Business & Finance

Federal Reserve policymakers were to announce their decision on key interest rates as the Monitor went to press. Some analysts speculated that the Fed's Open Market Committee would leave the rates - which are at their lowest level since 1958 - unchanged for now. But with the economy showing signs of broad-based expansion, the policymakers have indicated they won't hesitate to raise rates to tamp down potential inflation.

Alitalia's pilots postponed the one-day strike planned for Thursday because of "the delicate phase the airline is going through," and a cabinet minister in Italy's government said the carrier "will go bankrupt" unless all parties to its problems also take "a step back." The price of shares in the state-owned airline fell 6.3 percent in early trading Tuesday after it admitted its treasury bonds have lost more than half their value so far this year. Alitalia is trying to position itself for privatization that would make it attractive to the newly merged Air France and KLM of the Netherlands, but that effort has been hamstrung by the cancellation of almost 2,000 flights since the middle of last week as unionized employees protest proposed job cuts. Alitalia has lost money for five straight years.

Prescription drug giant Schering-Plough Corp. and two subsidiaries agreed Monday to pay $27 million to settle a Medicaid lawsuit that accused them of overcharging the state of Texas and the federal government for medication that controls breathing problems. Schering-Plough still confronts Medicaid suits in nine other states.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Inc. agreed to make operational changes to end alleged discrimination against black customers at more than 50 outlets across the South. In its settlement with the Justice Department, the Lebanon, Tenn., company will pay no fine and will not have to admit to wrongdoing. Cracker Barrel operates 497 restaurants in 41 states and reported almost $2 billion in sales last year.

Halliburton, the oil-field services giant at the center of controversy in Iraq, called reports that hostilities there are causing an exodus of its employees "overblown." Chief executive Dave Lesar told an energy conference in Houston Monday that the company sends "200 to 300 people a week" to Iraq and neighboring Kuwait and has a backlog of 100,000 applicants seeking work there. Employees can earn up to $80,000 tax-free for a 12-month stint in Iraq.

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