Business & Finance

A $66 billion hostile takeover bid for Walt Disney Co. was launched by cable-TV giant Comcast Holdings Corp., which complained that its interest in merger negotiations had been rejected out of hand by the former's president, Michael Eisner. Published reports said the offer would include the assumption of debt and would leave Disney shareholders with 42 percent of the combined company. Disney, which also owns ABC-TV and the Miramax and Touchstone movie studios, is the nation's second-largest media company, behind Time-Warner. Comcast is based in Philadelphia.

Software giant Oracle Corp.'s hope of acquiring rival PeopleSoft was dealt a new blow by staff lawyers of the Justice Department. They recommended against the proposed $9.4 billion takeover on antitrust grounds and said that, if necessary, the department should sue to block the deal. Analysts told the business reporting service that the agency usually follows the advice of its staff lawyers. But an Oracle spokesman said the record showed otherwise and insisted, "This merger will eventually be approved." The Justice Department is expected to make its final decision by March 2 on whether to stand in the way of an Oracle-PeopleSoft tieup.

In a deal valued at $1.7 billion, the financial services company Sampo increased its stake in If Industrial Insurance from 38 percent to 90 percent. Both parties are Scandinavian.

General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) will contribute $1.6 billion to programs aimed at educating minority consumers and assisting them with credit financing, reports said. The move is part of the settlement of a class-action lawsuit that charged the financing arm of the world's largest automaker with racial bias in its lending policies. The suit, filed in Tennessee in 1998, alleged that GM dealers routinely charged black car-buyers higher interest rates on their loans than whites with similar credit histories. Among other features, the settlement calls for GMAC to preapprove 250,000 credit offers per year for black and Hispanic customers over the next five years. The company is not required to reimburse any of the plaintiffs in the class-action suit. GMAC is the nation's second-largest lender to buyers of cars and trucks.

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