The ONS added that the rise in exports was driven by
chemicals, building materials and machinery. But imports also fell as the
UK bought less oil and fewer aircraft from abroad.
Imports from the US were down to £1.6bn in February
from £1.8bn the month before.
The news may provide a crumb of comfort to the UK's
manufacturing sector, which has been hit by fears that a recent recovery
is not as strong as earlier thought, after data this week revealed a dip
in factory output.
But Brian Hilliard, economist at Societe Generale bank,
said: "The overall story is that this is still bad news for the
manufacturing sector and that partly explains why we're seeing volatility
in the manufacturing output numbers as well."
KERRY VOW TO SLASH $500BN DEFICIT
Democrat presidential hopeful John Kerry has outlined
plans to slash the $500bn US budget deficit by half within four years.
In a framework for cutting spending, Mr Kerry also
accused President Bush of "economic mistakes" and
He said Mr Bush's policies could lead to "fiscal
cancer" resulting from "politics of deceit".
Mr Kerry outlined how he would run the finances of the
US if he were to become president.
But Republicans have criticised Mr Kerry for
over-blowing his campaign promises, but the Democrat senator says the
ballooning budget deficit is forcing him to refine some of his strategies.
In a speech at Georgetown University, Mr Kerry said he
wanted more invested in affordable health care. He wants free tuition for
students and he would rollback President Bush's tax cuts.
But he said some of his plans would need to be watered
down such as his planned proposal for universal pre-school education.
Mr Kerry proposed a return to the budget
"pay-as-you-go" rules of the 1990s that capped discretionary
government spending and required increases in entitlement benefits or cuts
in taxes to be offset by other program cuts or other tax increases.
These rules expired in 2002 and the US Congress is
considering bringing them back.
Better education will be paid for with cuts in jobs in
Washington. Kerry wants to spend $200bn on a national education trust fund
over the next decade.
His proposed cuts in government administration costs
would mean losing 100,000 contractors, saving $90bn over 10 years.
BROWN SEEKS SUPPORT FOR AID PLAN
Ministers from 56 countries are being urged to come
together to double global aid from $50bn to $100bn a year. Chancellor
Gordon Brown will use a development summit in Paris to back his plans and
increase pressure on the US and Germany to support the scheme.
Mr Brown will call on world leaders to "accept the
challenge for our time and for our generation". He will be speaking
on the centenary of the Entente Cordiale between Britain and France. The
summit takes place in Paris exactly 100 years since the Entente Cordiale
and reflects sensitivity in the French capital to criticism that the 1904
treaty allowed the superpowers of the world to build empires in what is
now the Third World.
Mr Brown believes the backing he will receive at April
8 Ministerial Forum on Financing for Development will put pressure on the
seemingly undecided Americans and Germans to support the scheme at key
meetings of the International Monetary Fund and Wold Bank later this
He will also call on world leaders to have "the
strength together to fight poverty, remove destitution, end illiteracy,
and cure disease".
Forum will focus on the internationally-agreed
Millennium Development Goals of halving poverty, cutting infant mortality
by two thirds and ensuring universal primary schooling by 2015.
In his "call to action" speech, Mr Brown will
warn that, at present rates, the Millennium Goal on cutting infant
mortality would not be met in sub-Saharan Africa until 2165.
He will tell the summit: "I believe that the scale
of the challenge is such that we cannot leave it to some other time and
some other people but must act now, working together.
SCANDAL-HIT US FUND
Scandal-hit US fund to pay $110m Putnam Investments has
agreed to pay fines totalling $110m to settle charges that it engaged in
"market timing" of mutual funds.
It is the first fine in an industry-wide investigation
by US state and federal regulators into improper trading in mutual funds.
Managers and clients were engaging in improper rapid
trading of mutual fund shares at the expense of shareholders. The mutual
funds industry is worth around $7.6 trillion. The practice of "market
timing" is not illegal but breaches codes of conduct at most funds.
WORLD TRADE GROWTH PICKS UP SPEED
Growth in world trade picked up pace to 4.5% in 2003,
recording a second year of recovery after shrinking in 2001, the World
Trade Organisation has said.
Trade growth outstripped a cautious WTO forecast of a
3% increase, shaped to take account of the Sars outbreak and tensions in
the Middle East.
Trade expansion was propelled by higher than expected
economic growth in the US and Asia, the WTO said.
It is now predicting global trade could expand by 7.5%
"Clearly the improved economic situation in the
United States and Asia has given an important boost to world trade,"
said WTO director general Supachai Panitchpakdi.
"But when you look around the world, the pace of
trade growth remains uneven and there remain many barriers to trade
The WTO is struggling to reach agreement on furthering
global trade liberalisation talks on sectors ranging from farm goods to
the service sector.
UK ECONOMY 'ON ROAD TO STABILITY'
The UK economy is heading for a period of balanced
growth and companies are creating wealth more rapidly than their European
rivals, surveys have found.
Economic expansion will stabilize at a healthy 3% at
the end of 2004, said business researchers BDO Stoy Hayward. The economy
will peak in the middle of the year following seven successive quarters of
rises, the firm said.
Meanwhile, value-added by the UK's top 800 firms rose
4% over the past year, the Department of Trade & Industry said. While
Britain still lags the rest of Europe on labour productivity, UK firms
make up for the shortfall by creating more wealth from readily available
resources, DTI research found.
IMF WARNS OF POSSIBLE TERROR COST
Further terrorist attacks such as the Madrid train
bombings could destabilise the world's financial markets and threaten
global economic recovery.
That is the gloomy conclusion of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF), which has just published its bi-annual Global
Financial Stability Report.
But putting the terrorism threat to one side, the
report paints an upbeat assessment of the world economy.
Interest-rate rises might hit some shares, but the
outlook remained good.
The report added: "At any sign of that risk
materializing, foreign investors could demand a risk premium on dollar
assets including pushing bond yields higher and with more volatility than
current market expectations."
BANK WITHDRAWS AID TO UZBEKISTAN
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD)
is pulling aid to Uzbekistan, citing slow reform and the country's dire
The bank called for an improvement of human rights in
the country and for economic restructuring last year but concluded little
headway has been made.
The bank will only continue co-operation with the
private sector and certain public-sector projects.
President Islam Karimov heads one of the region's most
BRUSSELS WARNS ON DEBT TROUBLES
Half the 12 countries that use the euro will break the
rules on budget deficits in 2004, the European Union has warned.
Slow growth is to blame for the probability of a
widespread breach of the debt ceiling of 3% of annual output, the EU's
spring forecast says.
Joining perennial culprits France and Germany are the
Netherlands, Greece, Italy and Portugal.
The European Commission said it had rebuked the
Netherlands and the UK for breaking the 3% rule in 2003.
Growth, the Commission said, was being damaged by high
oil prices, the soaring value of the euro and increased security concerns
following March's bomb attacks on Madrid.
INDIA IT FIRM ESTABLISHES US ARM
Indian software giant Infosys is to invest $20m (£11m)
in the United States to set up subsidiary supplying consultancy services.
The new business will be called Infosys Consulting and
will hire 500 staff at its Texas base within three years. "This will
counter the outsourcing sentiment out there," said Infosys Consulting
chairman S Gopalakrishnan. The outsourcing of jobs to low wage countries,
particularly China, India and Mexico, is a US election issue.
Both Republican and Democrat politicians have
campaigned on pledges to prevent the loss of US jobs abroad if they win
the election in November.
MGM RAISES STAKES ON WEMBLEY BID
MGM Mirage, the Vegas gambling giant, has raised its
bid for Wembley PLC, the dog track and slot machine company.
It raised the stakes to $555m following a counter bid
from BLB investors, a group of casino operators and developers.
It is $65m more than its own previous bid, easily
topping BLB's $525m.
Profits at General Electric have risen by 8% as
industrial orders improved. The conglomerate, which makes more from
finance than from any one manufacturing sector, made a $3.24bn net profit
in the first three months of 2004.
UK INTEREST RATES ON HOLD AT 4%
UK interest rates are to remain on hold at 4%, the Bank
of England has said.
Economists said the Bank's decision to resist a third
rate rise since November was finely balanced.
Manufacturers had argued against any fresh rise, saying
it would damage their prospects, particularly in light of the recent
strength of the pound.
BERLIN STEPS INTO BUNDESBANK ROW
The German government has embroiled itself in a row
over the country's central bank chief and a potentially unethical hotel
Bundesbank chief Ernst Welteke stepped down temporarily
after it was revealed that he accepted a stay in a luxury hotel from a
bank he regulates.
But the Finance Ministry now says that is not enough to
protect the bank's "high public reputation".
The move is being seen as a barely-veiled demand for Mr
Welteke to resign.
LARGE FALL IN US JOBLESS CLAIMS
The number of people filing new claims for unemployment
benefit hit a three-year low in the US last week, according to government
The number of newly unemployed claiming benefits
dropped 14,000 to 328,000 in the week ending April 3, 2004.
The figures come a week after government data showed
308,000 new jobs had been created in March.
IKEA CLAIM SPARKS RICH-LIST ROW
A fierce debate has been sparked in Stockholm, after a
business magazine argued that software tycoon Bill Gates was no longer the
world's richest man.
Swedish business weekly Veckans Affarer announced that
Ingvar Kamprad, founder of Ikea, had topped Mr Gates, with a 400bn-kroner
(£29bn; $52bn) fortune.
The report was quickly taken up by media around the
But according to the furniture store, the magazine
forgot that Mr Kamprad has not owned Ikea since 1982.
Veckans Affarer admits the anomaly, but insists that Mr
Kamprad still calls the shots at the firm, and so can be considered its de
RECOVERY UNDER WAY IN US SERVICES
Investors have cheered figures showing an upturn in the
US service sector.
The Institute for Supply Management said its key index
had risen to 65.8 in March, compared with 60.8 in February a sign of
JAPAN PM HINTS AT RETIREMENT
Japan's Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has hinted he
will not seek another term in office and wants to be "liberated as
soon as possible".
However, Mr Koizumi said that first he wanted to see
the realisation of structural reforms that are intended to revitalise the
Yahoo, the internet search and media company, has more
than doubled net profits in the first quarter to $101m.
AUSTRALIA JOBLESS AT 14-YEAR LOW
Australia's unemployment rate fell to a 14-year low of
5.6% in March, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said. The figure was
lower than forecast and down from a 5.9% rate in February.
The Bureau said that 66,900 jobs were created in March,
as last year's strong economic growth, helped by the Rugby World Cup,
translated into jobs.
Euronext, the pan-European stock market, has said it
plans to cut trading fees on Dutch shares by 30%.
MUSIC SALES DECLINE AGAIN IN 2003
Sales of recorded music sales fell by more than 7%
around the world in 2003, the International Federation of Phonographic
Industries (IFPI) reports.
But the average figure included much bigger declines in
some countries, such as a 19% drop in Germany, it said.
SA BANK IN BLACK EMPOWERMENT DEAL
South Africa's Absa bank is to sell a 10% stake worth
$23m to a black-run investment consortium. The move means the company will
meet targets set by the country's Financial Services Charter, which came
into effect this year.
Up to 14% of the company's shares are currently
indirectly held by black South Africans, according to an independent
The charter requires South African firms to be
AFRICA METAL FIND BOOSTS UK FIRM
Shares in Britain's Cluff Mining have jumped by more
than 50% after the firm announced a significant nickel and platinum find
in South Africa.
The firm said it had found enough reserves at Sheba's
Ridge, 200km north east of Pretoria, to transform it into a major metals
Cluff's head Terence Wilkinson said the discovery was a
The company also announced its 2003 results last week
showing losses fell to $7.1m (£3.9m) from $9.6m in 2002.
EUROTUNNEL REBELS SECURE VICTORY
Rebel shareholders of Channel Tunnel operator
Eurotunnel have secured victory in their campaign to overthrown the
At the firm's AGM in Paris they won their vote not to
renew the board seats of the chairman and chief executive, paving the way
for new management.
The rebels, who have lost 90% of their investments
since 1997, want new managers to cut the firm's £6.4bn debt.
IBM BUYS INTO INDIAN OUTSOURCING
Computer giant IBM has agreed to buy India's third
largest business outsourcing firm.
The price tag for Daksh, based near Delhi, was not
revealed but is thought to be about $150m-200m (£80m-110m).
EUROTUNNEL DRILL BIDS REACH £5M
Eurotunnel has put a 580-tonne drill used to build the
Channel Tunnel up for grabs on the online auction site eBay.
After 179 bids the price tops £5m, but the auction has
taken a dubious turn with several bids of £10m and more withdrawn or
annulled by eBay.
The Tunnel Boring Machine called B6 is the last
remaining drill used in the building of the cross-Channel link.
The number of jobless Germans has risen by 44,000 to
4.3 million, a bigger than expected increase.
Many economists had predicted the rise to be half that
amount, especially as employment is usually up in spring.
SRI LANKAN SHARES UP AFTER POLLS
The Sri Lankan stock exchange has shed 10% on the first
day of trading since general elections returned a left-leaning minority
Replacing the pro-business Ranil Wickramasinghe, new
Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse heads a collation that includes some
The All Share Price Index shed 125 points to close at
The Milanka index of blue-chip shares fell even
further, down 12.75%.
BUOYANT US ECONOMY BOOSTS DOLLAR
Signs of renewed strength in the US economy are pushing
the dollar higher, reversing the trend of recent months.
Figures released last week indicated that the massive
US services industry was growing rapidly.
On top of a rise in US payrolls of more than 300,000 in
March, the news was enough to lift the dollar to two-week highs.
The US currency rose 1.2% to 106.4 yen, with the euro
barely above a four-month low at $1.20, and the pound down 0.5%.
The pound, meanwhile, slipped more than half a
percentage point to $1.82.
LATIN AMERICA BUILDS TRADE MUSCLE
Latin American officials have reached an agreement to
create a region-wide free-trade zone beginning in July.
The bloc will comprise Mercosur — Argentina,
Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay — and the Andean community of Bolivia,
Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.
The agreement, which ends months of talks, aims to give
the region greater muscle in global trade talks.