In Brief

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The Independent Online
The top building societies are virtually unanimous in forecasting a further rise of 7-8 per cent in average UK property prices in 1997. Yesterday Birmingham & Midshires said house prices are set to climb by 8 per cent this year, adding pounds 5,000 to an average pounds 65,0000 property. Last week Nationwide forecast a 7 per cent rise next year, much the same as in 1996. Halifax is tipping 7-8 per cent in 1997 and again in 1998. But chief executive at Birmingham & Midshires, Mike Jackson, warns that forecasters looking for a 10 to 15 per cent increase are overly optimistic.

The pounds 650m bid for Northern Electric drew to a close yesterday when the group said that shareholders who had not yet accepted the offer from CalEnergy of the US should do so. Northern said it would not be in the interests of non-accepting shareholders to remain as a minority in Northern Electric. "Accordingly, your board now advises shareholders who have not already accepted the offer to do so, as the directors of Northern Electric themselves intend to do," Northern said.

Greggs, the bakery retailer, is paying pounds 3.2m for Birketts, the Cumbrian- based baker which has 57 shops. Birketts made profits of pounds 332,000 last year on sales of pounds 11m. The deal expands Greggs' coverage beyond its core region of Newcastle, Glasgow and Manchester.

Littlewoods, the retail and football pools empire, has acquired the scratch card group, UK Charity Lotteries, for an undisclosed sum. Littlewoods said UK Charity Lotteries' "Lucky" scratchcard products would be added to its existing portfolio of lottery products. Littlewoods said the deal would give its lottery business a turnover of pounds 70m. Its business would represent "a serious alternative" to Camelot.

The drop in the annual rate of business failures in Britain has dried up according to figures for 1996 from Dun & Bradstreet released today. Nearly 800 businesses are failing each week. There were 41,107 liquidations and personal bankruptcies during the year compared with 41,303 in 1995 - a drop of of less than 0.5 per cent. Falls had been much steeper previously - 11.2 per cent in 1993 and 21.9 per cent in 1994. There are big geographical contrasts, however, as London continues to rebound from the recession. Business failures in London dropped by 15.4 per cent, compared with the East Midlands where failures rose by 17.6 per cent.

Shareholders in T&N yesterday approved an EGM resolution relating to the provision for its asbestos-related disease costs. The group announced last month that it would make a pounds 373m provision this year to limit its potential liabilities relating to future asbestos related claims.

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