Business & Finance

A $12 billion "merger of equals" that would combine the assets of British pharmaceutical chains Boots and Alliance UniChem is expected to be announced Monday. But while such a deal would create one of Europe's largest retailers of drugs and other healthcare products, it also would invite strict regulatory review. Moreover, the Sunday Times (London) said both companies have been at the center of takeover speculation, and private equity firms such as Permira of Britain and Apax Partners and Kohlberg Kravis Roberts of the US could decide to enter the bidding at the last minute. Boots operates 1,400 stores across Britain but acknowledged last week that its second-quarter sales fell in the face of stiff competition from supermarkets. Alliance UniChem's retail network also extends into Norway, the Netherlands, and Italy.

Liberty Global Inc., which buys cable TV systems outside the US, agreed to acquire broadband service provider Cablecom Holding AG of Switzerland for $2.2 billion. The deal was attractive, a spokesman said, because Cablecom has more than 2 million subscribers and little competition. Liberty Global was spun off from Englewood, Colo.-based Liberty Media Corp. in June 2004.

Ford Motor Co. followed through on its announced plan to take back control of 23 assembly plants and other facilities from Visteon Corp., the parts supplier it spun off five years ago. Ford said Saturday it will reorganize the plants under a holding company, then sell them to buyers who will continue to produce parts for its vehicles. In the process, Ford said it will cut 5,000 jobs. Visteon plans to continue operating more than 180 other plants around the world.

TransMeridian Airlines, which catered to the leisure travel market, abruptly halted operations last Friday and said it expects to file for bankruptcy and liquidate its assets. Most of the company's 500 employees will lose their jobs, a spokesman said. The carrier had served Las Vegas and a dozen other US markets, plus resort destinations in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Aruba. TransMeridian is based in Lithia Springs, Ga.

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