Business and City in Brief

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Merger could be on cards for Halifax

A merger could be on the cards for Halifax, Britain's largest building society, if the right partner can be found, Jon Foulds, chairman, told the annual meeting yesterday.

Mr Foulds said Halifax wanted to play its full part in the radical rationalisation of the mortgage lending industry, and that a merger with another society would help it to become the best personal finance business in the country. The society has assets of pounds 67bn and made almost a fifth of total net advances in the UK mortgage market last year.

View from City Road, page 27

Coffee price surges

Commodity prices surged in London, with coffee reaching a seven-year high of dollars 2,295 a tonne for delivery in July. Copper spurted dollars 80 to dollars 2,298 a tonne, its best level for 16 months, while in New York gold closed at dollars 389.60, up nearly dollars 4 from Friday.

Cancer drug tested

British Bio-technology has begun phase two clinical tests on Batimastat, its anti-cancer drug. The company recently began US trials on its leading drug after encouraging results from an earlier study.

BAT unit reorganised

BAT Industries is reorganising its Eagle Star life and general insurance division to reflect the changing insurance market. John Bishop, Eagle Star Insurance chairman, will be leaving, while Steve Melcher, currently chairman of Eagle Star Life, will become chief executive of the life and general businesses in the UK and Europe.

Inchcape offer

Inchcape's offer for insurance broker Hogg Group has gone unconditional. Inchcape has received acceptances for 50.06m Hogg shares, representing about 77.1 per cent of its share capital. That, together with shares already owned by Inchcape, brings Inchcape's total to about 83.5 per cent.

Qantas float

Australia's announcement on when it will float its 75 per cent stake in Qantas Airways is weeks rather than days away, a government spokesman said. British Airways owns 25 per cent.

pounds 32m BT contract

BT has won a seven-year contract worth pounds 32m with Lombard North Central, part of National Westminster Bank.

Costain sale

Costain has sold its US talc mining business for pounds 9.3m. The company made a profit before interest in 1993 of pounds 1.1m.

VCI for market

(First Edition)

VCI, the audio-visual publishing group coming onto the stock market, made operating profits of 5.9m pounds on a turnover of 59.8m pounds last year, according to the pathfinder prospectus. The share issue price is expected to be announced on 9 June.

WORLD MARKETS

New York: A surge in commodity prices undermined shares and by closing the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 23.94 points at 3,742.41.

Tokyo: Shares closed generally higher, with the Nikkei average 226.54 points better at 20,568.71.

Hong Kong: Early buying support eased, leaving the Hang Seng index 41.85 points lower at 9,589.78. Market leader HSBC was up 50 cents at HKdollars 91.

Sydney: All leading issues were pushed higher in moderately active trading. The All Ordinaries index added 17.1 points to 2,121.

Bombay: In slow trade, with most main players retreating to the sidelines, the index eased 46.44 points to 3,737.23.

Johannesburg: Weakness in silver, prompting fears of a dip in the gold price, pared gains. The index added 50 points to 5,524.

Milan: Profit-taking pulled prices lower, but losses were reduced by late bargain-hunting.

Paris, Frankfurt, Zurich: Closed

London: Report, page 26.

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