Business & Finance

Toyota pushed the Ford Motor Co. out of second place in world automotive standings, according to sales figures for 2003, published reports said Friday. Toyota's reported sales worldwide last year were 6.78 million units - 1.8 million of them in the US - to about 6.4 million for Ford. General Motors remains the No. 1 maker and seller of motor vehicles for the 75th straight year.

Boeing Co. is expected to lose a $23 billion contract to build refueling aircraft for Britain's armed forces when the award is announced monday, the Financial Times reported. The newspaper said it learned that the project will go instead to a consortium led by EADS, the French-German defense contractor and parent of Airbus Industrie, Boeing's chief rival in the commercial aviation field. The Financial Times said the deal will be particularly significant for EADS because Boeing long has had a near- monopoly in tanker aircraft.

Two Southern banks announced a $5.9 billion merger that will make their combined company the industry's 12th largest in the US in terms of deposits. The deal Friday between Regions Financial Corp. of Birmingham, Ala., and Union Planters Corp. of Memphis, Tenn., is considered a merger of equals, reports said. But the company will be known as Regions Financial.

In a new attempt to head off a takeover by software powerhouse Oracle Corp., rival PeopleSoft Inc. asked shareholders to vote down a plan to stack its board of directors with five hand-picked nominees. A statement said each nominee "is receiving cash compensation" from Oracle that would cause "irreconcilable conflicts of interest." Oracle began its quest for the Pleasanton, Calif., company last June with a $5.1 billion bid, since raised to $7.5 billion. PeopleSoft has rejected it twice. Oracle is based in Redwood City, Calif.

Bechtel Group Inc., one of the world's largest construction companies, and the government of Qatar signed a $2.5 billion deal for Phase One of the nation's New Doha International Airport. The company, based in San Francisco, will reclaim land for almost half of the site from the Persian Gulf. The facility, which represents an expansion of Qatar's existing airport, is projected to cost $5 billion and be finished by early 2009.

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