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Hackers vandalized the Internet sites Wednesday for Nasdaq and the American Stock Exchange, but there was no evidence they manipulated financial data.

A group calling itself "United Loan Gunmen" left a message saying it intended to "make stocks rise drastically, thus making all investors happy, hopefully ending with the investors putting bumper stickers on their Mercedez' that say 'Thanks ULG!' Meanwhile, ULG members go back to flipping burgers at McDonalds."

The group also claimed to have briefly created for itself an e-mail account on Nasdaq's computer system, suggesting a broader breach in security.

Nasdaq Spokesman Scott Peterson said "the Nasdaq Web site is operational and secure. . . ."

AT&T, BT form mobile phone alliance

LONDON (AP) -- British Telecom PLC and AT&T, two of the world's biggest telephone companies, have formed an alliance to provide mobile telephone services around the world.

The companies already provide wireless services in 17 countries with a combined customer base of 41 million, they said in today's announcement.

"If you travel, you expect your BT or AT&T digital phone to work anywhere and everywhere with all of the advanced features you have -- just as if you were at home. This is not possible in many cases today for a whole host of reasons, including incompatible technology and government regulation," said John Zeglis, president of AT&T.

It is not the first time the two companies have announced they would cooperate. In July 1998, they agreed to form a $10 billion global communications venture to serve multinational businesses and carriers. Regulators have yet to approve that venture.

NBC invests $415 million in Paxson

NEW YORK (AP) -- NBC is investing $415 million in Paxson Communications Corp., giving the network a 32 percent stake in the television station group and providing NBC with another major outlet for its programming.

The deal announced today will also allow Paxson to beef up its programming lineup for its 72 television stations as well as its family-friendly PAX network, the nation's newest and seventh-largest network. Counting an additional 51 PAX affiliates, Paxson reaches 76 percent of U.S. households.

Paxson owns Ch. 51 WPXJ in Batavia.

HSBC-Republic talks continue

NEW YORK -- Republic New York Corp. executives are holding regular meetings this week with counterparts at Buffalo's HSBC Bank USA on integrating the companies, even as shares of Republic fall on concern HSBC will renegotiate terms of its $10.3 billion takeover of the New York bank.

At the meetings, executives of similar units at the two banks discuss how to combine their operations.

Republic shares fell for a fourth day Wednesday on concern HSBC will renegotiate the terms of the $72-a-share purchase. Republic fell $2.63 to $56.38 in late trading.

In other business news

The Labor Department reported today that 288,000 Americans filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits the week ended Sept. 11, down by 4,000 from the previous week.

Microsoft Corp. is buying Visio Corp., a leading maker of diagramming and technical drawing software, in a $1.3 billion stock deal that helps Microsoft fill a gap in its line of business products.

Rent-Way Inc. said it will acquire all 250 stores in the RentaVision chain for $98 million in cash and stock. Oswego-based RentaVision, a privately held rental-purchase chain, operates stores in 16 states. The acquisition will expand Erie-based Rent-Way's presence in Pennsylvania and New York and introduce it into New England states.

Lamar Advertising Co. said it completed its $1.9 billion acquisition of AMFM Inc.'s outdoor advertising unit after the transaction was cleared by U.S. antitrust enforcers.

Crude oil futures surged Wednesday after Venezuela pledged to follow through on production cutbacks. Crude for delivery in October rose 27 cents to $24.13 on the New York Mercantile Exchange after zooming as high as $24.49 -- its highest level since Feb. 1, 1997.

Maytag Corp., the No. 3 maker of big appliances in the U.S., plans to cut $100 million in costs and expand outside the U.S. as part of a reorganization aimed at restoring sales and profit growth. This follows Maytag's warning that profit for the second half won't meet expectations.

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