DELL LOOKING AT NEW EUROPE PLANT - The Irish Times reports that Dell is considering opening its second European production plant to cope with increased demand in the region.

The paper says the computer manufacturer has confirmed reports of a speech by founder Michael Dell in which he said the firm was considering setting up a new plant in Europe.

Mr Dell did not specify in what country the plant would be located, although the firm moved yesterday to quash speculation that it was looking at France. The proposed production plant would be in addition to the firm's existing plant in Limerick which employs more than 3,000 staff, the paper quotes a Dell spokeswoman as saying.

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FUNDING FOR SOFTWARE FIRM iQUATE - Software firm iQuate has secured €700,000 in venture capital funding from Executive Venture Partners and Enterprise Ireland, reports the Irish Independent.

IQuate develops software that makes it easier for firms to manage their computer networks in the Compliance, Risk and Governance (CRG) market.

The paper says its customers include Kellogg's, AIB, the US Navy and the University of Oregon. IQuate will use the money to support its sales and marketing efforts and expand and enhance its product portfolio.

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DRUG CONTROVERSY TO HIT MERCK PROFITS - The Financial Times reports that Merck has provided further evidence of decline, as it forecast lower profits next year because of the withdrawal of Vioxx and the erosion of patent protection for Zocor, its biggest drug.

The pharmaceuticals group said that 2005 earnings per share would be $2.42 to $2.52, below Wall Street expectations and a drop of up to 8% from earlier forecasts.

The deteriorating outlook underlines Merck's difficulties over Vioxx, a popular painkiller withdrawn in September amid fears that regular use doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Its shares have since plunged 40%.

Next year's forecast decline would mark the fourth consecutive year the company has reported lower or flat earnings.

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UK GROUP BUYS LIMERICK AIR GROUP - The Irish Examiner says that a Limerick-based aviation services company has been taken over by a British firm for just over €2.5m.

FBO Shannon, which has operations at the Co Clare airport and Dublin Airport, has agreed to sell an 85% stake in the company to London-listed BBA Group.

The company provides a number of support services to airlines at Dublin and Shannon, including crew transfer and aircraft refuelling and towing. It also provides a number of services for executive jets including VIP buses.

BBA Group said its Irish acquisition would be a good fit with its Signature Flight Support subsidiary.