Blood-test companies mergingNational Health Laboratories and Roche...

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Blood-test companies merging

National Health Laboratories and Roche Biomedical Laboratories announced a $1.79 billion merger yesterday that would create the largest blood-testing company in the nation.

The combined company, with 39 laboratories and annual sales of about $1.7 billion, would be slightly ahead of Metpath Inc., which analysts estimate has sales of $1.6 billion. Metpath is owned by Corning Inc., which does not report Metpath's revenues separately.

Shareholders of National Health Laboratories, which is based in La Jolla, Calif., would own 50.1 percent of the new company. Roche Biomedical, which is based in Burlington, N.C., and is a unit of the Swiss pharmaceutical giant Roche Holding Ltd., would have 49.9 percent of the company.

FCC expected to ease TV rules

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to take the first step today toward overhauling rules limiting the number of TV stations one company can own nationally and locally.

The FCC may propose eliminating the rule that prohibits companies from owning more than 12 TV stations nationwide, said broadcasting industry executives and FCC officials. The commission also is considering allowing a company to own two TV stations in a community; the maximum under current regulations is one.

The rules were designed, before the proliferation of cable TV, to foster editorial and programming diversity. Over the years, the commission has attempted to substantially loosen the ownership rules, but those efforts have failed because of opposition from key Democratic lawmakers.

General Mills to spin off chains

General Mills Inc. said yesterday that it plans to spin off its restaurant operations to shareholders, forming a separate company that will operate its Red Lobster and other restaurant chains.

Shareholders will receive one share in the restaurant company for each General Mills share.

Griffith merger to close today

Griffith Consumer Co. is scheduled today to close the merger with Griffith Holdings Inc., a company created to buy the Cheverly-based oil retailer and distributor. Under the merger deal, Griffith Consumer stockholders will receive $23 a share.

Philip Morris chairman to retire

William Murray, 59, the chairman of Philip Morris Cos., will retire and be replaced Feb. 1 by Philip Morris' chief executive and president, Geoffrey C. Bible, the company announced yesterday.

Mr. Bible, 57, is the third chairman for Philip Morris this year. Mr. Murray took over after Michael Miles, the chairman and chief executive of Philip Morris, who apparently favored splitting tobacco operations from the food business, resigned June 19, after the board rejected a breakup.

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