Business & Finance

A cabinet meeting is scheduled for Tuesday in Rome to consider how Italy's government can bail out dairy-products giant Parmalat, amid reports that the company is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy. The financial reporting service said Parmalat has hired a law firm to advise it on such a filing. The company owes its creditors billions of dollars. In related developments:

• Unions representing employees at the company's Parma, Italy, base were hoping to meet with chairman Enrico Bondi and other senior executives Monday to seek guarantees on job security for their members.

• Citing sources close to the situation, the Financial Times reported that the $4.9 billion Parmalat admitted last week to be missing from its accounts, in fact, may well be more than $8 billion. The company claimed the funds were deposited with the Bank of America, but the latter swore in an affidavit that there was no such account.

• Nestlé, one of the world's largest marketers of concentrated dairy products, contradicted reports in Swiss newspapers that it is a potential bidder for some of Parmalat's assets.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer agreed to buy Esperion Therapeutics in a $1.3 billion deal, both companies announced Sunday. Esperion, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., specializes in development of treatments for heart disease. Pfizer is based in New York.

Boeing Co. signed a $1.5 billion contract to supply nine passenger aircraft to South Korea's largest carrier. Korean Air, which currently operates 118 aircraft, also recently agreed to buy eight planes from French-based Airbus, Boeing's chief rival. That deal is valued at $2.2 billion.

In a deal valued at $1.86 billion, the bidding for the eighth-largest financial-services institution in Spain. Banco Atlantico, was won by rival Banco de Sabadell SA, the Dow Jones business news service reported. Sabadell is the nation's fourth-largest bank.

Oil industry giant Royal Dutch/Shell announced it will take a $1 billion charge against fourth-quarter earnings to help cover the cost of closing some of its refineries, selling off production fields that are past their peak as well as other assets, and eliminating jobs.

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