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In the biggest merger of its kind, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. was to announce Thursday that it's buying gambling industry rival Caesars Entertainment for more than $5 billion in cash and stock, according to sources close to the negotiations. Harrah's also will assume roughly $4 billion in debt, the sources said. The merger would eclipse last month's $4.8 billion deal fusing MGM Mirage and the Mandalay Resort Group. Both mergers are expected to receive close scrutiny from federal and state regulators and to result in a fierce battle for business on the Las Vegas Strip.

Billionaire investor Philip Green angrily walked away from his seven-week bid to take over Marks & Spencer, Britain's largest chain of clothing and food stores, saying it was "clear as daylight" that the company wouldn't provide the information necessary for due diligence on its financial condition. Green told the Financial Times: "It's disgraceful.... We've just been treated with contempt," especially since M&S's largest shareholder had recommended consideration of his $16.8 billion "final" offer. Earlier this week, M&S executives announced details of a new strategy to overhaul the company, and analysts suggested that if it fails Green would be back to try again.

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United Airlines, which is struggling to emerge from bankruptcy protection, announced Wednesday that it will defer a required quarterly payment of $72.4 million to its employee pension funds. The payment deadline is September 2005, and the carrier said the deferral would allow it to best manage its resources and to keep open all options as it works to secure needed financing. Last month, the congressionally mandated Air Transportation Stabilization Board rejected United's third request for a guaranteed federal loan in excess of $1 billion and instructed the company not to apply again. Although United confronts more than $4 billion in required payments to its underfunded pension plans over the next 3-1/2 years, a spokes-man said the deferral will not affect monthly payouts to retirees.


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