Business news in brief

The German economy shrank by 0.2 per cent in the last three months of 1996, a slightly worse result than analysts had expected. Figures released by the Bundesbank showed that German GDP fell by 0.2 per cent in the fourth quarter, leaving growth for 1996 at 1.6 per cent. Consumer expenditure was particularly weak, falling by 0.8 per cent between the third and fourth quarters of last year. But the Bundesbank is not expected to react to the news with further interest rate cuts in the near future. Its main policy indicator for the money supply, M3, grew faster than predicted in January, showing an increase of 11.7 per cent compared with a year ago.

At the same time, the IFO survey of business confidence showed a boost in business optimism for the next few months. The IFO index for current conditions rose from 80.5 to 84.1 - although this is still considerably below the baseline of 100 in 1991.

The Government's plans to dissuade accountants from moving their firms offshore to Jersey were published yesterday, in a consultation paper on a new form of limited liability partnership. The proposal is aimed at limiting the personal risks of partners in accountancy firms when they are sued for damages. Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, said: "Limited liability partnership is already widely available in the USA and in an increasing number of other countries. It should be available in the UK too." The closing date for responses is 16 May.

A US court yesterday ruled that damages awarded against GKN last year might be reduced by up to 30 per cent. Last December a North Carolina jury awarded $347m (pounds 216m) in damages against GKN for allegedly defrauding franchise operators of its Meineke Discount Mufflers chain. The parties have been directed to try to agree by next Wednesday a formula for allocating the damages to individual class members. GKN is expected to appeal.

Lloyd's of London has won its first court victory against rebel names who refused to join last year's pounds 3.2bn rescue plan. A summary judgment in the High Court against two members, Dennis Leighs and David Wilkinson, dismissed their claims that they were not liable to pay money into Equitas, the reinsurance vehicle used for the rescue of the insurance market. Philip Holden, Lloyd's chief debt collector, said: "This enables Lloyd's to pursue all non-acceptors of the settlement."

Employers are continuing to improve voluntarily the benefits they provide for members of occupational pension schemes, according to the 22nd NAPF annual survey. Higher payments, more pensions for spouses and dependants and shorter waiting periods to join occupational schemes are among the improvements. Seventy-six per cent of schemes were preparing an increased payment in 1996 compared with 30 per cent in 1975. Contrary to widespread reports, there had no been no wholesale move from final salary to money purchase schemes, the report said.

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