Markets

Stocks were turning sour at midafternoon, well off their session highs and gravitating toward the break-even level. The technology sector was still faring best, buoyed by a surge in

numero uno

component

Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

, lately up 4 1/8 to 163 3/16 on news of a possible

Justice Department

deal (see below).

Major European bourses were flat, while Asian markets rallied after sluggish performances yesterday. Japan's

Nikkei

surged 317.65 to 15,096.70, and Hong Kong's

Hang Seng

skyrocketed 268.96 to 10,532.95.

For more markets action and news, click

here.

Companies

National retail discount chain

Edison Brothers Stores

(EDBR)

said it is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

General Electric

(GE) - Get Report

units

NBC

and

General Electric Equity

have taken a 20% stake in home shopping network

ValueVision

(VVTV)

for about $56 million.

Merrill Lynch

(MER)

and the

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

yesterday announced a $20 million research alliance, three-quarters of which will go toward a project more closely combining "financial engineering" -- the computer analysis of financial data-- with the computer sciences.

RJR Nabisco Holdings

(RN)

announced today that it is selling its international tobacco business for nearly $8 billion to

Japan Tobacco

, and will spin off the remainder of its tobacco interests.

For more news on companies and stocks, click

here.

General News

The

Labor Department

reported revised figures showing U.S. productivity increased at a monster 4.6% annual rate for final quarter of last year.

Taiwanese computer scientist

Wen Ho Lee

has been sacked from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory for alleged security violations associated with the leaking of nuclear design technology secrets to the Chinese government.

Fighting continues between ethnic Albanian rebels and Serbian forces near the Macedonian border, even as U.S. envoys prepare to meet with Yugoslav President

Slobodan Milosevic

.

Tech

It just keeps getting worse and worse.

Advanced Micro Devices

(AMD) - Get Report

readied investors for what it called "significant" first-quarter losses associated with manufacturing problems with its flagship K6 chip.

TSC

reported on the news this morning.

CMGI

(CMGI)

CEO

David Wetherell

has stepped down from the

Lycos

(LCOS)

board of directors, in protest of the acquisition of that company by

USA Networks

(USAI) - Get Report

.

TSC

reported on Wetherell's move today.

Taking a cue from

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

, Microsoft is in talks with Justice about a possible settlement of its antitrust case, according to a

Seattle Times

report.

For more tech news and commentary, click

here.

International

Saab Automobile

CEO Robert Hendry said that 50% shareholder

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

will start negotiating in July to buy the other half of the Swedish car company. When GM bought its stake in Saab back in 1989, it also acquired an option to buy the remainder for the six months beginning on July 31.

Sony

(SNE) - Get Report

announced a major restructuring plan today. Over the next four years, the consumer electronics giant will cut 17,000 jobs and reduce the number of its manufacturing plants from 70 to 55. Sony will also take full control over affiliates

Sony Chemicals

,

Sony Precision Technology

and

Sony Music Entertainment

.

For more international news and commentary, click

here.

Elsewhere

Steven Tyler

has filed a lawsuit trying to force ex-wife Kathleen Tallarico to return nude photos of the aging

Aerosmith

rocker. Tyler's increasingly precarious sex-symbol status should remain intact for a while yet: State Supreme Court Justice Walter Tolub yesterday granted a temporary restraining order preventing the photos from being published until the trial has run its course.

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