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us manufacturing activity slowed in December for the seventh straight month, declining at a faster rate than economists expected. The National Association of Purchasing Management said its monthly index of business activity fell to 45.1 percent last month, down from 46.8 percent in November. Economists had predicted the index would rise slightly. Any reading under 50 percent is a sign of contraction in the industrial sector.

Bell Atlantic and AirTouch Communications confirmed they were holding talks relating to a possible business combination. Bell Atlantic is reportedly negotiating a $45 billion takeover of AirTouch. The reported purchase price would make a Bell Atlantic-AirTouch merger the fifth-largest in history. The two parties were reportedly close to a deal.

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Compiled by Lance Carden and Caryn Coatney

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