Whirlpool, the nation's largest appliance maker, is offering $1.35 billion in cash and stock for Maytag, topping bids from two other groups...

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Whirlpool, the nation’s largest appliance maker, is offering $1.35 billion in cash and stock for Maytag, topping bids from two other groups for the third-largest U.S. appliance manufacturer.

Whirlpool, based in Benton Harbor, Mich., will pay $17 a share and assume $969 million in debt, the company said in a statement yesterday. That would beat the bid of $16 a share from China’s Haier Group and the $14 a-share-offer from a consortium led by buyout firm Ripplewood Holdings.

Whirlpool Chief Executive Jeff Fettig said merging the two companies “fits Whirlpool’s strategy and capabilities, will create strong value for our shareholders and provide direct benefits to consumers and trade customers.”

Whirlpool said it would decide if it would make a definitive offer by Aug. 9 after completing its due diligence.

Morgan Keegan analyst Laura Champine said the acquisition would make sense strategically.

“The question I’d have about this particular combination was whether or not they’d run into antitrust issues,” she said. “From a political standpoint, it’s certainly a more favorable option if you’re a politician than combining with a Chinese manufacturer.”

Shareholders of Newton, Iowa-based Maytag are scheduled to vote on the Ripplewood offer on Aug. 19.

The Haier Group and two private-equity firms are taking a closer look at Maytag before making an official offer.


Thousands of layoffs expected this week

Hewlett-Packard is expected to cut thousands of jobs this week as part of a restructuring that will attempt to bring the computer maker’s costs in line with business and its rivals’ numbers, according to industry analysts.

The timing and number of layoffs isn’t known, though observers speculate layoffs could range between 5,000 and 25,000 positions.

The huge company, whose offerings range from digital cameras and printers to computers and corporate consulting, has 150,000 workers worldwide.

Chief Executive Mark Hurd, hired in late March, has made no secret of his intent to reduce expenses at the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company.

In May, he told financial analysts that HP’s cost structure is “off benchmark in many areas.”

Cisco Systems

Age restriction put on board members

Cisco Systems has adopted a policy that would bar anyone over the age of 70 from joining its board.

The networking giant said nobody will be allowed to be nominated or renominated to the board after his or her 70th birthday.

In the case of the Chairman John Morgridge, 71, the policy will take effect for nominations for the 2006 annual meeting. Vice Chairman Donald Valentine and board member James Gibbons will not be eligible for renomination at the 2005 annual meeting.

At the 2005 meeting, Cisco said it planned to cut the number of authorized directors from 13 to 11.

Electronic Arts

Video-game maker delays “Godfather”

Top video-game maker Electronic Arts will delay the launch of “The Godfather” game, based on the book and movie of the same name, until the first quarter of 2006, sending shares down by nearly 3 percent.

The highly anticipated title was to be on sale in time for the Christmas holiday, but a spokesman said the interactive element that allows characters to move freely through the game was “not quite ready.”

Electronic Arts said that “The Godfather” game for Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 video-game consoles will be available in the fourth fiscal quarter, which ends March 31, 2006.

Electronic Arts said a version of the game for next-generation consoles such as the Xbox 360 will appear later. It has not yet set a specific date.


Workers waste time online, survey says

The Internet has turned into the productivity-damaging machine some workplace consultants feared, according to an online survey.

“Our results show that workers on average are wasting a little more than twice what their employers expect,” said Bill Coleman, senior vice president at Salary.com.

A survey of 10,000 workers found the average person conceding he or she wastes 2.09 hours online daily, checking e-mail and surfing Web sites.

The second biggest time waster, the volunteer respondents said, was socializing with co-workers.

Salary.com calculated that employers spend $759 billion per year on salaries for which real work was expected but not actually performed.

Harris Interactive

Driving directions popular search task

Harris Interactive reports that three out of four people using Internet search are looking for driving directions or maps. In a study including 2,100 adults, 50 percent of respondents said they used a search service every time they went online.

Other popular search reasons were to get specific information about hobbies and health and medical information.

Looking for news was high on the list, the motivation for 64 percent of respondents, followed by shopping with 51 percent and looking for entertainment Web sites, 47 percent.

Harris said Google users most often look for news and current-events information, while MSN Search users are likely to be hunting for medical information.

Keynote Systems

VoIP found inferior to traditional lines

Internet-based telephone services are still inferior to traditional phone connections in reliability and sound quality, according to a study that judged Vonage and AT&T CallVantage best among the top providers.

Keynote Systems, known for measuring the performance of popular Web sites, also found that the reliability of voice over Internet Protocol phone service is significantly affected by the provider of the high-speed Internet line used to dial a call.

Time Warner Cable and MCI’s UUNET business service scored highest on reliability. Keynote found little variance in audio clarity among the broadband providers,

The study was based on 154,000 calls placed last month and in May using six leading Internet phone services, or 22,000 each, and seven providers of high-speed Internet connections.

Bank of America

Security system adds queries to passwords

Bank of America is rolling out a new security system aimed at thwarting efforts by online crooks to access its customers’ accounts.

Passwords will no longer be enough.

With SiteKey, bank customers pick three challenge questions — things only the customer would know, such as the year and model of the customer’s first car — and provide them with the traditional password to log on.

Customers can also verify they are indeed at Bank of America’s Web site by clicking on a SiteKey button.

If they fail to see a secret image and phrase they had chosen earlier, they could be at a fake Web site and the target of a “phishing” scam.

Bank of America now offers SiteKey in Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Tennessee.

It is expected to be available nationwide by the fall.

The service is free.

Compiled from Reuters, Bloomberg News and The Associated Press