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TOP STORIES

U.S. economy contracts on inventories, trade

WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter for the first time in three years as it buckled under the weight of a severe winter, but there are signs activity has since rebounded. (USA-ECONOMY (WRAPUP), expect by 1400 GMT 600 words)

Shares flirt with record highs on ECB easing bets

LONDON - Global shares flirt with an all-time peak on Thursday while German bond yields hold at the lowest levels in a year on bets the European Central Bank would unveil new stimulus measures next week. (MARKETS-GLOBAL (WRAPUP 5), expect by 1300 GMT, by Francesco Canepa, 500 words))

Putin creates ex-Soviet trade bloc, denies new USSR

ASTANA - Russian President Vladimir Putin signs a treaty with Kazakhstan and Belarus creating a vast trading bloc that he hopes will challenge the economic might of the United States, the European Union and China. (UKRAINE CRISIS/EURASIA (UPDATE 1), moved, by Raushan Nurshayeva and Alexei Anishchuk, 500 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), moved, by Leigh Thomas, 550 words)

INVESTMENT

Shareholder anger simmers worldwide over bankers' pay

LONDON - Investors owning almost 6 billion shares reject the pay plans of 10 of the world's biggest banks as anger over excessive bonuses reaches record levels in Britain and jumps sharply from a year ago in the United States. (BANKS-SALARY/SHAREHOLDERS-AGM, expect by 1600 GMT/12 ET, by Steve Slater, 600 words)

ECONOMY

UK's help to buy mortgage plan has limited impact so far

LONDON - Britain's government said on Thursday that its controversial Help to Buy mortgage guarantee programme accounted for just 1.3 percent of all mortgages issued in Britain since it was launched six months ago. (BRITAIN-ECONOMY/HOUSING (UPDATE 1), moved, by Ana Nicolaci da Costa, 600 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)

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)

Modi win engenders hopes for India's sluggish economy

NEW DELHI- India's economy probably showed few signs of recovery in the March quarter, but Narendra Modi's thumping victory in the recent general election has raised hopes of an investment-led turnaround in the coming quarters. (INDIA-ECONOMY/GDP (PREVIEW), moved, by Rajesh Kumar Singh, 785 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), moved, by Zandi Shabalala and Ed Stoddard, 750 words)

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/ (UPDATE 1), moved, by Ben Hirschler, 500 words)

COMPANIES

Russia's Sberbank hit by Ukraine crisis

MOSCOW - Sberbank, Russia's biggest bank by assets, reports an 18 percent slide in profits and more than doubles its provisions for bad loans, hit by the Ukraine crisis, a falling rouble and an economy flirting with recession. (RUSSIA-SBERBANK/RESULTS (UPDATE 2), moved, by Megan Davies, 500 words)

Deutsche Telekom accepts Softbank offer for US unit - Kyodo

Deutsche Telekom has agreed to a plan by Japanese mobile company Softbank Corp to buy T-Mobile US Inc, the fourth-largest U.S. mobile carrier, Kyodo news agency reported, citing industry sources. (SOFTBANK-TMOBILE/, moved, 100 words)

Tyson offers to buy Hillshire in $6.8 bln deal

Tyson Foods Inc, the largest U.S. meat processor, offers to buy Hillshire Brands Co in a deal valued at $6.8 billion to expand into the breakfast food category. (HILLSHIRE-BRANDS OFFER/, moved, 100 words)

Kingfisher fails to make the most of UK sunshine

LONDON - Shares in Kingfisher, Europe's biggest home improvements retailer, fall 6 percent as pressure on profit margins and a smaller than expected sales boost from warmer weather push first-quarter earnings below forecast. (KINGFISHER-RESULTS/ (UPDATE 3), moved, 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), moved, 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), moved, by Martinne Geller, 500 words)

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