Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stock prices surge on bullish talk on China-US trade deal

BANGKOK (AP) — Shares were mixed in Asia today after White House officials said China and the U.S. were getting close to an agreement to cool tensions over trade.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 rose 0.7% and the Kospi in South Korea added 1.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng picked up 0.2%, while the Shanghai Composite index lost 0.4%.

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Australia’s S&P ASX 200 advanced 0.9%, while the Sensex in India jumped 0.6%. Shares rose in Taiwan, Singapore and Jakarta but fell in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 logged its third straight gain, hitting another record high after wavering throughout the day. It edged 0.1% higher to 3,096.63. The Dow slipped less than 0.1% to 27,781.96, while the Nasdaq also was slightly lower, at 8,479.02. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks dropped less than 0.1% to 1,588.79.

TRUMP-TOXINS

Court rules Trump EPA unlawfully ignored dangerous chemicals

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A federal appeals court says the Trump administration unlawfully excluded millions of tons of some of the most dangerous materials in public use from a safety review. A three-judge panel said the U.S. Environmental Protection must consider dangers posed by asbestos, lead and other toxins regardless of whether the chemicals are still being manufactured. Millions of tons of those chemicals already are in the marketplace, in products ranging from insulation and fire retardant to house paint.

Under President Barack Obama, the EPA said it would consider the risks of those older products since they result in some of the most common exposures to people.

Spurred by the chemical industry, the EPA under President Donald Trump sought to limit the review to products still being manufactured.

CONGRESS-FACIAL RECOGNITION

In DC, face scans peg a lawmaker – and a long-dead singer

WASHINGTON (AP) — Privacy advocates who strapped cameras to their heads and walked around Capitol Hill Thursday say Amazon’s facial recognition technology successfully recognized a congressman – but also claimed to spot singer Roy Orbison, who died in 1988. The activists scanned thousands of faces inside and outside the U.S. Capitol to highlight the dangers of facial recognition surveillance and to urge lawmakers to restrict its use.

They used commercially available software that Amazon has pitched to police, running it against a database of lawmakers, journalists, lobbyists – and, of course, sunglasses-favoring 1960s crooners. It recognized California Democratic Rep. Mark DeSaulnier but misidentified other people.

Amazon didn’t immediately return a request for comment Thursday.

CONGRESS-EXPORT-IMPORT BANK

Partisan vote likely for Export-Import Bank

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democratic-controlled House is on track to pass a measure renewing the charter of the Export-Import Bank, a U.S. agency that provides loans and other help to foreign buyers of U.S. exports.

But today’s vote appears likely to break mostly along party lines and actually promises to be a setback for the bank, which has always enjoyed sweeping bipartisan support.

The White House has issued a veto threat and the legislation is dead on arrival in the GOP-controlled Senate.

Republicans say Financial Services Committee Democrats walked away from a bipartisan agreement that had been struck in advance of a committee vote last month.

Top panel Republican Patrick McHenry of North Carolina says the measure contains “all their Democrat priorities … and zero Republican priorities.”

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INVESTMENTS

Buffett’s firm adds stake in RH, trims Wells Fargo holdings

OMAHA, NEB. (AP) — Warren Buffett’s company has added new investments in luxury retailer RH and Occidental Petroleum while trimming its Wells Fargo holdings. Berkshire Hathaway Inc. filed a quarterly update on its U.S. stock portfolio with regulators on Thursday. Berkshire picked up 1.2 million shares of RH during the third quarter and acquired nearly 7.5 million shares of Occidental Petroleum as part of financing Occidental’s acquisition of Anadarko.

Investors follow what Berkshire buys and sells closely because of Buffett’s successful track record.

Berkshire reduced its stake in Wells Fargo to 378.4 million shares from 409.8 million. In the past, Buffett has sold some Wells Fargo stock to keep Berkshire’s stake below 10%, even after the bank’s stock repurchases.

AUSTRALIA-QANTAS-LONG FLIGHT

Australia’s Qantas operates 19 ½ hour London-Sydney flight

PERTH, Australia (AP) — Australia’s national carrier Qantas has completed a 19-and-a-half hour non-stop flight from London to Sydney, part of a series of tests to assess the effects of very long-haul flights.

The Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner took off from London’s Heathrow Airport on Thursday morning and touched down at Sydney Airport 45 minutes behind schedule at 12:30 p.m. local time on Friday.

The 11,060 mile journey is part of Project Sunrise — Qantas’ goal to operate regular, non-stop commercial flights from Australia’s east coast cities of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne to London and New York.

Last month, Qantas completed the first non-stop flight from New York to Sydney, which took 19 hours and 16 minutes.

Another New York to Sydney flight is expected next month to round out the project.

AIRPLANE DEATHS

Safety board says more people died in plane crashes in 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal safety officials say that 393 people died in U.S. civilian plane crashes last year, a 15% increase over the year before. All but a dozen of the deaths occurred in general aviation, which usually involves small private planes. However, the numbers include a woman killed after an engine blew apart on a Southwest flight and broke the window next to her. That was the first death due to accident on a U.S. commercial airline since 2009.

And 12 people died in accidents involving charters, air taxis, tours and medical flights.

The National Transportation Safety Board released the figures Thursday. It did not break down the accidents by cause.

AMAZON-WAR CLOUD-PROTEST

Esper defends as fair Pentagon contract disputed by Amazon

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he’s certain that the awarding of a $10 billion cloud-computing contract to Microsoft instead of Amazon was done fairly.

Esper was asked about the controversy at a news conference today in Seoul, South Korea.

After the Pentagon awarded the contract to Microsoft in late October, Amazon announced its intent to challenge the decision in court. Amazon on Thursday said there was “unmistakable bias” on the government’s part.

President Donald Trump said in July that he has received complaints about the Pentagon award process and that the contract was not competitively bid.

Esper, who recused himself from the contract decision because his son had worked for one of the other unsuccessful bidders, said there was no “outside influence” on the decisionmakers.

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