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Three top US investors groups lead a partnership that will pay $4.17 billion at auction for the hotel/pubs division of Europe's largest brewing company. Financial news services reported that, if shareholders approve, Scottish & Newcastle PLC will turn over control of its 1,450 public houses in Britain and the budget-hotel chain Premier Lodge to Spirit Group, a rival pub operator; Texas Pacific Group; Blackstone Group; Merrill Lynch Global Private Equity; and CVC Capital Partners. Texas Pacific, Blackstone, and Merrill Lynch all are American private equity funds. CVC is based in London. Spirit, currently Britain's eighth-largest pub chain, will become No. 1 once the transaction is complete, the reports said.

In a deal valued at $1.03 billion, mortgage lender First Active PLC agreed to be acquired by Royal Bank of Scotland Group. First Active, based in Dublin, Ireland, was an attractive takeover target, analysts said, because the mortgage business in that country is booming due to a combination of a young population seeking homes and the lowest interest rates in more than 50 years. The merger will give Royal Bank of Scotland 1.3 million new customers in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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Sierra Pacific Resources, Nevada's main electric utility, has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to mediate a $336 million contract dispute with Enron, The Wall Street Journal reported. It's the agency's third such request this year involving the bankrupt energy trader and utilities with which it has done business. Enron wants the money to pay off creditors, even though Sierra Pacific won't receive any electricity under the contract signed amid the 2000-2001 West Coast energy crisis. Sierra's chairman said that could force his company into bankruptcy.