Business Highlights

·5 min read

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How the Kremlin provides a safe harbour for ransomware

BOSTON (AP) — A global epidemic of digital extortion known as ransomware is crippling local governments, hospitals, school districts and businesses by scrambling their data files until they pay up. Most frustrating, these rackets are dominated by Russian-speaking cybercriminals who are shielded and sometimes even employed by Russia’s security agencies. That’s according to security researchers, U.S. law enforcement, and now the Biden administration. Ransomware is chiefly the work of Russian-speaking syndicates that hack into networks and paralyze them by scrambling data. Damages from the scourge now exceed tens of billions of dollars; one former intelligence official considers it more damaging than cyberespionage.

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China’s growth surges to 18.3% but rebound levelling off

BEIJING (AP) — China’s economic growth surged to 18.3% over a year earlier in the first quarter of 2021 but an explosive rebound in factory and consumer activity following the coronavirus pandemic was levelling off. The figures were magnified by comparison with early 2020, when the world’s second-largest economy suffered its deepest contraction in decades. Growth compared with the final quarter of 2020, when a recovery was under way, was only 0.6%, among the lowest in a decade. Manufacturing and consumer activity has returned to normal since the ruling Communist Party declared victory over the coronavirus last March and allowed factories and stores to reopen. Restaurants and shopping malls are filling up, though visitors still are checked for the virus’s telltale fever.

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Union, automakers headed for fight over battery plant wages

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The United Auto Workers union is calling on General Motors to pay full union wages at electric vehicle battery factories, thrusting what was a festering conflict into the spotlight because automakers want to pay less. The union says in a statement about GM’s announcement Friday that it would build a second U.S. battery plant that the company has a “moral obligation” to pay the higher wages. A joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solutions will build the $2.3 billion plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee.

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S&P 500 hits another record, marks 4th weekly gain in a row

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks marched higher on Wall Street Friday, giving the S&P 500 its latest record high and its fourth straight weekly gain. The benchmark index rose 0.4%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average also closed at an all-time high. Higher bond yields helped lift bank stocks, and health care companies and those that rely on consumer spending also did well. Technology stocks lagged behind, leaving the Nasdaq up just 0.1%. Homebuilders rose after the Commerce Department said home construction rebounded strongly in March to the fastest pace since 2006 as builders recovered from an unusually frigid February. Treasury yields rose.

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AP source: Virus surge in Michigan slows Ram truck plant

DETROIT (AP) — Michigan’s worst-in-the-nation Covid-19 outbreak is starting to affect automotive production, with a major Ram pickup truck plant slowing its output due to a large number of absent workers. A person briefed on the matter says about 10% of the production work force at the Stellantis assembly plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, either tested positive or is in quarantine. That’s about 600 workers, says the person who asked not to be identified because neither the company nor the United Auto Workers union is releasing details. Stellantis has brought in workers from other factories but the assembly line has slowed. Michigan continues to have the nation’s highest seven-day virus case rate, 538 per every 100,000 residents.

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March US home construction jumps to fastest pace since 2006

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. housing construction rebounded strongly in March to the fastest pace since 2006, as home builders recovered from an unusually frigid February. The Commerce Department reported Friday that builders began construction on new homes and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.74 million units in March, a 19.4% increase over February when housing construction had fallen by 11.3%. The February setback had been attributed to unusually severe winter storms which had gripped much of the country. Friday’s report showed that application for building permits, a good sign of future activity, increased by 2.7% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.77 million units.

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Massachusetts looks to bar Robinhood in state; company sues

NEW YORK (AP) — Regulators in Massachusetts are trying to effectively bar the popular Robinhood trading app from the state. It’s an escalation for the Massachusetts securities division, which accused Robinhood in December of making investing seem like a game to lure unsophisticated investors into making too-risky trades. Robinhood is blasting the complaint, calling it elitist and based on a rule that should not apply in its case.

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US lifts Vietnam, Switzerland from currency manipulator list

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Treasury is removing Vietnam and Switzerland from the list of nations labeled as currency manipulators, reversing a decision made by the Trump administration in December. In its semi-annual report to Congress on currency manipulation, the first under the Biden administration, the U.S. Treasury Department said Friday that no country currently meets the U.S. criteria as a manipulator. It said, however, that Vietnam, Switzerland, as well as Taiwan, will be under enhanced monitoring. The Treasury did not designate China as a currency manipulator, something the Trump administration had done in 2019 during a tense trade stand-off with the world’s second largest economy.

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The S&P 500 rose 15.05 points, or 0.4%, to 4,185.47. The Dow gained 164.68 points, or 0.5% to 34,200.67. The Nasdaq inched up 13.58 points, or 0.1%, to 14,052.34. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies added 5.60 points, or 0.2%, to 2,262.67.

The Associated Press