Financial and economic news is a certified growth area these days, even if the economy is not. And one of the liveliest competitions going on is the battle between rival publications for the businessman's reading time.

Aside from the comprehensive Wall Street Journal, general circulation daily newspaper like The Washington Post have been significantly expanding the space and resources they devote to business coverage. The New York Times recently repackaged and enlarged its economic and financial news in a separate section, business day.

The switch by Fortune from a monthly to a biweekly format has meanwhile sharpened the competition with its main rivals in the Magazine field, Business Week and Forbes. And the redesigned Esquire has offered a heavy dose of financial columns and business features to attract affluent male readers.

While all of this increased coverage may be overwhelming some readers, the periodicals seem to be thriving in what appears to be an extremely strong business advertising environment.

Casting an envious eye on the situation, two well-known British publication - The Economist and The Financial Times - are preparing to significantly expand their presence in the U.S. market.

"Every publisher in Europe is looking at this market with greedy eyes," said Clive Greaves, the president of The Economist newspaper group who is currently based in New York.

The Economist, a lively weekly mix of economic and political commentary and reporting, already sells nearly one copy in six of its 150.000-circulation press run to U.S. readers.

But it has launched an aggressive campaign to double its American subscribers over the next year or so from 25,000 to 50,000 with an eye to eventually publishing the magazine entirely in this country.

At the same time, London's Financial Times, the distinctively salmon-colored newspaper that is Europe's authoritative equivalent to The Wall Street Journal, is planning next January to start appearing on New York City news-stands the same morning as it is published in England. Giving the Journal a run for its readers.

And the Ft also is well along with plans to publish a weekly magazine aimed specifically at the American market.

"We see a place for a magizine in the U.S. which reports on international business from an international point of view," said Joe Rogaly, who is shepherding the new publication.

Rogaly said the new magizine, as yet unnamed, would be tailored for American readers, but said the FT was not yet ready to make a detailed announcement about its plans.

Others familiar with the venture said the magazine will probably be a tabloid, and consist of roughly 80 percent reprints from the parent newspaper and 20 percent original material.

The weekly magizine would not only put it in competition with the Ft's own U.S. expansion plans - perhaps a factor in delaying a definite announcement - but also direct rivalry with The Economist, which is in some sense a sister publication.

The Finincial Times is owned by Pearson Longman Ltd., which holds a 50 percent interest in The Economist. Pearson Longman, in turn, is a subsidiary of S. Pearson and Son Ltd., which has diversified investments that include Royal Doulton, The China Maker, Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, Chateau Latour wine and the investment firm of Lazard Brothers.

But both publications insist on their complete editorial and managerial indedpendence from each other. And anyone watching their rival expansion plans would not dispute this.

The plans for The Financial Times newspaper are more definite than for the magazine. Beginning Jan. 2, 1979, the Ft will print all of its foreign press run in Frankfurt, Germany. That represents about 45,000 out of a total daily circulation of 180,000. The paper will be made up in London, and the pages will be transmitted over land lines to Frankfurt. The foreign edition will eliminate some of the news aimed mainly at British readers, and expand international coverage.

A daily Lufthansa 747 is scheduled to leave Frankfurt at 4:01 in the morning headed for New York. Chasing the sun, the papers are expected to arrive early enough so they can be on New York City newsstands by 8:30 a.m., at the latest, in order to catch the morning business commuter crowed.

The FT currently appears at least a day late in the U.S., costs $1 a copy, and only sells an estimated 2,500 issues in this country. A same-day edition, it is hoped, will be timelier and thus more appealing.And at a price of about 50 cents a copy, it is hoped that the paper can increase its circulation here nearly 10-fold.

One reason for the FT's German printing venture and the expansion in the U.S. is the increasingly difficult economic and labor situation for British newspapers. Last summer the FT was shut down for nearly a month as a result of a union dispute.

Economics would also be the reason The Economist might choose to eventually publish in the United States, if it can build up a sufficinetly large circulation base here.

"Every publisher in England and Europe is faced with enormous increases in mailing, distribution and printing costs," said The Economist's Greaves. He said his publication is initially considering an expansion of its already extensive coverage of American politics and business, then a special stitched-in section with U.S.-oriented advertising, and then possibly shifting the entire operation here.

"It would be quicker to print it here and distribute it to the West Coast and the Far East," where The Economist has a large number of readers, said Greaves, as well as shipping issues to England and the rest of Europe. "At the end it will be a strictly commercial decision."