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Too many would-be buyers chasing too few available properties were forcing up house prices, a report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (Rics) said. Sellers are delaying putting their houses on the market until they find a property to buy, creating what the Rics called "a self-perpetuating cycle of frustration". This raises the number of people looking, but reduces the levels of property for sale. Many home owners could also be holding off from moving because of this summer's avalanche of windfall payments from building societies. The institution's quarterly survey of the housing market quizzed 268 chartered surveyors over changes in prices and the level of homes sold or for sale. Ian Perry, the Rics housing market spokesman, said prices were rising in many areas, but this was because of the very restricted stock.

Cable & Wireless said its Mercury Communications subsidiary would cut the cost of calls tomorrow to more than 25 international destinations for the majority of its consumer and small business customers. Residential SmartCall customers will pay up to 18 per cent less for international calls while small businesses on the GlobalLink package will pay up to 28 per cent less. GlobalLink customers who call the US and Germany will have prices per minute cut by 20 and 17 per cent respectively.

German consumer prices rose a final 0.5 per cent in January from December and were up 1.8 per cent from a year earlier, the Federal Statistics Office said. In western Germany, final CPI figures rose 0.5 per cent month-on- month and 1.9 per cent year-on-year and eastern German CPI rose 0.7 and 1.7 per cent respectively.

Consumer prices in the OECD, excluding Turkey, rose 0.2 per cent in December after a 0.1 per cent rise in November. Prices were up 3.3 per cent year-on-year in December, unchanged from November. Including Turkey, prices rose 0.3 per cent month-on-month and 4.7 per cent year-on-year. The Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland are excluded from the OECD figures. Underlying inflation, which excludes food and energy prices, fell to 2 per cent in 1996 from 2.7 per cent in 1995. Turkey and eight other OECD members do not provide figures for underlying inflation.

French industrial production grew in most sectors in January compared with December, according to a survey of business leaders by the Bank of France. "The outlook for the coming months is distinctly brighter," the central bank said, adding: "Activity should increase in all sectors, with marked improvements in the intermediate goods and food processing sectors."

Ian Lang, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, has decided not to refer the acquisition by Carlton Communications of Westcountry Television to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

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