Business & Finance

Best Buy, the nation's largest consumer electronics retailer, announced expansion plans that call for opening an average of 75 locations a year over the next five years, pushing its total outlets above 1,000. The South Richfield, Minn., company said it also intends to open smaller nonsuburban stores, stand-alone Geek Squad computer service centers, and "lab stores" in China.

Marathon Oil Corp. said it will pay between $3.7 billion and $3.9 billion to buy the stake of Ashland Inc. in their limited liability partnership, Marathon Ashland Petroleum (MAP) of Findlay, Ohio. MAP operates seven refineries, 84 storage/shipping terminals, more than 7,800 miles of pipeline, and the Speedway and Pilot retail fuel outlets and travel centers.

EnCana Corp., a leading producer of natural gas, will sell its oil assets in the Gulf of Mexico to Statoil for $2 billion, the companies announced. EnCana is based in Calgary, Alberta. Statoil is owned by the government of Norway.

Sodexho, the contract food-service giant, avoided a jury trial Wednesday by agreeing to an $80 million out-of-court settlement - one of the biggest in a job bias case in recent years. It admitted no wrongdoing in the case brought by black midlevel managers in 2001, but will institute plans for training and promotion designed to increase diversity. Sodexho, based in Gaithersburg, Md., is a subsidiary of France's Sodexho Alliance SA. It employs 100,000 people in preparing meals for businesses, universities, hospitals, and certain military bases.

A plan to hire 2,000 additional employees was announced by Skoda Auto, a Czech subsidiary of Volkswagen. The company said it will begin production early next year of a new model, the Roomster, a compact car with individual rear seats that both fold down and slide, allowing extended leg room for passengers or carrying space for cargo.

Bankrupt Interstate Bakeries Corp., the maker of Wonder Bread, Twinkies, and Drake's products, said it plans to streamline operations in Florida and Georgia by cutting 600 jobs, mostly at its Miami plant. Interstate, which has 58 bakeries throughout the US, is based in Kansas City, Mo.

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