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S&P Holds French Rating, Praises Reforms, Doubts Targets

Rating agency Standard and Poor's on Friday maintained its rating for France at "AA" with a stable outlook, welcoming a raft of new reforms but warning that targets were unduly optimistic.

"In our view, the French government has shifted toward policies to reduce labor costs and corporate taxation in order to improve the economy's competitiveness," S&P said in a statement.

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Iran Announces Stiff Petrol Price Hikes

Iran announced petrol price hikes as high as 75 percent to take immediate effect Friday, in a long-awaited attempt to regulate energy prices in the country's flatlining, sanctions-hit economy.

The increases, which took effect at midnight, are part of the second phase of government plans to remove all energy subsidies. The cost of electricity and domestic gas went up by 25 percent earlier this year as part of the same programme.

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Oil Prices Up on Ukraine Tensions

Oil prices rose in Asian trade Friday after Russia ordered new military exercises on the border with Ukraine in response to Kiev launching a deadly assault against pro-Kremlin rebels occupying a flashpoint town.

U.S. benchmark, West Texas Intermediate for June delivery, was up two cents at $101.96 a barrel in mid-morning trade and Brent North Sea crude for June also climbed two cents to $110.35.

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Iranians Deliver Rouhani's First Political Defeat

Eight months after taking office, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has suffered his first major political defeat, with the public overwhelmingly brushing aside appeals to forgo direct government aid.

The 455,000-rial ($14, 10-euro) monthly handout scheme, initiated in December 2010 by Rouhani's predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is part of broader economic reforms aimed at overhauling the country's massive subsidy system.

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Solid Eurozone PMI Report Boosts Euro

Euro rose against the dollar Wednesday after a positive report on eurozone business activity pointed to recovery momentum in the single-currency economy.

Markit Economics said its Eurozone Composite Purchasing Managers Index for April, a leading indicator of manufacturing and services activity, jumped to 54 points from 53.1 in March, the highest PMI reading since May 2011.

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Moody's Cuts Cuba Rating on Risk from Venezuela Turmoil

Moody's cut Cuba's credit rating Wednesday by one notch, citing its vulnerability to a shock increase in fuel costs arising from turmoil in supplier Venezuela.

Moody's also cited the risk of a rocky political transition in the Caribbean island in the wake of the Castro regime as it cut the rating to Caa2 from Caa1, well into "speculative" territory for debt.

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New Zealand Hikes Interest Rates Again

New Zealand's central bank lifted interest rates for the second time in as many months on Thursday, saying it was necessary to contain inflation as an economic recovery gains momentum.

The Reserve Bank of New Zealand raised the official cash rate (OCR) 0.25 points to 3.0 percent in a well-flagged move that was widely anticipated by market watchers, who predict rates will hit 4.5 percent by the end of next year.

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Lincoln, Cadillac Chase Audi in China Luxury Market

Classic American luxury brands Lincoln and Cadillac are taking on Germany's long-dominant Audi in China, but face a market leader fortified by enviable brand awareness built over years as officialdom's favorite car.

Black Audis -- with their four interlocking ring symbols, signifying the long-ago merger of four German auto companies -- are ubiquitous at state events, such as the annual meeting of China's legislature in central Beijing.

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HSBC: China Manufacturing Improves Slightly in April

Chinese manufacturing activity improved slightly in April as domestic demand showed "mild improvement", HSBC said Wednesday, but it warned the world's second-largest economy was still showing signs of weakness.

The banking giant's preliminary purchasing managers' index (PMI), which tracks manufacturing activity in China's factories and workshops, rose to 48.3 in April from a final reading of 48.0 in March, the British banking giant said in a statement.

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Eurozone April Business Activity Nears 3-Year High

Eurozone business activity hit a near three-year high in April as a modest economic recovery gained momentum and began creating jobs, a closely watched survey showed on Wednesday.

Markit Economics said its Eurozone Composite Purchasing Managers Index (PMI) for April, a leading indicator of overall economic activity, jumped to 54 points from 53.1 in March, the highest reading since May 2011.

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