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Italy asks EU for more time to meet deficit target

Italy on Thursday asked the European Union to push back a deadline for cutting its public deficit to 2016, days after France reportedly tried and failed to get another extension. Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said record unemployment and weak growth -- exasperated by measures to pay tens of billions of euros of overdue arrears to companies -- were making it difficult to cut Italy's towering debt. "Despite the positive signs, the economic recovery is still fragile and the situation in the job market is still difficult," he told parliament.

Strong European currencies eat into company profits

By Tom Bergin and Martinne Geller LONDON (Reuters) - As European policymakers consider action to stop a strong euro holding back jobs growth, companies across the continent say the currency's strength is already eating into their profits. Some of Europe's largest companies including Danone <DANO.PA>, SAP AG <SAPG.DE> and L'Oreal <OREP.PA> have posted buoyant first-quarter sales volumes in the past week thanks largely to strong demand in emerging markets such as Brazil and in North America.

Lithuania pushes ahead on euro amid insecurity over Russia

Lithuania on Thursday moved one step closer to joining the eurozone, as concerns over Soviet-era master Moscow give it all the more reason to firmly root itself in the West. Eighty-seven lawmakers in the 141-seat parliament voted in favour of legislation regulating currency exchange and price displays, while seven were against and 13 abstained. "Deeper integration boosts the country's security and increases Lithuania's political weight in Europe and on the international stage," Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said in a statement.

French economy minister urges talks over euro strength

PARIS (Reuters) - France wants euro zone countries to meet soon in order to discuss the euro's strength and monetary policy, French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said an interview. "The euro's strength is ... a political subject. We want our European partners to meet soon to discuss this subject," Montebourg said in an interview published on Les Echos business daily's website on Wednesday.

French economy minister urges talks over euro strength

PARIS (Reuters) - France wants euro zone countries to meet soon in order to discuss the euro's strength and monetary policy, French Economy Minister Arnaud Montebourg said an interview. "The euro's strength is ... a political subject. We want our European partners to meet soon to discuss this subject," Montebourg said in an interview published on Les Echos business daily's website on Wednesday.

World economy on steady course at best, China a worry, polls show

By Rahul Karunakar (Reuters) - The world economy can expect steady growth at best over the coming year, but any rapid slowdown in China as it tries to rebalance its economy could upset the still-unsteady progress, Reuters polls showed. Growth in the United States, the world's largest economy, looks set to outpace its peers, with Japan and the euro zone still lagging and emerging markets - particularly Latin America - in for a challenging year. <ECILT/US> <ECILT/JP> <ECILT/LTAM>

Business Highlights

___ Yellen signals more aggressive stance toward banks WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve may be about to turn more aggressive in its regulation of the financial system. Fed Chair Janet Yellen suggested Tuesday that current regulatory rules might not be enough to prevent the kind of risk-taking that triggered the 2008 financial crisis and nearly toppled the entire banking system.

British official annual inflation slows to 1.6%: official data

Britain's 12-month inflation slowed to 1.6 percent in March, the lowest for four and a half years, official data showed on Tuesday. The latest figure comes against a background of growing concern about deflationary pressures in Europe, notably in the eurozone to which Britain does not belong, and also in central europe. The rate had stood at 1.7 percent in February and at 1.9 percent in January, holding underneath the Bank of England's target level of 2.0 percent. The March rate was the lowest since October 2009 but was in line with market expectations.

Greek short-term borrowing costs tumble after return to bond market

ATHENS, Greece - Greece's borrowing costs in a short-term debt sale have tumbled, days after the country returned to the international bond markets. The interest rate on a 13-week treasury bill issued Tuesday fell to 2.45 per cent, compared with 3.1 per cent for a similar issue last month, according to the public debt management agency. Greece raised 1.625 billion euros ($2.25 billion) in Tuesday's sale, which was 2.73 times oversubscribed.

Food company Nestle sees sales rise 4.2 per cent in Q1 despite weak prices in Europe

FRANKFURT - Food company Nestle SA says sales rose 4.2 per cent in the first quarter compared with a year ago despite deflationary pressures in Europe. The Switzerland-based maker of Lean Cuisine, Nespresso and Haagen-Dazs said Tuesday that sales of 20.8 billion Swiss francs ($23.7 billion) were held back by a strong franc and by a flat retail environment that is keeping prices down in Europe. Sales there fell 0.8 per cent. Candy sales were reduced by a later Easter, which pushed sales of sweets into the second quarter.
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