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TOP STORIES

U.S. jobless claims fall as labor market firms

WASHINGTON - The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week fell and planned layoffs hit a 13-1/2-year low in December, adding to a range of data that have suggested the economy is gaining steam.(USA-ECONOMY/ (WRAPUP 2), moving shortly, by Lucia Mutikani, 600 words)

+ See also:

USA-FED/YELLEN-TIME (UPDATE 1), moved, 720 words)

Alcoa to pay $384 million to settle bribery charges

Alcoa Inc and a joint venture it controls will pay $384 million to settle charges that the aluminum producer's subsidiaries bribed officials in Bahrain, U.S. authorities say ALCOA-SETTLEMENT/ (UPDATE 2), moving shortly, 500 words)

+ See also:

- ALCOA-RESULTS/, expect by 2200 GMT / 5 PM ET), 350 words

ECB holds rates as it assesses inflation "danger zone"

FRANKFURT - The European Central Bank leaves interest rates at a record low, holding off fresh action for now while it assesses whether it needs to respond to cost-of-living numbers weak enough to raise concerns about deflation. (ECB/RATES (UPDATE 2, PIX, TV), moved, by Eva Taylor and Sakari Suoninen, 715 words)

+ See also:

- BRITAIN-BOE/ (UPDATE 1), moved, by William Schomberg and David Milliken, 400 words

EU bank trading rules widen global gap in regulations

LONDON - Banks are pleased this week by news that Europe will impose less-restrictive rules on trading than the United States, but the announcement proves that global regulations are likely to remain inconsistent despite pledges to unify them. (G20-REGULATION/, moved, by Huw Jones, 770 words)

INSIGHT & EXCLUSIVE

Credit Suisse sticks with money-losing U.S. brokerage

NEW YORK - Credit Suisse Group is betting it can turn around its unprofitable U.S. private wealth business with new loan products and a focus on the ultra-rich, a strategy greeted with skepticism by some securities analysts and former officials at the bank. (CREDITSUISSE-WEALTH/REVAMP (INSIGHT, PICTURE), moved, by Jed Horowitz, 1,240 words)

Singapore Airlines-Tata JV orders Airbus A320s - sources

SINGAPORE/PARIS - Singapore Airlines has picked Airbus's A320 aircraft over Boeing's 737 for the launch of its Indian airline joint venture with Tata Sons, sources familiar with the decision say. (SIA-TATA/ (EXCLUSIVE, UPDATE 2), moved, by Siva Govindasamy and Tim Hepher, 840 words)

MARKETS

Strong euro zone periphery run shows no sign of fading

NEW YORK - Stock markets in the United States and Europe rise modestly, lifted by data pointing to improved economic conditions, though investors held off on making big bets ahead of the monthly payroll report in the United States (MARKETS-GLOBAL/ (WRAPUP 6, GRAPHIC), moving shortly, by Ryan Vlastelica, 700 words)

+ See also:

- MARKETS-USA-STOCKS (UPDATE 4), expect by 1700 GMT/12 PM ET, by Rodrigo Campos, 500 words

ECONOMY

Experts warn of hiccups as new U.S. mortgage rules go live

WASHINGTON - U.S. banks and housing groups are bracing for paperwork headaches and delays as major post-crisis mortgage reforms take effect later this week, but experts say prior warnings of a blow to the housing recovery will not be proven right. (USA-HOUSING/MORTGAGES (ANALYSIS), moved, by Emily Stephenson and Margaret Chadbourn, 890 words)

Euro zone morale jumps, easing pressure on ECB to act

BRUSSELS - Euro zone economic sentiment rises more than expected in December and inflation expectations pick up, data shows, easing some pressure on the European Central Bank to loosen monetary strings further. (EUROZONE-ECONOMY/SENTIMENT (UPDATE 1), moved, by Martin Santa, 520 words)

+ See also:

GERMANY-INDUSTRY/OUTPUT, moved, 200 words

BRITAIN-TRADE/, moved, 300 words)

Canada housing starts, prices flat as market cools

TORONTO - Canada's once-hot housing market showed signs of cooling as 2013 drew to a close, with building permits and housing starts falling and prices leveling off in the final months of the year after a strong summer and fall. (CANADA-ECONOMY/ (WRAPUP 1), moved by Andrea Hopkins, 720 words)

China inflation hits 7-month low, eases tightening fears

BEIJING - China's annual consumer inflation slows more sharply than expected to a seven-month low of 2.5 percent in December, easing market fears of tighter monetary policy rates although the central bank is tapping the brakes on bank liquidity. (CHINA-ECONOMY/CPI (UPDATE 3), moved, by Aileen Wang and Kevin Yao, 600 words)

Greek industrial slump persists, jobless rate at record high

ATHENS - Greece's industrial slump deepens and unemployment ticked up to a record high, data shows, highlighting the ravages of a six-year recession even as the debt-laden economy shows tentative signs of an economic recovery elsewhere. (GREECE-UNEMPLOYMENT/ (UPDATE 1), moved, 300 words)

COMPANIES

Cargill Q2 earnings rise, boosted by big U.S. harvest

U.S. agribusiness giant Cargill Inc reports a 36 percent rise in quarterly profit, supported by a bigger U.S. crop harvest in 2013 that led to lower grain prices and improved meat margins. (CARGILL-RESULTS/ (UPDATE 1), moved, 250 words)

McKesson ups offer for Celesio to persuade Elliott

FRANKFURT - U.S. drugs wholesaler McKesson raises its offer for German peer Celesio on Thursday to about $8.4 billion, ncluding debt, persuading a hedge fund that had been blocking the deal to agree to sell some of its shares.(CELESIO-MCKESSON/ (UPDATE 3), moving shortly, by Ludwig Burger, 500 words)

Novartis, Merck discuss earnings-boosting asset swap

Novartis AG is discussing swapping its animal health and human vaccines businesses for Merck & Co Inc's over-the-counter products unit in a deal that could boost earnings at both companies. (NOVARTIS-MERCK/ (UPDATE 1), moved, by Sophie Sassard and Arno Schuetze, 580 words)

U.S. retailer sales rise in December, but discounts hurt

NEW YORK - Many U.S. retailers had to ramp up promotions last month as shoppers continued to watch their spending during the holiday season, hitting profits at several chains. (USA-RETAIL/DECEMBER, moved, by Phil Wahba, 560 words)

Turnarounds elusive at Tesco, M&S and Morrisons

LONDON - Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons, three of the biggest names in British retail, post heavy falls in Christmas sales, showing little sign of their much vaunted and costly turnarounds and ratcheting up pressure on their leaders.(BRITAIN-RETAILERS/ (WRAPUP 2), moved, by James Davey and Kate Holton, 990 words)

Family Dollar hurt by lower-income shopper struggles

U.S. retailer Family Dollar Stores Inc reports weaker-than-expected results in the first quarter and cuts its outlook for the year after discounting more than it had originally planned to win shoppers in the holiday season (FAMILYDOLLAR-RESULTS/ (UPDATE 2), moving shortly, by Dhanya Skariachan, 400 words)

UBS likely mulling investment bank spinoff, says Mediobanca

ZURICH - UBS is likely weighing a spin-off for its investment bank as even stricter regulation looms, possibly resuscitating the venerable SG Warburg brand as an independent boutique, according to Mediobanca analysts. (UBS/, moved, by Katharina Bart, 400 words)

Danone to sue NZ's Fonterra over baby formula recall

WELLINGTON/PARIS - French food group Danone says it will sue wholesale dairy exporter Fonterra and stop buying products from the New Zealand firm following a contamination scare that sparked the recall of infant milk formula across Asia. (DANONE-NEW ZEALAND/ (UPDATE 4, GRAPHICS), moved, by Naomi Tajitsu and Geert De Clercq, 745 words)

Losing streak will test Man Utd's winning business model

LONDON - Manchester United's commercial strength means the English soccer champions can absorb the impact of a poor season on the field, but a longer slump would strain a business model based on sporting success. (SOCCER-MANCHESTER UNITED/FINANCES, moved, by Keith Weir, 915 words)

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