Bayer won the first case to go to trial over its Baycol cholesterol medication when a jury in Corpus Christi, Tex., cleared the company of responsibility for a patient's illness. About 8,400 Baycol lawsuits have been filed against the German company, which pulled Baycol off the market in 2001 after it was linked to more than 100 deaths. Bayer's stock had lost three-quarters of its value over the past year on concern that damages might cost Bayer hundreds of millions of dollars.

Sprint Cleared to Hire New CEO

BellSouth Vice Chairman Gary D. Forsee can quit to run rival telephone company Sprint, a court-appointed arbitrator ruled. The binding decision allows Forsee, 52, to join Sprint, the third-largest long-distance carrier, under the condition that he not disclose confidential information, including details of financing, marketing strategies or acquisition plans, said arbitrator William H. Webster, the former FBI and CIA director. Forsee resigned from BellSouth, the third-largest U.S. local phone company, earlier this year. BellSouth sought a court order to prevent him from joining Sprint.

MORE NEWS

Housing starts fell in February by the most in nine years as snowstorms hampered construction in the South and Midwest. Builders broke ground on new homes at an annual rate of 1.622 million units, down 11 percent from January's 1.822 million, the Commerce Department said. But building permits, a gauge of future construction, increased to a pace that exceeded last year's average. "It's pretty hard to start houses when the ground is frozen and buried under a couple feet of snow," said Stuart Hoffman, chief economist at PNC Financial Services Group in Pittsburgh. "Permits are telling you it's going to rebound in March and April."

United Airlines warned in a court filing that it could be forced out of business this year if it is unable to secure the deep labor cuts it's proposing in bankruptcy -- its bleakest assessment yet of its prospects. The statement was contained in a court filing late Monday in which the airline requested that its labor contracts be scrapped unless new agreements can be worked out by the first week of May.

Eighty-three percent of U.S. companies with annual sales of $1 billion or more expect to be denied credit or pay more for loans if they don't hire lenders for additional services such as stock and bond underwriting, according to a survey by the Association for Financial Professionals. The association delivered its findings to regulators and legislators, including Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.), who has called for an investigation of how banks link loans to more lucrative services. It is illegal for banks to explicitly require clients to hire them for mergers advice and stock and bond underwriting in exchange for loans, a practice known as "tying."

America West Airlines pilots voted against a contract that would have increased their pay by 11 percent, with their union saying members were unhappy about retirement benefits and job-protection terms. The Air Line Pilots Association at America West said 73 percent of the 1,432 pilots who voted rejected the three-year proposal.

Procter & Gamble said it will buy Germany's Wella for $5.8 billion, giving it a fast-growing professional hair-care business and increasing its presence in Europe. The maker of Crest toothpaste and Pampers diapers said it also will assume Wella's $1.2 billion debt. The purchase is the largest in Procter & Gamble's 166-year history.

Tenet Healthcare, the second-biggest U.S. hospital company, plans to sell or consolidate 14 of its 114 hospitals and reduce expenses as it revamps pricing practices that led to a U.S. government probe.

The Recording Industry Association of America sent letters to about 300 companies whose computers were allegedly used by employees to feed file-swapping networks. The association, which declined to name the firms, informed the companies of the alleged piracy and warned that employees and employers might be subjected to "significant legal damages." The association said some firms were also warned about piracy in October and February.

Gateway said it is eliminating 1,900 jobs and closing one-third of its stores. The company said it will close 80 Gateway stores by March 24 as part of a plan to save about $400 million a year. The job cuts amount to 17 percent of its workforce.

INTERNATIONAL

The French parliament took a first step toward privatizing national carrier Air France, an initiative that is opposed by France's unions, which fear it will lead to job cuts. The government now owns 54.4 percent of the airline but wants to reduce its stake to about 35 percent as part of a program of selling state assets. The National Assembly, France's lower house of parliament, approved a government-sponsored bill in an initial reading.

DirecTV Latin America, a Hughes Electronics unit that provides satellite TV service, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and said Chairman Kevin N. McGrath resigned. The unit will continue to operate, it said.

Two Tyco International executives have been charged with fraud in Mexico for their handling of the company's ADT security-alarm operations there. Warrants have been issued for Phillip McVey, president of Tyco Fire & Security Latin America, and Patricio Gonzalez, head of ADT's Mexican operations. A Tyco spokesman based in New York declined to comment on the executives' whereabouts.

LOCAL BUSINESS

W.R. Grace won't allow employees to invest in its stock through their savings and 401(k) retirement plans because it believes the stock no longer reflects the company's operating results, according to a regulatory filing. Columbia-based Grace said it made the decision to protect employees from the speculation and volatility surrounding its stock.

International Steel Group could cut the workforce of Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant in Baltimore by about 30 percent, according to vice president and general manager John Lefler, the ISG official expected to run the plant. The cutback would eliminate almost 1,000 of the 3,250 jobs at the plant. ISG and Bethlehem Steel are awaiting U.S. Bankruptcy Court approval for ISG to purchase Bethlehem's assets for $1.5 billion.

Stillwater, a family-owned textile company that employs nearly 300 people, will shut down late next month because of the weak economy. Its main plant in Goshen, Va., makes fabric for military blankets, airplane upholstery and other uses. The company also operates a weave mill in Augusta Springs, Va., and a warehouse in Craigsville, Va.

EARNINGS

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts said fiscal fourth-quarter earnings fell 32 percent, to $5.63 million, because of expenses to settle a dispute with franchisees. Sales in the period ended Feb. 2 rose 25 percent, to $136.7 million.

Oracle said third-quarter net income increased 12 percent, to $571.3 million, as sales were up from a year earlier for the first time in two years. Sales rose 2.4 percent, to $2.31 billion.

Compiled from reports by the Associated Press, Bloomberg News, Dow Jones News Service and Washington Post staff writers

Ted Turner, shown leaving AOL Time Warner's board meeting in New York on Jan. 16, said he will consider remaining on the board after he leaves as vice chairman in May. The board is scheduled to meet tomorrow. Turner, the company's largest individual shareholder, has repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with the 2001 merger of America Online and Time Warner and frustration over his diminished role at the company.