Business & Finance

At least $40 billion - and perhaps as much as $55 billion - in debt owed by poor nations was on the verge of being forgiven by the International Monetary Fund as the Monitor went to press. A steering committee voted Saturday in Washington to endorse the move, sending it to the IMF's 24-member executive board and to the World Bank for ratification. Such an outcome has long been sought by advocates of third-world development. To qualify, however, indebted nations would have to meet certain conditions, such as trade liberalization and limiting government's role in the economy, the details of which had yet to be finalized, reports said.

The builder of one of the world's most prestigious brands of sports cars announced its intention to prevent a hostile takeover of struggling Volkswagen AG. In a statement, Porsche said it wants to "secure our business relations with VW and safeguard ... a significant part of our future planning" by buying 20 percent of the latter's stock. At VW's current share price, such an acquisition would cost Porsche about $3.6 billion. The companies jointly build sport/utility vehicles and have announced plans to work together to develop gas/electric hybrid engines.

General Motors and the union that represents more than 17,000 of its employees in Canada appeared headed for a strike that would begin at midnight Tuesday. GM, according to Canadian Auto Workers Union (CAW) president Buzz Hargrove, "can't handle the cost" of the new three-year deals negotiated earlier this month with Ford and DaimlerChrysler. Hargrove also said GM so far has refused to commit to new investment in its Canadian operations. But a spokesman for the company denied it had told the CAW it wouldn't discuss matching the Ford and DaimlerChrysler contracts.

In a deal valued at $2.67 billion, the largest building contractor in Spain said it will buy just under a 25 percent stake in Unión Frenosa, the nation's No. 3 electric utility. ACS (Actividades de Construccion & Servicios) is diversifying into industries that offer steadier returns and wider profit margins than its own, analysts said. Earlier this year, it bought stakes in a realty company and Spain's largest toll-road operator.

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