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(March 27, 2001) -- Shares of troubled MarchFirst Inc. closed down 41.18% at 16 cents, down 11 cents, under heavy trading on reports that the Chicago company would lay off 3,500 people -- about half of its workforce -- within days. People close to MarchFirst said that if layoffs happen they likely would take place March 28. However, rampant speculation continues about potential buyers, including Divine Interventures and Hewlett-Packard, for the company or its parts. MarchFirst is said to be close to a deal to sell its ad agency unit McKinney & Silver, Raleigh, N.C., to Havas Advertising, Paris, according to people close to the negotiations. McKinney denied the reports, and a MarchFirst spokeswoman would not comment.

Separately, fellow Internet consulting firm Viant said it would let go 38% or 211 people from its staff. The Boston-based company also said that it would shutter three offices, in Houston, San Francisco and Munich, and that its chief business development officer, Sherwin Uretsky, a three-year veteran of the company, had resigned. Viant said that its first-quarter revenue would be between $14 million to $16 million, or a loss of between 33 cents and 36 cents per share. Shares of Viant closed at $2.44, from a 52-week high of $42.69. -- Kate MacArthur and Catharine P. Taylor

Copyright March 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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