Markets: Closed yesterday

The UAW's president, speaking a week before the union's current agreement with Detroit's Big Three automakers expires, said General Motors and DaimlerChrysler have put forward the most generous first-round contract offers he had ever seen. Stephen P. Yokich, head of the United Auto Workers, told reporters at Detroit's annual Labor Day parade that he was encouraged by the proposals. Ford put forth no formal offer. About 350,000 UAW members at the Big Three are covered by the contract that will expire at midnight Sept. 14.

IBM will unveil this month a powerful server computer for Internet service providers, its first move to challenge Sun Microsystems in that market. The Netfinity 4000R, code-named Intimidator, will be just 1 1/2 inches thick so it can be stacked with other servers. The machine will cost up to $4,000 and will be powered by two Intel Pentium III processors.

Unilever, the world's biggest maker of household products, wants volume growth to reach at least 4 percent, excluding takeovers, from 2 percent last year and an average 2.3 percent during the last 10 years, co-Chairman Antony Burgmans said. That could mean acquisitions, combining smaller brands to form stronger units or shedding some altogether.

Royal Dutch Shell is selling a London landmark to Witkoff Group, a privately owned U.S. property group based in New York. Founder Steven Witkoff reportedly is offering about $288 million for the London Shell-Mex House building overlooking the River Thames.

National Westminster Bank in London announced a $17.2 billion agreement to take over life insurance and pension provider Legal & General Group. But some analysts considered the bid risky and expensive, and both firms' stocks fell in response to the news.

Air France posted a sharp gain in profit for its fiscal first quarter and said it wanted to secure a stake in the carrier British Midland and bring it into Air France's alliance with Delta Air Lines. The French national carrier said its net income in the period from April 1 to June 30 rose to $153 million, more than 17 times its earnings for the first quarter of 1998, which were depressed by a pilots strike.