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Merrill Lynch & Co., the financial services giant, said it has reached a framework agreement to settle an inquiry by New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer into alleged conflicts of interest between its research analysts and investment bankers. Spitzer's office declined to comment, but the two sides did agree to postpone a court hearing scheduled for today until May 16. The attorney general has demanded that the brokerage sever all ties between its research and investment divisions, under the threat of criminal charges.

Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer Corp. laid out transition plans for their newly merged company. Among other decisions, both will continue to market consumer personal computers. But Compaq, which has a stronger presence, will take over on commercial PCs. Chief executive Carly Fiorina said the scheduled layoffs of an estimated 15,000 employees would begin Monday and should be mostly complete by February.

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The struggling Kirch media empire's pay-TV unit filed for bankruptcy in a Munich, Germany, court, the second division in the company to do so in the past month. A third division, Kirch Marketing Services, also was expected to seek protection from creditors as the Monitor went to press. Reports said the pay-TV unit has been losing $1.8 million a day.

A new round of job cuts, hinted at last November by Japanese electronics manufacturer TDK Corp., was announced in Tokyo. The company said it will close or scale back three plants in Japan and five others overseas, laying off 2,400 workers. TDK cut more than 3,200 jobs last year.