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U Caterpillar Inc., the world’s largest maker of bulldozers and excavators, said fourth-quarter earnings rose 11 percent to $975 million ($1.50 a share) as demand from China, Russia and South Africa helped overcome slower sales in the U.S., where recession is “a definite threat.”

U Harley-Davidson Inc., the biggest U.S. motorcycle maker, said fourth-quarter profit fell 26 percent to $186 million (78 cents) as a slowing domestic economy damped sales, capping its first annual earnings decline since 1993.

U Shares of Hershey Co., the largest U.S. candy maker, fell the most in five months in New York trading after Morgan Stanley advised clients to sell the stock. Hershey dropped $1.64, or 4.6 percent, to $34.04 after reporting that fourth-quarter profit plunged 65 percent and forecasting a drop in 2008 earnings.

U Tyson Foods Inc., the largest U.S. beef producer, said it will halt cattle slaughtering at a plant in Kansas and eliminate 1,500 jobs because of surplus production capacity and rising costs to buy livestock.

U Dow Chemical Co. must face a group lawsuit brought by residents downstream from the company’s Midland, Mich., plant, a state appeals court said. A trial judge gave class-action status in 2005 to about 2,000 Saginaw County property owners who claimed Dow dumped toxins in the Tittabawasee River that lowered real estate values. The Michigan Court of Appeals upheld the class certification yesterday.

U Best Buy Co., the largest U.S. consumer electronics chain, was sued by a former New York employee claiming he was forced to submit to unpaid, off-duty security checks in violation of the state’s labor laws. The complaint by Mark Turner seeks class-action status.

U A Wal-Mart Stores Inc. employee can pursue a lawsuit claiming the company illegally retaliated against her after she told authorities about a plan to destroy documents subpoenaed in a criminal investigation, a judge ruled. U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson denied Wal-Mart’s request to throw out the lawsuit, which claims Wal-Mart illegally harassed the employee, Rita Miles, after she disclosed a plan to shred documents demanded by federal authorities in a criminal probe of former executive Thomas Coughlin.

U EBay Inc., the world’s biggest online auctioneer, said it will pay outgoing Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman a $600,000 annual salary after she retires.

U Liquor sales in the U.S. climbed 5.6 percent to $18.2 billion last year, better than an industry group expected, as consumers bought more-expensive vodka and single-malt Scotch whisky, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States said.


U Brewers Carlsberg and Heineken will buy beer manufacturer Scottish & Newcastle PLC for $15.3 billion, the companies said. The price is a premium of 50.7 percent over the closing share price March 28, the day before speculation arose about a bid for S&N.;

U XL Capital Ltd., the Bermuda-based business insurer, had the claims-paying ability of subsidiaries downgraded by rating service A.M. Best Co. after the company said it lost as much as $1.2 billion in the fourth quarter. The downgrade follows similar action by Fitch Ratings on Thursday.

From wire dispatches and staff reports