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Marsh & McLennan Cos., the world's biggest insurance broker, said fourth-quarter profit rose 25 percent, driven by strong sales at its Putnam Investments unit and price increases in commercial insurance. The New York-based company, which has an office in Buffalo, said fourth-quarter net income rose to $286 million, or 98 cents a share, from $229 million, or 82 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue rose 6 percent to $2.48 billion. Revenue at Marsh's insurance brokerage unit, which is the world's largest, rose 6 percent to $1.19 billion. Among its other main businesses, revenue from investment management rose 3 percent to $740 million, while revenue from consulting increased 9 percent to $537 million.

EarthLink Inc., one of the largest U.S. Internet providers, said its fourth-quarter loss widened and sales lagged the company's forecast as fewer customers signed up for its service. The loss widened to $105.5 million, or 87 cents a share, from $60.7 million, or 55 cents, a year earlier. Sales rose 44 percent to $286.8 million from $199.1 million.

Gannett Co., the largest U.S. newspaper publisher, said fourth-quarter net income rose to $294.9 million, or $1.12 a share, from profit from continuing operations of $284 million, or $1.01 a share, in the year-earlier quarter. Sales at the owner of USA Today rose 30 percent to $1.89 billion from $1.46 billion because of purchases of additional publications. If Gannett had owned the assets a year earlier, sales would have risen 6 percent.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., the world's largest hotel owner, said fourth-quarter earnings rose 26 percent on higher room rates and occupancy. Starwood said net income rose to $131 million, or 64 cents a share, compared to profit from operations of $104 million, or 51 cents a share, in the year earlier period. Revenue rose 2.4 percent to $1.1 billion from $1.08 billion. The company's hotels include Sheraton, Westin and W properties.

WorldCom Inc., the telephone and Internet company, said it earned $726 million, or 25 cents a share, in the October-December period, compared with $1.3 billion, or 44 cents a share, in the same period a year ago. Sales were up more than 3 percent to $9.6 billion, compared with $9.3 billion a year ago.

Quebecor Inc., a Canadian media and printing company, said fourth-quarter earnings fell 44 percent as losses mounted at its Internet and electronic-commerce units. Profit from operations dropped to $28.6 million (Canadian) or 44 cents a share, from $51 million, or 78 cents, in the year-earlier period. Revenue declined 3 percent to $2.96 billion from $3.05 billion. Quebecor World Inc., the world's largest commercial printer, which operates a plant in Depew, accounts for about 88 percent of Quebecor's revenue and profit. It posted a 28 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit from operations to $104.4 million (Canadian) or 70 cents a share, compared with $81.4 million, or 58 cents a share, a year earlier.

Allstate Corp., the nation's No. 2 property-casualty insurer, saw fourth-quarter profits rise 29 percent as it nears the midway point of a cost-saving reorganization shifting it away from agents and toward the Internet. Net earnings for the quarter were $547 million, or 74 cents a share, up from $425 million, or 54 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding the impact of significant restructuring and acquisition charges in both years, operating income rose 12 percent to $589 million, or 80 cents a share. Revenues rose 3 percent to $7.22 billion from $7.01 billion, although revenue from property-casualty premiums fell 2 percent to $5.3 billion.

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