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The Independent Online
OIL EXPLORERS DOWNGRADED

Standard & Poor's, the credit analysis agency, yesterday downgraded debt ratings on Enterprise Oil and Lasmo, Britain's leading oil exploration groups.

S&P placed the companies on 'creditwatch' pending a revision of their ratings from 'stable to negative'. The change reflected a sharp decline in oil prices over the past six months and a gloomy outlook for oil for this year and next year.

BANKS ATTACKED

Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank were attacked yesterday by IBCA, the London credit-rating agency, for a damaging conflict of interest in their roles as shareholders and creditors of the German industrial giant, Metallgesellschaft, which was saved from collapse in a controversial deal at the weekend. IBCA said the damage to corporate Germany might be irreparable, and one bank was now refusing to join any syndicate involving one of Germany's big banks.

C&W DIRECTOR DIES

Michael Gale, a director of Cable & Wireless and chief executive of Hongkong Telecom, has died unexpectedly at the age of 53. Mr Gale, who joined C&W in 1959, was due to announce today the appointment of Linus Cheung, formerly with Cathay Pacific, as his successor as chief executive at Hongkong Telecom.

MONOPOLY CHANGE

Takeovers of companies with worldwide assets of less than pounds 70m will no longer be subject to possible reference to the UK Monopolies and Mergers Commission unless they create or add to a 25 per cent share of a UK market, the Government announced yesterday.

LLOYD'S ACCEPTANCE

A small group of Lloyd's underwriting members voted to accept their share of a pounds 900m out-of- court settlement by the market's authorities. The 215 members accepting the terms formed insurance syndicate 421 under the management of the Merrett underwriting agency.

TOP COMPANIES

BT returns to second place in the latest FT500 list of Europe's top companies by market capitalisation, while Glaxo slips five places to seventh. Two other UK companies make the top 10 - banking group HSBC in eighth place and British Petroleum ninth.

TRADE GAP NARROWS

The US trade gap for November narrowed to dollars 10.2bn after October's revised level of dollars 10.9bn.

UNEMPLOYMENT SOARS

Dutch unemployment rose 28 per cent to an average 453,000 in October-December from 353,000 a year earlier, the Central Bureau of Statistics said.

PENSION POWER

(First Edition)

Legal & General said its UK fund management operations repeated last year's highly successful corporate pensions sales by adding nearly pounds 2bn of new index fund money to bring the current total index assets under management for external clients to pounds 9.5bn.

OIL HOSTAGE

(First Edition)

Workers at French oil giant Societe Nationale Elf Aquitaine, angry at planned job cuts, held the manager of its chemical unit hostage overnight. Police released Jacques Puechal, managing director of Elf Atochem, yesterday morning.

WORLD MARKETS

NEW YORK: The Dow Jones Average shook off disappointing earnings from drug and technology groups to close at 3,884.37, up 14.08 points.

PARIS: Shares ended sharply higher, buoyed by hopes that there could be an interest-rate cut in Germany. The CAC-40 index rose 27.32 points to 2,274.67.

BRUSSELS: The Bel-20 index closed at a record high of 1,509.67, up 1.3 per cent, in anticipation of rate cuts in Germany.

FRANKFURT: Prices held steady. The DAX index closed at 2,134.38, up 20.54 points.

BOMBAY: Stocks slipped as local investors continued selling. The BSE 30-share index fell 106.69 points to 3844.33.

TOKYO: Prices soared in heavy trading. The key Nikkei 225 average surged by 524.85 points to 19,039.40.

HONG KONG: The rally swept through its fourth day. The blue- chip Hang Seng Index jumped 346.08 points to 11,363.77.

SYDNEY: The All Ordinaries index rose 16.1 points to 2,248.2.

SINGAPORE: The Straits Times Industrials index climbed 22.89 points to end at 2,303.30.

LONDON: Report, page 36.

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