Business Highlights

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2009 5:55 PM

Merger news, analyst upgrades drive stocks higher

NEW YORK (AP) _ Another wave of corporate dealmaking stoked investors' confidence in the economy and carried stocks sharply higher Monday.

Analyst upgrades of Alcoa Inc. and Intel Corp. and positive momentum on President Obama's health care overhaul also helped drive a broad advance on the stock market. Major indexes closed off their highs of the day but still rose about 1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 85.25, or 0.8 percent, to 10,414.14, after rising as much as 130 points earlier in the day.

Bond prices tumbled as stocks rose, pushing the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note up to its highest level since August. The dollar strengthened, hurting commodities prices.

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Sanofi-Aventis to buy Gold Bond maker Chattem

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) _ French drugmaker Sanofi-Aventis SA said Monday it plans to buy U.S. health-care company Chattem Inc., maker of over-the-counter mainstays like Gold Bond skin products, for $1.9 billion in cash.

The deal also gives Sanofi-Aventis a distribution base for its popular allergy drug Allegra, which is awaiting approval to switch from prescription-only to an over-the-counter version, and for future switches of other drugs approaching the end of their patents.

Paris-based Sanofi-Aventis said it will offer $93.50 per share _ 44 percent more than Chattem's average price over the past six months. The Chattanooga, Tenn., company makes two dozen consumer health care products, including Icy Hot pain relief medicine and Selsun Blue shampoo.

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Ford offers retirement, buyouts to factory workers

DETROIT (AP) _ Ford Motor Co. has offered buyout or retirement incentive packages to all of its 41,000 U.S. hourly workers as it tries to further reduce its factory work force.

Ford, the healthiest of Detroit's three automakers and the only one to avoid government aid and bankruptcy protection, still has more workers than it needs to produce cars and trucks at current sales levels, said company spokesman Mark Truby.

He would not say how many workers Ford expects to take the packages, which include cash payments and other incentives such as vouchers to buy cars and short-term health insurance coverage.

Ford currently has 634 blue-collar workers on layoff in the U.S.

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GM taps Microsoft CFO to run finances

DETROIT (AP) _ General Motors Co. has hired the chief financial officer of Microsoft Corp. to take over the troubled automaker's books, tapping a cost-cutter who is now widely seen as a potential candidate to be GM's next CEO.

Chris Liddell will become GM's finance chief starting next year and report directly to interim CEO Ed Whitacre Jr., who also is a newcomer to the automaker. The 51-year-old Liddell is the first permanent top manager hired from outside the company since it left bankruptcy protection in July. Whitacre, who says he wants to shake up GM's slow and rigid culture, has pushed out top executives and promoted younger managers in recent weeks.

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Gov't imposes 3-hour limit on tarmac strandings

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Stinky toilets, crying babies, airless cabins _ the Obama administration said Monday passengers don't have to take it any more. It ordered airlines to let people get off planes delayed on the ground after three hours.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the three-hour limit and other new regulations are meant to send an unequivocal message to airlines not to hold passengers hostage on stuck planes. Coming on the eve of the busy holiday travel season, the announcement was hailed by consumer advocates as "a Christmas miracle."

The airline industry said it will comply with the regulations _ which go into effect in 120 days _ but predicted the result will be more canceled flights, more inconvenience for passengers.

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Suppliers, miners grow; Bucyrus buys Terex unit

SOUTH MILWAUKEE, Wis. (AP) _ Bucyrus International will buy Terex' equipment division for $1.3 billion, an example of how consolidation in the mining industry is driving the need for bigger service companies.

It also signifies a shift into precious metals for Bucyrus, which has largely operated in the coal industry.

A bigger equipment company means that miners won't need to contract with numerous suppliers to meet their growing needs, said Bucyrus spokeswoman. Shelley Hickman.

The Terex unit in the sale makes hydraulic excavators, electric drive mining trucks, track and rotary blasthole drills and highwall mining systems.

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Alcoa, Saudi Arabia to invest $11B in venture

NEW YORK (AP) _ Alcoa Inc. said Monday it and the Saudi Arabian mining company, Ma'aden, will invest $10.8 billion in a joint venture to develop an aluminum industrial complex in Saudi Arabia.

The complex, which will range from a bauxite mine to production facilities, will be developed in two phases with initial production expected in 2014.

Ma'aden will own 60 percent of the joint venture. Alcoa will control the other 40 percent through an investment partnership in which it will own 20 percent.

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Gasoline prices flatten below $2.60 a gallon

The world's biggest oil producers seem content with the price of oil and consumers may be just as satisfied, at least for now, with the prices they are paying at the pump.

OPEC prepared to meet in Angola, with oil ministers hinting Monday that they would leave supply levels where they are rather than tightening quotas again in an attempt to boost prices.

Demand for gasoline and other fuels remains very weak, so they may have little choice.

Retail gas prices have flattened in the U.S. below $2.60, a lot more than motorists were paying last year during a worsening economic crises, but still well below prices two years ago.

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Hedge fund operator Rajaratnam pleads not guilty

NEW YORK (AP) _ Wealthy hedge fund operator Raj Rajaratnam and a codefendant pleaded not guilty Monday to charges they were major players in a scheme that used inside information to make stock trades that generated millions of dollars in profits.

Prosecutors, who have described the case as a "wake up call for Wall Street," promised to hand over to defense attorneys 100 hours of intercepted phone calls made over eight months that they say implicate the defendants.

Rajaratnam and Danielle Chiesi entered their pleas before U.S. District Judge Richard Holwell in Manhattan to an indictment returned last week in a $52 million insider trading case that has resulted in charges against 21 people.

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Spyker extends Saab offer deadline

NEW YORK (AP) _ Spyker Cars, a niche automaker based in the Netherlands, is giving General Motors Co. more time to consider selling it the Saab brand, keeping the fate of the Swedish automaker up in the air.

Spyker had previously given GM until 5 p.m. EST Monday to consider its latest offer, but Spyker said it has extended that deadline until further notice. Spyker submitted its latest offer on Sunday, just days after talks with GM to buy Saab collapsed over unspecified issues.

Spyker is the latest suitor looking to buy Saab. Earlier this year, GM had been in negotiations with a consortium of buyers led by Koenigsegg Automotive AB, but the Swedish sports car maker dropped out of the deal in November.

By The Associated Press

The Dow rose 85.25, or 0.8 percent, to 10,414.14, after rising as much as 130 points earlier in the day.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 11.58, or 1.1 percent, to 1,114.05, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 25.97, or 1.2 percent, at 2,237.66.

Benchmark crude for February delivery fell 70 cents to settle at $73.72 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other Nymex trading for January contracts, benchmark crude fell 89 cents to settle at $72.47 per barrel the final day of trading. Heating oil fell 1.15 cents to settle at $1.9452 while gasoline fell 2.57 cents to settle at $1.8691. Natural gas fell 11.3 cents to settle at $5.669 per 1,000 cubic feet.

In London, Brent crude for February delivery fell 76 cents to settle at $72.99 on the ICE Futures exchange.