The late ticker

Click to follow
German plea on debt

GERMAN Finance Minister Theo Waigel said yesterday he will ask for "understanding" from other European Union nations over Germany's excessive national debt, even though he would continue to seek a strict interpretation of the entry rules needed to join the single currency.

"Understanding is something different from flexibility," he said before an informal meeting of European Union finance ministers and officials at Noordwijk in the Netherlands.

Last year, Germany notched up debt and budget deficits that both surpassed the limits needed for EMU scheduled to start on 1 January 1999. Mr Waigel maintains Germany will meet the budget deficit target in time, despite record levels of unemployment.

Last month, he cited the indebtedness inherited from Germany's state railroad, aid to central and eastern Europe, and Germany's contributions to the EU budget as "special factors" in Germany's national debt to be considered when the first wave of nations to qualify for EMU is selected early next year. This has prompted speculation that Germany will seek to adopt the euro with a higher debt level than that required by the Maastricht Treaty.

Italian advances

ITALY'S government has made more strides in the past year on shaping up its finances to meet the requirements of Europe's single currency than any other nation, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Treasury Minister, said at the meeting of European Union finance and treasury ministers.

Mr Ciampi said that since the government took power almost a year ago, it has reformed its fiscal, budgetary and administrative systems. "Show me which other nation in Europe has done this in so short a time," he said.

The government passed last week the third budget measure since the centre- left coalition won the elections last April. The latest measure, a mid- year package of 15.5 trillion lire (pounds 6.2bn) of spending cuts and new taxes, awaits parliamentary approval over the next few weeks. Mr Ciampi said the government will address issues of pension reform and labour reform by the end of the year.

Glaxo loses in court

GLAXO Wellcome lost a legal fight on Friday to block the Canadian company Novo-pharm from selling a generic version of the anti-ulcer drug Zantac in the US.

A federal appeals court upheld a ruling that said Novopharm's generic drug did not violate two Glaxo patents for the crystalline structure that serves as the active ingredient for Zantac. This clears the way for Novopharm to begin selling the drug in the US as soon as another Glaxo patent for Zantac expires in July. The company would be the first to sell a generic version of the popular drug.

At stake are US rights to make generic versions of a drug that generated about $3bn in worldwide sales for Glaxo last year, about $2bn of that from the US.

Novopharm's chief executive Leslie Dan said that generic products could eventually take over as much as 80 per cent of the Zantac market.

A Glaxo spokesman said the company was prepared for the loss of its exclusive right to sell Zantac in the US.

BAe in US tie-up

BRITISH AEROSPACE and Lockheed Martin said they teamed up to bid for a $5bn contract to build the next-generation of armoured reconnaissance vehicle, known as the Tracer, early in the next century.

The two, along with Vickers, General Dynamics and other partners, will compete with a group of companies led by GKN, GEC and other US firms in making the vehicles for the US and British armies.

Trader sentenced

VICTOR GOMEZ, the former Chemical Banking trader arrested in London in March last year, was sentenced on Friday to 37 months in prison in New York. He had pleaded guilty to concealing a $66m trading loss amassed from failed bets on the Mexican peso. He will not have to pay a criminal fine because he has no money.

The judge imposed a less severe sentence than normal because Gomez had sought to make money for Chemical, not to defraud the bank.

He also said Gomez could not have predicted a sudden drop in the peso's value, which transformed what would have been a more modest loss into one of $66m.