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Weekend Report: After Overtures by Yeltsin, the 'G8' Takes Shape

The Group of Seven did a lot of talking during its three-day World Economic Summit, which it concluded today in Cologne, Germany. It advocated that ministers from the World Trade Organization launch an ambitious new round of world trade talks -- including a stronger emphasis on environmental issues -- when they meet in Seattle in December. It expressed "a strong hope" that Japan's economy will grow by 0.5% this year, which is the country's target. And it said it would convene a summit to devise a plan to promote economic and political stability in the war-torn Balkans -- a task made easier by today's reports that all Serbian troops have withdrawn from Kosovo.

But the summit's highlight had to be the arrival today of Russian President Boris Yeltsin. Teetering onto the tarmac, Yeltsin told reporters that Russia and the West should try to be friends. "We have to make up after our fight," he said. "That is the main thing."

If friendship, as the hot-tempered mobster Johnny Caspar says in Miller's Crossing, is merely a state of mind, Yeltsin certainly seems ready for conciliation. The nice-nice started Friday, when Russia caved on its key sticking point in the Kosovo peace process by agreeing to submit its 3,600 peacekeeping troops to NATO authority. On Saturday, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin told G7 leaders that he and Yeltsin were working hard to persuade the Duma to pass economic reforms that would bring Russia into compliance with the terms attached to a new round of International Monetary Fund loans.

The kicker came today when Yeltsin told President Clinton he'd consider revising the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty to give the U.S. leeway to construct a limited national missile defense system -- a project that Congress lately has been pressuring Clinton to support. Clinton responded by welcoming Russia into the folds of the "G8." (Though he didn't offer any definition of exactly what sort of nations that entity comprises.) A one-hour meeting today between Clinton and Yeltsin yielded a loose agreement by the U.S. to write off some of Moscow's massive Soviet-era debt, according to Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov.

The weekend also saw some corporate news unfold, headlined by news that Reuters (RTRSY) unit Instinet is talking with several companies to bring its after-hours trading product to the retail market -- a move that the electronic brokerage said it wants to make through a partner to avoid directly competing with its institutional clients. One of the companies Reuters is in talks with is Web portal Yahoo! (YHOO), according to London's Sunday Times.

The bidding for Norway's Saga Petroleum (SPM) seems to be over. Norwegian industrial concern Norsk Hydro (NHY) said today that more than 70% of Saga shareholders had spurned Elf Aquitaine's (ELF) $16.02-a-share cash offer in favor of the $17.30-a-share stock and cash bid that Norsk made jointly with state oil company Statoil. Together with Norsk's previously held 19.4% stake, the acceptances give Norsk and Statoil more than 90% of Saga.

Deutsche Telekom is planning to take a sizeable stake in U.S. music e-tailer CDnow (CDNW), according to the German magazine Focus. The magazine wrote that Deutsche Telekom wants a 25% stake and will spend at least $95.5 million to get it.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei 225 average lately was trading up 54.64, or 0.3%, to 17,485.90.

In sports news, the team formerly known as the Minnesota North Stars took home hockey's Stanley Cup by beating the Buffalo Sabres 2-1 last night in triple-overtime. The Stars won it on a controversial goal by sniper Brett Hull, who chipped a rebound past Sabres netminder Dominick Hasek at 14:31 of the third-overtime. Meanwhile, Paine Stewart drained a 20-foot par putt on the final hole to beat Phil Mickelson by a single stroke for the U.S. Open title.

In the Papers

If you love lists -- and you know that you do -- you'll want to check out the July 5 issue of Forbes, in which the magazine publishes its 13th annual list of the world's richest billionaires. Predictably, Microsoft (MSFT) boss Bill Gates takes the top slot with his estimated $90 billion in spare change, followed by Warren Buffett and Softee co-founder Paul Allen. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei comes in first on Forbes' list of the wealthiest heads of state, with $30 billion in oil, gas and investments to his credit. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and his $6 billion finishes a respectable 7th on that list.

If you can't get enough of Michael Dell -- and you know that you can't -- this week Barron's talks with the ubiquitous wunderkind on his vision of the future of the PC industry. The Dell-ster's predictions: The PC will win the battle against server-based computing, Microsoft will remain an immovable force in the operating system wars and broadband communications will bring the electronic commerce industry to full fruition.

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