Oct 26 (Reuters) - The following were the top stories in The New York Times on Friday. Reuters has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. * Merrill Lynch & Co Inc MER.N Chief Executive E. Stanley O’Neal floated the possibility of a merger to Wachovia Corp WB.N without first getting the approval of Merrill’s board, a foray that angered the company’s board and could cost him his job, according to people close to the beleaguered Wall Street firm.
* Europe is now feeling an autumn chill of slackening economies and warnings of further market upheaval, with a reduced growth forecast in Germany and a Bank of England report that said financial markets were still vulnerable to shocks from the crisis that originated in the American home mortgage market.
* Oil prices, pushed up by a host of concerns including Middle East tensions and worries about supply, closed above $90 a barrel, contributing to an erratic day on Wall Street.
* Tony Blair, the former prime minister of Britain, has agreed to sell his memoir for an advance of around $9 million, according to a person with knowledge of the negotiations.
* Designer Tommy Hilfiger has agreed to sell his biggest clothing lines exclusively at Macy’s Inc (M.N), in a deal that could rattle the department store industry.
* Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) reported surprisingly strong quarterly profits and sales growth in its core software products, sending its stock up 12 percent in after-hours trading.
* China said its economy expanded at a powerful 11.5 percent annual pace in the third quarter, a slight slowing from the second quarter. But the overall pace of China’s economic development is still strong enough to keep pushing up prices around the world for a wide range of things like oil, iron ore and freight shipping.
* Shares of Vonage Holdings Corp (VG.N), the Internet telephone provider, rose sharply after it announced it had settled a patent dispute with Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and would have to pay a maximum of $120 million.
* New data on the economy presented a mixed picture on Thursday, providing little guidance for investors ahead of the Federal Reserve board’s meeting next week to consider an interest rate cut. September new home sales rose slightly yet remained near decade lows, while orders for durable goods declined.
* Hong Kong has made no secret that closer integration with the booming exchanges of Shanghai and Shenzhen and tapping the savings of Chinese investors are vital to its future as a financial center.
* Sharply higher quarterly profit at Sony Corp (6758.T) is the latest sign that cost-cutting and the disposal of some units have set the once-ailing electronics and entertainment giant firmly on the course to recovery.
* BP Plc (BP.L) agreed to pay $373 million in fines and restitution to settle accusations of environmental violations that had led to a fatal explosion at a Texas refinery in 2005 and to leaks of crude oil from pipelines in Alaska. The settlements are part of BP’s new Chief Executive Tony Hayward’s efforts to move the company away from its troubled recent past.
* Indian regulators are finding that slowing a runaway stock market is seldom quick, easy or painless. On Thursday evening, the Securities and Exchange Board of India, or SEBI, completed rules governing foreign participation in this fast-growing market, giving clarity to a closely watched situation that has disrupted the exchanges.
* After glitches and delays amid growing demand for air travel, Singapore Airlines (SIAL.SI) savored the distinction of being the first to fly the new superjumbo Airbus A380 with paying passengers.
* Oracle Corp ORCL.O rejected as “impossibly high” BEA Systems Inc’s BEAS.O offer to be acquired for about $8.2 billion, just two weeks after BEA refused Oracle’s $6.7 billion offer for the company.