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Officials: China real estate recovering from debt crackdown

BEIJING (AP) — A Chinese central bank official says the country’s vast real estate industry is recovering from a slump triggered by tighter debt controls. Those controls led to a wave of defaults by developers that rattled global financial markets. The official, Pan Gongsheng, mentioned Evergrande Group, the global real estate industry’s most heavily indebted developer. But he gave no update on government-supervised efforts to restructure its $310 billion in debt. Pan said market confidence is recovering and financing for healthier companies is improving. China’s economic growth slid in mid-2021 after regulators who worry debt levels are dangerously high blocked Evergrande and others with high debt loads from borrowing more money.

China accuses US of attacking companies after export curbs

BEIJING (AP) — China has accused Washington of improperly attacking Chinese companies after genetics analysis giant BGI Group and 17 others were hit with curbs on access to U.S. technology on security or human rights grounds. The Commerce Department said it saw a danger that two BGI units might contribute to the government’s surveillance apparatus. Human rights groups say Beijing is trying to create a database of genetic samples that Muslims and other minorities were compelled to provide. BGI has previously denied accusations it supplied technology used to surveil minorities. Other companies were cited for their role in Chinese military modernization, weapons development by Iran and Pakistan and suspected human rights abuses in Myanmar.

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Stocks tick higher, on pace for first winning week in last 4

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are ticking higher as relaxing yields in the bond market take some pressure off Wall Street. The S&P 500 was 0.4% higher in early trading Friday. It’s on pace to close the week with a small gain, its first in the last four weeks, after finding some stability following a swift rise and fall to start the year. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq composite also rose. Sharper moves may still be ahead in the morning when the latest data arrive showing how strong U.S. services industries were last month. Treasury yields moved lower.

Close call, turbulent flight add to aviation safety concerns

Federal officials are investigating a string of close calls between planes, including one this week at Boston’s Logan Airport. The incidents are raising questions about whether air travel is getting less safe. The Federal Aviation Administration plans a safety summit this month, to look at whether some measures used to prevent accidents are less effective than they used to be. The number of close calls could end talk of easing experience requirements for newly hired pilots. President Joe Biden’s pick to run the FAA says he opposes easing the pilot-qualification standards.

Federal Reserve officials sound warnings about higher rates

WASHINGTON (AP) — A run of strong economic data and signs that inflation remains stubbornly high could lead the Federal Reserve to raise its benchmark rate higher in the coming months than it has previously forecast, several Fed officials say. Christopher Waller, a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, said that if the economy continued to show strength and inflation remained elevated, the Fed would have to lift its key rate above 5.4%. That would be higher than Fed officials had signaled in December. His suggestion was in contrast to a speech he gave in January, titled “A Case for Cautious Optimism,” that captured a prevailing sentiment at the time that inflation had peaked and was steadily declining.

Police: Illegal refinery blast in Nigeria kills at least 12

ABUJA, Nigeria (AP) — The Nigeria Police Force says at least 12 people were killed on Friday in an explosion near an illegal oil refinery site in the country’s oil-rich Niger Delta region, with the casualty figure expected to rise as the fire raged on for hours. Locals told The AP that dozens may have been killed in the incident and that the victims were mostly young people who came to steal from an oil pipeline to transport in at least five vehicles to an illegal refinery site. “Everybody in about five vehicles there was all burnt” in the fire that raged on for hours, said Fyneface Dumnamene, executive director of Youths and Environmental Advocacy Centre that advocates for environmental protection in the area.

In dry West, farmers balk at idling land to save water

WASHINGTON (AP) — With drought, climate change and overuse of the Colorado River leading to increasingly dire conditions in the West, the federal Bureau of Reclamation is looking at fallowing as a way to cut water use. That means idling farmland, with payments to major users to make it worthwhile. That has farmers primarily in California’s Imperial Valley and Arizona’s Yuma Valley weighing the possibility. Many are reluctant. They say it threatens economic harm not just to them but also to rural communities reliant on farming as an economic engine. Despite the reluctance, there’s a growing sense that fallowing needs to be part of efforts to conserve the region’s water.

Here’s why it’s so hard to buy vegetables in the UK

LONDON (AP) — British people have had to ration their salad staples like tomatoes and cucumbers for the past two weeks amid a shortage of fresh vegetables. Officials blame the problem on recent bad weather in Spain and North Africa and say the shortages could persist for up to a month. But many people are quick to point out that other European countries don’t seem to be suffering from the same shortages, leading some to question: Is this a consequence of Brexit? Experts say Britain’s exit from the European Union likely played a part. But they say a more complex set of factors including climate change, the U.K.’s overreliance on imports during the winter and soaring energy costs are more salient explanations.

BetterHelp shared users’ sensitive health data, FTC says

The online counseling service BetterHelp has agreed to return $7.8 million to customers to settle with the Federal Trade Commission for sharing with companies including Facebook and Snapchat health data it had promised to keep private. The FTC says the data included information about mental health challenges such as depression or suicidal thoughts. The proposed FTC order announced Thursday also limits how the California-based company may share consumer data in the future. BetterHelp says the settlement was not an admission of wrongdoing and that the practices of which it was accused are standard in the industry.

Shoe polish stands begin to vanish, lose their shine

NEW YORK (AP) — Shoeshines are losing some luster. Once a common practice, the tradition of getting a quick polish from a rag-toting shoeshiner has become more of a rarity, and many stands have disappeared across the country. The decline has been exacerbated by the pandemic, remote working, and the rise in popularity of more casual workwear. SC Johnson, which makes the biggest shoe polish brand, Kiwi, even said in January that it had stopped selling  the brand in the U.K. due to softening demand (they still sell it in the U.S.). But there are still a few places left to get a good shine.

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