated's main office is in Cincinnati.

In a deal valued at $2.7 billion, a partnership of US and Australian investors agreed to buy a portfolio of 101 shopping centers from CalPERS (California Public Employees' Retirement System) and First Washington Realty Inc. of Bethesda, Md. The buyers, Macquarie CountryWide Trust and Regency Centers Corp., will take over supermarket-anchored malls in 17 states. Regency is based in Jackson-ville, Fla. Its partner, which will own 65 percent of the portfolio, is a unit of Macquarie Bank Ltd. of Sydney.

United Airlines, which was turned down twice for a guaranteed federal loan last summer, said four private lenders have offered a combined $2.5 billion to help it emerge from bankruptcy. But it didn't identify them, and a spokesman said the offers are contingent on resolving pension, salary, and other issues that still are costing the carrier $2 billion a year. United is trying to rewrite contracts with six employee unions that would expand concessions they've already agreed to. The carrier has suggested it could leave court protection as soon as next fall.

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Dan River Inc., a leading maker of fabrics for apparel and fashions for the home, emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Monday, completing a reorganization in less than a year. To improve its expense structure, the Danville, Va., company cut its workforce from 5,400 employees to 3,100 and closed plants in Virginia, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Although executives said they are encouraged by Dan River's "renewed vitality," others in the industry pointed to an expected surge in low-cost imported textiles as cause for concern. An international quota system for the textile trade recently expired.

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