Oracle's hostile $7.7 billion bid for rival software maker PeopleSoft could be cut by as much as 25 to 33 percent from the current offering price of $21 per share, Oracle co-president Safra Catz said. While Catz cited PeopleSoft's 2004 performance as the main reason for the possible lower bid, a lawyer for PeopleSoft suggested that such statements by Oracle executives are part of a continuing effort to use a Delaware trial involving the takeover as a platform to drive the deal price down.

Gas Lines Could Be Out 6 Months

El Paso Corp., owner of the biggest U.S. natural-gas pipeline system, said lines damaged last month by Hurricane Ivan could take as long as six months to repair. The company's Main Pass 298 platform on its Southern Natural Gas pipeline was destroyed, and workers are having difficulty locating some of the lines in the region.

MORE NEWS

A top former Merrill Lynch executive invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to testify in a trial concerning the brokerage's purchase of three barges from Enron in 1999. Thomas Davis, who was executive vice president of Merrill's Corporate and Institutional Client Group, has not been charged with a crime. He and other former executives are named in a pending Securities and Exchange Commission complaint alleging civil charges of aiding and abetting securities fraud, in part by helping push the barge deal through. Kathy Zrike, an in-house Merrill lawyer, testified that Davis approved the deal, which prosecutors say was a sham transaction that helped Enron meet earnings targets and earned Merrill favor with what was then a Wall Street darling.

Abbott Laboratories agreed to buy Experimental and Applied Sciences for $320 million. The privately held firm produces shakes, nutrition bars, protein drinks and other products that are sold under brands that include AdvantEdge, Myoplex and Body for Life. The acquisition fits Abbott's strategy of expanding its nutrition products lineup.

Krispy Kreme Doughnuts will pay its two new outside directors, Michael Sutton and Lizanne Thomas, who are conducting an internal investigation, more than $90,000 each, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Krispy Kreme normally pays directors who are not employees $30,000 a year plus expenses.

Sierra Pacific Resources, Nevada's largest utility owner, said a judge threw out a bankruptcy court ruling that ordered the company to pay an Enron unit about $336 million for terminated electricity contracts. U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones is sending the case back to federal bankruptcy court to be reconsidered.

Global Crossing shares plummeted after the once-bankrupt telecommunications company said in a regulatory filing that it will cut about 600 jobs -- 15 percent of its workforce -- and possibly trim consumer, small business and North American voice operations to raise up to $47 million per year to stay fiscally afloat. Shares closed down $3.09 at $12.79.

DaimlerChrysler's Axle Alliance unit plans to spend $30 million to expand production at its Redford, Mich., plant and $10 million to begin making axles in Kings Mountain, N.C., adding about 70 jobs in Michigan and employing 50 to 60 initially in North Carolina.

Gabelli Asset Management received a subpoena from the Securities and Exchange Commission related to its investigation of improper fund-share trading, the firm said in a regulatory filing. Richard Prins, an attorney for the Rye, N.Y.-based company, called the SEC subpoena a "follow-up from the information request" the agency had made last year and said he was "not aware" of any formal investigation into the company. The issue in question is market timing, which involves the rapid buying and selling of mutual fund shares in order to take advantage of gaps between the fund's share price and the value of its holdings.

DirecTV Group said it plans to purchase stakes in Sky Brasil, Sky Mexico and Sky Multi-Country Partners from News Corp., Liberty Media and others for $579 million in cash as part of a reorganization of the company's Latin American operations. Media conglomerate News Corp. previously held a 34 percent stake in DirecTV Group before transferring it to the company's 82 percent-owned Fox Entertainment Group.

Virgin Electronics is introducing a portable music player to compete directly with Apple's iPod Mini. The Virgin Player, slightly larger than the Mini but lighter and containing 20 percent more storage, should begin selling at the end of the month for $249, the company said.

Microsoft said its MSN instant messaging service experienced outages until late yesterday that prevented customers from logging into accounts and sending messages. The outages began over the weekend during routine maintenance to the network, the company said in an e-mailed statement.

Outages have affected PayPal, the online payment service owned by eBay, since Friday. The company said problems began after a monthly software upgrade, adding that it was unclear how many users were affected or when the problem would be fixed.

RECALLS

Chrysler Group is recalling 955,000 minivans because an electrical problem could cause the driver's side air bag to fail. Affected models include the 1998 to 2000 Dodge Caravan and Grand Caravan, Plymouth Voyager and Grand Voyager and Chrysler Town and Country. Four people have been injured in crashes because of the defect, and there have been 782 complaints, according to records submitted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Chrysler will begin contacting affected customers this week.

EARNINGS

Diebold, the automated teller machine maker, said mounting legal costs in California over alleged defects in its electronic voting equipment have forced the company to slash its third-quarter earnings forecast from the previous 70 to 74 cents a share to 67 cents a share. The company said it also expects lower fourth-quarter and full-year earnings. In September, California's attorney general joined a false claims lawsuit -- in which a triple-damage penalty is possible -- alleging that Diebold sold the state at least $19 million worth of shoddy hardware and software, exposing elections to hackers and software bugs.

El Paso Corp. reported a 2003 loss of $1.93 billion and lowered its 2001 and 2002 earnings by $826 million after an audit stemming from overstatements of energy reserves. The pipeline company also restated results for 1999 and 2000.

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

Midway Games, maker of the Mortal Kombat series and other video games and controlled by Viacom chief Sumner M. Redstone, is buying Inevitable Entertainment, creator of the science fiction game Area 51, above, to bolster its ranks of developers. Inevitable's 55 employees will continue to work in their Austin offices. Inevitable will receive 218,421 shares of Midway stock, worth $2.1 million.