Business & Finance

Unocal's board of directors was scheduled to meet Thursday to reconsider its merger agreement with Chevron and to weigh the merits against an expected new takeover bid from China's CNOOC Ltd. Late Wednesday, the latter won approval from its own board to tweak the $18.5 billion offer already on the table by setting aside up to $2.5 billion more that would be paid to shareholders if a Unocal-CNOOC deal is signed but fails to reach completion. Chevron's bid is for $16.6 billion. As those wheels were turning, results of a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll showed Americans disapprove of a Unocal-CNOOC tie-up by a margin of 73 percent to 16 percent. A congressional hearing on the implications to US security of such a merger Wednesday also deepened hostility toward it. Members of the House Armed Services Committee and witnesses alike rejected Chinese claims that CNOOC's bid for Unocal is strictly business, and some lawmakers suggested they'd try to erect legal hurdles that would block a takeover. In his testimony, former CIA Director James Woolsey said of the recent warning by China's Foreign Ministry against congressional "meddling" in the proposed CNOOC takeover: "They've bitten off more than they can chew.... Somebody ought to break their sword."

In what's believed to be the largest corporate takeover in the nation's history, Telekom Austria agreed to pay $1.95 billion for Mobitel AD, the No. 1 cellphone service provider in Bulgaria.

In a new wave of layoff announcements:

• Microchip manufacturer National Semiconductor said Wednesday it will close its assembly and test plant in Singapore and consolidate operations at facilities in China and Malaysia. The move affects 950 jobs.

• Another 450 jobs will be cut by the Longaberger Co., the nation's leading maker and marketer of baskets and pottery, a spokesman said Wednesday. The Newark, Ohio, firm cut 360 jobs in April and has eliminated more than 4,000 since 2000.

• ING Group, the Dutch financial services giant, intends to shed 400 jobs in the Netherlands and 50 in Belgium by the end of the year, MarketWatch reported.

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