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TOP STORIES

Shares flirt with record highs on ECB easing bets

LONDON - Global shares flirt with an all-time peak and the euro touches a fresh 2-1/2 month low, driven by bets that the European Central Bank will unveil new stimulus measures in a week's time. (MARKETS-GLOBAL (WRAPUP 4), moved, by Francesco Canepa, 500 words)

Russia forges huge economic bloc with Kazakhstan and Belarus

ASTANA - The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus sign a treaty creating a vast trading bloc they hope will challenge the economic might of the United States, the European Union and China. (UKRAINE CRISIS/EURASIA, moved, by Raushan Nurshayeva and Alexei Anishchuk, 300 words)

Spanish economy posts third straight quarter of growth

MADRID - The Spanish economy is buoyed by recovering domestic demand, marking the third quarter of growth as the country shakes off a long-running recession. (SPAIN-ECONOMY/GDP (UPDATE 1), moved, by Sonya Dowsett, 400 words)

Argentina in deal with Paris Club to clear $9.7 bln in debt

PARIS - Argentina reaches an agreement with the Paris Club over repaying overdue debts, in a landmark deal that could open up much-needed international financing for the country. (ARGENTINA-DEBT/PARISCLUB (UPDATE 2), expect by 0930 GMT/5.30 AM ET, by Leigh Thomas, 550 words)

INVESTMENT

LONDON - A series of high-profile failures to seal big European corporate deals has led investors to temper their expectations of big merger-driven gains on the stock market. (EUROPE-STOCKS/MERGERS (GRAPHIC), expect by 1100 GMT/7 AM ET, by Sudip Kar-Gupta, 600 words)

ECONOMY

Britain releases data on controversial Help to Buy programme

LONDON - Britain's government releases first quarter numbers on its controversial Help to Buy mortgage guarantee programme, providing some insight into how far it has contributed to the rapid rebound in the housing market. (BRITAIN-ECONOMY/HOUSING (UPDATE 1), expect by 0930 GMT/5.30 AM ET, by Ana Nicolaci da Costa, 600 words)

BOJ's Shirai says stimulus will continue well into 2016

TOKYO - Bank of Japan board member Sayuri Shirai says that aggressive monetary stimulus should remain in place well into 2016 as it will take longer than the central bank's two-year timeframe to achieve its price target. (JAPAN-ECONOMY/BOJ (UPDATE 2), moved, by Leika Kihara, 450 words)

+ See also:

- JAPAN-ECONOMY/PRICES, moved, by Stanley White, 550 words

South Africa's mines minister: from hunter to strike buster

JOHANNESBURG - In his spare time, South Africa's tough new mines minister, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, stalks game. Hunting season is in full swing but Ramatlhodi has his eye on bigger game: a solution to a crippling platinum strike which threatens to tip Africa's most advanced economy into recession. (SAFRICA-MINES/MINISTER (NEWSMAKER), expect by 1100 GMT/7 AM ET, by Zandi Shabalala and Ed Stoddard, 750 words)

+ See also

- AFRICA-INVESTMENT/, expect by 1200 GMT/8 AM ET

- SAFRICA-STRIKE/, moving shortly

Top scientists warn who not to stub out e-cigarettes

LONDON - A group of 53 leading scientists has warned the World Health Organisation not to classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, arguing that doing so would jeopardise a major opportunity to slash disease and deaths caused by smoking. (HEALTH-ECIGARETTES/, moved, by Ben Hirschler, 500 words)

COMPANIES

Russia's Sberbank hit by Ukraine crisis

MOSCOW - Sberbank, Russia's biggest bank by assets, joins smaller rival VTB in showing the impact of the Ukraine crisis on its bottom line, reporting a slide in profits as it hikes provisions for potential bad loans. (RUSSIA-SBERBANK/RESULTS (UPDATE 2), moving shortly, by Megan Davies, 500 words)

Pressure on B&Q margins knocks Kingfisher shares

LONDON - Kingfisher, Europe's biggest home improvements retailer, reports a 20 percent jump in first-quarter profits, slightly below forecasts and disappointing investors who were expecting a stronger lift in sales from warmer weather. (KINGFISHER-RESULTS/ (UPDATE 3), expect by 0930 Gmt/5.30 AM ET, by Neil Maidment, 700 words)

Centrica loses second executive in five months

LONDON - Britain's Centrica sparks concerns over its leadership with the news that the head of British Gas is set to leave, the second big-name departure in five months for a group battling public anger over rising bills. (CENTRICA-WESTON/AGGREKO (UPDATE 2), expect by 1000 GMT/6 AM ET, by Kate Holton and Karolin Schaps, 500 words)

Weak sweetener sales sour Tate & Lyle performance

LONDON - Tate & Lyle posts a drop in profit and forecasts a further weakening in the new year, as the British food ingredients firm continues to be stung by the cold winter in the United States and a dramatic drop in sucralose prices. (TATE&LYLE-RESULTS (UPDATE 2), expect by 1030 GMT/0530 AM ET, by Martinne Geller, 500 words)

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