Business & Finance

A $61 billion hostile takeover bid for pharmaceutical giant Aventis SA was announced by its smaller French rival, Sanofi-Synthelabo - and was immediately rejected. But analysts speculated that Aventis's strategy may be to pit Sanofi-Synthelabo - which appears to have the support of the French government for its effort - against other bidders in hopes of attracting higher offers. The analysts also said the mere bid by Sanofi-Synthelabo could unleash a raft of consolidations involving other European competitors such as Germany's Bayer, Britain's AstraZeneca, and Roche and Novartis of Switzerland. Aventis, which has joint French-German ownership, is based in Strasbourg, France. Sanofi-Synthelabo's headquarters are in Paris. If the two ultimately join forces, their combined company would be the world's third-largest maker of drugs.

As expected, Boeing was eliminated from the running for a $24 billion contract to build aerial refueling planes for Britain's armed forces. The Ministry of Defense announced it would negotiate exclusively with a consortium led by European defense contractor EADS, on grounds that the latter would offer the most value for the money.

Parmalat, the deeply troubled dairy-products conglomerate, already was $15.6 billion deeper in debt than it claimed in the days before word of its accounting scandal exploded into the headlines last month, a new audit reported. The Parma, Italy, marketing giant acknowledged the audit, which was ordered by its court-appointed administrator, but said it "is in a condition to make ongoing payments [with] a few exceptions."

Kraft Foods wasn't commenting on a published report that it will announce up to 6,500 job cuts Tuesday as part of a sweeping effort to trim costs. Citing industry analysts, the Financial Times also said the company may close some plants and lower its sales-growth target from 3 percent to 0.5 percent.

Another 4,000 layoffs are expected to be announced Wednesday as part of a $548 million-a-year cost-cutting drive by British Airways, London's Daily Telegraph reported. The carrier is winding up a three-year effort that will have resulted in 13,000 layoffs by the end of March, but remains more than $1.5 billion behind in contributions to its pension plan, according to the Financial Times.

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