Executives of Vivendi Universal were insisting that they expected at least one offer for the company's US entertainment assets to equal the $14 billion asking price by the close of business Monday, their deadline for the second round of bidding. They said a deal can be finalized by month's end, but they would not identify which potential buyer was most likely to meet their target. A report in The Wall Street Journal said chairman Jean-Rene Fourtou appeared to prefer the idea of a US entertainment giant that would combine most or all of Vivendi's assets with the NBC-TV unit of General Electric in an all-stock deal. But the Los Angeles Times reported that NBC "is known as a cautious bidder with a history of walking away from proposed acquisitions or mergers." Last week, cable-TV provider Comcast Corp. joined film industry giant Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. in pulling out of the bidding, both reportedly complaining that the $14 billion asking price is too high. That appeared to leave Viacom Inc., Liberty Media Corp., and a group of investors led by Edgar Bronfman Jr. and Cablevision Systems Corp. in the running for Vivendi's cable channels (USA, SciFi, and Trio) and/or Universal Studios and theme parks.
Another 500 workers were laid off, effective immediately, by IBM, the world's largest provider of computer hardware, at its Essex Junction, Vt., plant. A spokesman said 3,000 other employees would be required to take a week off without pay next month. Last year, IBM cut 988 jobs at the same plant. The company is Vermont's largest employer.