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European Business News (EBN), 97-03-19

European Business News (EBN) Directory - Previous Article - Next Article

From: The European Business News Server at <http://www.ebn.co.uk/>

Page last updated March 19 1800 CET


CONTENTS

  • [01] Thyssen and Krupp start talks aimed merging steel operations and avoiding a take-over battle
  • [02] Cable and Wireless talks with France Telecom focus on partnership in Global One
  • [03] German M3 slows and business confidence improves, but the German economy is still not ready for a rate rise
  • [04] UK unemployment, retail and earnings data point towards an over- heating UK economy
  • [05] U.S. consumer prices increased moderately in February
  • [06] Total's profit more than doubles
  • [07] Independent Newspapers shows 47% earnings gain for 1996
  • [08] RTZ-CRA to reorganise its sprawling global operations
  • [09] EU opens competition probe on Boeing McDonnell Douglas merger
  • [10] Credit Lyonnais losses on asset sales will total $18.2 billion
  • [11] France Telecom net profit plummets 77% on charges and provisions
  • [12] Kingfisher posts record year for profit and sales
  • [13] CeBIT '97: What's happening at the world's biggest computer and telecoms fair
  • [14] Corporate and Economic Briefs

  • [01] Thyssen and Krupp start talks aimed merging steel operations and avoiding a take-over battle

    Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp and Thyssen have entered into talks to form a joint steel company which, if successful, would make Krupp's hostile takeover bid unnecessary.

    Spokesmen for the companies said the talks will focus on both Krupp and Thyssen spinning off its steel operations, which would then be merged into a joint venture.

    In a joint statement the companies said they have set an eight-day limit for the negotiations, which will begin Thursday. If unable to reach agreement, the companies will return to the starting positions, the companies said.

    As reported Tuesday, Krupp offered Thyssen shareholders DM435 marks a share in cash, a premium of 25% over Thyssen's closing share price. At the time, Thyssen said it would resist Krupp's offer, but conceded that it would need outside help to be successful.

    Meanwhile the Krupp AG Hoesch-Krupp and Thyssen shares will remain suspended from trading on German stock exchanges today, a spokesman for the Frankfurt Stock Exchange said. But shares are likely to resume trade on Thursday following their two-day suspension.

    Trading in the shares was suspended on Tuesday when Krupp confirmed its intent to take over domestic rival Thyssen. Krupp bid DM435.00 per Thyssen share, a premium of 25% to the last closing price, and said it will make a formal offer in ''the coming days.''

    Most of Thyssen's steel production has been stopped due to workers' protests against a takeover bid by rival Krupp, a spokesman for Thyssen's works council said.

    Even the blast furnace in Duisburg Beekerwerth, which is currently working as normal, will be run down to emergency operation during the morning because of planned worker meetings today. Thyssen workers staged vigils outside factory gates at seven locations throughout the night, the spokesman said.

    [02] Cable and Wireless talks with France Telecom focus on partnership in Global One

    France Telecom says that its talks with Cable & Wireless centred on the British group becoming a partner of Global One.

    Global One is an international alliance of France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and Sprint Corp of the United States

    'Any report in an American journal about Cable & Wireless teaming up with France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom to buy Sprint are without any foundation,' Michel Bon said.

    'There are talks with Cable & Wireless and they centre on seeing whether the company can become the British partner for Global One,' Bon said.

    France Telecom also denied that it was in talks with the Cable & Wireless about staging a takeover of Sprint Corp, which was reported in the Wall Street Journal.

    A France Telecom spokeswoman denied the article, saying that the company is satisfied with the 20% stake in Sprint it holds with Deutsche Telekom. Each company bought a 10% stake in Sprint in early 1996. Cable & Wireless have also dismissed the report.

    The Wall Street Journal said Cable & Wireless has held talks with France Telecom, hoping to line up its support in a possible effort to form a global communications collosus serving the U.S., Europe and Asia.

    A bid by C&W would be a strong counter-punch to rival British Telecom planned $21 billion acquisition of MCI Communications Corp., the No. 2 long- distance company in the U.S., the article said.

    [03] German M3 slows and business confidence improves, but the German economy is still not ready for a rate rise

    Despite fresh news that business sentiment in Germany improved in March and that the acceleration of Germany's M3 money supply slowed down in February, analysts' views haven't changed that the Deutsche Bundesbank will keep interest rates steady another two weeks.

    The German central bank's Central Bank Council gets together Thursday for its fortnightly meeting, but analysts' say the time isn't ripe yet for a move on the rate front.

    'The Ifo business climate index has marginally improved, but it's still fairly moderate and there isn't too much momentum in it. It definitely doesn't present any reason for the Bundesbank to raise interest rates,' said Gernot Nerb, chief German economist with Salomon Bros. International in Frankfurt.

    Growth in Germany's broad M3 money supply aggregate slowed 'considerably' in February from January's unexpected surge, adding to a brighter economic picture with If reporting increased business confidence.

    The Deutsche Bundesbank said M3 money supply, its preferred leading indicator of inflationary trends, grew at a slower rate in February than January, rising at a seasonally adjusted, annualised rate of 9.1% through February, lower than consensus forecasts for an annualised rate of 10.4%. January growth was measured at a rate of 11.7%.

    Measuring against the fourth quarter of 1995, a method which eliminates part of the distortions from extrapolating developments in the first two months of the year, M3 grew at an annualised rate of 8.3% in February, down from 8.6% in January.

    Meanwhile, business confidence in western Germany was more optimistic in February than in January. The Ifo economic research institute reported its business climate index that tracks sentiment and prospects in the manufacturing, construction and wholesaling sectors rose to 93.6 from 93.3 in January.

    The February index level is largely in line with economists' expectations for a continued improvement on top of January's gains. In January, the institute changed the basis year for calculating the index, taking 1991 equal to 100, as opposed to 1985.

    [04] UK unemployment, retail and earnings data point towards an over- heating UK economy

    Data released today paints a worrying inflation picture for the UK economy. Unemployment has fallen again while rises in retail sales and average earnings are giving analysts cause for concern.

    ''The average earnings in particular was a very bad number,'' said Dresdner Kleinwort Benson's Doyle. ''Even though it may be due to bonus payments, it will still go down as a clear impetus for higher interest rates.''

    UK unemployment is now at its lowest level for six years. February's fall was almost double the 37,500-decline economists were expecting earlier this week.

    Registered unemployed fell by 68,200 in February and the unemployment rate fell to 6.2% from 6.5% in January. Unexpected strength was also shown in retail sales, which rose 0.5 percent in February, indicating a return of consumer confidence.

    Similarly average earnings rose by an unexpected 5.0 percent in January, the highest figure since November 1992.

    That rise in earnings sent worrying signals that the British economy might be steaming ahead too fast, putting pressure on interest rates -- currently at six percent -- for whichever government is elected in six weeks' time.

    [05] U.S. consumer prices increased moderately in February

    Consumer prices increased a moderate 0.3% in February with little sign of inflation except for typically volatile items such as vegetables and natural gas.

    The seasonally adjusted rise in the Consumer Price Index, reported by the Labor Department Wednesday, was a notch higher than many economists anticipated. However, so-called core prices - excluding fuel and energy - rose a more modest 0.2%.

    For the year so far, overall inflation was running at a 2.3% annual rate, compared with 3.3% for all of last year.

    Core inflation advanced at a 2.2% rate, compared with a 31-year low of 2.6% in 1996.

    The report reinforces economists' belief that inflation isn't a problem despite strong economic growth and tight labor markets.

    Analysts said it did not add pressure on Federal Reserve policy-makers to raise short-term interest rates at their March 25 meeting. But it offered no guarantee that they won't.

    Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan has said the central bank would move pre- emptively before imbalances in the economy ripple into a measurable acceleration in inflation.

    'It's not the current numbers on inflation that make it or break it for the Fed next week,' said economist Nicholas Perna of Fleet Financial Group of Boston. 'It's whether the economy is growing too fast and will produce a pickup in inflation down the road.'

    Financial markets weren't encouraged, though. The Dow Jones average of industrial stocks fell nearly 20 points in early trading. And yields on 30- year Treasury bonds rose from 6.92 percent early Wednesday to around 6.96 percent after the report.

    [06] Total's profit more than doubles

    Total has confirmed preliminary results showing 1996 net profit jumped to 5.65 billion francs ($1.02 billion) on increased productivity and higher oil prices. Last year's figure was 2.25 billion francs.

    The company also raised its dividend to 10.50 francs a share from 8.70 francs, but waived the right for investors to receive a dividend in the form of shares.

    Operating income jumped to 10.21 billion francs from 7.44 billion francs, and Total said it wanted to increase that amount by 4 billion francs by 1999.

    The increase, Total said in a statement, would come from 'production growth and productivity efforts, assuming a conservative constant reference environment.'

    Total also said 1997 investments would rise 12% to 18 billion francs, with more than 60% of that amount spent on upstream, or production, operations. The company noted its 'operating environment remained relatively stable' early this year with a rising dollar and steady oil prices. In recent weeks, Total said, crude oil prices had dropped, but growth in oil and gas production was in line with forecasts.

    In 1996, operating income from upstream activities jumped to 7.29 billion francs from 4.47 billion francs, whereas downstream, or refining, activities saw income rise to 1.53 billion francs from 1.3 billion francs. Production rose 13% to 762,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day. Outside the Middle East, production grew 24% and accounted for 62% of Total's production.

    Hydrocarbon reserves represent 16.7 years of production. For the first time, the majority of Total's reserves are now located outside the Middle East, and represent 2.35 million barrels of oil equivalent out of a total of 4.64 boe. Income from chemical operations rose to FF1.92 billion from FF1.67 billion, reflecting the expansion of Total's Hutchinson unit and acquisitions and internal growth at its coatings divisions, the company said.

    [07] Independent Newspapers shows 47% earnings gain for 1996

    Independent Newspapers delivered a sound set of 1996 earnings, reflecting the buoyancy of the Irish economy and growing contributions from a slew of newly acquired overseas operations.

    The diversified media holding company - in which H.J. Heinz chairman, president and Chief Executive Officer Anthony O'Reilly holds a 27% stake - reported a 47% rise in pre-tax profit to I73.5 million ($116 million) on a 36% gain in operating profit to I66.8 million. Earnings per share advanced 19% to 16.5 pence, and the company raised the dividend 17% to 6.9 pence.

    Results from Ireland, Independent Newspapers' core market, showed a 33% rise in operating profit to I34.5 million s on a 12% rise in sales to I180.2 million s, aided by strong gains in advertising and circulation income.

    More than half of sales are generated in Ireland, where Independent Newspapers holds stakes in eight titles in the Republic, accounting for an estimated 80% of all Irish newspaper sales.

    Chief Executive Liam Healy told Dow Jones Newswires he expects healthy Irish economic conditions to persist well into 1997, adding that the company's advertising figures so far this year are 'better than the market average.'

    And while Healy said 1997 would undoubtedly be a year of consolidation after 1996's buying spree, he added that the company would continue to seek opportunistic acquisitions fitting the communications sectors in which it operates.

    'Naturally, after any serious spate of acquisitions, you need to consolidate, but we're still very much interested in developing and growing, ' said Healy. 'We're an acquisitive company and see ourselves continuing to expand quite substantially.'

    The company's activities range across four strategic sectors - regional newspapers, specialist publishing, broadcasting and outdoor advertising. That spread virtually ensures a good overall performance, analysts added.

    Ireland's peppy economy fuelled Independent Newspapers' performance domestically. Ireland is the fastest-growing economy in the European Union and has been for the past three years. The EU also forecasts a strong performance in the future, with growth in gross domestic product seen at 5.8% and 5.2% in 1997 and 1998, respectively.

    Joe Burnell, analyst at Davy Stockbrokers in Dublin, said the earnings figures portray an 'overall healthy picture' of a company that will likely continue to experience steady expansion in the next several years.

    Perhaps the one blot on an otherwise stellar performance, analysts said, was in South Africa, where the rand's fall against the Irish currency bruised the bottom line when profit was translated into s. The rand depreciated some 25% against the in 1996.

    Independent Newspapers reported a 6.6% drop in sales to I143.5 million s in continuing operations in South Africa. Operating profit rose 6.1% to I17.4 million.

    Healy said the rand's weakness 'isn't a long-term problem,' adding that the South African currency has 'stabilised.' The company's rand exposure isn't hedged.

    Independent Newspapers is the biggest single publisher of newspapers in South Africa through titles such as The Star in Johannesburg, Pretoria News, The Argus and Cape Times in Cape Town.

    The company made several small acquisitions around the globe in 1996 and solidified its position in several companies in which it held slight stakes.

    In a series of transactions, Independent Newspapers raised its holding in Wilson & Horton , a newspaper publisher listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, to 85%. Some analysts believe Independent Newspapers could take full control of the company in 1997.

    Radio was another area in which the company may well expand in 1997, particularly in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, Healy said.

    Independent Newspaper's gearing - or the ratio of debt to equity - stood at 76% at the end of 1996. Finance Director Jim Parkinson said he was 'very comfortable' with the debt level and said it wouldn't be difficult to raise 'another couple hundred million (s)' to pursue appropriate acquisitions. Shareholder approval wouldn't be needed, he said.

    In 1996, Independent completed a I106-million rights issue to fund some of its purchases.

    Most analysts were in the process of raising full-year pre-tax profit forecasts for 1997 slightly after Wednesday's figures, with expectations for pre-tax profit of around I100 million s and earnings per share of 18.7 pence.

    'I don't think you'll see Independent Newspapers going gangbusters for acquisitions in 1997, but there will be continuing, steady growth,' said Davy Stockbrokers' Burnell. 'There are lots of prospects for them in the Southern Hemisphere.'

    (Debra Marks, AP-Dow Jones, Dublin)

    [08] RTZ-CRA to reorganise its sprawling global operations

    Anglo-Australian diversified miner RTZ CRA announced a reorganisation of its management structure into six new global product businesses.

    The company said in a statement that three of the global businesses will be based in London and three in Australia.

    But group headquarters will remain in London.

    RTZ-CRA Chief Executive Leon Davis said that following the merger of RTZ and CRA in October 1995, the group's organizational structure was mainly geographical.

    'Whilst retaining our devolved management philosophy, the new product-based organization not only brings a keener focus on customers and opportunities, but simplifies relationships, better concentrates our technological expertise and streamlines decision making,' Davis said.

    'It sharpens our business and makes us more competitive by achieving efficiency gains and cost savings,' he said.

    Davis said the move of 67%-owned Comalco Ltd. to Brisbane and the locating of RTZ-CRA iron ore to Perth acknowledges the establishment of Queensland and Western Australia as world centers of mining.

    Davis said that the energy business will manage the group's world class coal and uranium operations in Australia, North America, Latin America, Indonesia and Namibia.

    'This business alone represents enormous potential for the worldwide group. Bringing all of our coal assets under a single management will facilitate the introduction of world's best practice standards in the Australian coal industry,' Davis said.

    [09] EU opens competition probe on Boeing McDonnell Douglas merger

    European Union antitrust authorities as was widely expected opened a detailed inquiry into the merger of U.S. aircraft makers Boeing and McDonnell Douglas.

    The European Commission said it was particularly concerned with how the merger would increase Boeing's leading position on the civil aviation market.

    The merger will create a global colossus with estimated annual sales of dlrs 48 billion and an expected 65 percent grip on the world's market for large, commercial jetliners.

    The announcement of the detailed, four-month investigation was widely expected. During a visit to EU headquarters last week, Boeing Chairman Phil Condit said he expected the Commission will clear the deal by July or August.

    Under EU rules, the Commission can block or order changes in mergers it judges harmful to fair trade within the 15-nation Union. Its powers cover non-EU companies if they operate in European markets.

    The Boeing-McDonnell venture would be the world's largest aerospace company. It's share of the world jetliner market would be almost double that of its only rival, Europe's Airbus Industrie consortium.

    The merged company will also manufacture a range of military planes.

    [10] Credit Lyonnais losses on asset sales will total $18.2 billion

    The head of the French agency charged with selling former assets of Credit Lyonnais confirmed that the loss on those assets would total around 102 billion francs, a member of parliament said.

    Charles de Courson, a member of the National Assembly's finance commission, also said the agency head testified that about 10 former Credit Lyonnais executives were the target of criminal lawsuits concerning embezzlement in deals with total value of about 5 billion francs conducted during the 1980s and early 1990s.

    De Courson made the remarks following testimony to the commission by Michel Rouger, chairman of the Consortium de Realisation. That agency, set up in 1995, absorbed 190 billion francs in mostly bad assets from the troubled state owned bank.

    De Courson reiterated statements made late last week that the total cost to the state to salvage Credit Lyonnais would be around 130 billion francs. That loss includes some 86 billion francs on the sale of the assets, another 11.5 billion francs on guarantees made by the bank and transferred to CDR, some 5 billion francs on CDR's operating costs and another 32 billion francs on the financing costs of the assets transferred.

    De Courson also complained that CDR had to take such large losses on the assets it took over while Credit Lyonnais in 1995 reabsorbed earlier provisions on those assets in order to improve its annual results. Credit Lyonnais in 1995 made a net profit of only 13 million francs.

    According to Credit Lyonnais's 1995 annual report, the bank reabsorbed 4.6 billion francs in past provisions, compared with the reabsorption of 3.8 billion francs in 1994. Overall, however, Credit Lyonnais made total provisions of 5.4 billion francs in 1995, after making total provisions of 11 billion francs in 1994.

    De Courson's statements came amid continued complaints about the state's lack of oversight of its banking system. Bank of France Governor Jean- Claude Trichet was French treasury director between 1987 and 1993 and thus in charge of bank regulatory oversight. Trichet has said he warned the state bank oversight commission of problems at Credit Lyonnais. Politicians, however, have continued to criticise his role in the Credit Lyonnais mess.

    Credit Lyonnais on Thursday is expected to announce a 1996 net profit of around 300 million francs, a tiny amount for a bank with assets of 1.6 trillion francs. The bank had lost 21 billion francs between 1992 and 1994, and was brought back to the break-even point only after it was able to transfer its mostly-bad assets to CDR.

    Credit Lyonnais accumulated losses of 21 billion francs between 1992 and 1994 as a result of an expansion binge that briefly turned it into the largest bank outside Japan.

    The government has pledged to present a long-delayed aid package to the European Union for approval at the end of March. The third package in four years, it will aim to prepare the bank for sale, but one source said the plan might not be submitted until early April.

    The government has said it wants to privatise the bank in early 1999. But the bank is expected to need an injection of between 10 billion and 15 billion francs. The European Commission, which only two years ago approved 45 billion francs in help for the bank, has estimated another 15 to 20 billion francs in state money could be needed to soften the terms of a loan the bank made under a 1995 state bailout to finance the spin-off of dud assets from its balance sheet.

    A member of a key parliamentary finance committee said last week the final cost to taxpayers of the rescue was likely to be about 130 billion francs.

    [11] France Telecom net profit plummets 77% on charges and provisions

    France Telecom's 1996 net profit plummeted 77% due to exceptional charges and provisions, but on an operating level profit edged up 3.5%

    The company said net profit skidded to 2.1 billion francs ($372 million) after charges 12.4 billion francs plus 16.4 billion francs in provisions to cover the costs of an early retirement program.

    Before those special items, profit edged up to 14.5 billion francs from 14 billion the year earlier. Looking ahead to the current year, Chairman Michel Bon said earnings will be in line with those of 1996, outside of exceptional items.

    Her also firmly denied a report in the Wall Street Journal Europe that France Telecom was in talks with the UK's Cable & Wireless about helping it stage a take-over of Sprint.

    France Telecom said it expects to start a three-week subscription period for its share offering on May 6. The initial public offering will open on May 27 and close June 3. The company said that it expects to raise between 30 billion francs and 50 billion francs ($5.35 billion to $8.92 billion) through the offering. That would be more than the government's initial estimate of 25 billion francs. Bon said the ultimate size of the offering will depend on market conditions and investor interest, but he stressed that 'it seems there will be a massive interest.' He added that it will probably be the largest public offering ever in France.

    France Telecom was transformed into a limited company from a state agency on Jan. 1, paving the way for its partial privatisation. Bon said the shares will be listed for the first time on June 9, in Paris and on the New York Stock Exchange.

    The listing is part of the company's efforts to prepare for the opening of the European telecommunications market and the resulting competition. Last year 'was a year of intense efforts to prepare for the coming competition,' Bon said. 'We had no time to lose.'

    The opening of the telecom industry has spurred both Deutsche Telecom and France Telecom not only toward share offerings, but to look for broader alliances. France Telecom and Deutsche Telekom each bought a 10% stake in U.S.-based Sprint in early 1996.

    The French government intends to keep a majority stake in France Telecom, having said it will hold onto 51% of its capital. France Telecom's sale on the market is expected to be limited to about 20%.

    [12] Kingfisher posts record year for profit and sales

    Kingfisher posts record year for profit and sales

    Retail group's largest units all increase market share, but company warns of increasingly competitive retail markets

    Kingfisher said sales and profits hit record levels last year and that the current year had started 'encouragingly,' but retailing was increasingly competitive.

    All the British retail group's main businesses, including B&Q, the UK market leader in DIY, increased sales and profits and improved market share. Pretax profit was up 35.9% to 390.2 million ($620.4 million), on sales up 10.1% to 5.81 billion.

    Chief executive Sir Geoffrey Mulcahy said in a statement, 'With our strong retail brands all operating in growth markets centred round home and family, I'm confident about Kingfisher's growth.'

    But he noted the group needed to continue to improve efficiency and boost sales by keeping pace with customers changing needs because of increasing competition.

    B&Q, the UK market leader in DIY, boosted like for like sales by 9.9% and profits soared by more than 75% to 97.2 million. Electricals retailer Comet recovered strongly, achieving profits of 20.2 million, up from 3.1 million the previous year. Its like for like sales were up 13.2%.

    Darty, Kingfisher's French electricals business, maintained steady progress in a tough French market. Profits were flat at 113.9 million after a 5.1 million adjustment for currency translation. Like for like sales were up 2.2%.

    Woolworths profits surged 28.8% to 84.1 million and like for like sales grew by 8.2 percent. Superdrug profits were just ahead at 42.4 million pounds against 41.1 million. The chemist's like for like sales rose 4.5%.

    [13] CeBIT '97: What's happening at the world's biggest computer and telecoms fair

    Mannesmann Mobilfunk said it has signed an agreement with U.S. carrier Omnipoint Communications that will allow its D2 mobile phone network customers to telephone from parts of the U.S. The Omnipoint network is in operation in the greater New York area, and will soon expand to cover New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and other states in its license area.

    Debis T&M, the Japan-based unit of Germany's Daimler-Benz Interservices, is planning a telematics, or transportation information technology, joint venture with the Tokyo police force and and Japan's largest telecommunications company Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. The joint venture will offer 'dynamic' auto navigation systems and personal traffic information. 'All system participants will be directed to the quickest route through the greater Tokyo area based on the traffic situation at the time,' Debis said at the CeBit electronics trade fair in Hanover.

    Nokia, the giant Finnish maker of telecommunications gear, has unveiled a 2.1-ounce 'cellular card phone' that essentially transforms a laptop computer into a traveling office. With it, a laptop-wielding user can make phone calls, zap faxes, check electronic mail or even download files stored in distant computers.

    Siemens said it continued to post 'solid growth' in its telecommunications businesses in the first five months of its fiscal year ending Sept. 31, 1997. It attributed the projected growth to its broad range of telecommunications products offered in a market that is showing strong growth.

    Siemens Nixdorf Informationssysteme, the computer division of Germany's Siemens, said its unadjusted sales rose 11% to DM5.7 billion in the first five months of the current fiscal year ending Sept. 31. Adjusted for changes in the company's consolidation, sales rose 13% in the first five months, the company said. Over the five months, new orders rose an unadjusted 13% to DM6.0 billion, the company said. On an adjusted basis, new orders were up 14%.

    Mannesmann Mobilfunk said it signed an agreement with Omnipoint Communications that will allow its D2 mobile phone network customers to telephone from parts of the U.S. The Omnipoint network is in operation in the greater New York area, and will soon expand to cover New Jersey, Vermont, Connecticut and other states in its license area, the Mannesmann Mobilfunk mobile telecommunications unit of industrial company Mannesmann said at a press conference. Separately, Mannesmann Mobilfunk said it will introduce six-month tryout tariffs for first-time customers in April. First- time D2 users won't have to pay a connection or basic monthly fee for a six- month period, as long as the monthly telephone bill totals at least DM29.95.

    Mannesmann management board member and Mannesmann Arcor Chairman Peter Mihatsch Wednesday called on the German government to speed up its appointment of a telecommunications market regulatory body for when the market is liberalized on Jan. 1, 1998. 'The names of those responsible for regulation have not yet been finally decided,' he said, adding that the body should acutally be up and running by now. 'We're active in the market, we have invested and will invest a lot more - we expect encouragement from the policy-makers not handicaps,' he said.

    Thyssen Telecom said its corporate network unit PLUSNET has signed a cooperation agreement with Danish carrier Tele Danmark. The agreement is aimed at expanding the companies' international telephone operations, in preparation for the liberalization of the German telecommunications market on Jan. 1, 1998, said Stefan Baustert, a member of Thyssen Telecom management board. In addition, Baustert announced new measures for Thyssen Telecom's fixed network operations which will make the company less dependent on national carrier Deutsche Telekom.

    Start-up losses at Viag's telecommunications operations last year weren't as high as market speculation, but will surge in coming years, a company official said. Viag management board member Maximilian Adelt said ''In response to rumors about our startup losses in the telecommunications business, Viag Interkom and Bayernwerk Netkom posted a start-up loss of just DM100 million in 1996.'' That was between 40% and 50% lower than planned, Adelt said, adding that the cost will ''jump considerably'' this year to above DM300 million.

    Microsoft and Intel released the NetPC reference specification for broad industry review. Intel said the NetPC is a new class of personal computers for business designed to reduce ownership costs by delivering new manageability advances. NetPC product announcements from many personal- computer manufacturers are expected over the next 90 days, the company said. NetPC systems will offer the performance and flexibility of traditional personal computers and will be compatible with existing investments in hardware, software and training. Compaq Computer, Dell Computer Corp., and Hewlett-Packard Co. helped develop the reference specification for the NetPC.

    Deutsche Telekom announced details of its strategic Internet cooperation with Microsoft. 'The two companies have agreed on common marketing strategies for T-Online and the Microsoft Network, as well as cooperation on security solutions for online banking and the marketing of Microsoft's Internet and Intranet solutions,' Telekom said. T-Online is Telekom's Internet access service.

    Sales at Siemens' three communciations units will rise by about 10% in the fiscal year ending Sept. 31, and earnings will rise 'at about the same rate,' a member of the company's management board. Volker Jung, who is responsible for Public Network Communications Systems, Private Network Communications Systems, and Defense Electronics, said the divisions' sales rose by a total of 18% in the first five months of the fiscal year, which was a greater increase than planned.

    [14] Corporate and Economic Briefs

    U.K. building concern BEAZER said pretax profit in the six months to Dec. 31 was in line with analysts' expectations, but warned of labor skill shortages likely to mar continued improvement during 1997. Beazer Group PLC, which changed its name from Beazer Homes PLC last November, posted a 44% increase in sales to 227.4 million.

    CZECH RETAIL SALES declined about 2.3% in January from January 1996 in constant prices but rose about 3.5% during the month in current prices.

    The Danish national telecommunications agency, TELESTYRELSEN, awarded four new licenses for DCS 1800 mobile telephone systems. The four telecommunication operators chosen were Sweden's Telia; France Telecom; and Tele Danmark A/S and Sonofon, two Danish operators which already run an existing mobile phone net.

    BOUYGUES OFFSHOREa unit of construction and communications group Bouygues SA, said that its 1996 net profit rose 41% to FF241 million, helped by a FF44 million foreign-exchange gain.

    Italy's industrial PRODUCER PRICE INDEX rose 0.3% in January, 1997, from December, 1996, and was up 0.9% over the same month in 1996, the state statistical institute ISTAT reports. ISTAT also reported the wholesale price index for January.

    Registered UNEMPLOYMENT in the Netherlands edged down to 6.4% of the total workforce in the three months ended Feb. 28, from 7.0% in the year earlier period. On the basis of figures not seasonally adjusted, there were 429,000 registered job seekers in the latest reporting period, a decline of 39,000 from a year earlier.

    Norway's central bank, Norges Bank, has upgraded its forecast for 1997 INFLATION to between 2.75% and 3.0%, from a previous estimate of 2.5%. The upgrade in projected inflation is mainly due to higher taxes, and the exact magnitude will depend on the future development of the Norwegian krone's exchange rate, Norges Bank said.

    Portugal's registered JOBLESS fell 0.7% to 480,583 people in February 1997 compared to 484,163 people the same month the previous year, the Labor Ministry said.

    Swedish RETAIL SALES rose 0.3% in January compared with the same month a year earlier, the national statistics agency SCB said.

    WILLIAMS HOLDINGS, the international fire-protection, security and home- improvement group, said that 1996 pretax profit rose 49% to 340.2 million. The company added that it's confident it will make 'good progress' in 1997.


    From the European Business News (EBN) Server at http://www.ebn.co.uk/


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