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Closing Bell: Boeing

FedEx founder and CEO Fred Smith is trying to fix his Achilles' heel: overnight delivery's loss of business to the Web. On Dec. 30, the Memphis-based shipping giant announced it was buying copy center operator Kinko's for $2.4 billion in cash from private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice and other private shareholders. FedEx and Kinko's have been partners since 1988, with FedEx the exclusive shipper in 134 Kinko's stores. Now the two plan to expand overnight delivery services -- whether by Net or airplane -- to all 1,200 stores worldwide. "The Kinko's acquisition will help diversify the FedEx revenue base," says Alan Graf Jr., FedEx's CFO. In addition, the deal steps up the competition with archrival UPS. In 2001, UPS purchased Mail Boxes Etc., which now allows customers to ship documents via UPS, other shippers, fax, or the Internet. The acquisition was an attempt to mimic FedEx' relationship with Kinko's. Now it looks as if Smith has leapt ahead of UPS by buying the nation's largest printing and copying chain. The Food & Drug Administration is finally moving to ban ephedra, which has been linked to heart problems, stroke, and more than 150 deaths. On Dec. 30, the FDA stated that it would issue a rule banning the dietary supplement within weeks, to take effect 60 days later. Also known as ma huang, ephedra has been marketed for weight loss and improved athletic performance. But the drug causes an increase in blood pressure and other problems. That's why public health experts have been clamoring to have it banned for years. Under a 1994 law, however, the FDA must prove conclusively that a supplement is unsafe in order to have it removed from the market, a standard that it wasn't able -- or willing, as some critics charge -- to meet until now. Over the years, Micron Technology (MU) has called for government protection against overseas rivals it accused of dumping chips at below cost. Now, says Bloomberg News, Micron is seeking a different kind of protection. The Idaho-based memory-chip maker may cooperate with the Justice Dept. to avoid prosecution on price-fixing charges. The report comes after a Dec. 17 guilty plea by former Micron manager Alfred Censullo to obstruction of justice charges for altering pricing documents. A Micron spokesman says the company has been cooperating in Justice's 18-month-old probe and that Censullo's plea "pertains to that individual." Micron has other problems: Investors are now betting it will have to settle a legal dispute with rival Rambus (RMBS), whose shares rose 12% on Dec. 30. After months of talks, Lehman Brothers (LEH) is expected to gain control of troubled Le Meridien with the $1.25 billion purchase of the British hotel chain's senior debt. Hit hard by the downturn in tourism, the privately owned group breached lending agreements with its banks in early 2003. As Le Meridien's largest creditor, Lehman has the right to buy the chain if it matches the best offer. The deal would give Lehman control of 125 Le Meridien hotels worldwide, with the exception of 11 British hotels. Starwood Hotels & Resorts (HOT) is the leading contender to manage the chain. Even as the U.S. airline industry debates the effectiveness of air marshals against terrorism, the Homeland Security Dept. is stepping up the program. On Dec. 29, the agency said it would require foreign carriers to post armed government agents on certain flights to the U.S. or risk being denied landing rights. Certain major airlines, such as Lufthansa, already are posting armed guards on certain flights. Some transport ministries aren't convinced of the need for air marshals, but given the size of the U.S. market, the plan isn't likely to meet significant resistance. -- Ireland's Trinity Biotech (TRIBY) got the nod to market its HIV test in the U.S.

-- Symbol Technologies (SBL) CEO Richard Bravman resigned after 17 months on the job.

-- Eli Lilly (LLY) won regulatory approval to sell its Symbyax to treat bipolar disorder. Boeing (BA) shares rose 2.2%, to a yearly high of $42.28 in the three trading days ended on Dec. 30, as the U.S. Navy contracted with the plane maker to build up to 210 F/A-18 fighter jets. The $9.6 billion deal came amid a Pentagon probe into Boeing's defense contracts.

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