Japan's central bank said that business confidence at major manufacturing companies improved for the third consecutive quarter.
In its closely watched quarterly tankan survey for December, the Bank of Japan said sentiment among large manufacturers had brightened to minus 17 from minus 22 in the last survey in September. The tankan measures the percentage of firms seeing business conditions improve and subtracts the percentage seeing conditions worsen.
The result were slightly worse than expected. Economists forecast that the index for business sentiment for big manufacturers would show an improvement to minus 15. Large manufacturers are optimistic that conditions will improve by the time of the next survey. They see sentiment advancing to minus 9 by March. (Associated Press)
Rhone-Hoechst Merger: Rhone-Poulenc and Hoechst are expected to clear the last obstacle to their $29-billion merger Thursday when French investors vote to create the world's largest drug maker. Aventis, the new company, probably wouldn't keep its rank for long. U.S. rivals Pfizer Inc. and American Home Products Corp. are battling for control of Warner-Lambert Co., and the victor would become the biggest in the pharmaceutical industry.
With about $21.4 billion in annual sales and products such as the allergy pill Allegra and the flea repellent Frontline, Aventis would leapfrog rival AstraZeneca into top spot. Analysts said they expect Rhone-Poulenc shareholders to approve the French company's plan to create new shares when they gather Wednesday. The shares would be exchanged for those of its German partner, paving the way for the new company to be formed Thursday. Trading in 48% of the new company's shares would start Thursday. The remainder would begin to change hands under the Aventis name next Monday.