In Brief

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The Stock Exchange's new share-trading system was attacked by the Commons Treasury Select Committee, which said it was over-oriented towards the needs of large market-makers rather than investors as a whole. The report comes as the Chancellor considers whether to continue stamp- duty exemption for market-makers, who will have a key role in the new order-driven trading system the Exchange is setting up. Because of objections from market-makers, the exchange compromised with a hybrid system which continues features of the old trading methods. The MPs were sceptical about whether the market-makers really needed to continue with their privileges.

Confidence in the outlook for the economy has improved this month to its highest level for more than a year. This has helped boost consumer confidence, the famous "feel-good" factor, to a new peak after a dip in June. The confidence indicator calculated from the European Commission survey improved from minus 6 per cent to minus 4 per cent, and now stands well above its average of about minus 10-11 per cent last year. There was no change in respondents' optimism about their own household financial situation during the next year, but a small increase in optimism about the current state of their finances.

Consumer sentiment in the US improved in July, according to the University of Michigan's consumer survey. The confidence index rose to 93.0 from 92.4, in line with market expectations.

Germany's key M3 money-supply measure grew more slowly than expected in June, arousing hopes of a cut in the Bundesbank's repo rate after next Thursday's council meeting. M3 increased 0.3 per cent in the month, compared with 0.9 per cent in May. It was up 9.6 per cent relative to the final quarter of last year, compared with 10.5 per cent in May. Interest rate hopes helped the dollar and pound stabilise against the mark yesterday. Sterling closed almost unchanged at DM2.038.

ScottishPower's pounds 1.7bn takeover bid for Southern Water has been given the green light by the Government, leading to the creation of one the UK's most powerful multi-utility companies. The decision was widely anticipated by analysts, who believe that several more cross-utility merger deals will follow. Ian Lang, President of the Board of Trade, said ScottishPower had given assurances that it will adhere to the reductions made in the allowable price increases for the water industry over the period from 1997 to 2000. Market report, page 20

The Royal Bank of Scotland Group has settled the litigation brought against it by the liquidators of a former customer, Wallace Smith Trust Company. The bank said the terms of the settlement were confidential, but confirmed that it would not have any significant effect on its results or financial position. The settlement is on the basis that there has been no admission of liability by the bank.