News In Brief

A recession "most likely" is already under way in the US and will be countered with sharp interest-rate cuts by the Federal Reserve, billionaire currency speculator George Soros told the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Soros also called the Japanese economy "sick" and said it "seems to be regressing again" despite government efforts to reverse the downturn. But he predicted Europe would weather the current global challenges more easily because of its lesser investment in stocks.

Separate stock deals, each worth about $2.5 billion, were announced by four high-tech companies. To boost its position in the business-to-business market, specialty softwaremaker Ariba said it would acquire Agile Software. And analog chipmaker Maxim Integrated Products said it would buy Dallas Semiconductor. Except for the latter, which operates in Texas, each of the companies is based in California's Silicon Valley.

Campbell Soup Co., the world leader in its field, will buy the dry soups-and-sauces business of European consumer-products giant Unilever for just under $1 billion, the companies announced. The deal satisfies a condition for approval by European Union regulators of Unilever's $21.3 billion acquisition last June of Bestfoods, the US maker of Skippy peanut butter and Hellmann's mayonnaise. Unilever is expected to use sale proceeds to help finance a $2.4 billion bid for Clairol hair-care products.

Bidding rose to $2.73 billion for mutual-fund and financial-planning specialist Investors Group, and its sale to Mackenzie Financial Corp. of Toronto appeared virtually certain. Investors Group is based in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In the largest purchase to date of a US financial institution by a cross-border company, Rocky Mount, N.C.-based Centura Banks Inc. agreed to be acquired by Royal Bank of Canada for $2.3 billion in stock. Royal, based in Montreal, is Canada's largest bank in terms of assets.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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