Business Information Service: Last Week

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The Independent Online
NATIONAL SAVINGS pacified the building societies on Monday by cutting the interest rate on its First Option Bond by 0.5 per cent to 7.25 per cent, making it less likely that mortgage rates will increase in the near term.

The High Court ordered an absent Kevin Maxwell to pay pounds 406.5m in damages for the benefit of the Maxwell pensioners after the judge found him in breach of duty in 'procuring, effecting and consenting' to the transfer of shares from the funds controlled by Bishopsgate Investment Management. The ruling was expected to lead to the bankruptcy of Maxwell, who had already indicated he was insolvent.

The FT-SE 100 fell to its lowest level this year - declining 64.8 points at one stage - after sharp falls were registered in Tokyo, Hong Kong and the rest of Europe. On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average also lost ground on the back of a weak dollar.

On Tuesday the major mortgage lenders decided not to raise mortgage rates, much to the delight of the stock market, which traded up. Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society, which had raised its rate last weekend to 10.99 per cent in response to the National Savings First Option Bond issue, said it would return its rate to 10.75 per cent.

British Airways announced that it had agreed to invest pounds 750m in USAir, America's fourth largest carrier, in return for a potential 44 per cent stake. The alliance is expected to make it easier for BA to compete with the large airline operators in the American domestic market.

SmithKline Beecham, the Anglo-American pharmaceuticals group, impressed the City with a 10 per cent rise of pounds 263m in pre-tax profits for the three months to 30 June, taking the half-year total to pounds 532m, better than City expectations.

The disappointing 0.2 per cent fall in retail sales for June were were published on Wednesday alongside worsening trade figures and a sharp decline in new construction orders. The current account deficit for June widened by almost pounds 100m to pounds 722m.

The British Coal chairman, Neil Clarke, predicted that sales to the electricty industry could fall from 65 million to 20 million tonnes, with the loss of more than 20,000 jobs within two years as gas-fired, oil and nuclear plants squeezed the market for coal. USAir, the American airline in which British Airways is to invest dollars 750m, blamed losses of dollars 84.9m in the second quarter on the fare wars that hit the US airline industry in the spring.

Euro Disney, owner of the theme park outside Paris, confirmed it was heading for a loss in the current financial year. It has been hit by the effect of the recession on holidaymakers.

Amstrad, the consumer electronics group, warned that its full-year loss to 30 June will be pounds 65m - pounds 25m worse than market estimates - as a result of cost-cutting in the personal computer market.

On Friday, Westland, the UK helicopter maker, won a pounds 500m order from the Canadian government to build marine helicopters in partnership with Augusta, the Italian state-owned manufacturer.

Price Waterhouse, the administrators to Maxwell Communication Corporation, agreed in principle to sell Panini Group, its Italian football sticker maker. It was not clear how much money the sale would raise for MCC creditors.

The Financial Times reported that the medical charity Wellcome Trust had succeeded in its aim of selling about 330 million shares in the Wellcome drug company. It said it understood Robert Fleming, the merchant bank handling the global share sale, had received offers for more than 360 million shares at a price above pounds 8 per share. The result of the sale is expected today or tomorrow.

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