Exxon's purchase of Mobil and five other oil-company mergers since 1990 lifted U.S. gasoline prices an average of one or two cents a gallon, the General Accounting Office said in a study. The GAO, the watchdog agency of Congress, concluded that the mergers increased market concentration in the refining and sale of gasoline, leading to higher wholesale prices. In addition to the 1999 Exxon-Mobil deal, the GAO cited alliances Texaco formed in 1997 with Shell and Saudi Refining. Refining capacity went from "moderately to highly concentrated" in the East Coast, and from "unconcentrated to moderately concentrated" on the West Coast, the GAO said, leading to less unbranded, lower-priced gasoline being sold. The Federal Trade Commission, which reviews oil-industry mergers, called the GAO's methodology flawed.

Enron Nears End of Bankruptcy

Enron creditors certified the bankrupt Houston company's reorganization plan, clearing the way for a federal bankruptcy judge's approval of the plan at a hearing next week in New York. Of creditor classes where votes were received, the company said, 104 classes overwhelmingly voted to accept the plan and seven were opposed. Enron collapsed in bankruptcy in December 2001 amid revelations of hidden debt and inflated profit. Creditors are owed a total of about $66.4 billion. Most will get about one-fifth of what they are owed in cash, and will receive stock in two companies comprising domestic and international pipeline and power assets.

MORE NEWS

Atkins Nutritionals was sued by a businessman who alleged that the Atkins diet clogged his arteries and nearly killed him. Jody Gorran, who sued with the aid of the Washington-based Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine advocacy group, said he started the low-carb, high-fat diet in 2001. In two months, he said, his cholesterol rose from a normal 146 to an unhealthy 230, and by October 2003 he needed angioplasty to clear his arteries. Stuart Trager, Atkins Nutritionals' medical director, said Gorran's claimed cholesterol increase was dramatically greater than what the diet's promoter has seen in scientific studies.

Howard Carmack, who sent 850 million junk e-mails through accounts he opened with stolen identities, was sentenced to up to seven years in prison for forgery, identity theft and falsifying business records. Carmack told the judge he believed the case against him was overblown, saying there were no victims.

Kenneth G. Langone, the former head of the New York Stock Exchange's compensation committee, said he will not seek a settlement in the lawsuit brought against him and former exchange chief Dick Grasso by New York's attorney general. In a written statement issued to reporters after a shareholder meeting in Dallas for Home Depot, on whose board Langone serves, the former NYSE board member said he did nothing wrong in pushing for Grasso's $187.5 million compensation package.

Hollinger International, the newspaper publisher that ousted Conrad Black as chairman and sued him so it could auction the company, said it's scaling back to focus on a sale of its British publications only. Hollinger International's other publications include the Chicago Sun-Times and the Jerusalem Post.

California's Senate passed by a 24 to 8 vote a bill, prompted by Google's new e-mail service, that would ban e-mail providers from retaining personal information from their customers' messages. The bill will be considered next by the state Assembly.

NEC, Japan's biggest maker of telecommunications equipment, agreed to pay $20.5 million to settle a suit that accused a unit of draining money from a program that funds Internet access for impoverished schools. NEC will pay a $4.6 million criminal fine and plead guilty to two felony counts of wire fraud and conspiracy to suppress and eliminate competition for bids for school contracts, according to court papers.

Southwest Airlines, which has never laid off employees in its 33-year history, said it is offering a voluntary early-retirement program to any of its 31,522 employees who have been with the company at least a year as costs for fuel, labor and airport fees increase.

Brown & Williamson Tobacco violated its industry's 1998 settlement with 46 U.S. states by hiding the sale of 7.5 billion cigarettes to understate its market share, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said. Abbott filed a motion with a federal court in Texarkana seeking $16 million and interest.

A California judge approved a settlement of a class-action lawsuit that accused Verizon Wireless of failing to disclose billing practices and service restrictions for millions of customers, attorneys said. The nation's largest wireless carrier agreed to give current and former customers vouchers for discounts on contracts and merchandise or set amounts of free text messages or long-distance calls.

RECALLS

Turbo Power is recalling 359,000 electric hand-held hair dryers because they are not equipped with an immersion protection device to prevent electrocution if they fall in water, as required by industry standards. The hair dryers were made in Italy and sold in the United States between January 2002 and April 2004. They are labeled "Turbo Power" or "PIBBS," followed by the model number and the voltage marking "110V/60HZ."

Backyard Products is recalling 47,600 children's wooden swings after receiving 31 reports of chains breaking, including five instances in which children were injured, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. The swings were made in Canada and sold separately and as part of wooden gym sets in the United States between December 2003 and April 2004.

INTERNATIONAL

Softbank is buying Japan Telecom for about $1.6 billion in stock from U.S. investment fund Ripplewood Holdings. The Japanese broadband service provider also will assume approximately $1.47 billion of debt in the deal. The acquisition comes less than a year after Ripplewood bought Japan Telecom from British mobile phone giant Vodafone for about $2.3 billion in cash and debt.

LOCAL BUSINESS

First Potomac Realty Trust, a real estate investment trust that buys and operates industrial facilities in the District, Maryland and Virginia, agreed to purchase 14 properties that are 92 percent occupied for $123 million to enter new regions. Most of the 1.4 million-square-foot portfolio is located along the Interstate 270 corridor between Gaithersburg and Frederick, and it includes three office buildings and one retail location, the Bethesda company said. Separately, First Potomac agreed to buy Aquia Commerce Center I & II, two buildings in Stafford, with 64,000 square feet, for $11.2 million, including $1 million of assumed debt.

Equity Office Properties Trust, the largest owner of U.S. office buildings, purchased the two eight-story office buildings in Tysons Corner known as American Center for $60.5 million, bringing the number of its properties in the Washington area to 27. The purchase increases the Chicago-based company's ownership in Tysons Corner by 328,741 square feet, to more than 1 million square feet, and its ownership in the Washington metropolitan area to 6.4 million square feet.

EARNINGS

Costco Wholesale, the largest wholesale club operator in the country, said profit for its latest quarter jumped 29 percent, to $198.7 million.

Nintendo said its profit plunged 51 percent in the last fiscal year, to $296 million, due largely to the yen's 12 percent jump against the dollar.

UAL blamed higher fuel prices as it reported a $137.3 million net loss on $1.4 billion of revenue for April. The United Airlines parent, which must report results monthly because it is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy, previously said that its 2004 fuel costs will be $750 million higher than expected. The company would have been profitable on an operating basis if jet-fuel prices had been "typical," Chief Financial Officer Jake Brace said in a statement.

Vivendi Universal slashed its first-quarter loss to $7.3 million (6 million euros) from 319 million euros a year earlier, with its telecommunications operations contributing the most to the improvement.

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

Capsules of Norvir roll off the manufacturing line at Abbott Laboratories in Chicago in February 1996. Aetna has sued Abbott for raising the price of the AIDS drug from about $206 to $1,028 for 120 100-milligram capsules. Norvir was not a major AIDS treatment on its own, but has been used increasingly in small doses to boost the potency of some AIDS combination-drug therapies. Aetna alleged that Abbott raised Norvir's price sharply to offset a drop in the market share of a newer Abbott HIV blocker, Kaletra, which is used alone and is more lucrative.