Rise in London-Area Leases by U.S. Banks

LONDON - U.S. banks are adding to their office space outside London, Europe's traditional finance center.Canary Wharf Group PLC, a London-based property developer, said it has leased 590,000 square feet of office space and will erect two buildings to accommodate demand for space by such banking companies as Citigroup Inc and Bank of New York Co., as well as investment banks Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co. and Bear, Stearns & Co.

Citigroup is also leasing 315,000 square feet at 25 Canada Square, which is still under construction, adding to the 600,000 square feet that the largest U.S. financial services company had already leased there. With its existing space in 33 Canada Square, Citigroup has leased about 1.5 million square feet in Canary Wharf, the financial center three miles east of London.

Bank of New York and Bear Stearns are leasing another 80,000 square feet between them, bringing total space to 152,000 and 87,000 square feet, respectively. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter is leasing another 197,000 square feet, bringing its total space in the development to nearly a million square feet.

- Bloomberg News

MasterCard Adds a Souped-Up Fleet Card

PURCHASE, N.Y. - MasterCard International Thursday launched an "all-in-one" fleet, purchasing, and payroll card, in conjunction with Amsouth Bancorp. of Birmingham, Ala., and Comdata Corp., which processes and issues proprietary fleet cards.MasterCard said the Comchek MasterCard Corporate Fleet Card is the first U.S. credit card that also has certain debit capabilities, allowing the users to access their wages and expense reimbursements.

Amsouth and Comdata, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ceridian Corp. of Minneapolis, had issued a fleet/purchasing card with Visa, but Comdata said it plans to phase out the Visa cards in the next 30 to 90 days. "We felt like [MasterCard] offered us the most powerful purchasing network out there," said Randy Morgan, senior vice president of business fleet services for Comdata.

More than 150,000 cards will be rolled out initially. The card will be accepted at all MasterCard locations as well as 10,000 truck stops that honor Comdata's Comchek card.

- Helen Stock

Internet Payment Services Firms Merge

PALO ALTO, Calif. - X.com Corp. and PayPal.com, two companies that provide person-to-person payment services on the Internet, on Thursday announced a merger of equals.Terms of the deal, which has closed, were not revealed.

The combined company, which claims a customer base of more than 500,000 users, offers free on-line payment services. People using Internet auction sites or on-line merchants can use the service to send payments on-line.

The deal comes on the heels of the creation of a similar service, BillPoint, by Wells Fargo & Co. and eBay. X.com officials said the timing of the deal was coincidental.

- Steven Marjanovic

Sales of New Homes Dip 4.2% in January

WASHINGTON - Sales of new single-family homes in the United States dropped in January to the lowest level in four months as higher borrowing costs took hold, the Commerce Department said Thursday.Sales fell 4.2% in January, to 882,000 homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate. In December, home sales rose 4%, to a rate of 921,000. The Commerce Department previously reported a 900,000 rate in December.

- Bloomberg News

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