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Orders for costly manufactured goods soared in January at the fastest rate in more than a year, powered by strong orders for airplanes and cars, the US Commerce Department said. It was the second month in a row of blockbuster gains in such orders, which surged 3.9 percent last month after a 3.4 percent gain in December. The January increase was the largest since a 4.4 percent rise in November 1997. Economists in a Reuters survey had expected orders of durable goods to fall by 0.2 percent in January.

The massive hostile-takeover drama turned another corner in Italy as Olivetti announced a stock sale that would help supply the cash for its proposed buyout of Telecom Italia. Olivetti said it had signed a deal worth an expected $8 billion for the transfer of its shares in Omnitel, a mobile-phone company, to a German buyer. Earlier this week, regulators ruled Olivetti's $58 billion bid for Telecom Italia invalid, in part because of unresolved transactions. Meanwhile, Telecom Italia's directors were expected to seek stockholder approval for a merger with Europe's largest cell-phone company, TI Mobile, as part of a strategy to thwart the Olivetti takeover.

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