Consolidated Edison said it plans to buy Northeast Utilities for about $3.5 billion in cash and stock, a deal that would create one of the largest electric companies in the country. If it receives shareholder and regulatory approval, the deal will create a company with more than 6.4 million electric and gas customers from New York City through New England.

Sumitomo Bank and Sakura Bank said they are in talks to merge, creating what would be the world's second-largest bank, with about $930 billion in assets. Sumitomo, Japan's third-largest bank, and No. 5 Sakura said no final decision has been made on the timing of a merger, and that no other financial institutions are involved in the negotiations. The merger will take place in two years, the Nihon Keizai newspaper said, without citing sources. The talks come after Dai-Ichi Kangyo Bank, Fuji Bank and Industrial Bank of Japan in August announced that they would merge to form the world's largest bank by early 2002.

Rhode Island has become the first state to sue the makers of lead paint, seeking millions to pay for removing the paint from homes and caring for poisoned children. Inspired by the national tobacco settlement, state Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse sued eight paint manufacturers.

Relenza, Glaxo Wellcome's new flu drug, won't be fully covered by some U.S. health insurers, which could mean another setback for the world's fourth-largest drugmaker. Humana and Wellpoint Health Networks said they wouldn't include Relenza in their list of preferred drugs.

The SEC proposed rules to increase the number of independent directors that govern mutual funds and to boost their ability to protect shareholders. The rule changes would require a fund board to have at least 50 percent independent directors and would give the directors access to independent legal counsel and would require funds to include more information about their directors in annual statements.

Tyson Foods was fined nearly $60,000 by the Labor Department for violations of child-labor law after a teenager was killed at an Arkansas plant and a young worker was injured in Missouri. In the Arkansas case, investigators said 15-year-old Juan Alderete of San Felipe, Mexico, was electrocuted when he walked into a fan while chasing chickens one night in April. The Labor Department said he should not have been working so late or in a job that hazardous.

The United Auto Workers said its members ratified a new four-year contract with General Motors by a 77 percent margin. The new contract, reached on Sept. 28, included a 3 percent wage gain in each of the four years, a $1,350 signing bonus, higher pensions and improved job security.

The interest rate on 52-week Treasury bills rose in yesterday's auction to the highest level in nearly 16 months. The discount rate was 5.115 percent, up from 5 percent at the last auction on Sept. 14. The bills will carry an equivalent coupon interest rate of 5.411 percent, with each $10,000 in face value selling for $9,482.80. Sales totaled $10 billion out of bids of $23.5 billion.

Priceline.com sued Microsoft, claiming the software maker infringed on the "name your own price" service's patent with a new price-matching system for hotels on its Expedia online travel service. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Connecticut, alleged that Microsoft's conduct violated the state's Unfair Trade Practices Act.

LOCAL BUSINESS

Atlantic Coast Airlines Holdings said it will operate all flights between Akron, Ohio, and Chicago O'Hare International Airport as a United Express carrier. The Dulles-based airline said it will also add nonstop service from Akron to Washington Dulles International Airport beginning Dec. 15. The airline will make three round trips to Chicago and one round trip to Washington daily.

Amazon.com Inc. will begin construction this month on a new data center in Chantilly, officials with the Seattle-based online retailer confirmed yesterday. The company did not disclose details, but similar facilities employ between 20 and 30 people.

Norway's Statoil Group plans to sell its U.S. energy production and marketing unit, Statoil Energy of Alexandria. The parent company said it isn't in a position to supply the resources that Statoil Energy needs to increase the scale of its operation. The Alexandria-based subsidiary is engaged in natural gas and electricity production and marketing.