Business & Finance

Microsoft appeared to have no choice but to brace for a ruling next week that it is guilty of marketing abuses in Europe. European Commission antitrust chief Mario Monti told a news conference in Brussels Thursday that last-ditch efforts by senior Microsoft executives to reach a deal in their four-year dispute over the licensing of Windows software to computer manufacturers there had failed. A guilty ruling almost certainly would be accompanied by a fine that could reach $3.2 billion and by limits on how Windows may be marketed in the future, analysts said. The company is expected to appeal any penalty, which could prolong the matter several more years.

UAL Corp., the parent of United Airlines, is expected to ask a federal bankruptcy court in Chicago Friday for more time to work out its recovery from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, sources told The Wall Street Journal. Lawyers for the nation's No. 2 carrier are expected to urge that court protection be extended beyond June 30 to late summer and that it be granted an extension of at least 30 days beyond April 6 to come up with a reorganization plan before its creditors are permitted to suggest alternative strategies.

A whopping $21 billion will be invested by the world's largest maker of flat-panel displays to meet the growing demand for big-screen television sets, the Financial Times reported. It said the joint venture between Philips Electronics of the Netherlands and LG Electronics of South Korea will spend the sum over the next 10 years to try to corner more of the market. LG Philips currently has a 21 percent share of the liquid crystal display industry, compared to 19.6 percent for Samsung, also of South Korea.

Fisher Scientific International Inc., a leading maker and wholesaler of diagnostic, clinical, and laboratory equipment, will buy New Hampshire neighbor Apogent Technologies for $3.7 billion in stock and assumption of debt, the companies said. Apogent manufactures comparable products.

Troubled Royal Dutch/Shell announced another reduction in its estimate of oil and gas reserves, the second this year. Europe's second-largest producer said another 250 million barrels of oil equivalent as of the end of 2002 were being subtracted as the result of a "fast-track review of selected fields" in its portfolio. It also said its 2003 reserves, announced Feb. 5, were too high by 220 million barrels. In January, the company lowered its 2002 estimate by 20 percent, stunning investors and triggering an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

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