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Business

Business Briefs

More bad news for smokers in Germany, ECB leaves rates unchanged, EM.TV sells "The Muppets" back to the Henson family, Holsten brewery posts record profits, Bertelsmann publishing company reports losses

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The price of a pack of cigarettes is set to rise again in Germany... by almost a third.

Cigarettes to go up by 1 euro

The German government announced on Thursday it plans to increase tobacco taxes again. The move would add another €1 ($1.14) to the price of a standard pack of filter cigarettes, which currently sell for about €3 ($3.42). The tax rise is expected to take effect on Jan. 1, 2004. The secretary general of the governing Social Democrats, Olaf Scholz, said the decision was aimed at easing the financial burden on state health insurance providers as part of its planned reforms to the health and social welfare system.

ECB leaves key interest rates unchanged

Duisenberg, Wim

Wim Duisenberg, President of the European Central Bank (ECB)

The European Central Bank announced on Thursday it is keeping interest rates on hold in the eurozone at 2.5 percent, as forecast by most analysts. The ECB left its rates unchanged despite some calls for a rate cut to increase the supply of money amidst deteriorating economic conditions in Germany, Europe's largest economy, and other EU member states. Those calls were backed up by a strengthening euro, which has risen by 9 percent against the U.S. dollar this year, making European products more expensive abroad. ECB President Wim Duisenberg (photo) told a press conference in Frankfurt he expected a gradual improvement in eurozone economies over the course of the year. Economists say the ECB may lower rates when it meets again in June if those improvements don't start to materialize.

Muppets Going Back Home

Jim Henson and Kermit der Frosch

Jim Henson and Kermit the Frog pose on June 8, 1982.

The German entertainment company EM.TV & Merchandising has sold its U.S. subsidiary Jim Henson Productions, makers of The Muppet Show, back to the family of its founder in an effort to secure liquidity and meet a deadline for the repayment of a crucial loan installment. The Munich-based firm said on Wednesday it had closed a legally-binding contract with Jim Henson's family covering the sale of all its shares in the company, whose productions also include Sesame Street. EM.TV, which bought Jim Henson for $680 million (€594 million) in 2000, said it would receive $89 million (€ 78 million) in cash and liquid assets from the Henson family. Shares in EM.TV rose by more than 20 percent to €1.19 on the news, but fell back again in the afternoon. The company was once of the shooting stars on Germany's struggling Nemax50 technology index, but ran into trouble after buying up a number of overpriced holdings. Since the arrival of new CEO Werner Klatte in August 2001, EM.TV has embarked on a major restructuring and downsizing drive.

Holsten posts record profits

Germany's largest brewing corporation, the Hamburg-based Holsten AG, has announced record pre-tax profits of some €117 million ($134 million) for 2002. Announcing the results, CEO Andreas Rost said Holsten bucked the trend last year, increasing sales by 2.5 percent while turnover for the industry as a whole in Germany fell by 0.3 percent. He put the rise partly down to the acquisition of the Licher brewery in the state of Hessen. He also said the company had sold off two loss-making Polish subsidiaries. However, Ross warned that the market for beer in Germany would shrink by up to 10 percent this year, as a result of the combined effects of a stagnating economy and a government-imposed deposit on disposable cans and bottles.

Bertelsmann posts first quarter losses

The world's fifth-largest publishing company, Bertelsmann, says it posted operating losses of €58 million ($66.5 million) in the first quarter of 2003, on account of falling U.S. sales and a weak dollar. Taking into accounted taxes and depreciation, the company lost €399 million. "The results correspond with our expectations and reflect the difficult overall economic situation," said Siegfried Luther, Bertelsmann's chief financial officer. Bertelsmann said it was sticking to its goal of improving on its operating profits over 2002.

Compiled with information from wire services.