PRESS DIGEST – New York Times business news – March 4

March 4 (Reuters) – The following were the top stories in
The New York Times business pages on Friday. Reuters has not
verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy.

* If Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac shut
down, interest rates would rise for most borrowers, but urban
and rural residents could see sharper increases than customers
in the suburbs.

* As oil prices have risen in recent weeks, calls have been
growing in Congress for the Obama administration to consider
tapping into the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve, which is
now at its full capacity of 727 million barrels.

* The chief executive of Goldman Sachs Group Inc ,
Lloyd C. Blankfein, has emerged as a possible witness in the
insider trading trial of Raj Rajaratnam.

* Community pharmacists in New York are lobbying state
lawmakers to pass legislation that would prevent health plans
from requiring patients taking medications for chronic ailments
to fill their prescriptions through the mail.

* Regulators are warning that a new real estate bubble may
be forming as farmland prices surge across the Midwest.

* Most of the nation’s retailers on Thursday reported
improved sales in February, topping expectations in a month hit
hard by winter weather and sharply higher gasoline prices.

* As the battle for Libya rages on, the struggle over
control of the country’s sovereign wealth fund and its $70
billion in assets has just begun.

* The European Central Bank signaled Thursday that it could
raise interest rates as soon as next month in response to
intensifying inflationary pressures. Such a move would be likely
to lead soon to higher borrowing costs for homeowners and
businesses.

* Everybody’s suddenly petrified about municipal debt. But
the fate of bondholders ought to be the least of our worries.

* Carl B. Hess, the founding chairman and longtime leader of
AEA Investors, a pioneer private equity company and a precursor
to the leveraged-buyout giants of the 1980s, died on Feb. 15 at
his home in Manhattan. He was 98.

* The British government cleared the way on Thursday for the
News Corp to take over the nation’s biggest pay
television company, British Sky Broadcasting .

* As they opened negotiations with Republicans over budget
cuts, the White House and Congressional Democrats on Thursday
offered to trim an additional $6.5 billion from current
spending, a figure far short of the Republican goal of cutting
agency budgets by $61 billion.

(Compiled by Mary Meyase; Bangalore Equities Newsdesk +91 80;
4135 5800; within U.S. +1 646 223 8780)