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Updated: Feb 21 2013, 09:40am hrs
Wal-Marts fourth-quarter profit up 8.6%, outlook wary

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is reporting an 8.6% increase in fourth-quarter profit. But the worlds largest retailer offered a subdued outlook as its low-income shoppers continue to be squeezed by economic challenges. Wal-Mart says it earned $5.6 billion, or $1.67 per share, in the quarter ended January 31. Thats up from $5.16 billion, or $1.50 per share, a year earlier. Net sales rose 3.9% to $127.1 billion. Earnings topped estimates of $1.57 per share, but net sales fell short of the $127.8 billion estimate. The US-based company says revenue at stores open at least a year rose 1% for its namesake US business for the quarter, below the 1.5% estimate from Thomson Reuters.

EU clears $24 bn state guarantee for French bank

The European Union has approved state guarantees worth 18 billion euros ($24 billion) for an ailing French real estate bank on the condition that Paris present a plan to restructure or close it within six months. The EU Commissions anti-trust regulator said on Thursday the guarantee for Credit Immobilier de France is necessary to avoid major disruption in the French banking system as a whole. It said the state guarantee is necessary to cover the real estate lenders urgent liquidity needs and to give it time to draw up a restructuring or orderly resolution plan. French authorities bailed out CIF after it ran into a funding crunch following rating downgrades last year.

Nike suspends contract with Oscar Pistorius

Nike has suspended its contract with Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee runner from South Africa who is facing a charge of premeditated murder in the Valentines Day slaying of his girlfriend. Pistorius, who became the first double-amputee runner to compete on the track at the Olympics at last years London Games, is accused of intentionally killing model Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and that the shooting was accidental. We believe Oscar Pistorius should be afforded due process and we will continue to monitor the situation closely, Nike said in a brief statement posted on its website Wednesday. On Monday, eyewear maker Oakley suspended its contract with Pistorius.

Egypt to seek IMF talks as it reveals grim data

Egypt plans to invite an IMF mission to Cairo within a week, the government said on Thursday, signalling an imminent resumption of negotiations over a $4.8 billion loan as it struggles with an acute foreign currency shortage. Planning minister Ashraf al-Araby said foreign investment in Egypt had all but dried up and announced grim economic data, exposing the depth of the countrys financial crisis before the elections expected in spring. Analysts had expected the government of President Mohamed Mursi to try to delay a deal with the IMF until after the elections, as the loans terms will demand highly unpopular austerity measures. Parliamentary polls are expected to begin in April or May. However, Araby said he expected rapid movement.

Merkel champions trans-Atlantic trade

Chancellor Angela Merkel says a proposed trans-Atlantic trade agreement between the European Union and the US has Germanys strong backing, and would have global impact. The proposal has garnered support on both continents, with President Barack Obama saying earlier this month that the US believes trade that is free and fair across the Atlantic supports millions of good-paying American jobs. Merkel told Parliament on Thursday that she hoped negotiations this year would produce an agreement that would not only help commerce, but also create such a powerful trade zone that the US and EU together could set industry standards and norms. She said: If we dont, then others in the world will do it according to their work and production standards, which are at times far removed from our values.