Aetna Considers $10.5B ING, Wellpoint Bid

HARTFORD, Conn. - Aetna Inc. is reviewing a $10.5 billion buyout offer from ING Barings and Wellpoint Health Networks.Aetna shares surged 29% as word that the two suitors had offered $70 a share, spread Wednesday. It acknowledged after a pair of trading halts that it had gotten a letter from Wellpoint and ING on Feb. 24.

Discussions reportedly centered on a deal in which ING would take the financial services unit and Wellpoint the health-care business.

Some shareholders have called for a sale of the beleaguered health-care and financial services giant, but "there are very few organizations that could take all the parts of Aetna," said an equity analyst who declined to be named.

He questioned why Aetna would resort to breaking up the company after Friday's leadership change. The company named Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette co-founder William Donaldson to succeed chairman Richard Huber.

Wellpoint and ING declined to comment. Aetna's stock price vaulted $11.875, to $53.

- Niamh Ring

Diebold Terminal Would 'Recognize' Users

HANNOVER, Germany - Diebold Inc., the Canton, Ohio-based automated teller machine manufacturer, on Wednesday introduced a terminal design that would use the Internet and biotechnology to identify customers as they approach the machines.Diebold demonstrated the concept, which would eliminate the need for a bank card or personal identification number, at Cebit 2000, an information technology trade fair in Hannover. The company wanted to gauge consumer interest and has not yet introduced a product.

Accessing pre-registered data, the terminal, known as Watson, would automatically adjust to the user's needs. For example, for a very tall customer, the interface would rise and the monitor would tilt back for easier viewing. The machine could be designed to dispense cash or to offer information services only.

- Helen Stock

NCR's Sales of ATMS Dipped 5% Last Year

DAYTON, Ohio - NCR Corp. reported Wednesday that it shipped 44,024 automated teller machines worldwide in 1999, a drop of about 5% from 1998, including a 39% drop in the United States.The ATM supplier reported full-function and cash dispenser growth of 13% and 21%, respectively, in Europe. In the Asia-Pacific region, NCR reported a 28% increase in total shipments.

U.S. sales dropped by 39%, to 9,243. Cash dispenser sales dropped 35%, to 6,258.

Sales of Full-function ATMs dropped 44%, to 2,985. In 1998, in contrast, U.S. sales grew 8%. None of the shipment figures include upgrades.

NCR said it has been the leading ATM manufacturer for 13 years. But Diebold Inc., an NCR rival, said Wednesday that it and two merger partners - Groupe Bull and Getronics - shipped 44,475 machines last year. Diebold announced plans to buy the two last month. Diebold's worldwide shipments totaled 35,562.

An NCR spokesman attributed the declines to year-2000 preparations, which caused companies to defer purchasing decisions.

With the off-premises ATM market becoming saturated after a boom in recent years, NCR expects to see the market bottom out this year before recovering by yearend. The maturing industry will go into a "replacement and function upgrade mode" this year, a spokesman said.

- Helen Stock

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