Business & Finance

Making history, crude oil futures prices surged past $70 a barrel Monday as hurricane Katrina threatened potentially major damage to oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore import terminals, pipelines, and refineries in Louisiana and Mississippi. By midday on exchanges in Europe and Asia, futures prices had settled back below $70, but some energy analysts were calling the potential for $75 or even $80 a barrel "realistic." (London's International Petroleum Exchange was closed Monday for a public holiday.) The analysts noted that 30 percent of US crude oil production comes from the gulf and that it took more than six months to restore the one-third drop in output caused by hurricane Ivan last September. Within a month of Ivan, crude futures were $10 a barrel higher. In anticipation of Katrina, Gulf of Mexico operators Exxon, Chevron, and Royal Dutch/Shell evacuated the workers from their rigs, the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port halted all movements of oil, and refiners ConocoPhillips, Valero Energy Corp., and Chevron shut down and sent their staffs to safety. Even before the hurricane, world crude prices had risen 59 percent this year.

Communications satellite operator Intelsat signed a definitive agreement Monday to acquire PanAmSat Holding Corp. for $3.2 billion. Intelsat also will refinance or assume another $3.2 billion of PanAmSat's debt, reports said. If the deal wins regulatory approval, it will give Intelsat the world's largest commercial fleet of satellites - 53 - allowing the combined company to better service them in orbit and to minimize expensive launches.

NDCHealth Corp., which provides a range of services to the medical industry, agreed to be split into two pieces and sold for $1 billion. The Atlanta company's software development business for physicians, hospitals, and retail pharmacies will be acquired by Per-Se Technologies of nearby Alpharetta, Ga. Its information management unit will go to Wolters Kluwer NV of the Netherlands, a publisher of medical, scientific, legal, and tax information for professionals in those fields.

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