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(T) - Get AT&T Inc. Report

was down 7.9% in early trading after announcing that third-quarter earnings, excluding one-time items, were 38 cents a share, down from the year-ago 50 cents but ahead of the Street's 36-cent estimate.

As expected, Ma Bell also announced that it would break into four companies with their own common or tracking stocks. The company's business services unit will become the principal AT&T entity.

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Merrill Lynch

downgraded AT&T to near-term accumulate from near-term buy. Merrill similarly cut long-distance carrier



. WorldCom was down 5.3%.