Business & Finance

A group of oil companies that includes ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips of the US signed a $29 billion deal to develop what's thought to be the world's largest untapped field, in the Caspian Sea. The project will be led by Italy's Eni SpA, with Royal Dutch/Shell, Total of France, and Inpex of Japan rounding out the group. Eni said the field holds an estimated 4.8 billion tons of crude, the first of which should be extracted in 2007. The consortium had hoped to begin production next year, but technical problems, complex negotiations, and a dispute with Kazakh-stan put that goal out of reach. The partners will pay an undisclosed fine to the Alma-Ata government for the delay.

Lufthansa, the German airline, posted a $1.24 billion net loss for 2003 and announced it will pay no dividend to shareholders. In 2002, the company reported a $905 million profit. The carrier attributed much of last year's red ink to a write-down in the value of its Sky Chefs catering unit, which serves one of every three in-flight meals worldwide.

Financial-services giant Goldman Sachs will pay $45.5 million to settle charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission that it engaged in improper mutual-fund trading, according to its annual report. The company allegedly placed its own trades ahead of customers' orders, leading to a censure and cease-and-desist order as well as the fine. It said it also has been notified by the National Association of Securities Dealers that it may have violated securities laws by charging markups of about 5 percent on certain bond transactions in 2000 and 2001.

Parmalat USA, a subsidiary of the scandal-wracked Italian dairy products giant, filed for protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy code as it works out ways to pay milk suppliers, its employees, and other operational costs. The Wallington, N.J., company said it anticipates continuing normal operations as it prepares for a possible sale. Parmalat USA has operations in five states and employs about 1,300 people. Its parent, Parmalat Finanziaria, one of Italy's largest companies, is mired in an investigation that so far has uncovered major accounting irregularities and about $18 billion in red ink since the scandal broke three days before Christmas.

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