Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks mixed as investors eye bond market; tech shares rise

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are mixed in afternoon trading as Wall Street eyes the bond market, where yields have pulled back a bit after Friday’s sharp increase.

Investors’ focus remains on the recovery of the U.S. and global economies from the coronavirus pandemic. The $1.9 trillion aid package for the U.S. economy has lifted investors’ confidence in a strong recovery from the pandemic in the second half of the year, but also raised concerns about a potential jump in inflation.

Markets got a mixed message from China, which has led the global recovery and reopened earlier than other countries from coronavirus shutdowns. Retail sales rebounded, but China’s jobless rate rose to 5.5% from 5.2% a year earlier, possibly affected by flare ups of coronavirus in some areas.

The S&P 500 index was down less than 0.1% as rising industrial and consumer discretionary shares were offset by declines in banks and energy stocks. The Dow was up less than 0.1%, while the Nasdaq Composite was up slightly, rising 0.2%.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ASTRAZENECA VACCINE

Government urges Germans to limit travel as bookings surge

BERLIN (AP) — Germany, France and Italy are the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients.

The company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame. However, Germany’s health minister said the decision was taken on the advice of the country’s vaccine authority, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.

French President Emmanuel Macron said his country would likewise take the precautionary step of suspending the vaccine’s use. Macron told a news conference that French authorities have decided to suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MEDICARE

Medicare boosts reimbursement for vaccine shots

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration says Medicare will significantly boost what it pays for COVID-19 shots to help get more Americans vaccinated, particularly those in hard-to-reach areas.

White House coronavirus special adviser Andy Slavitt says Medicare will now pay $40 per shot, an increase of nearly 75% over the $23 the program has been paying.

As the government’s flagship health insurance program, Medicare covers more than 60 million people, including those 65 and older and younger individuals who are disabled. The vaccine will continue to be free to patients, but the payment increase will make it easier for more health care providers to reach communities in need.

TRAVEL-AIRLINES

US air travel rises to highest levels yet since pandemic hit

UNDATED (AP) — Air travel is gaining altitude. More than 1 million people have gone through U.S. airport checkpoints each of the last four days — it was more than 1.3 million on Sunday.

That was the first time TSA screened more people than it did on the comparable day in 2020. However, travel is still down sharply from 2019, before the pandemic. Airline stocks are rising after several airlines report that they’ve seen more people booking trips in March.

Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian says bookings began picking up five or six weeks ago. The Delta CEO thinks that after some previous false starts, this time the recovery in travel is real.

BIDEN-RESCUE PLAN-OVERSIGHT

Biden to name Sperling to oversee COVID-19 relief package

UNDATED (AP) — A White House official says Clinton and Obama administration veteran Gene Sperling will lead the oversight for distributing funds from President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus rescue package.

Sperling will take a role similar to the one Biden himself had as vice president in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

Sperling will work with the heads of the White House policy councils and key leaders at federal agencies to get funds out quickly and optimize their effectiveness. Sperling has twice served as director of the White House National Economic Council, making him one of the defining economic policymakers of the past several decades.

STRIPE-FUNDING

Stripe raises $600M, company valued at $95B

UNDATED (AP) — The online payment company Stripe continues to attract investors, raising $600 million in funding to reach a whopping company valuation of $95 billion.

Stripe is by far the most valuable private fintech company in the world. Robinhood, the trading platform recently making headlines, just raised $3 billion to reach a valuation of around $11.2 billion.

The company which makes software that allows companies to accept online or in person card payments said it will use the capital in the latest round of funding to invest in its European operations, particularly its Dublin headquarters. Stripe has two headquarters, the other location is in San Francisco.

BREXIT

EU takes legal action vs UK over Brexit deal delays

UNDATED (AP) — The European Union is starting legal action against the United Kingdom, arguing that London does not respect the conditions of the Brexit withdrawal agreement and is committing a violation of international law.

The 27-nation EU is objecting to Britain unilaterally extending a grace period beyond Apr. 1 that applies to trade on the island of Ireland. The EU and the United Kingdom share a land border on the island of Ireland and a special trade system was set up as part of the Brexit divorce deal.

It marks yet another worsening of relations between the two sides since a divorce transition period ended on Jan. 1.

ARMS EXPORTS

Watchdog: Mideast arms imports grew by a quarter in a decade

STOCKHOLM (AP) — A Swedish arms watchdog says arms imports to the Middle East rose by a quarter in the decade to 2020 even though sales globally remained stable over the same period.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI, says the Middle East figures were driven chiefly by the world’s largest arms importer, Saudi Arabia, which increased its purchases by 61%. Egypt’s imports rose 136% and Qatar’s 361%.

SIPRI says the international sale of major arms stayed at the same level during the period from 2011-2020.

Rises in sales by three of the top five arms exporters — the United States, France and Germany — were largely offset by declining Russian and Chinese arms exports.

FEDERAL RESERVE

New challenge for the Powell Fed: A strengthening economy

WASHINGTON (AP) — For the past year, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has expressed a wish for more rescue spending from Congress, better control of the viral pandemic and clear evidence of an improving economy. He’s finally getting all three. Yet all of that hardly makes Powell’s job easier.

At the Fed’s policy meeting this week and at a news conference to follow, the chair will take up a new challenge: Convincing financial markets that even as the economic picture brightens, the Fed will be able to continue providing support without contributing to high inflation.

TOYS R US-NEW STAKE

Brand firm takes controlling stake in Toys R Us parent

NEW YORK (AP) — A New York-based brand management firm that already owns Anne Klein and Joseph Abboud is taking a controlling stake in the parent company of the Toys R Us and Babies R Us brands.

WHP Global declined to offer the terms of the financial agreement in the deal with the iconic brands.

Tru Kids was formed in January 2019 when it acquired Toys R Us’ intellectual property during its liquidation in 2018. The deal comes nearly two months after the only two Toys R Us stores that opened in November 2019 as part of a small U.S. comeback attempt by the iconic toy chain closed.

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