Business & Finance

Vivendi Universal agreed to exclusive negotiations with the NBC-TV unit of General Electric for the sale of the former's US entertainment assets. Although the letter of intent between the two parties is nonbinding, analysts said a multibillion-dollar all-stock deal by month's end would not surprise them. The combined company, tentatively called NBC Universal, would be the world's eighth-largest media empire. The decision by the French conglomerate sidelines the only other remaining bidder, a group of investors led by former Vivendi board member Edgar Bronfman Jr. Vivendi chief Jean-Rene Fourtou said he hoped Bronfman now would return as a director. Although widely expected, the announcement sent Vivendi shares surging by 8 percent Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange to a close of $18.25.

In a merger of leading pharmacy-benefit managers, Caremark Rx Inc. agreed to buy AdvancePCS Inc. of Irving, Texas, for $5.6 billion, mainly in stock. The deal still needs shareholder and regulatory approvals. Caremark is based in Birmingham, Ala.

AT&T sued MCI for civil fraud and racketeering for the alleged rerouting of long-distance calls through Canada. Federal prosecutors are investigating such claims by other MCI rivals opposed to its emergence from bankruptcy. Meanwhile, an internal review by MCI reportedly found evidence that other phone companies - among them AT&T - engaged in similar practices, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Adopting a policy long sought by environmentalists, Boise Cascade Corp. agreed to stop buying timber from endangered forests in Chile, Indonesia, and Canada, and to cease logging in virgin US forests beginning next year, the Wall Street Journal reported. The company is a leading producer of timber and distributes office supplies through a subsidiary.

Federal prosecutors won agreement from the French government and banking giant Crédit Lyonnais for a $575 million settlement of allegations that the latter used deceit to buy the assets of bankrupt Executive Life Insurance Co. in the early 1990s. Crédit Lyonnais was state-owned at the time, and US law barred foreign banks from owning American insurers. Still pending in the case are a $3 billion lawsuit filed by the state of California and civil suits by former Executive Life policyholders.

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