News In Brief

US consumers boosted spending at more than twice the rate of their income gains in December, sacrificing savings to finance the best holiday season since 1992, the Commerce Department reported. Spending last month rose 0.8 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $6.473 trillion, while incomes gained by 0.3 percent to $7.998 trillion. But the personal-savings rate dropped to a record monthly low of 1.5 percent. For all of 1999, spending rose about 7 percent, marking the biggest jump since 1989. Incomes for 1999 rose 5.9 percent - the same as for 1998 - yet the savings rate dipped to an all-time annual low of 2.4 percent.

A last-minute bidding war appeared likely for controlling interest in Britain's National Westminster Bank Plc. With a midnight Monday deadline looming, Royal Bank of Scotland upped its offer by more than $5 billion, to $40.3 billion. But analysts said the increased bid wasn't "a knockout blow" because it was only marginally larger than rival Bank of Scotland's $39.8 billion - with the latter also expected to offer more as the deadline neared. National Westminster's shareholders are scheduled to vote Feb. 14 on whether to accept either bid. If they reject both, "NatWest's" fate could rest with Britain's Takeover Panel, which supervises merger and acquisition activity.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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