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SBC Communications

(SBC)

plans to cut between 3,000 and 4,000 employees in the fourth quarter, mainly by offering early retirement and leaving vacated posts unfilled.

The cuts will result in a pretax charge of $150 million, or 3 cents a share after tax.

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SBC has already cut some 28,000 jobs over the last two years as it scrambled to get its costs in line with the slumping economy and increasingly competitive telephone business. It warned in November that more cuts were coming but didn't quantify them.

The company's goal is to cut out about $1.6 billion of annual expenses by 2006, and noted in its release Tuesday that it has cut net debt to $13 billion from $25 billion since 2001. SBC implied that it plans to raise its dividend soon.

"Later this week, SBC's board is expected to evaluate the company's policy of returning value to shareowners, including both SBC's dividend and share repurchase program," the company said.

SBC's shares closed Tuesday at $24.17, about midway between its range of $18.81 to $31.65 of the last 52 weeks.