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After declines in January and February, orders to US factories for big-ticket, durable goods rose 2.6 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $215.2 billion, the Commerce Department reported. The increase was fueled by a 9.7 percent jump in orders for electronics and electrical equipment. Shipments of big-ticket goods, a sign of current demand, rose 1.5 percent last month after a 1.4 percent drop in February.

The world's third-largest advertising agency, WPP Group of London, put a new friendly-takeover offer on the table for US rival Young & Rubicam Inc. - presumably larger than the roughly $4.7 billion all-stock bid issued last month. But a confidentiality agreement signed by both parties prohibits them from discussing the size of any offer publicly, reports said. WPP already owns two other major US-based agencies, J. Walter Thompson and Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. A merger with Young & Rubicam would make it No. 1 in the world in terms of revenues.

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