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Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares rise as vaccine wait tempers Wall St optimism

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares have advanced after China reported its economy expanded at an 18% annual pace in the first quarter of the year.

Jubilance over strong U.S. economic data and a Wall Street record high was tempered by caution over coronavirus outbreaks in the region, where rollouts of vaccines have lagged.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 finished moderately higher today, while other regional indexes also rose despite listless trading.

Wall Street hit more record highs as a suite of stellar data suggested the recovery of the economy and corporate profits is accelerating. Japan, which has barely started its inoculations, is considering stricter measures against rising infections.

CHINA-ECONOMY

China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% as activity revived

BEIJING (AP) — China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% over a year ago in the first quarter of 2021 as factory and consumer activity recovered from the coronavirus pandemic. The figures were magnified by comparison with early 2020, when the economy suffered its deepest contraction in decades.

The outsize jump in the headline number was in line with expectations by forecasters due to the low basis for comparison in early 2020.

Business activity has mostly returned to normal since the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the coronavirus last March and began allowing factories and stores to reopen.

Retail spending surged 33.9% in the first quarter over a year earlier, while factory output rose 24.5%, according to the NBS. Investment in real estate, factories and other fixed assets rose 25.6%.

RUSSIA-SANCTIONS-IT-COMPANY

Sanctioned Russian IT company partners with Microsoft, IBM

UNDATED (AP) — Six Russian technology companies have been slapped with sanctions by the U.S. Treasury Department for supporting Kremlin intelligence agencies for engaging in “dangerous and disruptive cyber attacks.”

But one stands out for its international footprint and partnerships with such IT heavyweights as Microsoft and IBM. Positive Technologies claims more than 2,000 customers in 30 countries.

The Treasury Department said its clients also include the FSB, a successor to the KGB that “cultivates and co-opts criminal hackers” who carry out ransomware and phishing attacks.

It said the company’s hacker conferences are used as recruiting events for Russian intelligence agencies.

RUSSIA-US BROADCASTER

US broadcaster asks European court to block Russian fines

MOSCOW (AP) — U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty is asking the European Court of Human Rights to block Russia from enforcing penalties that could cost the broadcaster millions of dollars.

Russia’s media watchdog Roskomnadzor last year ordered broadcasters designated as foreign agents to add a lengthy statement to news reports, social media posts and audiovisual materials specifying the content was created by an outlet “performing the functions of a foreign agent.”

The law applies to non-governmental political groups and media receiving foreign funding. It has been widely criticized as aiming to discredit critical reporting and dissent. The term “foreign agent” carries strong pejorative connotations in Russia.

SPACEX-CREW LAUNCH

SpaceX, NASA give ‘go’ for astronaut launch, 3rd for Dragon

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX has gotten the go-ahead from NASA to launch another crew of astronauts next week. Managers from NASA and Elon Musk’s company on Thursday cleared the Falcon rocket and Dragon capsule for a dawn liftoff next Thursday from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

The four astronauts will spend six months at the International Space Station, replacing another SpaceX crew that’s close to coming home.

The rocket and capsule were designed for reuse. The rocket was used to launch the current station crew last November from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The capsule, dubbed Endeavour, also will be making a repeat performance; it carried two test pilots to the space station on SpaceX’s first crew flight last spring.

SpaceX refurbished both and added safety upgrades. Company officials note that most of the capsule is already “flight proven,” except for some new valves, thermal protection covers and parachutes.

DRY-NEW MEXICO

US water managers warn of dismal year along the Rio Grande

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Federal water managers have released their annual operating plan for the Rio Grande, and it doesn’t look good. Flows have been meager so far this year because of below-average snowpack and precipitation.

The Rio Grande is one of North America’s longest rivers and a major water source for millions people and thousands of square miles of farmland in New Mexico, Texas and Mexico.

The Bureau of Reclamation warned Thursday that a stellar monsoon season would be the only saving grace, but the odds of that happening are slim. That means there will be less water for farmers this growing season, and the river could possibly go dry through Albuquerque.

TEXAS-GUN LAWS

Texas House OKs dropping permit to carry handgun in public

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas handgun owners would no longer need a license or training to carry their weapon in public under a bill that cleared a major vote Thursday over Democrats who railed against loosening gun laws after the 2019 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart.

Texas has more than 1.6 million licensed handgun owners. But scrapping that required permit has been a long-sought goal of conservative activists in gun-friendly Texas. The National Rifle Association is currently trying to reincorporate in Texas to avoid a lawsuit from New York state.

If approved, Texas would become by far the largest of roughly 20 states that already allow handgun owners to carry their weapons in public without a permit.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where its prospects are uncertain. Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has been silent amid calls for gun control and did not mention the El Paso shooting while laying out his legislative priorities in February.

SPORTS BETTING-NFL

Sanctioned Russian IT company partners with Microsoft, IBM

UNDATED (AP) Once one of the staunchest opponents of allowing people to legally bet on its games, the National Football League has reached deals with three gambling companies to become official sports betting partners.

The NFL is partnering with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel. They’ll get the use of NFL trademarks and official league data, and will integrate their own betting content into NFL.com and the league’s app.

The NFL was among the professional sports leagues that fought New Jersey’s efforts to overturn a ban on legal sports betting in most of the country. New Jersey won a U.S. Supreme Court case in 2018 that led to the explosion of legal sports betting since then.

MEDIA-CBS NEWS

CBS names two executives to lead news, local stations

NEW YORK (AP) — CBS says it is combining its network news division and troubled group of local stations into a new unit, and has hired two new executives to run it.

The network has hired a former ‘60 Minutes’ producer and current Hearst Newspapers executive, Neeraj Khemlani, and Wendy McMahon, former head of ABC-owned television stations, as co-presidents.

The two new executives will also oversee the CBSN streaming service and the network’s online news operation. Current CBS News President Susan Zirinsky told staff members this week she was leaving her job.

CBS cut ties with two top executives at its 28-owned television stations earlier this month, after they’d been suspended following revelations they had fostered a hostile work environment for women and minorities.

AUSTRALIA-GOOGLE

Australian judge rules Google misled Android users on data

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — An Australian judge has found that Google broke the law by misleading users about personal location data collected through Android mobile devices.

The Federal Court decision was a partial win for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the nation’s fair trade watchdog, which has been prosecuting Google for broader alleged breaches of consumer law since October 2019.

Google said it disagrees with the decision and is considering an appeal. The commission is seeking court orders and financial penalties against Google to be determined later.

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