Dutch publisher VNU has agreed to acquire marketing and media information firm ACNielsen ( ART) for $36.75 a share. The deal, valued at $2.3 billion, is expected to close in the first quarter of 2001. VNU already owns Nielsen Media Research, Nielsen's U.S. media ratings business, which it bought 13 months ago. The company was split in two halves in 1996. The price represented a 49% premium over Friday's closing price of $24.63 a share on the New York Stock Exchange. On Monday, Nielsen shares rose $11.38, or 46.2%, to $36 in NYSE trading. VNU plans to fund the acquisition through an interim loan, but is considering an equity issue of 500 million euros and is also considering the sale of its consumer and educational information groups. The company said the transactions are expected to increase earnings by at least 5% in 2000 and 2001 and accelerate the company's earnings growth rate beyond that.