A California state judge overturned a jury's $4.8 billion punitive-damages verdict against General Motors, offering plaintiffs a choice of accepting $1.09 billion or retrying the punitive award. The case was brought by six people who were badly burned in a 1993 accident when the gas tank of the 1979 Chevrolet Malibu they were riding in exploded. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ernest Williams let stand a $107 million compensatory award while turning down the company's request for a new trial on the issue of liability.

Cisco Systems is paying $7.4 billion for Cerent and Monterey Networks, two companies with expertise in the fiber-optic technology needed to carry telephone calls and TV over data networks. The acquisitions put Cisco in direct competition with Lucent Technologies, Nortel Networks and Alcatel in a market that analysts expect to grow to $10 billion during the next three years.

Metropolitan Life has agreed to acquire the troubled General American Life of St. Louis and its subsidiaries in a deal worth $1.2 billion. The deal will resolve the liquidity crisis that has threatened General American since late last month, and Met Life will supply cash to repay money-market mutual funds that had purchased General American securities.

MCI WorldCom, the second-largest U.S. long-distance telephone company, won federal regulatory approval for its planned purchase of SkyTel Communications, the No. 2 paging company, for $1.75 billion in stock and assumed debt. The Federal Communications Commission ruled that the transaction is in the public interest. There were no filings in opposition to the deal.

Publishers Clearing House will revise its sweepstakes mailings and offer millions of dollars in refunds to settle a class-action lawsuit concerning its advertising and marketing practices. Under terms of the agreement, firm is required to send notices of the settlement to about 40 million households that were solicited between Feb. 3, 1992, and June 30 of this year, according to court documents.

Internet users will be able to participate in the nonprofit organization charged with managing the Internet domain-name system under a new plan adopted yesterday. Anyone with an e-mail account and a postal address will be able to vote for the 18 members of an "at-large council" that will become one of the main supporting organizations of the Los Angeles-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, said ICANN Interim President Mike Roberts.

Federal regulators accused five money-management firms and four securities-transfer agents of failing to meet deadlines for fully disclosing their computer systems' readiness for the year 2000. Two of the money-management firms agreed to settle the civil charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission by paying five-figure fines and promising to refrain from future violations. Two of the transfer agents also reached settlements with the market watchdog agency. The other five companies are contesting the allegations.

Northwest Airlines flight attendants rejected a tentative five-year contract, meaning 11,000 union members will go back to a fourth year at the bargaining table. The average wage increase under the proposed pact was 14 percent.

Bell Atlantic Pennsylvania would be split into two businesses under new rules issued by the state's Public Utility Commission. One would sell services and network rights wholesale to other companies, which would resell them to consumers; the other would sell services directly to consumers. The rules could pave the way for the Baby Bell to offer long-distance services, but Bell Atlantic quickly said it would appeal.

A judge in Alabama cut in half a $581 million jury verdict that stemmed from a case in which a man sued for being overcharged $1,200 for two satellite dishes. Circuit Judge Marvin Wiggins, however, said the verdict was not unjust. Defendant Transamerica Bank, formerly Whirlpool Financial National Bank, said it plans to appeal to the Alabama Supreme Court.

Saks will meld its catalogue and Internet businesses into a new division to handle growth online, Chairman R. Brad Martin said. The upscale Saks Fifth Avenue chain will set up an online store in the spring of 2000, Martin said.

R.R. Donnelley & Sons, the nation's largest commercial printer, says it will pay $22 million to settle charges that it underpaid postage on thousands of catalogues, magazines and other materials over a 10-year period. The agreement, announced Wednesday by federal prosecutors in Philadelphia, was the largest postage-fraud settlement in at least a decade, according to the U.S. Postal Service.

Home Depot, the largest single retailer of lumber in the world, said it will stop selling goods made from wood cut in ancient forests in a policy change aimed at protecting redwoods, the rain forest and other ecologically sensitive tracts. It said it had already informed vendors of the policy change, which would be completed by the end of 2002, when it would no longer sell lauan, redwood or cedar from old-growth forests in which trees are often thousands of years old.

Boeing workers said they were bracing for a possible strike as tense contract talks entered their final hours. Boeing commercial airplane group President Alan Mulally said he was "cautiously optimistic" the two sides would reach agreement without a strike but acknowledged that a work stoppage by the 48,000 Machinists would bring airplane production to a halt.

INTERNATIONAL

Daewoo Group's domestic creditors froze interest and principal payments on the debt of 12 group units for about three months, giving the ailing South Korean conglomerate breathing room as it struggles under $57 billion of debt. But the deal does not cover the $9.9 billion owed to foreign creditors.

Burger King is pulling its Whoppers and french fries out of a disputed West Bank territory. The Miami-based fast-food chain avoided threats of a worldwide Muslim boycott when it took its brand name off a shopping-mall food counter in Ma'ale Adumim, the West Bank's largest Jewish settlement, just east of Jerusalem. Although Burger King personnel had visited the site before its May 16 opening, they didn't realize it was in territory claimed by both Israelis and Palestinians and that the franchisee had misrepresented the site, a company spokesman said.

EARNINGS

Intuit, the largest maker of personal finance software, reported quarterly results that were better than analyst forecasts as sales rose 28 percent. For its fiscal fourth quarter ended July 31, the maker of Quicken said it had a loss before gains and losses from the sale of securities of $16.3 million, compared with pro forma net income of $1.6 million a year earlier.

Publishing company Harcourt General plans to spin off its controlling interest in Neiman Marcus Group, a specialty retailer, because retailing and publishing "don't go together in the eyes of many investors," according to Peter Farwell, Harcourt General vice president for corporate relations. Harcourt General also said strong performances in its publishing and educational services businesses helped drive earnings up 30 percent to $140.5 million for the third quarter.

Hilton Group, the owner of Hilton International hotels and Britain's biggest betting-shop chain, said its first-half profit from operations fell 4 percent, to $144.7 million, after gamblers won more on British horse races and soccer matches.