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A New Jersey bankruptcy judge said a federal appeals court should weigh in as soon as possible on his ruling permitting Johnson & Johnson to move mass talc litigation to chapter 11, as the company and plaintiffs' lawyers prepare for mediated settlement talks.

Judge Michael Kaplan of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Trenton, N.J., on Wednesday granted requests from talc injury claimants for an immediate appeal of his February ruling keeping their lawsuits against J&J frozen in chapter 11 proceedings. The judge allowed a J&J subsidiary to remain in chapter 11, likely aiding the company's efforts to settle current and future claims linking its talc-based baby powder to cancer.

   
 
 

Proposal to Sanction Russian Cybersecurity Firm Over Ukraine Invasion Splits Biden Administration

WASHINGTON-The Biden administration is divided over whether to impose sanctions on Kaspersky Lab, a Russian cybersecurity giant that officials warn could be used by the Kremlin as a surveillance tool against its customers, according to people familiar with the matter.

The White House's National Security Council has pressed the Treasury Department to ready the sanctions as part of the broad Western campaign to punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, according to officials familiar with the matter. While Treasury officials have been working to prepare the package, sanctions experts within the department have raised concerns over the size and scope of such a move. The company's software is used by hundreds of millions of customers across the world, making it difficult to enforce the sanctions.

   
 
 

Kinross Gold Nears Sale of Russian Business to Local Mining Executive

Canadian miner Kinross Gold Corp. is in exclusive talks to sell its giant Arctic Russian mine to Fortiana Holdings Limited, according to people familiar with the matter, a deal that-if consummated-could mark the first sale of an asset a Western company is leaving behind in Russia.

Fortiana is a Russian-backed investment firm with interests in gold mining assets.

   
 
 

Judge Approves $18 Million Activision Settlement With EEOC

A California judge has approved an $18 million settlement between Activision Blizzard Inc. and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, marking a win over objections from a state department that sought to intervene.

Activision previously agreed in September to settle with the EEOC, which had been investigating the videogame company for allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation.

   
 
 

Consumer Spending Rose as Omicron Wave Ebbed, Economists Say

Americans boosted their spending at a cooler pace last month, as the Omicron surge of Covid-19 eased, but inflation remained high amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, economists estimated.

Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expect the Commerce Department to report Thursday that consumer spending rose at a seasonally adjusted 0.5% in February from the month before, down from 2.1% in January. The department is also set to release fresh data on personal income and inflation.

   
 
 

Getting a Mortgage Gets a Little Easier

Mortgage credit availability, a measure of lenders' willingness to issue home loans, rose in February to its highest level since last May, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

Faced with high prices, rising rates and declining application volumes, lenders are expanding product offerings and relaxing some borrower eligibility requirements. Financing options that allow for bigger loans or lower upfront payments can extend consumers' purchasing power and cushion the impact of the large price increases of the past two years. Lenders are aiming to boost business to offset shrinking volume and reduced profit margins.

   
 
 

Biden Is Expected to Tap Oil Reserves to Control Rising Gasoline Prices

President Biden is preparing to announce the release of up to 1 million barrels of oil a day from the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to people familiar with the plans.

Mr. Biden is expected to deliver remarks on Thursday on the administration's efforts to curb the rise in energy prices in the aftermath of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. The announcement could come during the planned remarks.

   
 
 

Covid-19 Outbreaks Slow Factory Activity in China

BEIJING-Activity in China's manufacturing and services sectors contracted in March, according to official surveys that offer the first broad glimpse of the economic cost of efforts to contain the highly transmissible Omicron variant in some of the country's most important industrial hubs.

The surveys suggest output in China's powerhouse manufacturing sector shrank in March, as lockdowns hit factories in industrial districts ranging from Changchun in northeastern China to the southern technology hub of Shenzhen. Services-sector activity also tumbled, as Covid-19 and government efforts to smother it kept people away from malls, restaurants and hotels.

   
 
 

Coal Starts Showing Signs of Moderation After Big First-Quarter Gains

Coal prices could start to ease soon after soaring in the first quarter, analysts say, pointing to signs of improving supply, softening demand and the likely correction of prices from key exporter Indonesia.

The Newcastle coal benchmark rose 53% in the quarter, while coal prices on the Zhengzhou Commodity Exchange in China gained 23%, according to FactSet.

   
 
 

Russia Set for Steep Slump and Long Stagnation in Wake of Ukraine War

Russia's invasion of Ukraine will cause their economies to contract this year by about 10% and 20%, respectively, the region's leading development bank said Thursday in one of the most in-depth economic assessments to date of the war's impact on the two countries.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development said the slump in Russia would likely turn into a long period of stagnation while neighboring economies would rebound next year as long as a sustainable cease-fire is secured over the coming months.

   
 
 

Germany Retail Sales Increased Slightly in February

Germany's retail sales rose in February following two weak months marked by renewed restrictions to combat the surge in coronavirus cases caused by the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The German statistics office Destatis said retail sales rose by a price-adjusted 0.3% on month in February, following a revised flat January.

   
 
 

UK 4Q Economy Growth Reached Pre-Pandemic Level

The U.K. economy grew more than initially estimated in the fourth quarter of 2021, reaching its pre-pandemic level of output.

The U.K. gross domestic product increased 1.3% from September to December compared with the previous quarter, up from the 1% expansion previously estimated, data from the Office for National Statistics showed Thursday.

   
 
 

U.S. Charges Chinese Agent in Alleged Schemes to Forcibly Repatriate U.S., Canadian Residents

Federal prosecutors accused a Chinese agent of illegally working with a local U.S. law-enforcement officer and others in an effort to forcibly repatriate U.S. and Canadian residents the Chinese government alleges are criminals.

The complaint, unsealed Wednesday in Manhattan, follows charges unsealed two weeks ago in Brooklyn accusing Chinese agents of harassing Chinese dissidents living in the U.S., including by hiring a private investigator to use violence if necessary to end a candidate's run for U.S. Congress.

   
 
 

Ukraine Proposal for NATO-Style Security Guarantee Greeted With Skepticism

Western officials are balking at Ukraine's proposal for a NATO-style mutual-defense pledge that could draw their military forces into a war with Russia, even as they expressed some receptiveness to the idea of international security guarantees as part of a deal to end hostilities.

At peace talks in Istanbul on Tuesday, Ukrainian negotiators handed Russia a detailed proposal of a neutral status for Ukraine with its security guaranteed by the U.S., U.K., France, Turkey, Germany, Canada, Poland and Israel. The Ukrainian proposal would ask countries to respond to a violation of its sovereignty the way members of North Atlantic Treaty Organization would act under Article 5, the alliance's mutual-defense promise.

   
 
 

Russia 'Singling Out' Americans for Harassment, State Dept. Warns

Russian authorities have "singled out" U.S. citizens in Russia for harassment, U.S. authorities said in a warning that underscores the physical and security risks companies still operating in the country face.

Russian security services have targeted U.S. citizens for "detention and/or harassment," the U.S. State Department on Tuesday said in an updated warning to Americans that cautions against all travel to the country.

   
 
 

Thunderstorms Are Sweeping Across South

A tornado watch has been issued for several southern states as severe weather moves through the region, bringing with it the possibility of hurricane-force winds, tornadoes and hail.

Thunderstorms stretching many miles "will intensify and track rapidly eastward this afternoon," the National Weather Service said.

   
 
 

Write to sarka.halas@wsj.com

TODAY IN CANADA

Earnings:

BlackBerry Limited (BB.T) 4Q

Boat Rocker Media Inc (BRMI.T) 4Q

Greenbrook Tms Inc. (GTMS.T) 4Q

MediPharm Labs Corp. (LABS.T) 4Q

WELL Hlth Tech Corp. (WELL.T) 4Q

Economic Indicators (ET):

0830 Jan GDP

Market Talk:

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