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WALL STREET

Stocks surge as tensions ease in Ukraine

NEW YORK (AP) — Global stocks are surging as Russia softens its stance in Ukraine.

The Dow is more than 200 points higher in afternoon trading, while the S&P 500 index has moved back into record territory, up more than 25 points. The Nasdaq composite is nearly 75 points higher.

Traders were relieved that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine to return to their bases.

Bond prices and gold declined as traders moved money out of safe-play assets. Oil prices fell as the threat of sanctions against Russia eased.

European markets also moved sharply higher. Benchmark indexes rose more than 2 percent in Germany and France.

UKRAINE-ECONOMY

Russia ups economic pressure on Ukraine while US, EU offer short-term aid

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces have taken over the strategic Crimean peninsula, but the struggle over Ukraine's future is also being waged with economic weapons.

Russia today cranked up the pressure on the new leaders in Kiev by ending discounts on its natural gas supplies. Russia had offered the discount in December following President Viktor Yanukovych's (yah-noo-KOH'-vich-iz) decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Russia. President Vladimir Putin also says Ukraine owes Russia's state gas company some $2 billion.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and European Union are working on short-term aid for Ukraine. Secretary of State John Kerry says Washington will provide $1 billion in energy subsidies as Ukraine tries to fend off bankruptcy.

To help Ukraine in the longer term, International Monetary Fund experts are in Kiev working on a plan to stabilize the country's economy. Ukraine's finance minister has said the country needs $35 billion to get through this year and next.

U.S. officials traveling with Kerry also say the Obama administration is considering economic sanctions against Russia and has suspended discussions on a bilateral trade investment treaty.

OBAMA-BUDGET

Obama's 2015 budget focuses on boosting economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is sending Congress a $3.9 trillion election-year budget that would funnel money into road building, education and other programs aimed at bolstering the economy and creating jobs.

From its tax boosts on the wealthy to its spending for pre-school and job training, the budget gives Democrats a playbook illustrating their campaign-season theme of closing the widening income gap between rich and poor. Obama is pitching it as "a roadmap for creating jobs," saying it reflects a choice for Americans — whether to protect tax breaks for wealthy Americans or grow the economy. Republicans say the proposal spends too much on government programs.

Election-year pressures and gridlock between the Democratic-run Senate and Republican-led House mean much of Obama's proposals will go nowhere. Many of the proposals were in earlier budgets and ignored.

HOME PRICES

US home prices rose at solid pace in January

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. home prices rose in January after three months of declines. A tight supply of homes might have helped boost prices and offset sales slowed by cold weather.

Real estate data provider CoreLogic says prices rose 0.9 percent in January after dipping 0.1 percent in December. Over the past 12 months, home prices have risen 12 percent, the biggest year-over-year gain in more than eight years.

CoreLogic's price figures aren't adjusted for seasonal patterns, such as winter weather, which can depress sales.

Snowstorms and low temperatures contributed to a sharp drop in sales of existing homes in January. The National Association of Realtors said sales plunged to their lowest level in 18 months.

Still, the number of homes for sale remained low, a factor that might have helped increase prices.

EARNS-RADIOSHACK

RadioShack to close up to 1,100 US stores

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — RadioShack plans to close up to 1,100 of its underperforming stores in the U.S. and reported a wider loss for its fourth quarter as traffic slowed during the critical holiday season.

The store closings would leave RadioShack with more than 4,000 stores.

For the period ended Dec. 31, the electronics retailer lost $191.4 million, or $1.90 per share. That compares with a loss of $63.3 million, or 63 cents per share, a year earlier. Excluding items, RadioShack Corp. lost $1.29 per share. Analysts expected a loss of 16 cents per share.

Revenue declined to $935.4 million from $1.17 billion. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 19 percent on weaker traffic and the soft performance of its mobility business. Analysts expected revenue of $1.12 billion.

SUPREME COURT-BANKRUPTCY

Court: Exempt funds protected in bankruptcy

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says a bankruptcy court may not go after property or funds that are legally exempt from creditors.

The justices in a unanimous opinion ruled Tuesday in favor of a California man who declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy. The man claimed $75,000 of the value of his home was covered by California's homestead exemption and was therefore exempt from the bankruptcy estate.

The man was later found to have fraudulently shielded some of his assets from creditors. A federal bankruptcy court said the exempt funds could be used to defray the attorney fees associated with uncovering the fraud, and a federal appeals court agreed.

But the Supreme Court reversed. It ruled that a bankruptcy court may not tap into exempt money to punish debtor misconduct.

SUPREME COURT-WHISTLEBLOWERS

Court: Broad protection for whistleblowers

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court says whistleblower protections in a federal law passed in response to the Enron financial scandal apply broadly to employees of publicly traded companies and contractors hired by the companies.

The justices ruled 6-3 Tuesday in favor of two former employees of companies that administer the Fidelity family of mutual funds. The workers claimed they faced retaliation after they reported allegations of fraud affecting Fidelity funds.

The case involved the reach of a provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, passed in 2002 in response to the Enron scandal, that protects whistleblower activity. The measure was intended to protect people who expose the kind of corporate misdeeds that arose at Enron.

PUERTO RICO-ECONOMY

Puerto Rico approves sale of up to $3.5B in bonds

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico's governor has signed a bill that authorizes the sale of up to $3.5 billion in bonds amid recent downgrades to the U.S. territory's credit rating.

The announcement Tuesday by Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla comes as the U.S. territory prepares to re-enter the bond market this month to help pay off $70 billion in public debt.

The bill also allows U.S. investors to sue the island's government if needed in Puerto Rico and New York courts. An earlier version of the bill would have allowed investors to sue Puerto Rico in any U.S. court.

Garcia said the measure is needed to strengthen Puerto Rico's economy as the island enters its eighth year in recession. The money will in part be used to repay and refinance old debt.

CHRYSLER-CANADA

Chrysler to keep Canada plants without gov't help

DETROIT (AP) — Chrysler says it will take steps to build new cars and minivans in Ontario without incentives from the Canadian government.

The company says it is withdrawing all requests for financial aid for plants in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario, because the projects have become a political football.

Chrysler now builds minivans at the Windsor plant and big cars in Brampton.

Chrysler has been talking to the federal and provincial governments about an incentive package that will help offset higher wages in Canada.

The company says Tuesday that it will start the process of upgrading the Canadian factories with its own capital. But spending the money will depend on Canada's competitiveness with other global factories.

AIRLINES-OVERSIZED BAGS

Carry-on crackdown: United enforces bag size limit

NEW YORK (AP) — United Airlines is getting tough on passengers with oversized carry-on bags.

The Chicago-based airline has installed new bag-sizers at most airports. As of Saturday, workers have been sending passengers whose bag exceeds the dimensions for carry-ons back to the ticket counter, where they check the bag and pay a $25 fee.

United says it wants to quicken the boarding process. The fewer bags passengers carry on, the less time is spent loading the overhead bins and the quicker everyone takes their seats. Bags in the overhead bin have a size limit of 22 inches by 14 inches by 9 inches.

Some travelers say United is simply trying to collect more fees. United has a stated goal of collecting an additional $700 million in fee revenue within the next four years.

MALL OF AMERICA EXPANSION

Mall of America secures financing for expansion

(Information in the following story is from: Minnesota Public Radio News, http://www.mprnews.org)

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (AP) — The Mall of America has secured financing for a $300 million expansion.

The mega mall, with more than 400 stores, plans to break ground this month on a project that includes a luxury hotel, office tower and additional retail and food space. Mall spokesman Dan Jasper says the addition could be finished by August of next year.

Minnesota Public Radio News says it's the second big hotel project anchored at the mall. The first was a $137 million Radisson that opened last March.

The Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community earlier announced that they were in talks with the mall about partnering on the 330-room hotel included in the project. The tribe or mall representatives aren't commenting on whether the Shakopee are a financial partner.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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