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Asian stocks mixed after Wall Street gains on tax cut hopes

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed today after Wall Street gained on growing investor certainty U.S. lawmakers will approve tax changes.

On Wall Street yesterday, Stocks in technology companies climbed, as did banks and retailers, which are likely to see lower taxes under proposed changes. Stocks have made hefty gains as congressional Republicans appeared to shore up enough support to approve the legislation; voting was scheduled to start Tuesday. The biggest gains have gone to companies that pay relatively higher tax rates, including smaller, U.S.-focused companies, banks and retailers. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 0.5 percent to 2,690.16. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 0.6 percent to 24,792.20. The Nasdaq composite rose 0.8 percent to 6,994.76.


The dollar advanced against the yen and declined against the euro.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose but remained under $57.50 per barrel.


China warns of ‘pressure and challenges’ after Trump report

BEIJING (AP) — China’s main official news agency warned Tuesday that U.S.-Chinese relations will face “more pressure and challenges” following President Donald Trump’s decision to label Beijing a rival in a national security report.

The decision reflects a “victory of hardliners” in Trump’s administration, said the Xinhua News Agency on its official microblog. It said Trump’s stance “probably means Chinese-U.S. economic and trade relations will face even more pressure and challenges.”

Trump’s report emphasized economic security and repeated complaints that China steals technology and uses “economic inducements” to persuade other governments to serve its strategic interests.

The Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party, said the report “reflects Washington’s reluctance to accept the reality of China’s rise.”

A statement by the Chinese Embassy in Washington called on the U.S. government to discard “old thinking.” It said “the Chinese side is willing to coexist peacefully with all countries of the world including the United States on the basis of mutual respect.”


Japan Maglev contractors raided in bid rigging probe

TOKYO (AP) — Prosecutors have raided the headquarters of several of Japan’s biggest construction companies in an investigation into alleged collusion on bids for a multibillion dollar high-speed maglev train line.

News reports Tuesday showed investigators from the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office heading into the headquarters of Taisei Corp. and Obayashi Corp., two of four companies targeted in the probe. Shimizu Corp. and Kajima Corp., the two others, issued statements Tuesday acknowledging the raids.

Kajima said it conducts training focused on preventing bid rigging.

All the contractors have promised to cooperate fully with the investigation into the alleged violations of anti-trust laws. Reports said prosecutors are looking into alleged “obstruction of business” because the contracts for the line, called the Linear Chuo Shinkansen, are for private-sector, not public contracts.

The $80 billion magnetic levitation, or maglev, railway between Tokyo and the central Japanese city of Nagoya is a decades-long project that is expected to reduce travel time between the two cities to 40 minutes from the current 100 minutes once it opens in 2027. The line is due to be eventually extended to the western city of Osaka.

The project at the center of this scandal is for construction of an emergency exit for the maglev at Nagoya station.

Bid-rigging remains entrenched in Japan’s construction sector and other industries, despite repeated efforts to crack down and pledges by contractors to eliminate the practice.


Commerce Department to release report on housing starts

WASHINGTON (AP) — An update on the nation’s housing industry is among the reports due for release later today by the government.

The Commerce Department issues the analysis of housing starts for November and also will put out the current account trade deficit for the third quarter.

Also, Fed-E Corp. is set to report its quarterly financial results after the market closes. And in Berlin, Germany’s Ifo Institute is scheduled to release its monthly business confidence index, a key indicator for Germany’s economy.


Congress’ official tax analyst sees 2027 tax boosts for many

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican tax bill would mean average initial tax cuts for Americans across all income lines, but by 2027, it would boost average levies for everyone earning up to $75,000, which includes most taxpayers. That’s according to a new report from Congress’ nonpartisan tax analyst.

The projection released Monday seemed unlikely to have any impact on the fate of the legislation, which was expected to win House approval Tuesday. Senate passage is likely by Wednesday as the GOP races to send President Donald Trump his first major legislative victory before Christmas.

The Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that in 2019, people earning $20,000 to $50,000 would see tax cuts averaging 10 percent or more. Those making $200,000 to $1 million would see reductions averaging slightly less. But it also said that by 2023, people making under $30,000 would see tax increases while those earning more would see their tax cuts get smaller.


House GOP pushing $81B disaster relief for hurricanes, fires

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Republicans plan to unveil an $81 billion disaster aid package to help hurricane-ravaged communities and states hit by wildfires. That’s almost double the amount requested by President Donald Trump last month.

The emergency aid would provide $26 billion for community development block grants, which would help Florida, Texas and the Caribbean rebuild along with Western states recovering from wildfires. There’s funding for prevention of future flooding, highway repairs and help for small businesses. The package also would provide $3.8 billion for agriculture. Florida lawmakers have said citrus crops in their state have been suffering.

Last month, Trump requested $44 billion, his third emergency request since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria slammed the Gulf Coast and Caribbean. The request sparked protests from lawmakers from hurricane-hit states.


Twitter suspends white nationalists as it enforces new rules

NEW YORK (AP) — Twitter has suspended the accounts of well-known white nationalists, moving swiftly to enforce its new rules aimed at reducing what it deems abusive content.

The account of far-right group Britain First, a small group that regularly posts inflammatory videos purporting to show Muslims engaged in acts of violence, was among the first to go dark. The individual accounts of two of its leaders, Jayda Fransen and Paul Golding, were also suspended Monday.

President Donald Trump caused a stir last month when he retweeted a post by Fransen, drawing criticism from British Prime Minister Theresa May. Fransen and Golding were arrested in Belfast last week for allegedly stirring up hatred.

Twitter said it would not comment on individual accounts.


California shop owner admits selling rare-animal coats

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The owner of a vintage clothing store in San Francisco has pleaded no contest to misdemeanor charges she sold coats and other items made of cheetahs, leopards and other protected species.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported Monday that a judge fined Cicely Ann Hansen $3,600 and sentenced her to probation and 500 hours of community service.

California Fish and Wildlife officers raided her store in February after two undercover wardens tried on coats made of ocelot and jaguar. Wardens seized 150 items made from sea turtles, seals, pythons and snow leopards.

The 68-year-old Hansen said she is not a poacher and that the seized clothing was made decades ago, including several items that are more than 100 years old.


Death of CSX CEO raises questions about reforms at railroad

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — The weekend death of CSX CEO Hunter Harrison less than a year after he took the railroad’s top job raises questions about the future of his reforms.

But CSX officials say the 73-year-old Harrison did enough since taking over in March to change the direction of Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad, and executives he trained will carry out the plan.

Harrison previously led turnarounds of Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroads with a tightly scheduled operating model that he refined throughout his career. At CSX, Harrison changed the way trains are assembled at eight of its 12 rail yards, idled hundreds of locomotives and the railroad eliminated roughly 4,000 jobs.


Oil and gas plumes found at site of 13-year-old leak in Gulf

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Federal regulators have found fresh evidence of an “ongoing oil release” at the site of a 13-year-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s at a site where chronic sheens often stretch for miles (kilometers) off Louisiana’s coast, according to government lawyers.

In a court filing Friday, Justice Department attorneys said recent scientific surveys revealed two plumes of oil and gas flowing from where an underwater mudslide during Hurricane Ivan in 2004 toppled an offshore platform and buried the cluster of wells owned by Taylor Energy Corp.

The New Orleans-based company has repeatedly insisted there is no evidence that oil is seeping from any of its unplugged wells on the seafloor. The government’s court filing doesn’t address whether any of Taylor’s wells could be the source of the plumes.


Tax bill bars deducting payouts to sexual misconduct victims

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Republican tax bill would bar Americans from deducting confidential settlements with sexual harassment and misconduct victims from federal taxes.

The provision, originally written into the Senate’s version of the bill, applies only to sexual harassment and abuse settlements with non-disclosure clauses. This means sexual harassment or abuse settlements that include a confidentiality agreement that prevents a victim from publicly sharing details about the incident can’t be deducted from taxable income as a business expense.

Present tax law doesn’t include specific rules for sexual misconduct settlements. But amid increased scrutiny, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers are pushing for more transparency.

The bill states: “Under the provision, no deduction is allowed for any settlement, payout or attorney fees related to sexual harassment or sexual abuse if such payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement.”


13 states sue to stop cage free eggs law in Massachusetts

BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts is being sued by 13 other states challenging the constitutionality of a voter-approved law to ban the sale of eggs and other food products from farm animals that are confined in overly restrictive cages.

Led by Indiana, the states filed the lawsuit with the U.S. Supreme Court last week. It follows another action filed by more than a dozen states earlier in the month against California, which has a similar law.

The 2016 ballot question in Massachusetts was backed by more than 77 percent of voters. It requires, among other things, that only cage-free eggs be sold in the state by 2022, regardless of where the eggs were produced.

The law was backed by animal protection groups. It defines an overly restrictive cage as one that would prevent an egg-laying hen, breeding pig or calf raised for veal from standing up, turning around or fully extending its limbs.


What can $300K buy? A share in Buffett’s conglomerate

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Shares of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway conglomerate have topped $300,000 for the first time.

Berkshire’s Class A stock hit $300,100 Monday morning before retreating to slightly below the milestone.

Buffett has never split Berkshire’s A shares, which first topped $1,000 in 1983. He did, however, create more affordable Class B shares in 1996 that reached $200 a share at Monday’s peak.

As a result, Berkshire’s Class A shares have long been the most expensive U.S. stock.

When Buffett’s investment partnership began buying Berkshire stock in 1962, the New England textile company’s shares sold for $7 and $8 apiece.


Scientists hope to inject robo-cat with AI to help seniors

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Imagine a cat that can keep a person company, doesn’t need a litter box and can remind an aging relative to take her medicine or help find her eyeglasses.

That’s the vision of toymaker Hasbro and scientists at Brown University, who have received a three-year, $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find ways to add artificial intelligence to Hasbro’s “Joy for All” robotic cat .

The cat, which has been on the market for two years, is aimed at seniors and meant to act as a “companion.” It purrs and meows, and even appears to lick its paw and roll over to ask for a belly rub. The Brown-Hasbro project is aimed at developing additional capabilities for the cats to help older adults with simple tasks.

Researchers at Brown’s Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative are working to determine which tasks make the most sense, and which can help older adults stay in their own homes longer, such as finding lost objects, or reminding the owner to call someone or go to a doctor’s appointment.

Bertram Malle, a professor of cognitive, linguistic and psychological sciences at Brown, says they don’t want to make overblown promises of what the cat can do, something he and his fellow researcher — computer science professor Michael Littman — said they’ve seen in other robots on the market.


No referendum on casino near NYC soon ‘if ever’

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey’s Senate president says he doesn’t see the state asking voters again whether to authorize a casino near New York City “anytime soon, if ever.”

Steve Sweeney tells The Associated Press he doesn’t think the state Legislature will put a second referendum before voters in 2018 or 2019.

And the owner of the Meadowlands Racetrack, where the new casino would go, says he’s prepared to wait five years or more to let voters approve the project. Jeff Gural tells the AP that if the referendum is defeated a second time, it will never be approved.

Voters decisively rejected a ballot question in 2016 that would have authorized two new casinos in northern New Jersey.

The state had to wait at least two years before trying again.


Campbell gets the munchies, buys Snyder’s-Lance for $4.87B

NEW YORK (AP) — Campbell Soup will spend $4.87 billion in cash for Snyder’s-Lance, gorging on a snack market that has grown increasingly competitive.

The soup maker said Monday that the acquisition will allow it to expand its distribution channels in the crowded field.

Campbell Soup Co., based in Camden, New Jersey, is paying $50 per share, a 6.8 percent premium to Snyder’s-Lance’s closing price Friday. That’s about a 27 percent premium to the stock’s close last Wednesday, just before rumors of a deal began to circulate.

Snyder’s-Lance, based in Charlotte, North Carolina, makes pretzels and chips. Its most well-known brands include Snyder’s of Hanover, Kettle Brand and Pop Secret. It will join the Campbell’s division that makes Pepperidge Farm and Goldfish crackers.


Hold the cream and sugar: Dunkin’ beer marks winter solstice

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — Dunkin’ Donuts is brewing more than coffee for the shortest and darkest day of the year.

The Canton, Massachusets-based coffee and doughnut chain said Monday it has teamed up with Wormtown Brewery to launch DDark Roasted Brew. The beer’s release is being timed to coincide exactly with the winter solstice at 11:28 a.m. Thursday.

The curious will be able to taste it on draft at Wormtown’s tap room in Worcester.

Dunkin’ Donuts says the stout-style suds feature “full-roasted coffee flavor reminiscent of freshly ground beans with a creamy mouthfeel.”

The two businesses say they’ll mark the launch by donating $11,500 to a local food bank.


Malls beef up dining, entertainment options to boost traffic

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shoppers traveling through malls this holiday season may notice more that’s new than the day’s discounts.

Many mall owners are spending billions to add more upscale restaurants and bars, premium movie theaters with dine-in options, bowling alleys and similar amenities. Some have turned swaths of space that previously housed department stores over to health clubs and grocery stores. Others are undergoing no less than a ground-up transformation to make room for office space, hotels and apartments.

The trend has been gaining traction as the companies that operate malls look for ways to keep people coming in at a time when Macy’s, Sears and other big department store chains have shuttered hundreds of stores and consumers increasingly choose to shop at and other e-commerce sites.

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