Business and City in Brief

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Argos Christmas sales up 18 per cent

Argos, the catalogue retailer, is the latest company to report healthy Christmas trading with an 18 per cent rise in sales in the five weeks to 25 December. New space accounted for about 5 per cent of the rise, but the group said it was encouraged.

Overall, sales in 1993 were 12 per cent ahead after adjusting for the extra week in 1992, an improvement on the 10.3 per cent reported at the halfway stage. But price cuts and higher promotional spending hit margins.

AT&T dollars 1.3bn charge

The 1993 results of AT&T will be among the first victims of recent changes in US accounting standards, absorbing a dollars 1.3bn charge to cover future employee severance agreements. The one-off charge, equal to about 96 cents a share, will more than offset strong final-quarter profits AT&T will announce next week.

Banesto needs pounds 3.2bn

The financing needs of Banco Espanol de Credito (Banesto) have been estimated by its new managers at 675 billion pesetas (pounds 3.2bn), Spanish television reported. The new figure is 35 per cent higher than estimated by the Bank of Spain. According to the report, the management rescue plan for the bank involves partially reducing its capital. This would mean that shareholders, including the US investment bank JP Morgan, would lose a part of their investment.

Bowkett bonus

Alan Bowkett, chief executive of Berisford, would get twice his pounds 277,996 salary if the group were taken over. The clause is revealed in the circular for the group's pounds 56m takeover of Magnet, the kitchen and door retailer.

US output rises

Industrial output in the US expanded by 0.7 per cent in December and brought output growth for the year to 4.2 per cent, the largest annual rise since 1988.

GKN Indian deal

GKN will receive pounds 11.9m for selling its 46.7 per cent stake in the Indian company Guest Keen Williams to a group of international investors.

Gilts for sale

The Bank of England will hold its next gilt auction on 26 January for conventional stock maturing between 2008 and 2012. Details of stock will be out on Tuesday.

Claims wanted

The Investors Compensation Scheme is inviting claims from investors who suffered through the failures of Morgan Associates of Worthing, West Sussex, Highcliffe Financial Services of Lymington, Hampshire, and Siltala Fund Managers of Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire. The scheme yesterday declared the three former Fimbra-regulated investment firms to be in default.

'Privatise Bank'

The Bank of England should be sold in the ultimate privatisation which would give it a strong contractual incentive to keep inflation low, the right-wing Adam Smith Institute said.

Performance pay

Eastern Electricity will implement performance-related pay for 1,400 staff, making it the first regional electricity company to introduce a full scheme for all professional and supervisory staff in its core business.

World Markets

New York: On the back of good news from the US economy, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed new heights to close up 24.77 points at 3867.20.

Tokyo: The Nikkei average climbed 396.44 points to 18,973.7. Japanese government bonds were sharply lower.

Hong Kong: Ending its losing run, the Hang Seng index bounced back 597.74 points (5.9 per cent) to 10,774.25.

Sydney: Bargain-hunters helped to carry the All Ordinaries index up 28.9 points to 2,206.4.

Bombay: After a minor decline in early trade the index rallied to end 15.32 higher at 3,943.91.

Johannesburg: A strong recovery in gold shares helped the index to 4,861, a 27-point gain.

Frankfurt: The DAX index ended down but well off its lows, 22.84 points off at 2,141.82.

Paris: Checking its recent losing streak, the CAC-40 index put on 10.06 points to 2,262.25.

Zurich: The strong dollar and gains on other markets pushed the SPI up 20.52 to 1,899.02.

London: Report, page 20.

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