China, Venezuela trade tie:

CARACAS: Chinese vice-president Zeng Qinghong inked 17 cooperation accords

on Saturday with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez, on areas including science and energy. The deals also include Chinese cooperation in Venezuela’s farming sector. On the energy front, OPEC-member Venezuela plans to boost its oil production from the current rate of just under 3,000 barrels a day to five million barrels a day, to supply China’s immense market without affecting current contracts, such as with the United States.— AFP

Upturn in EU economy:

BRUSSELS: Eurozone economic figures due out in the coming week will show a modest upturn in both business and consumer confidence along with an easing of price pressures, economists said. In Britain, the coming week will likely reveal that there is life yet in the British economy, with several surveys showing encouraging gains.— AFP

US oil firms in Libya :

TRIPOLI: Libya granted on Saturday its first oil exploration licenses in over four decades, awarding 15 permits to foreign companies, with US companies taking the lion’s share. Occidental Petroleum Corp of the United States picked up five licenses, and shares rights in four others with the Australian company Woodside Petroleum Ltd. ChevronTexaco received a license to explore the Marzouk basin south of the capital Tripoli. The US company Amerada Hess also won a license. —AP

Merger mania returns:

NEW YORK: The merger and acquisition frenzy that started late last year in US financial circles revved up on Friday with the purchase of Gillette by Procter and Gamble, as well as negotiations between AT and T and SBC. “There’s already over $100 billion in announced deals in January,” said Richard Peterson, and experts on mergers and acquisitions at Thompson Financial. – AFP

Help from solid economy:

BANGKOK: Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has one of Asia’s most dynamic economies bolstering his re-election bid in February 6 polls, with a booming stock market, strong business confidence and solid fundamentals. The billionaire telecom tycoon has presided over an economy that has weathered outbreaks of bird flu and SARS, a bloody insurgency, and the catastrophic tsunami, yet is still expected to post gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 5.5 to 6.5 per cent in 2005.— AFP

Virgin Blue rejects bid:

MELBOURNE: British billionaire Richard Branson’s Virgin Group on Sunday rejected a $1.54 billion takeover offer by ports conglomerate Patrick Corp for the no-frills Australian airline Virgin Blue. Patrick, which holds a 45.95 per cent stake in the carrier established by Branson in 2000, launched a surprise takeover bid on Friday, offering $1.47 per share in cash for the shares it does not already own.— AP

Heading for hedge funds:

TOKYO: Overseas hedge funds based in Caribbean tax havens have been attracting investment capital from Japan where interest rates are next to nil, a press report said on Sunday. Of Japanese securities investment abroad in January-November last year, about $56.7 billion flowed into hedge funds set up in the Cayman Islands, Bahamas and elsewhere in the Caribbean, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun said.— AFP