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The conference board said its index of leading US economic indicators rose 0.5 percent - to 106.9 - in January from a revised level of 106.4 in December. Rising stock prices and manufacturers' orders in January pushed up this key measure of future economic activity for a third month in a row, signaling that the US economy will probably continue to grow through at least midyear.

A 6.5 percent share in a US company that makes switches and other gear for high-speed data networks was expanded into a complete takeover by the French telecommunications giant, Alcatel. In a deal announced in Paris, Alcatel said it has acquired Xylan Corp. of Calabasas, Calif., for about $2 billion. It had been a minority stockholder in Xylan since 1995. The move positions Alcatel to become a key supplier of Internet hardware to US telephone companies.

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