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Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. is considering selling a number of its hospitals, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Top officials at Columbia, the target of a wide-ranging federal Medicaid and Medicare fraud investigation, met last week with investment bankers at Goldman, Sachs & Co. to discuss options for selling off assets. Thomas Frist Jr., brought in as chairman and chief executive officer over the summer, has hinted that he wants to shrink the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain.

Sandy Lutz, an analyst at the Dallas firm of Rauscher Pierce Refsnes Inc., said Frist tipped his hand about the hospitals by saying he would consider shrinking Columbia from a $20-billion-per-year company to $12 billion.

"He has to shed a lot of hospitals to get down to $12 billion." Ms. Lutz said. Among the markets Columbia may seek to leave are Denver, Houston, Indiana, California and Chicago, she said.

Columbia officials declined to comment.

Columbia owns about 345 hospitals nationwide.

Timex building new HQ

MIDDLEBURY, Conn. (AP) -- Timex Corp. has paid more than $2 million for 150 acres that is planned for the company's new world headquarters.

The land, a few miles from the company's present headquarters, was purchased from Armonk-based IBM. It is part of about 900 acres IBM has been trying to sell.

Timex plans to build a 78,000-square-foot office building, but will not have any manufacturing operations there. The building would accommodate about 300 workers.

The watch maker hopes to be moved into its new offices by the year 2000, but construction is on hold while a complaint by an abutting property owner works its way through court.

Ward closing 48 stores

CHICAGO (AP) -- Montgomery Ward & Co. will close 48 stores in a cost-cutting move that could lay off 3,800 employees, the nation's largest privately owned retailer said three months after it filed for bankruptcy protection.

The closures will leave Wards with 294 full-line department stores in 37 states.

The closings would be subject to court approval but should be substantially completed by the end of December.

The company said it expects to lose $250 million in the first half of this fiscal year.

U S West getting aggressive

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- After an aggressive yearlong quest, U S West Communications has won approval to offer long-distance telephone service in 35 states -- not including its own 14-state territory.

U S West officials said the regional telephone company plans to begin offering long distance by early next year.

It will resell service on other companies' lines while it seeks permission to sell long distance in its own territory in the West, including Colorado.

The Baby Bell has been barred from offering long distance in its own territory until it opens its local phone service to competition.

Pact reached at GM brake plants

DETROIT (Reuters) -- A tentative agreement was reached early Saturday averting a possible strike by the United Auto Workers union at two General Motors Corp. brake plants in Dayton, Ohio, a GM official said. No details of the settlement were released.

This week in business. . .
Here are the major business and economic events scheduled for this week:

Tuesday -- In Stockholm, the Nobel memorial prize in economics will be awarded; an auction of Treasury bills will be held in Washington; in Detroit, General Motors will report earnings for the third quarter.

Wednesday -- The Commerce Department will release September retail sales figures; in Dearborn, Mich., Ford Motor Co. will report earnings for the third quarter.

Thursday -- The Labor Department will release September consumer prices and weekly jobless claims; the Commerce Department will releases August inventories; Freddie Mac will issue weekly mortgage rates.

Friday -- The Commerce Department will release September housing starts; the Federal Reserve will issue September industrial production numbers.

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