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  • DETROIT, Feb 20- Tesla Motors Inc has had "conversations" with Apple Inc, Chief Executive Elon Musk confirmed to Bloomberg TV on Thursday, responding to speculation that the iPhone and iPad maker had shown interest in the electric car company.

  • Experts say banks face write-downs of 20- 25 bln euros. By Valentina Za and Silvia Aloisi. MILAN, Feb 20- A drive by Italian banks to come clean on bad loans during a European bank health check may force them to raise as much as 20 billion euros in capital, three times more than that pencilled in so far, to shore up their balance sheets.

  • *Tesla shares soar after results, Wal-Mart falls. *Facebook to buy WhatsApp for $19 bln, shares flat. NEW YORK, Feb 20- U.S. stocks rose on Thursday after a reading on manufacturing activity hit a four-year high, more than offsetting other soft data and weak results from Wal-Mart.

  • BOSTON, Feb 20- Fidelity Investments, the second-largest U.S. mutual fund company, said on Thursday that its fixed-income chief will lead the Boston firm's $1.9 trillion asset management division.

  • WASHINGTON, Feb 20- A former director of Japan's Denso Corp has agreed to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in connection with a U.S. Justice Department probe into companies fixing the prices of automobile heater control panels, the department said on Thursday.

  • Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx urged Congress on Thursday to show "a little political courage" and come up with long-term solution to pay for roads. "Congress is going to have to show a little political courage to face this problem," Foxx said.

  • NEW YORK, Feb 20- A man who served prison time for conning Hollywood stars and reputedly inspired Leonardo DiCaprio's performance in "The Wolf of Wall Street" was in federal court on Thursday facing charges that he used someone else's credit card to buy liquor, a plane ticket and food, according to court filings.

  • WASHINGTON, Feb 20- President Barack Obama's soon-to-be released budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year drops a past offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security, a White House official said on Thursday. Obama's budget drops a controversial change in how the government calculates inflation for Social Security and other federal benefits.

  • SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 20- A U.S. appeals court on Thursday revived a lawsuit against ConAgra Foods Inc over the amount of sodium the company discloses on sunflower seed packages.

  • *Cushing stocks fall 1.73 mln barrels- EIA. *China Feb manufacturing activity slowest in 7 months- HSBC. Crude stocks at the Cushing, Oklahoma, hub fell by an expected 1.73 million barrels as a new pipeline has been draining excess supply from Cushing, the WTI contract's delivery point, to the Gulf Coast, which has provided support for prices.

  • Obama budget offer to drop olive branch for Republicans Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 | 1:10 PM ET

    WASHINGTON, Feb 20- President Barack Obama's soon-to-be released budget proposal for the 2015 fiscal year drops a past offer to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security, a White House official said on Thursday. The offer made in last year's budget had been an attempt to gain some Republican support.

  • ANALYSIS-Austria's Hypo at a crossroads Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 | 12:57 PM ET

    VIENNA/ FRANKFURT, Feb 20- The fate of Austria's nationalised lender Hypo Alpe Adria could be a harsh reality check for banks and investors across Europe.

  • European shares close flat, miners slip Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 | 12:56 PM ET

    LONDON, Feb 20- European shares recouped early losses to end flat on Thursday, helped by a rally in U.S. equities after strong manufacturing data, but sentiment remained fragile and miners slipped on disappointing data from China. But overall sentiment remained jittery following poor data from China, France and the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.

  • No easy fix for broken Brent oil benchmark Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 | 12:53 PM ET

    LONDON, Feb 20- The oil industry hopes Norway will bring plenty of new oil onstream to help fix the Brent benchmark as other solutions- such as adding Russian or Nigerian crude to the North Sea mix- pose too many risks, executives and traders said.

  • Feb 20- Coal miner Walter Energy Inc reported a smaller-than-expected fourth-quarter loss due to cost cuts, and forecast a slight improvement in demand for metallurgical, or steel-making, coal in 2014, sending its shares up 6 percent.

  • WASHINGTON, Feb 20- The proportion of U.S. farms with annual sales and government payments of $1 million or more doubled in the five years through 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said on Thursday. The figures were part of the USDA's "Census of Agriculture," which surveys all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them every five years.

  • MOSCOW/ LONDON, Feb 20- Ukrainian steel, grain and other commodity export deals have virtually ground to a halt as violence in Kiev that has killed dozens this week triggered fears of port closures and defaults, driving up risk premiums on prices for future shipments.

  • UPDATE 1-Violence escalates in divided Venezuela Thursday, 20 Feb 2014 | 12:42 PM ET

    CARACAS, Feb 20- Venezuelan security forces and demonstrators faced off in streets blocked by burning barricades in several cities on Thursday in an escalation of protests against President Nicolas Maduro's socialist government, witnesses said.

  • NEW YORK/ LONDON, Feb 20- The Brazilian real gained 1 percent on Thursday after the country set a more modest and possibly more realistic fiscal savings target for 2014, while Ukraine's debt insurance costs rose to their highest since December 2009 on escalating conflict.

  • Feb 20- The struggles of the low-income U.S. consumer are playing out in Wal-Mart Stores Inc's grocery aisles. Wal-Mart shares fell 2.2 percent in morning trading. To combat sluggish sales, broaden its customer base and fend off aggressive rivals, Wal-Mart said it was doubling the number of smaller new stores it originally planned to open this year.