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Jan 23 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The Wall Street Journal on Friday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.
* Pfizer (PFE.N) is in talks to acquire rival drug maker Wyeth WYE.N in a deal that could be valued at more than $60 billion.
* Some major companies are boosting the value of top executives' retirement plans by using a generous formula when converting a pension into a single payment. The practice can increase a pension's value by 10 percent to 40 percent.
* John Thain agreed to step down from a top job at Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) after CEO Kenneth Lewis asked the former Merrill chief to resign.
* Federal Reserve officials are likely next week to stick closely to their approach for handling the financial crisis -- near-zero interest rates and a focus on special lending programs -- despite internal rifts about some of their tactics.
* Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) plans to cut as many as 5,000 jobs over the next 18 months amid weakening demand for its software. The company's quarterly profit fell 11 percent.
* Google Inc (GOOG.O) posted a 68 percent drop in fourth-quarter profit, dragged down in part by its investment in AOL, but sales were strong despite the worsening economy.
* The unusual nature of how Bernard Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme surfaced -- with a confession from the key figure himself -- is complicating a high-profile investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission.
* New-home construction fell sharply in December, the Commerce Department said Thursday, and a drop-off in permits for future projects suggests the declines will continue.
* Advanced Micro Devices Inc AMD.N reported a $1.42 billion fourth-quarter loss, hurt by a rapidly deteriorating environment for computer sales as well as big write-offs.
* Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) reported its first net loss since it started disclosing quarterly results in 2000 as the wipeout of demand for electronics caused by the global economic downturn created big losses in the company's component-manufacturing operations and a steep profit decline in its cellphone unit.
* President Barack Obama's nominee for Treasury secretary accused China of "manipulating" its currency, a sharp rhetorical break from the Bush administration's approach to Beijing's controversial exchange-rate policy.
* The White House's economic team is under pressure from Congress to finalize its financial rescue plan within a week amid a growing realization among lawmakers that they will have to find extra money to fund the new administration's program.
* In a watershed moment for one of the most contentious areas of science and American politics, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cleared the way for the first-ever human trial of a medical treatment derived from embryonic stem cells.
* Russia's central bank said it will end the ruble's steady slide, setting a floor about 10 percent below current levels.
* Troubled financial institutions and the Detroit auto makers continue to spend heavily on lobbying Congress while accepting billions of dollars in U.S. government money, reports to Congress suggest.
* General Motors Corp (GM.N) paid no penalty as it settled accusations by the SEC relating to certain disclosures on pensions and other issues, following a multiyear investigation.
* A House committee approved rules for billions in government funds to spur high-speed Internet networks in unserved and underserved areas.
* Chrysler LLC and Fiat SpA FIA.MI both showed signs that their financial plight is mounting, just days after they announced an alliance that would give the Italian auto maker a 35 percent stake in Chrysler.
* Sony Corp (6758.T) said it would report an annual loss for the first time in 14 years as plunging LCD television prices and a strong yen are forcing Chief Executive Howard Stringer to pursue his most drastic restructuring measures to date, more than doubling the cost cuts that were announced in December.
* UAL Corp's UAUA.O United Airlines and Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus Group Plc AERL.I announced an unusual linkup for trans-Atlantic flights between the U.S. and European destinations outside Ireland.
* Nokia Corp NOK1V.HE posted a worse-than-expected 69 percent drop in fourth-quarter net profit and said the market would contract further in 2009 than previously forecast.