Business & Finance

The biggest currency switch in history - the rollout of euro coins and bank notes - was proceeding relatively smoothly on the first business day of the new year. A shortage of hard cash appeared to be the biggest problem for banks and retailers in the 12-nation euro zone, with long lines reported at banks and retailers in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. In France, a strike called by five trade unions timed to coincide with the euro launch had only limited impact. The value of the currency rose by more than 1 percent against the dollar and yen, and a record 2 percent against the pound in trading yesterday. European Union Monetary Affairs Commissioner Pedro Solbes said he was "extremely satisfied," and that within two weeks, he expected 90 percent of transactions to be in euros. As of Feb. 28, former national currencies will no longer be legal tender. (Related story, page 7.)

Creating one of the largest oil refining companies in the United States, Valero Energy Corp. has completed its $4 billion takeover of Ultramar Diamond Shamrock. The merger of the San Antonio-based companies, which will use the Valero name, was closed just before midnight on Monday, company officials said. The new firm has more than 20,000 employees in the US and Canada and is expected to have annual revenues of $32 billion and total assets of about $14 billion. It has a refining capacity of 2 million barrels per day and a broad distribution network.

South Korea's Hynix Semiconductor plans to conclude alliance talks with US rival Micron Technology before the end of January, amid hopes for a deal to reduce a global glut in memory chips. Cash-strapped Hynix may sell operations making the most common types of dynamic random access memory (DRAM) chips to Micron, a company official said. Micron and Hynix rank second and third in the computer-memory sector, and an alliance could re-shape the industry as their combined output capacity exceeds leader Samsung Electronics Co.

Following last week's agreement by the OPEC oil cartel to slash output by 1.5 million barrels per day, Saudi Arabia cut January crude oil export allocations to key European customers by a further 5 to 10 percentage points from standard contract volumes. Oil prices began the year steady, as cold weather in the US gave support to a market racked by doubts over producers' commitment to curbing supply.

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