Business & Finance

Microsoft appeared only days away from a ruling by European regulators in their long-running battle over its business practices. In Brussels Monday, a closed-door meeting of representatives from all European Union member governments on a draft of the ruling ended earlier than expected, with word that they had backed the text unanimously. Barring a last-minute settlement, a source close to the matter said the ruling finds Microsoft abused its monopoly in operating-system software. If the report proves accurate, the Redmond, Wash., company could be fined up to $3 billion and be forced to change the way it sells its Windows software to computermakers on the Continent.

Electronic Data Systems Corp., which manages computer networks for other companies, is selling its product design and software development subsidiary, UGS PLM Solutions, to three private investment firms for $2.05 billion. The sale to Bain Capital LLC of Boston, Silver Lake Partners LP of Menlo Park, Calif., and Warburg Pincus LLC of New York was made with a view to increasing EDS's competitive flexibility and erasing debt, a spokes-man for the Plano, Texas, company said.

Duke Energy Corp., one of North America's largest utilities, said it will sell its gas pipelines and power plants in Australia and New Zealand to Australian natural gas company Alinta Ltd. for $1.24 billion. Duke lost $1.3 billion last year after a $1 billion profit the previous year and has cut 4,000 jobs since 2002 in an effort to reduce its $22.5 billion debt.The company is based in Charlotte, N.C.

US Airways bought itself more time in its recovery from bankruptcy by restructuring terms of a $1 billion federal loan. The nation's seventh-largest airline made an early repayment of $250 million in exchange for an easing of covenants that eliminate the risk of default. It had prepared a business plan that predicted profitability this year, but in its annual report issued last Friday auditor KPMG raised doubts about the carrier's viability in the face of competition from low-fare rivals.

Volvo announced it hasn't found a buyer for its stake in rival Swedish truck builder Scania AB and will distribute the 27.3 million voting shares to stockholders. Volvo's bid to acquire Scania for almost $7 billion was blocked in 2000 by European Union regulators, and it was given until next month to surrender its stake.

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