Stocks were mainly higher in late afternoon, with blue-chips and Internet stocks posting respectable gains while the

Nasdaq Composite Index

was closer to the break-even point.

Major European bourses were flat, while Asian markets had another huge day. Japan's


surged 383.30 to 15,480.00, and Hong Kong's

Hang Seng

skyrocketed 216.06 to 1,749.01.

For more markets action and news, click



Someone's buying, rather than getting bought by, a Benelux company for a change. Texas utility

Reliant Energy

(REI) - Get Report

is buying Dutch power company


for $2.4 billion over seven years.


(S) - Get Report

will settle a class-action suit charging that it illegally raised the annual percentage rate on its credit cards. Without acknowledging any wrongdoing, Sears agreed to pay $72 million in cash and coupons to about 3 million customers -- about 24 bucks apiece.

"What the heck is



?" The prospect of one more investor asking that question has Southland ready to propose at its April 28 shareholder meeting that it change its name to


, after the convenience store chain that is now the once-diverse Southland's only business.

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General News

After meeting with Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, a Saudi Arabian official said that an oil production-cutting agreement between


and non-OPEC members is close to happening. The official said the deal could be announced at the March 23 OPEC meeting in Vienna.

Things are getting worse before they get better in Ecuador. President

Jamil Mahuad

has declared a 60-day state of emergency as the country reels from a plummeting sucre and the threat of nationwide strikes. Mahuad has also extended the surprise banking holiday through Thursday.


The antitrust case against


(INTC) - Get Report

isn't necessarily over yet. The

Federal Trade Commission

is continuing its broader investigation against the chip maker, including the issue of whether it illegally leverages its dominance in microprocessors to force its way into other markets, according to

The Wall Street Journal




has hired

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter


to look for companies interested in merging with



to thwart the Web portal's acquisition by

USA Networks

(USAI) - Get Report

. CMGI CEO David Wetherell noted that a CMGI bid for Lycos is not out of the question.

For more tech news and commentary, click



Whaddya want,


(C) - Get Report

? Pending shareholder approval, Denmark's second-largest bank,


, is merging with the country's largest nonlife insurance firm,



Banque Nationale de Paris

disrupted the planned wedding of

Societe Generale



with a $38 billion hostile bid for


banks. Societe Generale and Paribas are now scrambling to repel the bid.

And the



Telecom Italia


saga continues. Olivetti has asked


, Italy's stock market regulator, to intervene in Telecom Italia's defensive plan to borrow 10 billion euros and possibly merge with cellular unit

Telecom Italia Mobile

, which Olivetti claims would be illegal as long as its $58 billion tender offer is on the table.

For more international news and commentary, click



New York Yankees


Joe Torre

has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. No word yet on who will manage in his stead while he undergoes treatment at

Johns Hopkins University

in Baltimore.

At last filling that gaping pothole in the lives of humorists everywhere, former Sen.

Alfonse D'Amato

(R, N.Y.) announced his next move: He'll be writing an advice column called "Ask Alfonse" for



Have a dumb question relating to finance? Great. Have a


dumb question? Even better. Send it to, and I'll do my best to answer. Include your full name, and please, no questions seeking personal financial advice or regarding personal brokerage disputes. And this reminder: Because of the volume of mail, personal replies can't be guaranteed.


here to read the latest MonEmailbag.