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Sales by us retail stores kept climbing in February after a more robust January than previously thought, the Commerce Department reported. Retail sales increased 0.9 percent to a seasonally adjusted $236.47 billion after a steeply revised 1 percent jump in January that was earlier reported as a 0.2 percent gain. February was the seventh straight month of retail-sales gains.

Twelve thousand jobs, most of them in the US, will be cut over the next two years, the French telecommunications giant Alcatel announced. A senior executive said the layoffs would result from a restructuring of American operations and would save a projected $654 million. However, Alcatel still was unlikely to meet its target of 8 percent growth in profits this year, he said.

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Ending two weeks of silence on a proposed $57.3 billion hostile takeover, Telecom Italia announced plans to thwart the move via an attempted merger with its cell-phone subsidiary, Telecom Italia Mobile. Approval by the parent company's stockholders will be sought by April 16. Analysts said such a merger would drive up the price beyond what rival Olivetti might be able to pay. Telecom Italia is already five times larger than Olivetti.

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