Business & Finance

Retailer Toys 'R' Us identified four finalists in the auction of its 975-store chain. Each has offered between $3 billion and $3.5 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported, but the company is urging them to up the ante as bidding enters a final round. Two of those still in the hunt are Goldman Sachs Group and buyout specialist Kohlberg Kravis Roberts, the report said. Struggling to compete against discounters Wal-Mart and Target, Toys 'R' Us announced six months ago that it wants to concentrate on growing its better-performing Babies 'R' Us unit, which sells infants' clothes, furniture, and toys.

Exxon Mobil expects to raise up to $1.4 billion by selling its entire stake in China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., the refining company better known as Sinopec, reports said. Last year, Royal Dutch/Shell also sold off its stake in Sinopec.

In a deal valued at $1.4 billion, Archstone-Smith, a leading real estate investment trust, said it will buy 30 housing complexes from Oakwood Worldwide, a provider of furnished apartments and corporate lodging. The transaction involves more than 10,000 units in New York, Boston, Chicago, Seattle, south Florida, southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, and suburban Washington D.C. Archstone-Smith will manage half the properties and lease the rest back to Oakwood.

Chemical industry giant BASF announced plans for a one-stop-shopping resource to provide financial and human-resources services for its more than 100 subsidiaries across Europe. The center will be based in Berlin and will require 500 to 600 new employees, the company said.

In layoff news:

• At least 1,500 jobs a year will be cut between now and 2007, and another 3,000 may go between 2008 and 2010, former Dutch telephone monopoly KPN said. Analysts said the growth potential of the company's land-line business is dwindling as customers increasingly make calls on cellphones or over the Internet.

• Citigroup, the world's largest financial-services company, informed the Securities and Exchange Commission of plans to cut roughly 1,400 jobs at its investment bank.

• Without saying how many, struggling Swiss reinsurance company Converium said a loss of jobs is "unavoidable" because of a disappointing 2004 business year. The company, based in Zurich, reported $760.8 million in red ink.

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