In Brief

A Treasury-backed Bill giving building societies extra powers and limited protection against hostile takeovers was yesterday brought before Parliament, ending months of doubt as to whether it would be introduced. The Building Societies Bill seeks to remove restrictions on societies' commercial activities, allowing them to offer a wider range of financial services. Societies will now be able to make up to 25 per cent of loans that are not fully secured on residential property. Until now, only a tiny proportion could be for anything other than mortgages. The Bill will also strip the five-year protection against takeover from any de- mutualising society which is itself involved in a bid to take over another company.

FKI is spending pounds 21m on reorganising its electrical engineering division, which includes the Hawker Siddeley Electric Power group and Marelli Motori. The company said the reorganisation was being made to "take advantage of their combined strengths". It said the impact of the recent strength of sterling on overseas earnings had been largely balanced by a relatively strong US market.

Richards, the specialist engineering group, warned that its profit margins in the UK were being eroded by the continuing strength of sterling and as a result it had to put its Northern Ireland spinning plants on short-time working. The warning, which came at the annual general meeting, was blamed on the near 20 per cent appreciation of sterling against the Belgian franc.

Cambridge Antibody Technology yesterday announced plans to raise pounds 35m in the latest of a growing stream of stock market flotations in the biotechnology sector. The company, which was started in the bedroom of joint founder and chief executive David Chiswell, has developed what it claims is technology for isolating human monoclonal antibodies, used both in making drugs and in screening other compounds to test their suitability as drugs. The group is expected to be capitalised at around pounds 90m by the mainly institutional placing, with dealings due to start on 25 March.

China had a 1996 trade surplus with the US of $10.54bn (pounds 6.5bn), the China Daily reported, quoting a customs report. The report said total trade between the two countries in 1996 rose 4.9 per cent year-on-year to $42.84bn. Exports to the US last year totalled $26.7bn, up 7.9 per cent, while US imports totalled $16.2bn, up 0.2 per cent. However, according to US data, America's US trade deficit with China was $39.5bn last year.

SmithKline Beecham has convinced a key panel of the US Food and Drug Administration to recommend approval of its Coreg heart treatment for sale in the US. Last May, the panel refused to approve the drug, saying it needed more information from the British drugs group.

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