Business & Finance

AT&T Wireless accepted a $41 billion bid from rival Cingular, concluding one of the quickest corporate auctions in years. The all-cash deal is believed to be the largest in US history. In addition, Cingular will assume about $6 billion in AT&T Wireless debt. Concurrently, the world's largest cellphone service provider, Vodafone, withdrew from the bidding, concluding "it was no longer in [our] shareholders' best interests to continue discussions." Its statement said Vodafone "remains committed to [our] successful partnership with Verizon Wireless." Pending shareholder and regulatory approval, the AT&T Wireless/Cingular merger will create a company that serves 97 of the nation's 100 largest markets, with 46 million subscribers and revenues that topped $32 billion last year. Verizon, the current industry leader, has a reported 37.5 million subscribers. The new partners said it was too soon to speculate how many layoffs their merger will necessitate. Cingular is a joint venture of SBC Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. AT&T Wireless put itself up for sale less than a month ago.

Walt Disney Co. rejected Comcast's hostile takeover bid to buy the world's No. 2 media conglomerate for $49 billion. But Disney's directors did not close the door completely to a merger, indicating they'd consider "any legitimate proposal." In moving to reject the bid, the board also sent a message of support for Michael Eisner, the embattled chairman whose management has been criticized by two ex-directors, among them Roy Disney, the nephew of company founder Walt Disney. Comcast could choose to up its bid before Disney's March 3 annual meeting, analysts said.

North Fork Bancorp announced it will buy GreenPoint Financial in an all-stock deal worth $6.3 billion. Combining operations will create the largest regional bank in the New York metropolitan area and a company with more than 340 branches, $50 billion in assets, and $30 billion in deposits. North Fork is based in Melville, N.Y.; GreenPoint in Lake Success, N.Y.

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