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George Weston Ltd., the food company that controls Canada's biggest grocery chain, agreed to buy Unilever's U.S. baking business for $1.77 billion in cash to gain Thomas' English muffins, Entenmann's cakes and other brands.

The takeover of Bestfoods Baking Co. will add sales of $1.8 billion and 12,000 employees to George Weston. The transaction is expected to be completed in the second quarter.

The Toronto-based company trumped bids for the baking business from Chicago's Sara Lee Corp. and Mexico's Grupo Bimbo SA.

European steelmakers merge

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Three European steelmakers announced plans today to merge into the world's largest with production of 46 million tons per year.

France's Usinor SA, Luxembourg's Arbed SA and the Spanish Aceralia Corporacion Siderurgica SA said the merger would be completed by fall 2001.

The new group is to be set up in Luxembourg, which will make an offer for the shares of each of the three companies.

Olds' salespeople get $400 bonus

DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- General MotorsCorp. is paying salespeople $400 and sales managers $100 for each Oldsmobile they sell as the world's largest automaker phases out the brand, said the head of the division's dealer council.

The payments are in addition to cash incentives to buyers of as much as $5,000 per vehicle that GM began in December to boost the brand's sales.

High-tech IPO raises $111 million

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Riverstone Networks' stock rose 9 percent Friday as the telecom equipment maker became the first high-technology company to launch an initial public offering this year.

Riverstone's shares closed at $13.06 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, a gain of $1.06 from its IPO price of $12 a share.

The gain was modest in comparison with IPOs as recently as last summer of companies in fields similar to Riverstone's where prices doubled and tripled in value during the first day of trading.

Santa Clara-based Riverstone originally hoped to fetch as much as $14 a share in its IPO, but the company lowered its asking price last month for the sale of 10 million shares.

After expenses, Riverstone's IPO raised $111.6 million. The company is a spin-off from Cabletron Systems. Rochester, N.H.-based Cabletron plans to distribute its remaining 86 percent stake in Riverstone to its shareholders later.

Eddie Bauer to close 25 stores

DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (AP) -- The Spiegel Group plans to close 25 Eddie Bauer stores this year as well as open 10 new stores with merchandise that extends beyond the retailer's traditional casual, rugged style.

The Downers Grove-based company has not announced which stores will be closed, but spokeswoman Debbie Koopman said Friday they are stores whose leases expire this year. She did not know how many employees would be affected.

The closings, along with the new stores, will bring the number of Eddie Bauer stores to 451 nationwide by the end of the year, excluding outlets.

For the quarter ended Dec. 30, Spiegel reported a 13 percent drop in earnings to $65.4 million or 50 cents a share, from $74.7 million or 57 cents a share a year earlier. The results were 2 cents more than analysts' estimates.

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