Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Wall Street heads higher, led by tech and smaller stocks

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are rising on Wall Street as investors wait to hear the details about Washington’s next mammoth push for the economy. The S&P 500 was up 0.8% at midday, ahead of an afternoon speech where President Joe Biden is expected to discuss his plan to spend $2 trillion on strengthening the nation’s infrastructure and how to pay for it. If the gain holds, it would be the first for the index since it set a record last week. Stocks of smaller companies were once again leading the way. Tech stocks were also strong after Treasury yields slowed their swift rise from earlier this year.

PENDING HOME SALES

Home contract signings tumble

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes last month fell by the most since last year’s virus outbreak sent the economy into freefall. The National Association of Realtors’ index of pending home sales tumbled 10.6% to 110.3 in February, its lowest level since May of last year. Combined with a 2.4% dip in January, contract signings are now 0.5% behind where they were last year after eight straight months of year-over-year gains. Contract signings, considered a barometer of purchases that will take place in the next two months, fell in all four regions in February.

BIDEN-INFRASTRUCTURE

Eager to build infrastructure, Biden plans to tax business

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden wants $2 trillion to reengineer America’s infrastructure and expects the nation’s corporations to pay for it. The Democratic president travels to Pittsburgh on Wednesday to unveil what would be a hard-hatted transformation of the U.S. economy. It includes $621 billion for roads, bridges and transportation infrastructure. The plan would also move the country away from fossil fuels to clean energy. It would be financed by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, among other measures. That could lead to fierce resistance from the business community and thwart attempts to work with Republicans lawmakers.

WORLD TRADE FORECAST

WTO: Vaccination lag poses threat to rebounding global trade

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — World trade will pick up this year but has a long way to go to reach pre-pandemic levels. That is the word Wednesday from the World Trade Organization. The WTO is raising its estimate for the rebound in global trade in goods but warning that the COVID-19 pandemic still poses the greatest threat to a recovery that is being hampered by lagging vaccinations and regional disparities. The WTO forecasts that trade in goods will rise by 8.0%. Trade bounced back faster than expected in the second half of 2020, helping the outlook. The organization’s director-general called Wednesday for open markets and “a rapid, global and equitable vaccine rollout.”

VIRUS OUTBREAK-TRAVEL

More vaccinated travelers mean pricier hotels, flights

UNDATED (AP) — Industry experts say the cost of travel is likely to slowly rebound from historic lows as more travelers receive COVID-19 vaccinations and book long-deferred trips. Although airlines are unlikely to build capacity to pre-pandemic levels, demand may increase through the summer as vaccination rates increase. And hotel prices in cities may begin increasing as cities continue reopening. There are still many unknowns, but experts remain cautiously confident that those looking to book travel this year should do so sooner rather than later. Though new booking flexibility can help reduce the risk of changing plans, increased travel demand is unlikely to drive prices below current levels.

DELTA-MIDDLE SEATS

Delta joins other US airlines in ending empty middle seats

Delta Air Lines will stop blocking middle seats in May, meaning that no more U.S. airlines will limit capacity on flights to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Delta’s announcement Wednesday reverses a policy that had been in place since last April. At one time, several other airlines including Southwest, Alaska and JetBlue had also limited seating, while United never did and American did only for a short time. Delta CEO Ed Bastian says nearly 65% of people who flew on Delta last year expect to have at least one dose of the new vaccines by May 1, giving Delta the confidence to sell flights to full capacity.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-EUROPE-WEATHER

Warm weather in northwest Europe raises fresh virus worries

BRUSSELS (AP) — Much of northwest Europe is basking in unusually warm weather, prompting many people to throw caution to the wind despite a worrying uptick in coronavirus cases in parts of the continent. Temperatures in Belgium, which is facing a resurgence of the virus, have never been so high so early in the year while those in England, where restrictions are being loosened following a dramatic fall in new cases, could on Wednesday nudge the all-time March high. Authorities, though, are urging people to refrain from breaching the rules.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-EUROPE-VACCINE

EU says ‘no evidence’ to restrict use of AstraZeneca vaccine

BERLIN (AP) — The European Medicines Agency says there is “no evidence” that would support restricting use of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in any population despite reports of rare blood clots associated with the shot. The comments Wednesday by the head of the European Union regulator contradict the advice given a day earlier by an expert panel in Germany that prompted the government there to restrict the use of the shot in people under 60. Cooke said that the assessment was based on 62 cases of unusual blood clots, includig 14 deaths, reported to EMA by March 22.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-GERMANY-VACCINE MANUFACTURING

Amid AstraZeneca setback, Germany banks on homegrown vaccine

MARBURG, Germany (AP) — A German company is gearing up for mass production of its groundbreaking COVID-19 vaccine. BioNTech says it is raising its estimate of how many doses it can produce at its facility in the town of Marburg. That is up from 700 million under an early forecast. It can’t come soon enough. Germany and Europe are trying to get a sluggish vaccination campaign moving faster. Some 400 workers are scaling up production to mass scale wearing extensive protective clothing and equipment to prevent contamination of the fragile messenger RNA, the main ingredient in the company’s pioneering vaccine.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-PFIZER-CHILDREN

Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine protects younger teens

UNDATED (AP) — Pfizer says its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12. Today’s announcement marks a step toward possibly beginning shots in this age group before the next school year. Most COVID-19 vaccines being rolled out worldwide are for adults, who are at higher risk from the coronavirus. Pfizer’s vaccine is authorized for ages 16 and older. But vaccinating children of all ages will be critical to stopping the pandemic. In a study of 2,260 U.S. volunteers ages 12 to 15, preliminary data showed there were no cases of COVID-19 among fully vaccinated adolescents compared to 18 among those given dummy shots.

HONDA-RECALL

Honda recalls over 628,000 US vehicles to replace fuel pumps

DETROIT (AP) — Honda is recalling more than 628,000 vehicles in the U.S. to replace fuel pumps that can fail, causing the engines to stall. The recall covers much of the Honda and Acura model lineup from the 2018 to 2020 model years including the CR-V small SUV, the company’s top-selling U.S. vehicle. The company says the impeller, which is the rotating part of the pump, could be defective. Honda says it has no reports of crashes or injuries. Owners will be notified by mail in late May and dealers will replace the fuel pumps for free.

OCEANS-BATTERY PLEDGE

Automakers BMW, Volvo back moratorium on deep seabed mining

BERLIN (AP) — Automakers BMW and Volvo announced Wednesday that they support a moratorium on deep seabed mining for minerals used in electric vehicle batteries and other products. The call was also backed by Samsung’s EV battery unit and tech giant Google. It says fragile ocean ecosystems are already under threat from overfishing, pollution, noise and man-made climate change. While deep seabed mining is still in its infancy, several prospecting firms are seeking rights to extract potentially lucrative deposits from the depths of the ocean. The companies said they are committed “not to source minerals from the deep seabed; to exclude such minerals from our supply chains; and not to finance deep seabed mining activities.” The call was supported by the environmental group World Wildlife Fund.

EGYPT-SUEZ-CANAL

Experts examine bottom of big ship that was stuck in Suez

CAIRO (AP) — Officials say divers are inspecting the underside of a colossal containership that had blocked the Suez Canal to determine the extent of damage found to the bow. But it’s not severe enough to ground the vessel. The dives were part of a continuing investigation into what caused the grounding of the Ever Given, now anchored in the Great Bitter Lake, a wide stretch of water halfway between the north and south ends of the canal. Salvage teams succeeded in finally freeing the skyscraper-size vessel on Monday afternoon. The ship got stuck sideways in a narrow stretch of the canal. The mishap shook the global shipping industry when it halted billions of dollars a day in maritime commerce for around a week.

ROBINHOOD-CONFETTI

Robinhood cans the confetti, unveils new celebratory designs

NEW YORK (AP) — The bursts of confetti that shower screens of Robinhood investors when they make their first trade — and serve as the punchline for critics who say the popular app treats investing like a game — are going away. Starting this week, Robinhood will begin replacing them with a suite of animations that are decidedly measured in pace. The confetti animations have been around since 2016 and had become a flashpoint in the criticism lodged against Robinhood. Critics say Robinhood uses such techniques to lure unsophisticated investors and keep them engaged with the app, where they may be making too many trades that are too risky for them.

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