Business news in brief

The Dow Jones Industrial Average surged to an all-time high in late trading to close at 7213.68, up 142.5 on the day. The late burst was prompted by a wave of computer-generated buy orders and the jury decision in favour of the tobacco industry. In London, City dealers will be braced for a busy day's trading with markets juggling Wall Street's rise with the possibility of an interest rate tomorrow.

The two rival bidders for Thomson-CSF, the state-owned French defence group, are expected to submit final bids tomorrow. Alcatel Alsthom, the electronics and telecommunications group, is launching a joint bid with the privately owned Dassault Industries. The other bidder is Lagardere, the industrial conglomerate. Daimler-Benz Aerospace and GEC, which was barred by the French government from bidding directly, have been in talks with both bidders over joint deals.

The number of mergers and acquisitions in Northern Ireland rose 17 per cent last year, according to a new report from the mergers and acquisitions specialist, Company Broking Consultants. Companies based outside Northern Ireland accounted for over 40 per cent of the 48 changes of ownership in the area, representing an investment of around pounds 250m in the economy.

Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) yesterday opened what it claims is the UK's largest rail telesales office, employing 250. The new pounds 750,000 centre is expected to take 1.3 million ticket bookings during its first year of operation, handling 25,000 telephone reservations for travel on high-speed services between London, Yorkshire, the North-east and Scotland.

Regent Pacific Group Limited, the Hong Kong emerging markets investment house in which Hambros Bank has a 3.5 per cent stake, launches its initial public offering today at HK$ 2.62 a share. The launch of a HK$ 447m placing and new issue values the company at HK$ 2.494bn. The announcement co-incides with the possibility that Hambros may face legal action over its role in Andrew Regan's failed pounds 1.2bn bid for the Co-op.

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