Hong Kong's Hutchison to buy Britain's O2

European cell phone operator Telefonica SA said it has reached an agreement to sell its British business, O2, to Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. for 10.25 billion pounds ($15.24 billion). Spain-based Telefonica said the purchase price includes an initial amount of 9.3 billion pounds and another 1 billion pounds to be paid later. The deal was reached after due diligence over O2 was completed, Telefonica said in a brief statement. It added that the completion of the transaction is subject to regulatory approval, which could take a year. Hutchison already owns the smaller British mobile operator Three. The agreement, if approved, will bring about the merger of two of Britain's four major operators.

Consumer prices up 0.2 percent last month

A slight rise in gas costs and broad increases in other categories lifted consumer prices in February, a welcome sign after three straight months of declines that had pointed to excessively low inflation. The consumer price index rose 0.2 percent, the Labor Department said, after having sunk 0.7 percent in January — the biggest drop in six years. Gas prices have plummeted since June, dramatically lowering inflation. They fell for seven straight months before rising 2.4 percent in February, the government said. Prices at the pump are still nearly 33 percent lower than a year ago. Outside food and energy, core prices also rose 0.2 percent last month. The cost of rents, clothes, new and used cars and airfares all increased. Over the past 12 months, core prices have risen 1.7 percent.

New home sales up 7.8 percent in February

Sales of new U.S. homes in February climbed to their fastest pace in seven years, as an otherwise dormant housing market showed fresh signs of life. The Commerce Department said that new home sales shot up 7.8 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 539,000, the strongest performance since February 2008. January sales were revised up nearly 4 percent to a rate of 500,000. Other parts of the housing market have struggled since 2015 got off to a frigid start, despite historically low mortgage rates and a sharp, yearlong upswing in hiring. The strong increase came from the South and, surprisingly, the Northeast, which was hammered by snowstorms last month. Buying fell in the Midwest and West last month. The median sales price rose 2.6 percent since February 2014 to $275,500.

Lexmark to buy developer Kofax for $1B

Printer maker Lexmark International will buy software developer Kofax Ltd. for about $1 billion. The deal values Kofax at $11 per share. That's a 47 percent premium to the stock's Tuesday closing price of $7.50. Lexmark says the purchase nearly doubles the size of its enterprise software business, giving that unit about $700 million in annual revenue. Lexmark, based in Lexington, Ky., had $3.7 billion in adjusted revenue in its latest fiscal year, while Kofax of Irvine, Calif., reported $297 million in revenue.

For breakfast at Taco Bell: Biscuit Tacos

Taco Bell is sticking with the playbook that helped it muscle into the breakfast business last year: Take a breakfast sandwich and put it in a taco. The fast-food chain will introduce a new line of Biscuit Tacos, which wrap taco-shaped biscuits around fillings such as chicken and gravy, at its U.S. restaurants on Thursday as part of an expanded morning menu. As it searches for additional portable breakfast items, Taco Bell is testing Cap'n Crunch Delights — coated with Cap'n Crunch Berries cereal — in Bakersfield, Calif. With the introduction of the new breakfast biscuits, Taco Bell is retiring the waffle taco after about a year on the menu. The new Biscuit Tacos will be sold for a suggested price of $2.49.

Illness traced to second Blue Bell plant

A foodborne illness that contributed to the deaths of three people has been traced to a second production facility operated by Blue Bell Ice Cream. Blue Bell spokesman Gene Grabowski said that a contaminated 3-ounce cup of ice cream was traced to a plant in Broken Arrow, Okla. Ten products recalled earlier this month by the company were from a production line at a plant in Brenham, Texas, where the company is based. The recall began when five patients in Wichita, Kan., became ill with listeria while hospitalized.

Business confidence up in eurozone

A measure of business sentiment in the eurozone has hit its highest level in nearly four years, providing one more glimmer of hope that a long-awaited European economic recovery might finally be taking hold. Markit Economics, a data analysis firm based in London, said that its March survey of purchasing managers across the 19-nation eurozone showed output expanding at the quickest pace since May 2011.

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