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Lucent technologies confirmed it would buy Ascend Communications, the world's largest telecommunications-equipment maker, for about $20 billion in stock. The widely expected acquisition will help Lucent, the fourth-largest manufacturer of computer-networking gear, tackle the blurring markets of voice and data networks.

US wholesale prices rose at the highest rate in 15 months during December - largely because of a big jump in tobacco prices, the Labor Department said. Its producer price index increased 0.4 percent last month, following a 0.2 percent drop in November. But analysts said the rise was less serious than it appeared because it was heavily influenced by a 30.7 percent increase in cigarette prices.

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