Update on the latest in business:


Asian stocks fall as markets mull China growth forecast

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian shares fell Monday as investors evaluated Beijing’s annual growth forecast for the Chinese economy while the uncertain outcome of Italian elections weighed on sentiment.

CHINA CONGRESS: Beijing set an annual growth target for the world’s No. 2 economy of “around 6.5 percent” for 2018 at the opening of a legislative session. The number announced by Premier Li Keqiang is down from the 6.9 expansion recorded last year but would still be among the world’s strongest rates if achieved. Li also detailed in his report to the ceremonial National People’s Congress plans to forge ahead with an overhaul of state industry.

A survey showed that activity in China’s services industry cooled slightly last month but remained solidly in expansion mode. Caixin’s general services purchasing managers’ index dipped to 54.2 in February from 54.7 the previous month, on a 100-point scale on which numbers above 50 signify expansion.

Projections showed no single party or bloc emerged from Sunday’s election with enough support to win a majority in Parliament, setting the stage for an extended period of political uncertainty. The forecasts showed a center-right coalition that includes an anti-migrant party took a slight lead over the populist 5-Star Movement but neither were close to the threshold needed to form a government.

Major U.S. benchmarks ended mostly higher on Friday. The S&P 500 ended 0.5 percent higher at 2,691.25 while the Dow Jones industrial average fell 0.3 percent to 24,538.06. The Nasdaq composite rose 1.1 percent to 7,257.87.

The dollar fell against the yen and the euro.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose above $61.50 a barrel.


‘Trump slump’ in gun sales continues despite control debate

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gun store owners called it the “Trump slump.” Sales of firearms slowed dramatically after the election of Donald Trump as president in 2016 allayed fears of a Democratic crackdown on gun owners.

That trend has continued in recent weeks even with talk of gun control in Congress and among business leaders following the Feb. 14 massacre of 17 people at a Florida high school.

In the past, gun massacres generally led to an uptick in sales as people worried about the government restricting access. But with Parkland, things are different.

David Dobransky, 67, who owns Dobransky Firearms, a small gun shop in North Canton, Ohio says, “The day after the election, it’s just like somebody turned a faucet off.” Since then, sales there have been cut in half, and nothing the president or Congress has done or said following the Florida shooting has improved business.

Gun show owners say firearms owners apparently have faith that Trump won’t impose more restrictions, even with the confusing messages Trump has sent in the past week.


Public TV worth paying for: Swiss voters nix bid to end fees

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss voters on Sunday handily rejected a proposal brought by free-market advocates to end mandatory fees to finance publicly supported TV and radio programming, a result that brought a sigh of relief to Europe’s state-backed broadcasters.

Final figures indicated that 71 percent of participating Swiss voters rejected the “No Billag” initiative, which was named for the company that collects the TV and radio license fees and championed by far-right populists.

It was one of many referendums held under Switzerland’s form of direct democracy.

A “yes” would have ended fees of about 450 francs ($480) per year that are levied on Swiss households. Large businesses also are required to pay.

Far-right populists had sought an end to the fees, arguing that publicly supported broadcasters have an overly dominant position in Swiss media and more competition was needed. They insisted the state-backed broadcasters should rely more on advertising or charge audiences for specific programs, movies and musical offerings.


Business and economic reports due out this week:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Institute for Supply Management releases its service sector index for February today.

Tomorrow, Target Corp. reports fourth quarter and full year financial results before the market opens.

Then on Wednesday, payroll processor ADP reports how many jobs private employers added in February and the Labor Department releases fourth-quarter productivity data.

Also on Wednesday, the Commerce Department releases international trade data for January and the Federal Reserve reports consumer credit data for January.


Trump defends plan to impose tariffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Facing criticism from allies overseas and members of his own party, President Donald Trump is signaling he is not backing down from his plan to place tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel.

Trump tweets Sunday night that the American “steel and aluminum industries are dead. Sorry, it’s time for a change!”

Trump is readying to place tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent on steel and aluminum imports, respectively.

The protectionist move fulfills a campaign promise to protect American manufacturers, but is pitting him against free-market Republicans and American trading partners who are warning it would ignite a trade war.

British Prime Minister Theresa May called Trump on Sunday to register her displeasure with the impending action.


China asks US for talks, liaison to defuse trade tensions

BEIJING (AP) — A person briefed on the matter says President Xi Jinping’s (shee jihn-peengz) top economic adviser has told U.S. business leaders in Washington that China hopes the White House will revive high-level dialogue on economic disputes and name a new chief liaison to defuse mounting trade tensions.

The person said Liu He told a round-table of executives, including former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, that he would take charge of China’s economic reform efforts later this month and sought a list of U.S. demands for what China could do to ease tensions. They requested anonymity to discuss a confidential meeting.

Liu was dispatched to Washington to smooth over ties with China’s largest trading partner. But the trip has been overshadowed by President Donald Trump’s announcement Thursday of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.


China sets 2018 growth target at ‘around 6.5 percent’

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese leaders have set this year’s official economic growth target at “around 6.5 percent,” which is down slightly from 2017 but would be among the world’s strongest if achieved.

The announcement Monday came at a meeting of China’s ceremonial legislature that is overshadowed by proposed constitutional changes that would allow President Xi Jinping to remain in power indefinitely.

The growth target — down from last year’s “6.5 percent or higher if possible” — reflects Beijing’s promises to pursue more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption instead of exports and investment. However, it still is high enough that private-sector analysts have questioned whether it can be achieved without setting back reform efforts by pumping up bank lending and government stimulus spending.


Electrolux halts Tennessee project after tariff announcement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Electrolux says its plans for a $250 million plant expansion in Tennessee are on hold, and the Swedish appliance maker is citing President Donald Trump’s tariff announcement as the reason.

Electrolux’s investment plans included modernizing and adding 400,000 square feet to the plant in Springfield. Construction was slated to begin later this year.

The company is pointing to Trump’s announcement of new tariffs on imported aluminum and steel. In a statement to The Tennessean, company spokesperson Eloise Hale says that decision gives foreign appliance manufacturers “a cost advantage that is hard to compete against.”

Hale says the company is still evaluating the tariff announcement, but is so concerned about the potential impact that it put the Springfield project on hold until Trump’s order is signed and final details are clear.


Ex-Trump adviser sells before steel tariff news hits stock

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Billionaire investor Carl Icahn sold nearly 1 million shares of stock in a company tied to the steel industry leading up to President Donald Trump’s decision to impose costly tariffs on steel and aluminum imported into the U.S.

Icahn also has ties to Trump; he was an unpaid adviser to the president before resigning last August.

A recent regulatory filing disclosed Icahn sold $31.3 million worth of stock in crane manufacturer Manitowoc Co. last month. Manitowoc could be hurt by Trump’s tariffs, a threat that caused the company’s shares to drop by 9 percent since the president’s announcement.

Icahn sold his Manitowoc stock from Feb. 12 to Feb. 22.


Gazprom seeks to annul natural gas contract with Ukraine

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s state natural gas monopoly Gazprom says it’s beginning efforts to end its contract to supply gas to Ukraine, raising concerns about downstream gas supply to European countries.

Much of Russia’s gas to Europe is shipped via Ukraine’s pipeline system. A Russia-Ukraine gas dispute in 2009 significantly cut supplies to Europe in frigid winter weather.

Gazprom deputy chairman Alexander Medvedev said Saturday that the company has begun procedures in the Stockholm international arbitration court to end its contracts with Ukraine’s Naftogaz. The move comes after the Stockholm body ruled that Gazprom should pay Ukraine more than $2 billion for failure to deliver the agreed-upon volumes of so-called “transit gas.”

Naftogaz said in a statement Saturday that transit of gas to Europe “remains intact.”


Google expansion plans helping to turn NYC into tech hub

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City is waiting to hear whether it’s been chosen as the site for Amazon’s second headquarters. But another tech giant is already moving to expand its footprint in the city.

Google is reportedly close to a reaching a $2.4 billion deal to add a landmark Meatpacking District building to its already substantial New York campus.

The building that houses the Chelsea Market food mall sits across the street from Google’s current New York City headquarters.

Representatives for Google did not respond to requests for comment about the company’s New York expansion plans.

The Google expansion comes as other tech companies, including Amazon, Facebook and Spotify, are also growing in the city.


Ben & Jerry’s co-founder arrested at fighter plane protest

BURLINGTON, Vt. (AP) — The co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream was arrested at a demonstration over whether F-35 fighter planes should be based in Vermont.

Burlington police say businessman Ben Cohen was one of three activists arrested for disorderly conduct Saturday.

The Burlington Free Press reports the demonstrators violated noise ordinances by playing jet noise from a tower of speakers at a level they say simulated what it would be like to be beneath a flight path. They received issued citations to appear in court and were expected to be released.

Burlington voters face a non-binding ballot item Tuesday on whether city officials should oppose basing the planes at Burlington International Airport, beginning in 2019.

The Vermont Air National Guard says millions of dollars have been invested in preparing for the F-35s.


‘Black Panther’ is box-office king for third straight week

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wakanda’s reign over America shows no signs of waning. “Black Panther” is king of the U.S. box office for the third straight weekend.

Studio estimates Sunday say the Marvel movie brought in $65.7 million this weekend, easily outpacing new releases “Red Sparrow” and “Death Wish.”

“Black Panther” has now grossed $500 million domestically after three weeks of release. It’s the third fastest film to reach the $500 million plateau and is now in the top 10 all time in U.S. box office, not adjusted for inflation.

Fox’s “Red Sparrow,” featuring Jennifer Lawrence as a Russian ballerina-turned-super-spy, earned $17 million in its first weekend.

“Death Wish,” MGM’s reboot of the Charles Bronson action franchise starring Bruce Willis, was third with $13 million.

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