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Posted at 3:25 AM, Feb 12, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-12 03:25:52-05

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks rise after listless Wall Street day

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks rose Tuesday following a listless day on Wall Street as investors looked ahead to U.S.-Chinese trade talks.

On Wall Street yesterday, gains for industrial companies, banks and energy stocks outweighed losses elsewhere. Small-company stocks fared better as investors shifted focus away from the tail end of a strong corporate earnings season to U.S.-Chinese trade talks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2 percent to 25,053.11. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.1 percent to 2,709.80. The Nasdaq composite added 0.1 percent to 7,307.90.

Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin leads a delegation to Beijing on Thursday for talks aimed at resolving a tariff war over American complaints about Chinese technology ambitions. The dispute threatens to chill global economic growth. The talks are the last scheduled high-level meeting before an agreement by both sides to suspend further punitive action against each other's goods expires March 1.

Traders were watching negotiations in Washington aimed at averting another government shutdown. Democrats and the GOP disagree over how much to spend on President Donald Trump's promised border wall. A Friday midnight deadline is looming to prevent a second partial government shutdown.

Fears of a global slowdown were given additional fuel from a report showing Britain's economy had its slowest economic growth since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. Both Europe overall and China are contending with slower growth.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose above $52.50 per barrel.

The dollar gained against the yen and edged down against the euro.

TRUMP-ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Trump calls for investment in artificial intelligence

UNDATED (AP) — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order directing federal agencies to prioritize research and development in artificial intelligence.

The plan, called the American AI Initiative, follows big investment pledges from China and other countries intended to advance and apply AI technology in fields ranging from warfighting to health care.

The White House plan that Trump signed Monday doesn't include any funding details. The administration says it's up to Congress to appropriate money. That lack of specifics is troubling to AI experts such as Erik Brynjolfsson, a management professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He says that while America's research infrastructure in artificial intelligence is leading the world, "other countries are making much more aggressive investments and rapidly closing the gap, especially China."

Trump's order directs federal agencies to make government data and computing resources more available to artificial intelligence experts while maintaining security and confidentiality. Creating such standards for capturing and sharing huge troves of data, such as medical records, could lead to breakthroughs in medical diagnosis and treatment, said Tom Mitchell, interim dean of Carnegie Mellon University's computer science school.

The order also calls on agencies to "protect civil liberties, privacy and American values" in applying AI technologies, and to help workers gain relevant skills through fellowships, apprenticeships, training programs and computer science education.

Tech leaders from industry and academia have pushed the Trump administration to develop a national AI strategy.

US STEEL-TRUMP

US Steel cites Trump in resuming construction project

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — U.S. Steel Corp. will restart construction on an idled manufacturing facility in Alabama, and it gave some of the credit to President Donald Trump's trade policies in an announcement Monday.

The Pittsburgh-based company said in a statement that Trump's "strong trade actions" are partly responsible for the resumption of work on an advanced plant near Birmingham. The administration's tariffs have raised prices on imported steel and aluminum.

The manufacturer also cited improving market conditions, union support and government incentives for the decision.

Work will resume immediately, the company said, and the facility will have an annual capacity of 1.6 million tons (1.5 million metric tons).

U.S. Steel said it also will update other equipment and plans to spend about $215 million, adding about 150 full-time workers. The furnace is expected to begin producing steel in late 2020.

The 16,000-member United Steelworkers praised the decision to resume work, which followed an agreement with the union reached last fall.

MEXICO-ELECTRIC COMPANY

Mexican state electric firm aims to rework private contracts

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's state-run electric company is looking to renegotiate generous natural gas contracts it has with private sector firms that stipulate payments even when gas isn't being delivered.

Federal Electricity Commission director Manuel Bartlett said Monday the company runs the risk of bankruptcy if it doesn't reach new terms with the companies. He said that since 2015, it has paid private sector companies 62 billion pesos ($3.2 billion) under contracts for gas delivered via pipeline to generate electricity, even when the gas isn't flowing. Several projects have been blocked by community protesters.

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador expressed optimism that the contracts could be revised voluntarily, while lambasting their existence in the first place. Several of the companies involved have ties with former government officials in Mexico.

Lopez Obrador compared the private sector investment to a "conquest," a loaded word in Latin America that alludes to the Spanish conquistadors who laid stake to the region.

Bartlett listed three companies that he said enjoy payments from the company, known as the CFE, despite stalled gas lines.

JEFF BEZOS-NATIONAL ENQUIRER

Bezos probe concludes mistress' brother was Enquirer source

WASHINGTON (AP) — Private investigators working for Jeff Bezos have determined the brother of the Amazon CEO's mistress leaked the couple's intimate text messages to the National Enquirer.

That's according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke Monday to The Associated Press. The person wasn't authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.

The Enquirer published a story last month that included racy texts between Bezos and former TV anchor Lauren Sanchez. Bezos said the tabloid later threatened to expose his revealing photos if he didn't have his private investigators back off.

The person says those investigators identified Michael Sanchez, a California talent manager, as the person who leaked the texts.

Sanchez didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment on Monday.

AMAZON-EERO

Amazon to buy Wi-Fi device maker Eero

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon is buying Wi-Fi device maker Eero, helping the online retailer expand its line of smart home gadgets.

Eero, founded in San Francisco five years ago, sells $200 devices that can spread Wi-Fi throughout a home. Rival Google already sells similar devices.

Seattle-based Amazon did not say how much it is paying for Eero. The deal is expected to be completed sometime in the first half of this year.

Amazon has been growing its smart home gadgets in recent years: Its voice-activated Echo devices have been a hit for the company, and last year it paid about $839 million to buy Ring, the maker of Wi-Fi-connected video doorbells

ALASKA-ARCTIC REFUGE

CRITICS PROTEST DRILLING ARCTIC VILLAGE

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Critics of proposed oil lease sales in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge urged federal officials to consider the long-term environmental effects of petroleum extraction on northern Alaska.

Laura Herman told Interior Department officials at a hearing Monday in Anchorage that the signs of climate change are apparent. She says extraction of fossil fuel as well as the burning of it will harm people in the region.

Siqiniq (SIC-in-iq) Maupin of the village of Nuiqsut (noo-IK-sut) said the industry is polluting air.

Other Alaskans said lease sales should go forward. Ken Federico, who has worked in the North Slope oil fields, said environmental protections are strong.

Carl Portman said he's like many Alaskans who do not work for the oil industry but his livelihood depends on it.

TOYS R US-REVIVAL

Toys R US plans second act under new name

NEW YORK (AP) — Toys R Us fans in the U.S. will see the iconic brand re-emerge in some form by this holiday season.

Richard Barry, a former Toys R Us executive and now CEO of the new company called Tru Kids Inc., is exploring freestanding stores, shops within existing stores as well as e-commerce.

Tru Kids, owned by former investors of Toys R Us, will manage the Toys R Us, Babies R Us and Geoffrey brands.

Toys R Us liquidated its businesses last year in the U.S. as well as several other regions including United Kingdom. Outside the U.S. Toys R Us continues to operate about 800 stores.

Tru Kids, based in Parsippany, New Jersey, will work with licensing partners to open 70 stores this year in Asia, India and Europe.