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Closing Bell: Nucor

Troubled telco AT&T has hired a new president, William Hannigan, to dial up growth. Hannigan, 44, was tapped for the job on Dec. 2 by AT&T CEO David Dorman, replacing Betsy Bernard, 48. The former president had helped cut costs during a brutal industry downturn, but now Dorman is counting on Hannigan, who had been chairman and CEO of online travel giant Sabre Holdings, to reverse a four-year slide in revenues. "The big challenge is changing the momentum," says Hannigan.

He certainly has the experience for the job. A former Navy officer, Hannigan has an extensive background in telecom, having worked with Dorman at Sprint and at SBC Communications. His strong ties to the airlines should also help, since they account for more than 10% of AT&T's corporate sales, analysts say. Following the collapse of merger talks with BellSouth this fall, many expect AT&T to struggle on its own. But if Hannigan can fire up the sales force and boost innovation, he might just prove the skeptics wrong. MasterCard's television commercials have long acknowledged that "there are some things money can't buy." And as of February, MasterCard customers can't buy anything at Wal-Mart Stores -- at least not if they try to sign for it with their MasterCard debit card. It's the first cancellation by a major merchant since a lawsuit settled in April gave retailers more freedom to pick which credit and debit cards they accept. The settlement also gave the major retailers more clout to negotiate lower transaction fees with Visa and MasterCard. But the concessions MasterCard was willing to make clearly weren't to Wal-Mart's liking. In response, MasterCard criticized Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, for dictating how its customers pay. It warns that dropping the debit card will "result in dissatisfied customers and lost sales." Jitters over global terrorism, a declining dollar, and even the distant prospect of inflation helped drive gold prices over $400 an ounce for the first time in nearly eight years on Dec. 1. A key reason for the rise is Canadian giant Barrick Gold's decision to stop locking in future prices by selling production years in advance. Such hedging by Barrick and others has capped prices during the past 20 years. By abandoning the practice, Barrick is "creating a buying element in the market," says David Meger, director of metals trading for Chicago's Alaron Trading. Meger thinks gold could hit $460 an ounce in 2004. Richard Scrushy has been ousted as CEO at Health-South, the hospital rehab chain he founded, and indicted on 85 criminal counts of fraud. But the scandal hasn't cost him his board seat. Scrushy will remain even though five other directors have resigned as part of a Dec. 2 settlement with the Teachers' Retirement System of Louisiana. Scrushy refused a board request to resign, the company said. He can only be ousted by shareholders. HealthSouth, which is re-auditing its books after admitting it inflated profits by nearly $3 billion, has agreed to hold an annual meeting within 60 days after the re-audited financials are available. It looks like Viacom wants to unload its controlling stake in Blockbuster. Although Viacom hasn't decided how to divest its 82% share of the video rental giant, it is mulling a sale to a group of private-equity investors that includes Thomas H. Lee Co. and Blackstone Group. Viacom, Lee, and Blackstone did not return calls seeking comment. Blockbuster Chairman and CEO John Antioco told BusinessWeek he believes "any move to explore a separation between Viacom and Blockbuster could be appropriate." Although Blockbuster faces competition from video-on-demand, online video, and cheap DVDs, its cash flow is attractive to private investors. -- Andarko Petroleum hired Dynegy Energy CEO James Hackett as its chief.

-- An investor group bought the Enron Tower out of bankruptcy for $55.5 million.

-- Merck sees 2004 earnings rising between 5% and 9%.

Shares in steelmaker Nucor (NUE) slid 8.5% over two days, closing at $51.85 on Dec. 3 following reports that President George W. Bush will soon end tariffs on steel imports. The decline, however, came after Charlotte (N.C.) -based Nucor hit a 16-month high of $56.95 on Dec. 1.

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