Business & Finance

Unocal Corp. said it would "evaluate" an $18.5 billion takeover proposal from CNOOC, the largest offshore oil company in China, despite its standing merger agreement with Chevron and expressions of concern in Congress over the security implications of a linkup between an American energy supplier and one from a fiercely competitive communist nation. CNOOC insisted that its all-cash bid is "friendly" and represents a "superior" value for Unocal investors than the $16.6 billion mix of cash and stock on offer from Chevron. Chevron reacted quickly to the CNOOC move, noting that its April 4 deal with Unocal has the OK of both their boards and already has cleared several of the necessary regulatory reviews.

Citigroup, the world's largest financial services company, was expected to trade its asset-management unit for Legg Mason Inc.'s brokerage group, as the Monitor went to press. The asset swap was valued at $4 billion.

In the largest initial public offering so far this year, the French government put up for sale $5.9 billion worth of shares in its former natural gas monopoly, Gaz de France. The sell-off will leave the government with about an 80 percent stake in the utility at a time when France's energy sector is opening up to competition. Earlier this month, the government announced a $5.5 billion IPO of stock in the former phone monopoly, France Telecom, and reportedly plans a partial privatization of Électricité de France later this year.

Rather than sell out to E-Trade Financial Corp., Ameritrade Holding Corp. will acquire rival online brokerage TD Waterhouse, a spokesman said Wednesday. The all-stock deal is valued at $2.9 billion and will make Ameritrade the largest online broker with an average of 239,000 transactions a day. Ameritrade has acquired or merged with seven companies since 2001.

Hoping to capitalize on outsourcing trends, IBM was expected to announce that it will begin offering clients help in managing and integrating their flow of goods and information. A spokesman said IBM sees a "compelling opportunity" to tap the wholesale outsourcing market, which it expects to grow by as much as 15 percent a year.

Cemex SA, one of the world's largest makers of cement and ready-mix concrete, said it will cut up to 2,000 jobs. A spokesman said 750 of the layoffs are expected to come in Britain, whose RMC Group was taken over by Cemex last year in a $5.8 billion deal. Cemex is based in Nuevo León, Mexico.

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