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Business Highlightsue of merger

Posted: Friday, June 23, 2000

VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- OPEC members agreed Wednesday to boost official crude oil production by 3 percent, a move unlikely to provide motorists with relief from record-high gasoline prices in the United States.

After an unusually brief 90-minute meeting Wednesday evening in Vienna, a spokesman for the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries said 10 OPEC members voted to increase the group's daily quota by 708,000 barrels. It was the second time in three months that the cartel voted to step up production to stabilize prices.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- One of the nation's biggest life insurance companies agreed Wednesday to pay $206 million to settle allegations it overcharged millions of mostly poor, black customers for burial insurance because of their race.

American General Life and Accident Insurance Co., based in Nashville, Tenn., settled after being hit with a federal class-action lawsuit and being threatened by sanctions from state insurance commissioners.

Under the settlement, American General will also pay $2 million to the NAACP and $7.5 million in penalties to several states.

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. (AP) -- Handspring Inc.'s stock surged more than 20 percent on the first day of trading after an initial public offering raised $200 million, suggesting investors continue to hold high hopes for the company's Visor and other handheld electronic organizers.

''They've got a device people are clamoring for,'' said analyst Bruce Kasrel at Forrester Research. ''It shows there's definitely a lot of attention being lavished on handhelds despite the recent lovely dot-com exodus (of investors).''

Handspring sold 10 million shares, or an 8 percent stake in the company, for $20 each late Tuesday. That was above the expected range of $17 and $19 per share and gave the company a market valuation of $2.5 billion.

Shares of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company opened at $27 Wednesday and hit a high of $28.25, before closing at $26.938 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

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NEW YORK (AP) -- Shares of China Unicom rose more than 10 percent on Wednesday, the first day of U.S. trading after the China's second-largest telecommunications company raised $4.92 billion in an initial public offering of stock.

The IPO, one of the biggest in Asian history, was priced at about $20 per share late on Tuesday.

The stock, which doesn't begin trading in Hong Kong until Thursday, opened on Wednesday at $22 a share on the New York Stock Exchange, then rose as high as $24.63 before closing at $22.125. Trading was heavy, with 48 million shares changing hands.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and the Clinton administration voiced opposition Wednesday to a proposal to double the limit on bank deposit insurance to $200,000. Such a step would give ''increased subsidies to upper-income individuals,'' Greenspan said.

Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers were asked their views on the proposal during testimony in support of unrelated legislation to modernize regulation of the nation's futures markets.

Backers of the deposit insurance proposal, including major groups representing banks, say it is needed to take account of inflation since the limit was raised to $100,000 per account in 1980.

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- A proposed $129 billion merger between telecommunications giants WorldCom Inc. and Sprint Corp. is apparently running afoul of antitrust regulators on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Officials with the European Union confirmed Wednesday that the EU's commissioner for competition, Mario Monti, was on his way to Washington. He was scheduled to meet Thursday with ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on antitrust issues, Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Herbert Kohl, D-Wis.

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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) -- Fugitive U.S. financier Martin Frankel, accused of stealing millions from insurers, was sentenced Wednesday to three years in jail for tax evasion and using false passports during four months on the lam.

Afterward, Frankel -- who hopes to remain in Germany as long as possible to avoid extradition to the United States -- continued a thinly veiled campaign appealing to German concerns about excessive U.S. justice.

Frankel, 45, faces potentially far more jail time and huge civil lawsuits in the United States, where he is accused of bilking more than $200 million from insurers in five states. A U.S. sentence could total between 200 and 400 years in prison, according to his lawyer.

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DETROIT (AP) -- DaimlerChrysler Corp. president James Holden has been named chief executive officer of the North American arm of DaimlerChrysler AG in a move that analysts say could help strengthen the division's independence.

Holden, 49, joined the company in 1981 after eight years at Ford Motor Co. He will be responsible for the Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge and Mopar businesses. Eaton retired March 31.

Since Daimler-Benz and Chrysler merged in 1998, several top Chrysler executives have left, including its highly regarded president, Thomas Stallkamp, who had been mentioned as a possible successor to Eaton.

-------- The Associated Press

Microsoft helped propel the Dow Jones industrial average and the Nasdaq composite higher Wednesday after a federal judge delayed implementing business restrictions against the software company.

The Nasdaq rose for the fifth straight day and very nearly returned to where it began the year.

The Nasdaq rose 50.65 points to close at 4,064.01, less than six points below its Dec. 31, 1999, close at 4,069.31. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 62.58 to 10,497.74.

OPEC's much-anticipated decision Wednesday to increase crude oil output failed to take much air out of a rally in high-flying oil prices, which rose 2 percent despite the move.

Another energy commodity jumped even more sharply -- natural gas futures increased by nearly 7 percent on the latest evidence of low U.S. storage.

In other markets, copper rose and coffee set a new eight-month low.



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