Business & Finance

Viacom Inc. agreed to buy out AOL Time Warner's 50 percent stake in their jointly owned cable-TV network, Comedy Central, for $1.2 billion in cash. AOL Time Warner chief executive Richard Parsons said the sale, and disposals of other "nonstrategic assets," would help the company reach debt-reduction goals. The media and entertainment titan owes creditors more than $26 billion.

As expected, two major oil producers in Russia announced

a merger that will make their combined company the industry's sixth largest. Yukos said it agreed to pay $3 billion in cash and stock to acquire smaller rival Sibneft in stages by year's end. It was the second major deal affecting Russia's oil industry in three months. In February, BP of Britain agreed to a $7 billion joint venture with the Tyumen group, Russia's third-largest producer. Analysts suggested that the magnitude of the Yukos-Sibneft merger was likely to make the combined company immune to a future buyout by foreign investors. Yukos and Sibneft tried to merge in 1998, but that deal ultimately collapsed.

First Boston, the troubled investment banking subsidiary of Credit Suisse, will neither be sold nor spun off, the latter's new chairman said. Walter Kielholz told the Financial Times, "The buildup of [First Boston] has been ambitious and painful ..." But "investment banking is a business that we want to be in," he said. According to the newspaper, First Boston "has been blighted by poor markets, the $11.5 billion acquisition of [rival] Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette ... and damaging scandals in the US." Last December, it was one of 10 brokerages that agreed to pay millions of dollars in fines, end the links between their research and investment banking operations, and fund independent stock research for investors in a settlement negotiated with New York State's attorney general.

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