Business & Finance

Sara Lee Corp., the consumer products giant, will spin off its apparel business and sell three other units, a news release said. The apparel unit, which accounts for $4.5 billion a year in sales, comprises such brands as Playtex, Hanes, Champion, Just My Size, and Bali. The company also plans to divest itself of the $1.1 billion-a-year European packaged meats division, its retail coffee unit (Chock full o'Nuts, Hills Bros., Chase & Sanborn, and MJB), and its direct selling unit, which generates $450 million annually in such markets as Mexico, Australia, and Japan.

A $1.7 billion pipeline project that will link refineries and storage terminals in downstate Illinois to crude oil fields in the Province of Alberta was announced by TransCanada Corp. The Calgary company said the 1,865-mile project, part of which will involve conversion of an existing natural gas pipeline to carry oil, could be in service as soon as 2008.

United Airlines, which has furloughed more than 2,000 pilots, said Wednesday it expects to recall 75 in the spring and another 75 later in the year to offset anticipated retirements. While its pilots union welcomed the news, it also filed a grievance over the airline's decision to suspend nonqualified pension payments to about 3,000 retirees, beginning next month. United has said it must replace its traditional pensions to emerge from bankruptcy.

One of the largest transcontinental mergers of high- powered law firms in history was announced by Pillsbury Winthrop LLP of San Francisco and Shaw Pittman LLC of Washington. Both are leaders in representing major US corporations, with such clients as American Express, General Electric, ChevronTexaco, Wells Fargo & Co., and SBC Communications. The combined firm, to be headed in San Francisco by Pillsbury chairman Mary Cranston, will have more than 900 attorneys on staff and annual billings in the range of $600 million.

Solo Cup Co. announced the closure of a plant in Springfield, Mo., that employs 331 people. The factory makes and packages thermal foam cups for retail sale and for use in convenience stores and other outlets with hot coffee and cappuccino dispensers. It will cease production by year's end although employees may apply for jobs at Solo plants elsewhere, the company said.

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