Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL NEWS

Asian shares mixed after tech-led decline on Wall St

BANGKO (AP) — Asian markets are mixed after more declines in big technology stocks pulled major indexes lower on Wall Street.

Tokyo and Taiwan declined but other regional markets advanced.

On Thursday, the S&P 500 wobbled between gains and losses for much of the day before shedding 0.1%. Weakness in big tech companies like Apple was the main culprit. The Nasdaq also fell 0.1% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.5%.

Small-company stocks bucked the trend and closed higher. Bond yields continued to rise a day after the Federal Reserve indicated it was ready to raise interest rates to fight off inflation.

ECONOMY-JOBS REPORT

US hiring may have rebounded last month before omicron surge

WASHINGTON (AP) — Inflation is surging and new omicron infections are spiking, but America’s employers are thought to have kept right on hiring in December on the strength of solid consumer spending.

One reason for the optimism about the jobs data the government will issue this morning is that it wasn’t likely affected much by the omicron wave. The hiring figures will reflect the state of the job market for the first half of December, before omicron viral cases spiked.

Economists have estimated that employers added 400,000 jobs, according to a survey by data provider FactSet. That would mark an increase from 210,000 in November. The unemployment rate is expected to have fallen from 4.2% to 4.1%.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CALIFORNIA

Official: California COVID surge could ease next month

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A surge in coronavirus cases has shut down California schools and sidelined thousands of police, firefighters and health care workers but officials are hoping it will be short-lived.

Los Angeles County’s public health director said Thursday that she’s hoping it will begin to ease in February. Barbara Ferrer also says vaccinations and boosters are protecting many people from severe illness.

Meanwhile, California’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has soared five-fold in two weeks. That’s led to hourslong waits for COVID tests and it’s also straining school systems. All 54 schools in West Contra Costa County are closed today and some teachers in Oakland plan a sickout to demand more virus protections.

UNITED STATES-JAPAN

US, Japan hail stronger ties, including 2 new defense deals

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top U.S. and Japanese officials are highlighting new defense agreements, including a five-year deal on sharing the cost of the American military presence in Japan.

That deal ends a Trump-era row that had been an irritant in relations between Tokyo and Washington.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin hailed the deal in remarks at the opening of a virtual conference with their Japanese counterparts. Their talks come as tensions rise between both allies and China and in the aftermath of a worrisome new North Korean missile test.

COLORADO-WILDFIRE-COST

Officials: Colorado wildfire caused $513 million in damage

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Colorado authorities say last week’s wildfire caused $513 million in damage and destroyed 1,084 homes and structures. It’s the first estimate of economic damage for the Dec. 30 blaze, the most destructive wildfire in state history.

Boulder County released the new totals Thursday after further assessing the suburban area located between Denver and Boulder. Authorities previously estimated that at least 991 homes and other buildings were destroyed.

Two people are missing, though officials have found partial human remains at one location.

CYBERSECURITY-POLAND-NSO HACKS

Polish leader admits country bought powerful Israeli spyware

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s most powerful politician has acknowledged that the country bought advanced spyware from the Israeli surveillance software maker NSO Group.

But Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, denies that it was being used to target his political opponents. He said in an interview that the software, Pegasus, is now being used by secret services in many countries to combat crime and corruption and that “it would be bad if the Polish services did not have this type of tool.”

Kaczynski made his comments in an interview to be published in the Monday edition of a weekly news magazine. Parts of the interview were published today.

CHINESE NATIONAL-TRADE SECRET ARREST

Chinese man pleads guilty to stealing Monsanto trade secret

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A 44-year-old man from China has admitted in court that he stole a trade secret from Monsanto while he worked in Missouri.

Federal prosecutors say Haitao Xiang, formerly of Chesterfield, Missouri, pleaded guilty Thursday in federal court in Missouri to conspiracy to commit economic espionage.

Federal prosecutors say Xiang transferred a trade secret to a memory card for the benefit of the Chinese government. He was arrested after he returned to the U.S. from China.

Xiang was an imaging scientist for Monsanto and its subsidiary, The Climate Corporation, from 2008 to 2017. He is scheduled to be sentenced April 7.

AIRBNB-BIAS

Airbnb will change process to fight discrimination in Oregon

UNDATED (AP) — Soon, Airbnb hosts in Oregon will only see the initials of some prospective renters, not their full names.

It’s a move designed to prevent hosts from discriminating against people who they think might be Black based on their name. The initials-only policy takes effect Jan. 31 and will last for at least two years. It will only apply to customers in Oregon.

The change stems from a discrimination lawsuit that was filed in 2017 by three Black women in Oregon. Airbnb settled the case in 2019.

QVC-FACILITY FIRE

QVC files notice of nearly 2,000 layoffs after facility fire

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A filing with state officials says the company that runs QVC is shutting down a North Carolina distribution center heavily damaged by a fire, putting nearly 2,000 people out of work.

News outlets report that on Dec. 29, Qurate Retail Group filed a Worker Adjustment and Retraining and Notification notice with the North Carolina Department of Commerce announcing its plans.

The company wrote that “it will be closing and ceasing all operations” at its distribution center, according to a copy of the notice obtained by WRAL-TV.

The company writes in the notice that it will terminate all employees at the site, which employed 1,953 as of Dec. 29.

NEW YORK TIMES-ATHLETIC

New York Times buys sports site The Athletic for $550M

UNDATED (AP) — The New York Times Co. is buying sports news site The Athletic for $550 million. It’s the Times’ latest move in its strategy to expand its audience of paying subscribers as the newspaper print ads business fades.

The Times gained millions of subscribers during the Trump presidency and the pandemic, keeping it on track for its goal of 10 million by 2025. As of the most recent quarter, it had nearly 8.4 million.

The Athletic’s website says it has more than 400 editorial employees, making it a major acquisition for The Times, whose newsroom stands at more than 2,000.

Digital media outlets have been consolidating recently to help them compete with tech giants like Google and Facebook.

JAPAN-SPACE-TYCOON

Japan tycoon Maezawa returns from space with business dreams

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has returned from space with hopes of new celestial investments. But he wants to first recover, as returning to life with gravity has proved heavier than he’d expected.

Maezawa blasted off in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with a Russian cosmonaut on Dec. 8, becoming the first self-paying tourist to visit the station since 2009. He returned to earth after spending 12 days at the orbiting outpost, where he took videos of himself clowning around in weightlessness.

He says living in space has him appreciating everyday things more: the wind, the changing seasons, smells and sushi.

ISRAEL-LOOTED ARTIFACTS

Billionaire’s looted art still on display at Israel Museum

JERUSALEM (AP) — Weeks after American billionaire Michael Steinhardt agreed to surrender dozens of plundered antiquities, three of the items remain on display at Israel’s flagship museum.

Museums worldwide are facing greater scrutiny over the chain of ownership of their art. This has applied especially to items looted from conflict zones or illegally plundered from archaeological sites. There are growing calls for such items to be returned to their countries of origin.

The artifacts at the Israel Museum include a pair of ancient masks and a limestone table with a Greek inscription. Steinhardt, who has denied any wrongdoing, loaned the items to the museum years ago.

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