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Stocks to Watch: Vodafone, Bell Atlantic, VoiceStream Wireless

The FCC approved the anticipated merger between Vodafone and Bell Atlantic.
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Federal Communications Commission

gave its final OK to the merger of

Bell Atlantic



Vodafone AirTouch's


wireless businesses. According to the FCC, the joint venture will operate under Bell Atlantic's



Separately, the FCC also gave the thumbs up to the

VoiceStream Wireless


acquisition of

Aerial Communications


. VoiceStream has already closed its purchase of



and said the three merged companies would provide service to more than 200 million customers.

A consortium led by



said it's acquiring a 39% voting stake in



, which provides telephone service over the Internet. Under terms of the deal, the consortium will purchase four million newly issued Class A shares from Net2Phone at $75 a share, or $300 million. The consortium will also purchase 14.9 million shares from



, Net2Phone's controlling shareholder, for $75 a share, or $1.1 billion.

British Telecom


said that it was in talks with AT&T regarding the interest in Net2Phone.

Mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures



said that it is considering the sale of its

Conseco Finance

division and would assume a noncash post-tax charge of roughly $350 million in 1999. The insurance company attributed the charge to writing off the carrying interest-only securities at the division. Conseco said the charge would dent its initial 1999 earnings report. Chairman and CEO Stephen Hilbert said that the company failed to produce the level of shareholder value that it should from its purchase of Conseco Finance.

Dutch supermarket chain

Koninklijke Ahold


said its U.S.-based

Tops Markets

division acquired the

Sugar Creek

convenience stores. According to Ahold, Sugar Creek reports annual sales of about $142 million.

Wesley Jessen VisionCare


said it turned down

Bausch & Lomb's


$34-a-share bid for the company, citing its dedication to its proposed $562 million stock deal with

Ocular Sciences


. Wesley Jessen said Bausch & Lomb's offer doesn't top Ocular's bid, which according to Wesley, would create about $30 million in cost savings.

Earnings/revenue reports and previews

New Era of Networks


expects earnings for the first quarter "to be somewhat better than expectations" and revenues of between $40 million and $41 million. The software company plans to release earnings on April 20. The six-analyst estimate calls for the company to earn 2 cents a share in the quarter.

Summit Technology


said it would assume a first-quarter pretax restructuring charge of $3 million and would take on another $8 million charge for ending its pact with

Ciba Vision




is cutting 5200 jobs and expects to take a $625 million pretax charge in the first-quarter. The copier maker said the restructuring will put earnings growth in the mid-to-high teens for 2001.

Offerings and stock actions

Goldman Sachs

priced a 5 million-share IPO for



above its expected price range of $15-$17 at $34 a share.




, according to a

Securities and Exchange Commission

filing, disclosed that its bricks-and-mortar auction unit,

Butterfield & Butterfield

, received a grand jury subpoena from the

Justice Department's

antitrust division. The subpoena "request

s documents relating to, among other things, changes in B&B's seller's commissions and buyer's premiums and discussions, agreements or understandings with other auction houses, in each case since 1992." eBay said it thinks the request may be related to the reported government probe of auction houses for price fixing.

Philips Electronics


is selling its 24% stake in

ASM Lithogrpahy


, a Dutch semiconductor equipment maker.

The Heard on the Street column in

The Wall Street Journal

said there might be trouble ahead for some of the stocks that hedge fund legend Julian Robertson's

Tiger Management

owns, but that can't be sold out of his funds yet. Robertson said

yesterday that Tiger's hedge funds will be shut down. The


pointed out that Robertson, via Tiger, will still hold four U.S. stocks in which it has huge holdings and a sizable portion of the companies' outstanding shares:

US Airways



United Asset Management









columnist Holly Hegeman took a look at the US Airways situation in a column

last night.

The Inside Wall Street column in

Business Week

, written by Gene Marcial, tees up a positive profile of disk-drive maker

Western Digital


, which used to be a highflier but fell out of favor when the disk-drive business went into a downdraft a couple years ago. The item cites Dane Lewis, an analyst at

Robertson Stephens

, as saying Western has an unappreciated gem in its network storage operation, which Lewis estimates is worth $500 million to $1 billion.

The column also offers up bullish items on




Leap Wireless International


. The column quoted Brian Zimmerman, a money manager at

Forstmann-Leff Associates

, which has been accumulating shares of Leap, as saying that "Leap is the most inexpensive wireless company around."

For analysis of the market's preopen tone and trends, see the Wake-Up Call, published separately.