Business & Finance

A new cut in crude-oil production, perhaps the deepest this year, appeared certain as representatives of OPEC member nations gathered in Vienna for a strategy meeting today aimed at pushing prices back into the cartel's target range. With futures prices sliding on world markets, the oil ministers are expected to approve a reduction of up to 1.5 million barrels a day. As of last Friday, the average of a "basket" of seven grades of OPEC crude was $19.53 a barrel - its 35th consecutive day below the $22-to-$28 target range. "Price hawks" in the cartel also were calling for pressure on non-OPEC producers to match each future cutback. Of nonmembers, however, only Russia has agreed so far to lower production, by a token 30,000 barrels a day. Norway, the third-largest exporter, repeatedly has refused to reduce output. OPEC has cut production four times this year, by a combined 3.5 million barrels a day. But analysts noted that some members agree to reductions "on paper" but then "don't follow through."

Chiquita Brands International reached a deal with bondholders to reduce the company's $950 million in debt by about $700 million. As a result, reports said, Cincinnati-based Chiquita plans to file a reorganization plan in bankruptcy court and expects the deal will shorten its time operating under Chapter 11 protection.

Up to 1,000 jobs will be cut over the next two years by British Petroleum in its refining and petrochemical operations, the company said. The layoffs will be made at its Grangemouth facility in Scotland.

Austrian Airlines said it will lay off 930 employees by the end of next year. The carrier also said it would cut another 8 percent of flights and ground three planes as part of a range of cost-cutting measures in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

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