Business & Finance

Adding a surprising new element to the apparent merger between mining giants IAMGOLD and Gold Fields Ltd., a rival announced that it intends to offer $8.1 billion in stock for the latter company. Harmony Ltd. of Melrose, South Africa, said it already has the backing of Gold Fields' largest shareholder for the idea. A Harmony-Gold Fields merger would create the world's largest producer of the precious metal. Harmony's chief executive said the offer is contingent on the Gold Fields-IAMGOLD merger not becoming final. Those two agreed to a $2.1 billion stock-swap in August. A Gold Fields spokesman acknowledged that his company had received an offer from an unidentified rival but insisted that it already had lapsed. Gold Fields is based in Johannesburg, South Africa; IAMGOLD in Toronto.

Kraft Foods has put its Life Savers and Altoids brands up for sale, according to published reports, which said the two could fetch more than $1 billion at auction. The Wall Street Journal said Kraft has hired Swiss financial- services giant UBS AG to assist in the sale, identifying Hershey Foods, Cadbury Schweppes, and chewing gum manufacturer Wm. Wrigley Jr. Co. as prospective bidders. The sell-off is seen as an effort to streamline Kraft's portfolio, which is led by cookies, crackers, and cheeses, as the company seeks to expand overseas.

Axa, one of the world's largest insurance companies, offered $2.5 billion for the 48 percent of its Asian subsidiary it doesn't already own. But the bid was turned down and Axa has dropped the idea, reports said. Directors of Axa Asia Pacific Holdings Ltd. (APH) were unanimous in calling the all-cash bid "insufficient," even though the parent company had upped its original offer by 8 percent. Analysts said APH, which is based in Melbourne, Australia, now may pursue an expansion course of its own in the region.

Exxon Mobil Corp. said it will take a third-quarter charge of $550 million to cover class-action claims by gas station owners. At least 10,000 plaintiffs assert they're still owed money under an Exxon promotion dating back to 1982 that encouraged them to offer discounts to customers who paid for fuel purchases in cash rather than by credit card. In return, Exxon was to cut its wholesale price for the fuel. The announcement of the charge follows a decision by the Supreme Court last week to hear only Exxon's appeals of cases by dealers seeking $50,000 or more - not for those involving smaller claims.

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