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Business Highlights: Unemployment claims, Facebook board

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US unemployment claims fall to a pandemic low of 498,000

WASHINGTON (AP) — The number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell last week to 498,000, the lowest point since the viral pandemic struck 14 months ago and a sign of the job market’s growing strength as businesses reopen and consumers step up spending. Applications declined 92,000 from a revised 590,000 a week earlier. The number of weekly jobless claims — a rough measure of the pace of layoffs — has declined significantly from a peak of 900,000 in January as employers have ramped up hiring. The pace of applications is still well above the roughly 230,000 level that prevailed before the viral outbreak tore through the economy in March of last year.

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Facebook’s oversight board: Watchdog or distraction?

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Facebook’s oversight board, which on Wednesday upheld the company’s ban of former President Donald Trump, also had some harsh words for its corporate sponsor: Facebook. But critics aren’t convinced this decision is a triumph of accountability, and say its actions may actually distract from more fundamental issues that Facebook seems less interested in talking about. Among those concerns are Facebook’s massive power, its shadowy algorithms that can amplify hate and misinformation and its desire to avoid regulation. Facebook said the board provides scrutiny and accountability for the company and that it is no substitute for regulation.

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NY: Broadband cos paid for 8.5M fake net neutrality comments

NEW YORK (AP) — The Office of the New York Attorney General said in a new report that a campaign funded by the broadband industry submitted millions of fake comments supporting the 2017 repeal of net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission’s contentious 2017 repeal undid Obama-era rules that the broadband industry had sued to stop. The proceeding generated a record-breaking number of comments, most of which were fake. A broadband industry group, called Broadband for America, spent $4.2 million generating more than 8.5 million of the fake FCC comments. A California teen submitted 7.7 million fake comments.

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More support easing vaccine patent rules, but hurdles remain

GENEVA (AP) — Several world leaders have praised the U.S. move to expand access to COVID-19 vaccines for poor nations by suspending patent protections on the shots. But it wasn’t clear if that would actually lead to the measures being lifted. Activists and international institutions cheered but Big Pharma fired back after the Biden administration called for a waiver of intellectual property protections. If even just one country votes against a waiver at the World Trade Organization, it would be sunk. The move made the U.S. the first country in the developed world with big vaccine manufacturing to publicly support the idea. And the vocal support that followed from French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday suggested that countries were reassessing their positions.

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Productivity rebounds at solid 5.4% rate in first quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. productivity posted a sharp rebound in the January-March quarter after having fallen in the previous quarter. Labor costs declined slightly. The Labor Department reported Thursday that productivity increased at an annual rate of 5.4% in the first quarter, recovering from a 3.8% rate of decline in the fourth quarter of last year. Labor costs fell at a 0.3% rate in the first quarter following a 5.6% jump in the fourth quarter. It was the biggest quarterly rise in productivity since an 11.2% surge in the second quarter of last year, a gain that reflected the fact that output was not falling as fast as the labor market was shrinking as millions of people were being laid off after the pandemic hit.

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Beyond Meat falls short of Q1 forecasts due to lower prices

EL SEGUNDO, Calif (AP) — Plant-based meat company Beyond Meat has posted a first-quarter loss after higher sales were offset by marketing costs and lower prices. The company based in El Segundo, California reported Thursday that its revenue rose 11% to $108.2 million in the January-March period. But according to analysts polled by FactSet that fell short of Wall Street’s forecast of $112.6 million. Beyond Meat reported a net loss of $27.3 million, compared to a profit of $1.8 million in the same period a year ago. Adjusted for one-time items, the company lost 42 cents per share. Analysts had been expecting an loss of 18 cents a share.

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Bank of England expects best year for UK economy since 1941

LONDON (AP) — The Bank of England will keep interest rates on hold and has grown more optimistic about the economic recovery in the U.K. this year as a result of the rapid rollout of coronavirus vaccines. In a prepared statement Thursday, the nine-member Monetary Policy Committee said it will maintain the bank’s main interest rate at 0.1%. The unanimous and widely anticipated decision means that interest rates will remain at the lowest level in the bank’s 327-year history. Alongside its decision, the bank’s rate-setting panel said growth is likely to be greater than it previously thought in the coming quarters largely due to the rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and that the easing of lockdown restrictions should spur consumer spending.

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The S&P 500 rose 34.03 points, or 0.8%, to 4,201.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 318.19, or 0.9%, to 34,548.53. The Nasdaq rose 50.42 points, or 0.4%, to 13,632.84. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 0.05 points, or less than 0.1%, to 2,241.42.

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