The United States and Argentina completed negotiations on an "open skies" agreement that will immediately allow United Parcel Service to begin direct competition with FedEx, the only major U.S. cargo carrier operating in the Latin American country. Passenger service will be phased in over the next four years, eventually allowing full service between the two countries, now served only by American and United.

Kaiser Aluminum, set to become one of North America's last major independent aluminum companies, can expect to attract takeover bids now that bigger rivals have proposed or agreed to purchases, analysts said. On Wednesday, Alcoa, the No. 1 aluminum producer, offered to buy Reynolds Metals for $5.6 billion, hours after Canada's Alcan Aluminium agreed to buy Pechiney of France and most of Zurich-based Algroup for $9.2 billion. Alcan's chief executive, Jacques Bougie, said it isn't ruling out the possibility of making a bid for Reynolds.

In a challenge to established Internet access providers, Web search and media network AltaVista said it has begun offering free Internet access to U.S. subscribers willing to patronize its advertisers instead of paying a monthly subscription fee.

Major television and cable broadcasters formed a coalition that is threatening to sue the makers of new digital television recorders unless they pay licensing fees. CBS, the Walt Disney Co., News Corp., Time Warner and Discovery Communications said their Advanced Television Copyright Coalition seeks to protect the rights of networks and content owners in the face of the new devices. Two companies, TiVo and Replay Networks, both privately held, are making the recorders, which resemble VCRs but use computer hard drives instead of cassette tapes to store up to 30 hours of programs.

Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Trust former vice president Richard Ference pleaded guilty in federal court in New York to making insider trades based on tips from a former investment-banking associate at Citigroup's Salomon Smith Barney, Kevin Kirkbride, who previously pleaded guilty and awaits sentencing.

Merrill Lynch shares rose as much as 7 percent after the Wall Street Journal reported speculation that the brokerage may seek a merger with Chase Manhattan or another financial services company. Merrill stock closed at $71.43 3/4, up $4.43 3/4.

Krispy Kreme is considering an initial public offering of shares of its common stock, the company said. Officials of the doughnut maker said they plan to file registration papers for the possible IPO later this year and to complete the offering in early 2000.

CNN and CNBC are heading to the floor of the New York Stock Exchange as they continue their pitched battle for business viewers. A few weeks after CNN quietly announced it would produce a daily show from Wall Street's epicenter, CNBC said it would do the same thing. CNBC's "Business Center" will uproot from its New Jersey studio starting Monday for a new desk at the NYSE.

Gillette bought $1.18 billion in stock in the second quarter, as its shares dropped by more than a third after a warning that profit would miss forecasts. Gillette bought 25 million shares at an average price of $47.32, according to a regulatory filing.

Pratt & Whitney, a unit of United Technologies, said it would move its military jet-engine business to Connecticut from Florida and cut at least 1,500 jobs, or 5 percent of its work force, in a broad restructuring to be completed by the end of 2000. In addition, the Sikorsky helicopter unit of United Technologies said it would move its S-76 helicopter operation from West Palm Beach, Fla., to a location as yet to be determined.

Bing Sung, the former chief investment officer at RhumbLine Advisers accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of making unauthorized trades that led to losses of $162 million for two pension funds, has agreed to pay a $50,000 fine and be barred from the investment advisory industry, the SEC said. Sung neither admitted nor denied the accusations.

Livent's former general counsel and secretary, Jerald M. Banks, settled allegations that he took part in a scheme to inflate the Canadian theater company's earnings, the Securities and Exchange Commission said. Banks agreed to pay a fine of $25,000 and not to practice before the commission for five years or violate securities law in the future. He neither admitted nor denied the allegations.

W.R. Grace has been awarded $15.9 million in damages and $3.5 million in interest from its patent-infringement lawsuit against Intercat and Conoco. The lawsuit dates to 1997, when the U.S. District Court for Delaware ruled that Intercat and Conoco had "willfully and knowingly" infringed on Grace's patent for Desox, an additive that removes sulfur from petroleum refinery emissions.

Texaco said it has increased the number of jobs it is cutting to 2,500, or 10 percent of its work force, from the 1,400 it announced last year.

Priceline.com, which lets consumers bid online for airline tickets and hotel rooms, said it reduced a secondary share offering and won't proceed with a debt issue because of market conditions.

EARNINGS

Gap said fiscal second-quarter profit rose 43 percent, to $195.8 million, as its Old Navy chain drew more shoppers.

Kmart said its operating profit jumped 44 percent, to $134 million, in the second quarter thanks to stronger sales. The results excluded a one-time charge of $230 million. In the second quarter last year, Kmart posted a profit of $93 million, excluding nonrecurring charges.

Nordstrom said its fiscal second-quarter profit rose 2 percent, to $70.8 million, as the operator of high-priced department stores reined in costs to offset slower sales.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Prime Retail, a Baltimore company that runs outlet malls, reported that funds from operations rose 52 percent in the second quarter, to $26.29 million, compared with $17.25 million in last year's second quarter. The company also announced that it will sell three of its malls for $274 million to a new joint venture with foreign investor Estein & Associates USA. Additionally, Prime said it has obtained a $40 million line of credit it plans to use for "an e-commerce initiative."

America Online said it has formed agreements with Novell and Lotus Development in which users of Novell and Lotus software can exchange instant Internet messages with one another and users of AOL's Instant Messenger service. Novell will also develop a business Web gateway, or "portal," using AOL's Custom Netcenter product.

Potomac Electric Power said it bought 21 natural-gas distribution networks from municipal governments in the Netherlands for $724 million in cash.