Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares rise, echoing Wall St optimism on virus battle

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares rose today, echoing the rally on Wall Street, amid a few glimmers of hope that the coronavirus pandemic could be slowing.

Japan’s benchmark Nikkei finished 2.0% higher, while South Korea’s Kospi gained 1.9%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 1.5%, while the Shanghai Composite jumped nearly 2.0%.

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Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.7%. India’s Sensex surged 6.5%.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 climbed 175.03, or 7%, to 2,663.68, and nearly all the stocks in the index were higher. It more than recovered all its losses from the prior week, when the government reported a record number of layoffs sweeping the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up 1,627.46 points, or 7.7%, to 22,679.99, and the Nasdaq rose 540.15, or 7.3%, to 7,913.24.

FEDERAL RESERVE-SMALL BUSINESS

Federal Reserve to boost small business lending efforts

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve says it will support the government’s $349 billion small business lending program, which had a rocky start Friday.

The Fed says that it will buy loans that banks make to small businesses as part of the program, which is being carried out by banks and the Small Business Administration and was set up under the $2.2 trillion economic relief package.

The loans can be forgiven if they are spent on payroll, to encourage firms to keep paying their employees or rehire workers they may have recently laid off.

By purchasing the loans, the Fed would create an incentive for the banks to engage in more lending. Buying the loans should free up more cash for banks to lend.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-INDIA

India to lift ban on hydroxychloroquine exports

UNDATED (AP) — India says it will lift a ban on some drug exports including hydroxychloroquine after President Donald Trump threatened retaliation if India failed to send the anti-malarial drug to the United States.

A foreign ministry spokesman says in a statement that having confirmed sufficient supplies for India’s needs, export restrictions “have been largely lifted.”

The White House has been championing hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19, even though it hasn’t been proven effective against the disease.

The drug is officially approved in the U.S. for preventing or treating malaria, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, and experts warn it can cause heart rhythm problems. 

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF

Coronavirus patients rush to join studies of Gilead drug

UNDATED (AP) — Coronavirus patients around the world have been rushing to join remdesivir studies that opened in hospitals in the last few weeks. The experimental drug has shown promise in testing.

Interest has been so great that the U.S. National Institutes of Health is expanding its study, which has nearly reached its initial goal of 440 patients. The drug’s maker, California-based Gilead Sciences, is quickly ramping up its own studies, too.

Remdesivir, made by Gilead, is given through an IV. It’s designed to interfere with an enzyme that reproduces viral genetic material. In animal tests against SARS and MERS, diseases caused by similar coronaviruses, the drug helped prevent infection and reduced the severity of symptoms when given early enough in the course of illness. It’s farther along in testing than many other potential therapies and the current studies could lead to regulatory approval.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-3M MASKS

3M, U.S. reach agreement that allows mask exports to Canada

TORONTO (AP) — Manufacturing giant 3M says it has an agreement with the Trump administration that will allow the company to continue to export N95 protective masks to Canada and Latin America amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The company says the U.S. government and 3M have a plan to produce 166.5 million masks over the next three months to support healthcare workers in the United States. They will primarily come from its manufacturing facility in China.

President Donald Trump had used his authority under the 1950 Defense Production Act to stop exporting such masks, also known as respirators. The move outraged many officials in Canada.

3M issued a statement last week saying possible retaliation by other nations could actually lead to fewer of the masks being available in the U.S.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-REI

REI: Stores stay shut, workers furloughed, no pay for CEO

SEATTLE (AP) — REI says it will keep its 162 retail locations closed and furlough some of its roughly 14,000 employees without pay for 90 days as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to halt much of the retail industry.

The Seattle Times reports CEO Eric Artz announced the decision Monday in a blog post. He says he and the board of the company based in Washington state will go without compensation for six months. Other senior executives and corporate staff will see their pay cut.

The company says furloughed employees will continue to receive health benefits during the 90 days.

On March 15, REI announced it was closing retail locations and putting employees on paid leave through April 15. 

CALIFORNIA-WILDFIRES-UTILITY

Market tumult threatens PG&E deal with wildfire victims

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Lawyers who negotiated a crucial $13.5 billion deal for the victims of deadly wildfires caused by Pacific Gas & Electric equipment are expressing serious doubts about whether the nation’s largest utility will be able to pay the full amount as the economy sinks toward a recession.

The red flag raised in court documents filed Monday threatens to derail PG&E’s plan to emerge from bankruptcy this summer before Northern California’s wildfire season enters its most dangerous period.

The concern centers on the recent stock market tumult triggered by the coronavirus that has dramatically shifted the financial landscape since PG&E struck the $13.5 billion settlement with wildfire victims in December.

The deal calls for half the promised payments to be made in PG&E stock that would make wildfire victims major shareholders in the company responsible for upending their lives. The stock portion of the settlement has not been popular among many victims, and the steep downturn in the stock market during the past two months has escalated the concerns that the settlement is no longer worth $13.5 billion.

KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE

Work starts in Montana on disputed Canada-US oil pipeline

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A Canadian company says it’s started construction on the long-stalled Keystone XL oil sands pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border despite calls from tribal leaders and environmentalists to delay the $8 billion project amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesman for TC Energy says work began over the weekend at the border crossing in northern Montana, a remote area with sprawling cattle ranches and wheat fields. The company says about 100 workers are involved initially, but that number is expected to swell into the thousands in coming months as work proceeds.

The 1,200-mile pipeline was proposed in 2008 and would carry up to 830,000 barrels (35 million gallons) of crude daily for transfer to refineries and export terminals on the Gulf of Mexico.

BOEING-CREW CAPSULE

Boeing repeating test flight of astronaut capsule after flop

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — Boeing says it will repeat a test flight of its astronaut capsule following last year’s botched demo, considered a perilous close call by NASA.

Boeing spokesman Jerry Drelling says the company is looking to fly a second Starliner capsule, once again without a crew, possibly this fall. If that goes well, then astronauts will climb aboard on the following mission.

The Starliner’s debut last December was marred by software errors. The capsule ended up in the wrong orbit and, as a result, could not reach the International Space Station as intended. Investigators later determined the capsule could have been destroyed in flight — twice — as a result of the mistakes.

NASA hired Boeing — along with SpaceX — to transport astronauts to and from the space station and ease the space agency’s costly reliance on Russian rockets for launching crews.

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