SERVICES

Cendant to Split Its Operations

Cendant founder Henry R. Silverman announced plans to break the $20 billion travel and leisure conglomerate into four parts, seeking to revive a stock that never recovered from an accounting scandal eight years ago.

The company's real estate, travel-distribution, hospitality and vehicle-rental units will become separate publicly traded companies, according to a statement.

Cendant followed its announcement with a report that its third-quarter earnings dropped 13 percent, despite higher sales. The company, which owns Century 21 real estate, Ramada hotels, Avis rental cars and the Orbitz travel Web site, said it earned $514 million, down from $593 million in the corresponding period a year ago. Revenue grew 12 percent, to $5.05 billion.

ENERGY

Panel to Investigate BP Safety

Former secretary of state James A. Baker III will head a panel investigating safety practices at BP Products North America following a refinery explosion and fire in Texas City, Tex., in March that killed 15 people and injured 170, the company announced. BP plans to issue a final report on the explosion by next month. The panel has been asked to complete its work within a year and to make its recommendations public.

MARKETS

Refco Bidding War Heats Up

The competition for the assets of beleaguered futures trading firm Refco intensified. Interactive Brokers Group raised its offer for Refco's regulated brokerage unit to $858 million, topping a bid made only hours earlier by Dubai's government and California billionaire Ronald Burkle.

Other potential bidders include a unit of Man Group, the world's largest publicly traded hedge fund company; Marathon Asset Management; and Leon Black's Apollo Management. A lawyer for Merrill Lynch said the securities giant is leading a group that made a bid Saturday.

J.C. Flowers & Co., the buyout firm that launched the bidding when it agreed Oct. 17 to buy Refco's futures business, withdrew in a dispute over fees.

BANKING

Spanish Bank Buys Into Sovereign

Santander Central Hispano, Spain's largest bank, will pay about $2.4 billion for a 19.8 percent stake in Philadelphia-based Sovereign Bancorp. The agreement gives Santander the option to boost its stake to 24.9 percent after the transaction is completed in July.

Merck said third-quarter profit rose 7 percent, to $1.42 billion from $1.33 billion in the comparable period last year, as lower costs for materials and production offset a slight dip in revenue. Sales totaled $5.42 billion, down 2 percent.

American Express said its third-quarter profit climbed 17.1 percent, to $1.03 billion from $879 million, on the strong growth of its domestic and international credit card business. Revenue increased 10.8 percent, to $6.07 billion.

Reebok International said its third-quarter profit rose about 40 percent, to $117.7 million, despite declining sales heading into the athletic shoe and apparel maker's planned $3.8 billion sale to Adidas-Salomon. Sales fell nearly 11 percent, to $1.04 billion.

T-bill rates rose to the highest levels since the spring of 2001. The discount rate on three-month Treasury bills auctioned yesterday rose to 3.85 percent from 3.785 percent last week. Rates on six-month bills rose to 4.065 percent from 4.015 percent. The annualized return to investors is 3.942 percent for three-month bills, with a $10,000 bill selling for $9,902.68, and 4.208 percent for a six-month bill selling for $9,794.49. Separately, the Federal Reserve said the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, a popular index for making changes in adjustable-rate mortgages, rose to 4.19 percent last week from 4.14 percent the previous week.

Compiled from staff and news service reports.

Cendant, owner of Avis car rental, said it would split its operations into four separate companies.