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Global stocks rally as tensions cool in Ukraine

NEW YORK (AP) — Plenty of tension remains over Ukraine, but they eased enough on Tuesday to trigger a stock rally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters his country has "no enemies in Ukraine," while at the same time accusing the West of promoting a "coup." On the ground, Russia troops fired warning shots in Crimea to scare off Ukrainian solders, but Moscow pulled troops back from its border with Ukraine.

And with Russia agreeing to NATO's request to attend a special meeting in Brussels on Wednesday, investors moved money out of safer assets like gold and bonds to stocks.

The Standard & Poor's 500 set a new record high, gaining 28 points, or more than 1.5 percent, to close at 1,873.91. The Dow rose 227.85 points to 16,395.88, while the Nasdaq composite rose 74.67 points to 4,351.97.


Asian stocks higher on easing of Ukraine tensions

TOKYO (AP) — A sense of relief over the easing of tensions in the Ukraine lifted shares in Asia today.

Better sentiment rushed through global markets overnight as Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine to return to their bases. The tensions had set off selling earlier.

Regional traders are focusing on the start of the National People's Congress in China for signs of the direction of the Chinese economy and growth targets. The Chinese economy remains critical for region growth.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose slightly and remains above $103 a barrel.

The dollar gained against the yen and was little-changed against the euro.


Service sector gauge, Feds' Beige Book due

WASHINGTON (AP) — There a two major economic reports due out today.

The Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for February this morning. The last couple of readings have been above 50, indicating expansion.

Then in the afternoon, the Federal Reserve releases its survey of regional of business conditions known as the Beige Book. The survey is based on anecdotal reports from businesses and will be considered at the Fed's next policy meeting.

On Capitol Hill, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew testifies about the president's budget proposal before the Senate Finance Committee. And a House Financial Services subcommittee holds a hearing on data security and Americans' financial information.


White House sees jobless rate over 6% until 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's $3.9 trillion budget for next year suggests that the U.S. economic recovery that began in 2009 will continue to gain momentum over the next few years, but that the unemployment rate won't fall to pre-recession levels of below 6 percent until 2017.

The White House is forecasting that the budget deficit will fall from $649 billion in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30 to $564 billion in fiscal 2015 and $458 billion in 2017.

The administration projected that the unemployment rate of 6.6 percent in January will continue to slowly decline over the next five years, stabilizing at 5.4 percent by 2018. That's down from a high of 10 percent reached during the 2008-2009 recession.

The projections are mostly in line with those made by other forecasters.


China sets 7.5 percent growth target

BEIJING (AP) — China's government promised sweeping reforms today to promote sustainable growth in its slowing economy by opening state-dominated industries to private investment, making its banks more market-oriented and encouraging consumer spending.

In his first annual policy speech as China's top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang (lee kuh-TYAHNG') said Beijing will encourage competition, ease exchange rate controls and improve access to credit for productive businesses.

Li's pledges were in line with Communist Party plans issued in November that call for promoting market forces and domestic consumption to replace a model based on exports and investment that delivered three decades of explosive growth but has run out of steam.

Entrepreneurs and investors are watching the annual meeting of the National People's Congress for details of how the party will carry out its November pledge.

Despite pledges of reform, the ruling party made clear the limits to possible change in its November plan by declaring that state ownership will remain the core of the economy.

Li announced an official growth target of 7.5 percent for this year.


Bitcoin bank closes after high-tech heist

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A bank specializing in bitcoins says it has closed after computer hackers robbed its digital currency.

The closure of the Flexcoin bank comes just a week after the collapse of Mt. Gox, a major bitcoin exchange.

Mt. Gox also linked its demise to an electronic heist.

In a Tuesday notice, Flexcoin says 896 bitcoins were stolen from its online vault. That translates into a loss of about $600,000, based on bitcoin's current trading value.

Unlike banks dealing in government-backed currencies, Flexcoin's losses aren't covered by deposit insurance. The Alberta, Canada, bank says it can't recover from the setback.

Flexcoin says bitcoins stored offline remain secure.

The twin failures of Mt. Gox and Flexcoin will likely raise more doubts about bitcoin's ability to establish itself as an alternative currency.


New GM CEO starts review of recall procedure

DETROIT (AP) — General Motors' new CEO is starting an internal review of the company's practices after an embarrassing recall of 1.6 million older small cars.

CEO Mary Barra says in an e-mail to employees that the review will hold the company accountable and improve processes so the problem doesn't happen again.

Last week GM doubled the number of cars included in a global recall of small cars for faulty ignition switches that have been linked to 13 deaths. The company issued a rare apology for the slow response and admitted it knew of the problem a decade ago.

Barra says she's also leading a group of executives who will handle the response and monitor progress on the recall. She says GM's reputation will be determined by how the company handles the problem.


House approves bipartisan bill to ease flood insurance premium hikes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The House has approved legislation to roll back a recently enacted overhaul of the federal flood insurance program, after homeowners in flood-prone areas complained about sharp premium increases.

Lawmakers approved the bill, 306-91, Tuesday night. The measure would allow sellers to pass along their subsidized, below-market insurance rates to new buyers and lower the cap on how much flood insurance premiums can rise each year.

Republican Rep. Michael Grimm of New York says the bill will ensure that families across the country, including those still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy, can avoid a wave of devastating premium hikes and foreclosures.

The bipartisan bill would tone down a 2012 law aimed at weaning hundreds of thousands of homeowners off subsidized flood insurance rates.

The bill now goes to the Senate.


Idled workers at federal nuclear waste dump in New Mexico wait for answers on employee safety

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A union representing some 200 workers at the nation's only underground nuclear waste dump says its wants to be sure employees are safe when the repository opens after a radiation leak that exposed at least 13 people.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad has been off-limits to most workers for nearly three weeks.

Plant officials say they have yet to determine what caused the leak. The results of more air, soil, vegetation and water samples are expected in the coming days.

Officials with United Steelworkers of America say they're waiting for more information from the U.S. Department of Energy and the contractor that runs the repository. They want to know where the radiation contamination came from and whether something can be done to prevent leaks in the future.


Australia rejects Qantas' request for $2.7 B loan

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The Australian government has rejected a request from Qantas Airways for a 3 billion Australian dollar ($2.7 billion) unsecured loan to help the national carrier return to profitability.

Cabinet ministers on Monday decided against proving Qantas with a debt facility, and instead agreed to relax foreign ownership restrictions which impede the airline's ability to raise capital.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Macquarie Radio on Wednesday that his ministers had acted on expert advice that Qantas did not need the requested line of credit.

The Cabinet meeting followed the former state-owned airline last week posting a first-half loss of AU$235 million amid tougher competition. Qantas and said it would cut 5,000 jobs in a bid to cut costs by AU$2 billion over three years.


Greenpeace hangs protest banners at P&G HQ in Ohio

CINCINNATI (AP) — Greenpeace says it wants Procter & Gamble to stop using palm oil from a supplier linked to tropical forest destruction in Indonesia.

Greenpeace activists on Tuesday used a zip line to unfurl two giant banners on the two towers of P&G headquarters in downtown Cincinnati.

Among those using the zip line was a person wearing a tiger suit, representing endangered Sumatran tigers.

Cincinnati police say they arrested nine protesters who initially were being held on charges including vandalism and burglary.

A P&G spokesman says, "We agree that deforestation is a significant issue, which is why we are committed to the sustainable sourcing of palm oil."

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