Business & Finance

Emergency meetings of Refco's board extended into the weekend in a search for a strategy that would allow the brokerage giant to survive. Sources close to the matter said the talks centered on salvaging its futures and commodities trading unit and perhaps selling off other divisions. But Refco, teetering on the verge of collapse, also was struggling to keep disillusioned investors from pulling out and taking their money with them. Trading in its shares was halted last week after they fell 72 percent in value. Refco's problems began when it suspended chief executive Phillip Bennett last Monday for hiding a reported $430 million in unpaid debts.

Hilton Hotels Corp. offered $5 billion to reacquire the hospitality business of Britain's Hilton Group PLC, which it spun off 40 years ago. Analysts saw the bid as an attempt by Beverly Hills, Calif.-based Hilton Hotels to gain a foothold against its rivals in the overseas market, since its operations are confined to the US. By contrast, Hilton Group operates hotels in 80 other countries.

In a new wave of mergers and acquisitions:

• Somerfield PLC, the fifth-largest supermarket chain in Britain agreed to be acquired for $1.9 billion. The buyers were identified as Apax Partners and Barclays Capital, both of London, and billionaire property developer Robert Tchenguiz.

• The world's largest provider of dialysis treatment, Fresenius AG, said it will pay $1.9 billion for Helios Kliniken, a family-owned hospital chain, plus an undisclosed sum for Clinico GmbH, a maker of medical devices. All three companies are German.

• Lone Star Funds of Dallas agreed to sell First Credit Corp., Japan's largest nonbank mortgage lender, to Sumi-tomo Trust & Banking Ltd. for $1.14 billion.

The union representing Northwest Airlines mechanics decided late Friday to put the company's latest contract offer to a vote of its members, even though it would save only 500 of the 4,100 jobs that were on the payroll when the rank and file went on strike Aug. 19. The carrier began hiring permanent replacements Sept. 13, many of them Aircraft Mechanics Fraternal Association members who decided to cross their own union's picket lines. The AMFA rejected two earlier contract offers that would have protected 2,750 and 1,081 mechanics' jobs, respectively.

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