North America

Law firms across the United States may be dismissing partners and staff, cutting bonuses and freezing salaries, but every cloud has a silver lining: experienced bankruptcy and restructuring lawyers are hotter than ever as the number of corporate failures surges, and the fees being charged are setting records for the United States, The Times reported.
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Banco Popolare became the first Italian bank to take up the government's offer of support for its lenders on Tuesday, with newspapers saying it could use the funds to help delist its Italease unit, Reuters reported. Italy's sixth-biggest bank said it had asked the Economy Ministry and the Bank of Italy for permission to issue €1.45 billion ($1.83 billion) of securities under a government-sponsored bond-purchasing scheme. Other leading lenders, including the country's two biggest banks--UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo--have said they would evaluate the programme.
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The Canadian Auto Workers said it reached a tentative agreement with General Motors Corp. as part of the automaker’s restructuring, Bloomberg reported. The union said it will provide details in a press conference at noon local time in Toronto. General Motors, surviving on $13.4 billion in U.S. aid, was working with the union on ways to find savings by month’s end as governments in the U.S. and Canada study aid plans. General Motors and Chrysler LLC have been given until March 31 to present viability plans to the U.S.
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The brutal slew of layoffs in the legal industry continued Tuesday, with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP announcing it would let go 300 associates and staff in the United States, Asia and Europe, and DLA Piper slashing 54 lawyers and support staff in Asia in light of the continuing worldwide economic crisis. Orrick said the move was necessary due to the world economic crisis “and the impact of that crisis on our clients and the levels of activity in the world market.” It said the layoffs were unrelated to performance and affected attorneys and staff throughout its offices and practices.
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The collapse of Allen Stanford's global financial services empire has affected 225 Canadians who placed a total of US$308 million in one of Mr. Stanford's key holdings, Stanford International Bank, the Globe and Mail reported. Houston-based Stanford Financial Group and its subsidiaries had more than 30,000 clients, and offices around the world, including one in Montreal. Regulators in Canada and several countries have shut down the local affiliates and the company has been put into receivership. Antigua-based Stanford International Bank, or SIB, was central to the Stanford Group.
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Masonite International Inc, a Canadian doormaker owned by private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co, said it reached an agreement in principle with committees representing its secured lenders and bondholders on terms of a restructuring plan, Reuters reported. The plan aims to reduce the company's debt from $2.2 billion today to about $300 million. It will also reduce the company's annual cash interest expense by $145 million, Masonite said in a statement.
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A New York private-equity group, KPS Capital Partners LP, agreed to buy the Irish and U.K. operations of Waterford Wedgwood PLC, the historic ceramics-and-crystal maker that was placed in a form of bankruptcy in January, The Wall Street Journal reported. The deal was announced by accounting firm Deloitte LLP, which has been trying to sell the company since it was placed in administration Jan. 5 after years of heavy losses under its former chairman and major shareholder, Irish businessman Sir Anthony O'Reilly.
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Unions in Guadeloupe scored a victory in getting a deal to raise some workers' salaries, but said Friday they will not end a general strike now concluding its sixth week on the French Caribbean island, the Associated Press reported. Leaders of the strike-organizing Collective Against Exploitation, or LKP, paused for handshakes and photos with small business owners after signing the deal just before midnight Thursday. The agreement raises some workers' salaries by $250 (€200) a month.
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Telecom equipment company Nortel Networks Corp. plans to cut its work force by 3,200 jobs worldwide, or more than 10 percent of its global work force, in an effort to restructure its operations while under court protection, the Associated Press reported. The Canada-based telecom equipment maker said Wednesday the new round of job cuts will be made over the next several months. The reduction is on top of 1,800 job cuts already announced. Nortel filed for creditor protection Jan. 14 in Canada and the United States.
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The Canadian government has hit Chrysler Canada with a tax-related C$500 million ($400 million) lien that could complicate negotiations for the automaker as it seeks government aid, the Globe and Mail newspaper said on Thursday. The paper, citing federal court documents, said the Canada Revenue Agency notified Chrysler Canada in 2002 that it owed "substantial increases" in taxes for three years starting in 1996.
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