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The manufacturing sector slowed for the sixth straight month during November, but there are signs of a possible improvement in the economy by mid-1999, according to two reports issued today.

The National Association of Purchasing Management, which tracks the manufacturing sector through a survey of corporate purchasing executives, said new orders, exports and imports declined at many of the nation's factories last month.

The trade group's index of economic activity registered at 46.8 percent, down 1.5 percent from October. Any reading under 50 percent is a sign of contraction in the industrial sector.

But The Conference Board, a private research group, reported its Index of Leading Economic Indicators, rose 0.1 percent in October, to 105.6. The gain followed two months of flat results.

The purchasing managers survey is closely watched because it is the freshest evidence of how the economy fared in the previous month. The Leading Indicators are widely viewed as a forecast of how the economy will fare six to nine months in the future.

In the purchasing managers' report, the rate of decline was faster than economists had expected. Exports failed to grow for the 11th straight month, while imports fell for the first time since July 1998.

Rhone-Poulenc, Hoechst merge units

FRANKFURT (Bloomberg) -- Rhone-Poulenc SA and Hoechst AG, France's and Germany's biggest drugmakers, agreed today to combine their drug and crop-protection units to create the world's No. 2 drug company and No. 1 maker of pesticides, a prelude to a full merger within three years.

The union of Hoechst, the maker of heart drug Cardizem, and Rhone-Poulenc, which makes cancer drug Taxotere, will create a company with annual sales of about $20 billion and operating profit of about $3.8 billion, they said. The new company, called Aventis, will employ about 95,000 people.

European oil giants merge

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- France's oil giant Total took over the Belgian petrochemicals company Petrofina SA to create the sixth-largest oil company in the world and the third-largest in Europe, the companies announced today.

The new company, known as Total Fina, will be quoted on the Paris, Brussels, New York and London stock exchanges, a Petrofina statement said.

Yields decline on Treasury bills

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Interest rates on short-term Treasury securities fell in Monday's auction.

The Treasury Department sold $8 billion in three-month bills at a discount rate of 4.435 percent, down from 4.450 percent last week.

An additional $8 billion was sold in six-month bills at a rate of 4.410 percent, down from 4.430 percent. Treasury also sold 14-day cash management bills at a discount rate of 4.86 percent.

The Federal Reserve also said Monday that the average yield for one-year Treasury bills, the most popular index for making changes in adjustable rate mortgages, rose to 4.59 percent last week from 4.54 percent the previous week.

EEOC sues Burger King operator

SYRACUSE (AP) -- The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has sued one of the largest Burger King operators in the country, alleging that managers engaged in sexually offensive conduct.

The EEOC filed a sexual harassment lawsuit Monday against Carrols Corp. on behalf of Wendy McFarlan and other female workers. Among other things, the suit claims managers touched female employees' breasts and buttocks.

Carrols Corp. operates 53 restaurants throughout Western New York. In all, Carrols employs about 5,400 people at about 330 Burger Kings in New England and the mid-Atlantic region.

In other business news . . .

- As Deutsche Bank AG officially announced its acquisition of Bankers Trust Corp. Monday, the German bank said it will cut 5,500 jobs, mostly in New York and London. Deutsche Bank Chairman Rolf Breuer said not all of the lost jobs would be at Bankers Trust.

- Livent Inc., the beleaguered theater production company that recently filed for bankruptcy, said Monday it had secured $35 million (Canadian) in new financing but would lay off workers and close unprofitable shows, including the U.S. tour of the musical "Show Boat," in order to cut costs.

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