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TOP STORIES

Merkel pushes euro zone for reforms after bank closure deal

BRUSSELS - German Chancellor Angela Merkel presses euro zone leaders to agree on binding contracts to reform their economies after EU finance ministers clinch an outline deal on a common system for closing failed banks (EU-SUMMIT/ (tv, pix), expect by 1600 GMT/11 AM ET, by Paul Taylor, 600 words)

Europe's half-hearted bid to protect its banks

Europe's efforts to form a united front behind euro zone banks are reaching a climax but many fear that it will fall short in restoring confidence and may prove flimsy should another crisis strike. (EU-BANKS/, expect by 1600 GMT/11 AM ET, by John O'Donnell, 650 words)

+ See also:

- EUROPE-BANKS/RESOLUTIONS, expect by 1630 GMT/11.30 AM ET, by Ole Mikkelsen, 700 words

European shares rally as Fed sugar-coats taper

LONDON - Shares rally after the U.S. Federal Reserve sugar-coats its decision to start winding down its crisis-era stimulus with a promise to keep interest rates at record low levels even longer than previously signalled. (MARKETS-GLOBAL/ (WRAPUP 5), moved, by Marc Jones, 800 words)

Navigating monetary policy faces new challenges

LONDON - The gradual, global withdrawal of unprecedented central bank stimulus has officially begun, giving investors a new and daunting challenge: navigating monetary policy which will increasingly amount to not much more than mere words.(MARKETS-FED, expect by 1400 GMT/9 AM ET, by Jamie McGeever, 440 words)

ECONOMY

U.S. jobless claims rise to near nine-month high

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose last week to the highest level in nearly nine months, casting a shadow on the labour market. (USA-ECONOMY/ (WRAPUP 1), expect by 1400 GMT/9 AM ET, by Lucia Mutikani, 600 words)

Bernanke's 11th hour pivot eases Yellen's transition

NEW YORK - By moving Federal Reserve policy makers to agree on reducing their massive bond buying programme during his next-to-last meeting as chairman, Ben Bernanke has greased the skids politically for his successor, Janet Yellen, just as the annual rotation of Fed voters puts more hawks at the table (USA-FED/YELLEN-OUTLOOK (ANALYSIS), expect by 2000 GMT/3 PM ET, by Jonathan Spicer and Ann Saphir, 1000 words)

Regulators to soften rules to help revive securitisation

LONDON - Global regulators have softened proposed new rules for securitisation in a bid to help kick start a financing method tarnished by the financial crisis. (BASEL-SECURITISATION/ (UPDATE 1), moved, by Huw Jones, 425 words)

Political, election risks to haunt emerging markets in 2014

LONDON - Syria, Iran and elections in every one of the "fragile five" emerging economies make next year a complex one for investors hoping to protect themselves against political risk in developing markets following a hairy 2013. (EMERGING-POLITICAL/RISK, expect by 1400 GMT/9 AM ET, by Carolyn Cohn, 950 words)

COMPANIES

Europe's stores hope for better Xmas in fragile recovery

BERLIN/PARIS - Retailers in Europe expect to celebrate their best Christmas since the financial crisis, benefiting from a tentative economic recovery, although the rise of e-commerce and the popularity of discounters is still roiling the industry (EUROPE-RETAIL/CHRISTMAS, moved, by Emma Thomasson and Dominique Vidalon, 900 words)

US Target stores group says data from 40 mln cards stolen

Target Corp says data from about 40 million credit and debit card accounts might have been stolen from customers who shopped in its stores over a 19-day period ending Sunday, in one of the largest card breaches at a U.S. retailer. (TARGET-BREACH (UPDATE 1), moved, 400 words)

Saab wins surprise victory in Brazilian fighters race

STOCKHOLM - Shares in Swedish aerospace firm Saab leap by a quarter after it beats U.S. and French rivals to win a $4.5 billion fighter deal with Brazil, strengthening its hand in competing for export orders for years to come. (BRAZIL JETS/ (UPDATE 2), moving shortly, 500 words)

Astra to buy Bristol stake in diabetes JV for up to $4.1 bln

LONDON - AstraZeneca agrees to buy Bristol-Myers Squibb's stake in the companies' diabetes joint venture for up to $4.1 billion in a deal that will help return the group to growth, sending its shares to an new high (ASTRAZENECA/ (UPDATE 2), moved, by Sarah Young and Ben Hirschler, 600 words)

Bayer wins Norway cancer firm Algeta with $2.9 bln offer

FRANKFURT/OSLO - Bayer wins the backing of Algeta's board to take over its Norwegian partner for a new prostate cancer treatment after sweetening its offer to 362 Norwegian crowns per share, valuing Algeta at $2.9 billion. (BAYER-ALGETA/ (UPDATE 2), moved, 450 words)

Deutsche Bank talks with buyers for its uranium business

LONDON - Deutsche Bank is holding preliminary talks with potential buyers of its uranium trading business - the first sign since announcing it was largely exiting commodities trading that parts of the operation are now on the block. (DEUTSCHE URANIUM/, moved, by David Sheppard, 500 words)

Lloyds set to exit state ownership, RBS has hurdles to clear

LONDON - Lloyds Bank is set to return to full private ownership in the next 18 months but its part-nationalised rival Royal Bank of Scotland still has several hurdles to overcome before it regains its independence. (LLOYDS-RBS, expect by 1500 GMT/10 AM ET, by Matt Scuffham, 800 words)

UK to decide whether to allow G4S, Serco to sign new deals

London - Britain has told outsourcing company G4S to overhaul its business after announcing that two additional government contracts are to be investigated by the country's fraud office. (BRITAIN-OUTSOURCING/ (UPDATE 2), moving shortly, by Christine Murray, 600 words)

Carlyle ventures into Europe's ailing refining sector

VIENNA - Private equity giant Carlyle Group makes a surprise foray into Europe's struggling refining sector by teaming up with Swiss trading house Vitol to co-own refining, storage and distribution assets in Switzerland and Germany. (OMV-BAYERNOIL/SALE (UPDATE 3), moved, by Georgina Prodhan and Ron Bousso, 600 words)

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