Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks mixed in quiet end of year trading

BANGKOK (AP) — Major share benchmarks are mostly lower in Asia at the outset of the last trading week of the year as countries grapple with the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Many markets were closed today for holidays.

Benchmarks fell in Shanghai, Bangkok, Tokyo and Seoul. Taiwan and India were higher.

Last week, the S&P 500 set a record as fears ebbed about the potential impact of omicron outbreaks. However, much is still uncertain about the variant, which is spreading extremely quickly, leading to a return to pandemic restrictions in some places. Hundreds of flights were cancelled in the U.S. over the holiday weekend, with airlines reporting COVID-related staffing problems.

HOLIDAY SALES

Despite supply issues and omicron, holiday sales rise 8.5%

UNDATED (AP) — Holiday sales rose at the fastest pace in 17 years, even as shoppers grappled with higher prices, product shortages and a raging new COVID-19 variant in the last few weeks of the season, according to one spending measure.

Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks all kinds of payments including cash and debit cards, reported Sunday that holiday sales had risen 8.5% from a year earlier. MasterCard SpendingPulse had expected an 8.8% increase. The results covered Nov. 1 through Dec. 24. They were fueled by purchases of clothing and jewelry.

Holiday sales were up 10.7% compared with the pre-pandemic 2019 holiday period. By category, clothing rose 47%, jewelry 32%, electronics 16%. Online sales were up 11% from a year ago and 61% from 2019. Department stores registered a 21% increase over 2020.

AIRLINES CANCELATIONS

Flight cancellations snarl holiday plans for thousands

NEW YORK (AP) — Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Saturday because of staffing issues tied to COVID-19, disrupting holiday celebrations during one of the busiest travel times of the year. Flight-tracking website FlightAware notes nearly 1,000 flights entering, leaving or inside the U.S. were canceled Saturday, up from 690 scrapped flights Friday.

More than 250 more flights were already canceled for Sunday. FlightAware does not say why flights are canceled.

Delta, United and JetBlue on Friday had all said the omicron variant was causing staffing problems leading to flight cancellations. Flight delays and cancellations tied to staffing shortages have been a regular problem for the U.S. airline industry this year.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian was among those who have called on the Biden administration to take similar steps or risk further disruptions in air travel. On Thursday, the U.S. shortened COVID-19 isolation rules for health care workers only.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CHINA

Delta: Flight to Shanghai turned back because of COVID rules

BEIJING (AP) — Delta Air Lines says new pandemic-related cleaning requirements at a Shanghai airport were behind the turning back of a recent flight from Seattle in midair.

The move prompted a protest from the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco.

An emailed statement from Delta says the new mandates at Shanghai Pudong International Airport require significantly extended ground time and are not operationally viable for Delta. It isn’t clear what the rules are and what prompted the change.

It comes as China tightens its already strict COVID-19 travel restrictions in the face of a growing outbreak in the city of Xi’an and ahead of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in six weeks.

VIRUS OUTBREAK

COVID-19 variant disrupts holiday travel but not shopping

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The latest COVID-19 variant is upending holiday plans for tens of thousands of travelers — but it didn’t do much damage to holiday shopping.

Airlines canceled hundreds more flights Sunday, citing staffing problems tied to COVID-19, as the nation’s travel woes extended beyond Christmas. There was no clear indication when normal schedules would resume.

But shoppers shrugged off the omicron variant, and holiday sales rose at the fastest pace in 17 years. Omicron is likely to slow the economy’s unexpectedly strong rebound from last year’s coronavirus recession and could add more heat to already simmering inflation. But it’s not yet clear how deep the hurt will go or how long it will last.

FILM-BOX OFFICE

‘Spider-Man’ surpasses $1B globally in second weekend

UNDATED (AP) — Even with some mighty competition from new Matrix and Sing movies and rising concerns over the omicron variant, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” stayed in the No. 1 spot, with $81.5 million according to studio estimates Sunday. It also became 2021′s top-grossing film and crossed the $1 billion mark globally in just 11 days.

It’s the first film of the pandemic to cross $1 billion and the second-fastest movie ever to do so — and this without the benefit of China release.

Universal’s “Sing 2” came in second place with an estimated $23.8 million, while Warner Bros.′ “The Matrix Resurrections” grossed $12 million to take third place. The Kurt Warner biopic “American Underdog” opened on Christmas and made an estimated $6.2 million in its first two days.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FUNERAL COSTS

Federal program offers cash to cover COVID-19 funeral costs

BOSTON (AP) — Families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19 can apply for reimbursement from the federal government for up to $9,000 to cover the cost of funeral expenses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent nearly $1.5 billion on funeral reimbursements since Jan. 20, 2020, the date of the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the U.S.

As of Dec. 6, 226,000 people have received money. With more than 800,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the U.S., it’s clear that many families who are eligible for reimbursement have yet to take advantage of the benefit.

To be eligible for reimbursement, death certificates for those who died after May 16, 2020, must indicate that the death was attributed to COVID-19.

For deaths that occurred in the early months of the pandemic — from Jan. 20 to May 16, 2020 — death certificates must be accompanied with a signed statement from a medical examiner, coroner or the certifying official listed on the certificate indicating that COVID-19 was the cause or a contributing cause of death.

OBIT-NANCY KEATING

Nancy Keating, matriarch of influential family, dies at 94

CINCINNATI (AP) — Nancy Keating, matriarch of a large family with deep and philanthropic ties to the Cincinnati area, has died at age 94.

Her son Mike Keating said in a email that she died peacefully at her home Friday.

Keating was the wife of the late William J. Keating. He served in Congress in the 1970s and later led the Cincinnati Enquirer and served on the board of The Associated Press. Her brother-in-law Charles Keating was a key figure in the 1980s savings and loan crisis.

She was a longtime soup kitchen and Meals on Wheels volunteer. Her husband attributed his success to her support.

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