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Shudders are likely to spread through the banking industry, analysts said, because of a Wal-Mart Stores announcement that it's seeking regulatory approval to buy Federal BankCentre of Broken Arrow, Okla. The retailing giant said it wants to open its own branch-bank offices in five Wal-Mart Supercenters as a test for future expansion. Some of its 4,000 US stores currently lease space to other banks. Wal-Mart's plan - if it were to extend to mortgage loans, checking accounts, and other highly competitive services - is seen as a threat to regional and locally owned banks attempting to eke out profits in smaller markets.

A week of negotiations failed to produce a compromise in the takeover battle among three of France's largest banks. The talks in Paris collapsed when Socit Gnral, Paribas, and Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) could not find a consensus on forming a holding company that would operate most of the businesses of all three. BNP caused the conflict when it issued a surprise $37 billion buyout offer for both of the others. Socit Gnral and Paribas were proceeding with plans for a $23.9 billion merger at the time.

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A letter of intent paving the way for formation of a joint company was signed by the two largest oil firms in South America. Petrobras of Brazil and PDVSA of Venezuela said they saw their cooperation in the areas of exploration, production, refining, and distribution as a forerunner to a region-wide entity - Petroamerica - that would eventually include Mexico, Colombia, and Ecuador.

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