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American Standard Accepts Near $2.5 Billion Offer NEW YORK - American Standard Inc. said Thursday it accepted a nearly $2.5 billion cash tender offer from an investment banking firm specializing in employee-led leveraged buyouts, spurning Black & Decker Corp.'s hostile advances.

Industry analysts said that the $78-a-share tender offer from Kelso & Co. of New York represented a market premium and that the bidding war was unlikely to continue.

The offer topped a cash bid of $73 a share, or $2.1 billion, from Black & Decker, a Towson, Md.-based tool and appliance maker that had tried to gain control of American Standard for the past several weeks.

Black & Decker spokeswoman Barbara Lucas said the company had no immediate comment on the deal.

Commission Recommends Private Firms Deliver Mail WASHINGTON - Allowing private companies to go into the mail delivery business could improve service, but such a drastic change must be phased in gradually, the President's Commission on Privatization says.

Over time, the government monopoly on delivering letters should be ended, with immediate steps to allow private firms to deliver advertising and to operate in rural areas, the commission recommends.

The mail recommendations are part of a detailed report on privatizing various government operations, scheduled to be released today at the White House.

Other aspects of the study include developing a system of private air traffic control towers; issuing vouchers for low-income housing instead of building public housing units; selling the government's $250 billion loan portfolio; and issuing vouchers for public school education.

Factory Operating Rate Unchanged WASHINGTON - The factory operating rate remained unchanged in February for the third consecutive month as cutbacks in auto production and coal mining held back gains in other areas, the government reported Thursday.

The Federal Reserve said that America's factories, mines and utilities operated at 82.4 percent of capacity, the highest operating rate in more than eight years.

While the February rate was unchanged, the government revised upward the operating rates for December and January. A month ago, the government had put the operating rate in those months at 82.2 percent.

Analysts said the fact that the overall rate has been frozen for three months was consistent with their view that production slowed in the early part of 1988. Businesses were cutting back on orders in an effort to reduce a backlog of unsold goods which piled up during the final three months of 1988.

The backlog was particularly high in the auto area, where auto makers have had to resume incentive programs to spur sales. …