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Fri, Jun 13, 2008 - Page 10 News List

World Business Quick Take

AGENCIES

■ OIL

EU probes antitrust suit

EU regulators stepped up their threat of antitrust action against Germany’s E.On. AG and France’s Gaz de France yesterday over allegations the two colluded to avoid selling natural gas in each other’s home markets. The European Commission sent the two companies an official complaint and asked them to explain their positions in answer to allegations the two shared out markets between them for gas piped from Russia on the MEGAL pipeline they jointly own. EU officials say this could have kept prices artificially high. If EU regulators conclude that the firms broke antitrust rules by making an illegal market-sharing agreement, they could face fines of up to 10 percent of annual global turnover for each year of the offense.

■BEVERAGES

Starbucks expanding

Starbucks Corp, the world’s largest coffeehouse chain, will open more than 150 outlets in European airports and train stations during the next three years with licensee SSP. The agreement awards licensing rights for its brand that are exclusive in Germany and other countries, Seattle-based Starbucks said yesterday in a Business Wire statement. SSP, a former unit of catering company Compass Group PLC, sells food at travel-linked sites in 29 nations under brands from Upper Crust to Burger King.

■BEVERAGES

Caracas offers to mediate

The Venezuelan government is offering to help solve a dispute between a Coca-Cola bottler and former drivers who have halted distribution. Former contractors of the Mexican bottling company in Venezuela have been blocking four plants and 26 distribution centers since Friday. More than 11,000 ex-contractors say Coca-Cola FEMSA de Venezuela SA owes them money. The labor ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it had offered to mediate. The government is stepping in just days after Venezuela’s Supreme Court said it had “exhausted” negotiation efforts. The company estimates it will lose US$15 million this year because of three protests by former contract workers.

■ECONOMY

US slowdown persists: Fed

US economic conditions are getting more sluggish with consumers squeezed by high energy costs and bank lending tighter, the US Federal Reserve said in its Beige Book report on Wednesday. The Fed’s latest survey of the US economy suggested price pressures are weighing on businesses amid surging food and energy costs. In the Beige Book survey of the 12 Fed regions,“economic activity remained generally weak” from late April through early last month. The latest report, to be used by the Fed at its monetary policy meeting later this month, continued a trend starting last October of each successive Beige Book showing a weakening economy.

■AUTOMOBILES

Ford touts plug-in hybrids

A top Ford Motor Co executive urged the US government on Wednesday to make a greater commitment to the development of plug-in hybrids, warning that the US was falling behind in developing the technology critical to the advanced vehicles. Mark Fields, Ford’s president of the Americas, said at a conference on plug-in hybrids that bold incentives were needed to speed up the development of advanced batteries that are key to the vehicles. “The governments of Japan, China, Korea and India are all significantly funding the research development and deployment of plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies. This is a race we absolutely must win,” Fields said.

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