Update on the latest business

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares decline despite hopes for economic relief

UNDATED (AP) — Asian stocks are falling despite gains on Wall Street on expectations the Trump administration will act to cushion the economic pain of the virus outbreak.

Benchmarks in Japan, Australia and South Korea fell Wednesday, while Chinese shares erased morning gains to also lose ground. On Wall Street, stocks recouped most of their historic losses from Monday. Hopes rose, faded and then rose again that the U.S. government will take effective measures to help reduce disruptions to the economy. In Asia, governments have announced subsidies, tax breaks and emergency loans as stopgap measures.  

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VIRUS OUTBREAK-BUSINESS FALLOUT

Economic toll of virus goes global and hits close to home

UNDATED (AP) — Global stock markets have rebounded some from record-setting declines after President Donald Trump said he would ask Congress for a tax cut and other measures to ease the financial burden of the coronavirus outbreak.

Yet the spread of the virus is disrupting operations of the world’s largest economic powerhouses, as well as small businesses and employees.

All major airlines are cutting capacity and more companies are reporting their first cases of employees becoming infected, including Boeing at a facility in Washington state. United Airlines, Delta Air Lines and American Airlines are allowing passengers to rebook tickets through April 30 without paying fees.

Because of uncertainty about the duration and severity of the outbreak, companies are also withdrawing financial guidance. That includes the online travel company that owns Kayak and Vail Resorts, where visits are down moderately, but the company said that could get worse. 

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SEATTLE ECONOMY

Seattle small businesses pinched as virus keeps workers home

SEATTLE (AP) — The coronavirus outbreak has largely emptied Seattle’s usually busy downtown streets after Amazon and other companies told tens of thousands of people to work from home. That means far fewer customers for restaurants, shops and other businesses.

Amazon said Tuesday that it would set up a $5 million relief fund for small businesses to help fill the gaps while its headquarters is largely shut down.

Restaurants that are normally filled with people say they’ve seen their business plummet recently. Washington’s governor announced that workers can qualify for unemployment benefits if their employers have to shut down or reduce operations because of the virus.

VIRUS OUTBREAK

UN: China air quality better amid outbreak

UNDATED (AP) — The head of the U.N. weather agency says decreased energy use due to the coronavirus is improving air quality in China and demonstrates the impact that human emissions are having.

World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas made the comment at a U.N. briefing Tuesday, where he showed satellite pictures of the much cleaner air quality over China on Jan. 30, 2020 compared to January 2019.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the virus is expected to be temporary while climate change will remain for decades and requires constant action.

He was responding to a question on the possibility of the global coronavirus outbreak cutting greenhouse gas emissions this year, with decreased energy use, planes grounded and international trade squeezed, and the effect on climate change as soon as the economy bounces back.

Guterres said they should not overestimate the fact that emissions have been reduced for some months.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FDA INSPECTIONS

Citing virus, US halts inspections of foreign drug plants

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration is halting most inspections of overseas plants that ship drugs, medical equipment and other goods to the U.S. amid the growing coronavirus outbreak.

Tuesday’s announcement follows a move last month delaying inspections at plants in China, where the virus first appeared.

The FDA uses inspections to assure the safety and quality of packaged food, drugs, cosmetics, medical supplies and other products. Last year the agency conducted more than 3,100 foreign inspections.

The FDA plans to use alternate methods to monitor import safety, including sampling goods that reach U.S. ports.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-NATION’S CAPITAL

SEC asks DC workers to telecommute after employee is treated

WASHINGTON (AP) — Securities and Exchange Commission employees have been encouraged to work remotely for the foreseeable future after a coronavirus scare at the agency’s Washington headquarters.

The agency says it was informed that an employee had received medical treatment Monday for respiratory symptoms.

The SEC is the first major federal agency to use teleworking to contain the virus’ spread.

American University in Washington has also announced it will temporarily shift to all-online classes as a precaution. It’s the first college in D.C. to make such a move, although other universities elsewhere have done so. 

Washington, D.C., has so far identified four local cases of coronavirus infections.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MEDIA

Coronavirus compels telecommuting, travel limits for media

NEW YORK (AP) — Media companies are balancing the need to cover the coronavirus outbreak with the need to keep their employees safe.

The Washington Post said on Tuesday that it was encouraging its staff members to work at home through the end of the month, and the Los Angeles Times is restricting air travel.

News organizations are weighing different options in a fluid situation. CNN is also restricting travel but is going ahead with its plans for a Democratic presidential debate on Sunday, which it announced Tuesday will not have a live audience.

The Associated Press said it expects its employees to come to work but is dealing with individual concerns on a case-by-case basis. AP journalists are not expected to go to hospitals or the homes of people infected by coronavirus, a spokeswoman said.

The vast majority of people recover from the new virus, but for some, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. 

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ECONOMIC OPTIONS

Economic remedies abound in crisis, but can they deliver?

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government has a palette of options it can use to shore up an economy imperiled by anxiety over the coronavirus outbreak.

They start with the “middle-class” payroll tax cut that President Donald Trump is suggesting and include quicker, more targeted federal aid as well.

But the options could come with pitfalls and may raise unrealistic expectations.

Other stimulus measures that may be considered include aid to wage earners missing work because of illness or quarantine who don’t receive sick pay, special loans for small businesses and subsidies or tax relief to affected industries like airlines, hotels and cruise ships.

The White House and Congress have started wrangling over measures to spark the wounded economy, as fear around COVID-19 has threatened to tip it into recession.

CONGRESS-ENERGY

Senate energy bill falls apart amid dispute over coolants

WASHINGTON (AP) —A sweeping Senate energy package touted as a “down payment” on fighting climate change is falling apart amid a push to limit coolants used in air conditioners and refrigerators.

The energy legislation would boost efficiency and authorize billions of dollars to develop a wide range of clean energy options to limit greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.

The bill is widely supported, but has stalled amid a dispute over a proposed amendment to impose a 15-year phasedown of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFC’s, that are used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners. HFCs are considered a major driver of global warming and are being phased out worldwide.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES-UTILITY

PG&E settles key battle over $13.5B wildfire victims’ fund

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Pacific Gas & Electric told a federal bankruptcy judge Tuesday that it has settled a dispute with disaster-relief agencies that threatened to siphon money away from a $13.5 billion fund earmarked for victims of catastrophic wildfires in California caused by the nation’s largest utility.

The breakthrough disclosed by a PG&E lawyer during a court hearing in San Francisco could remove a major stumbling block as the company scrambles to meet a June 30 deadline to emerge from bankruptcy proceedings that began early last year. The truce is designed to ensure people who lost family members and homes during a series of fires ignited by PG&E equipment during 2017 and 2018 get paid before two different taxpayer-backed agencies.

The deal calls for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and California’s Office of Emergency Services to pare their claims from $4 billion to $1 billion.

PILOTS-DRUGS

Report: Drugs showing up more in pilots killed in crashes

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than one in four pilots involved in fatal crashes have drugs in their system, and the number is up slightly since researchers first studied the problem.

The National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday that 28% of pilots who died in crashes between 2013 and 2017 and for whom there were toxicology results were found to have used at least one impairing drug.

That included prescription, over-the-counter and illegal drugs.

That was an increase over the 23% rate among pilots killed in plane crashes from 1990 to 2012.

Researchers saw increases in the presence of potentially impairing drugs, controlled substances and illegal drugs. Sedating antihistamines were the most frequently-found drug that could impair a pilot’s ability, followed by pain relievers including opioids.

MYANMAR-HEMP FARM

Employee of US-owned hemp farm in Myanmar gets 20 years jail

YANGON (AP) — A court in Myanmar on Tuesday sentenced a local employee of an American-owned hemp farm to 20 years in prison for violating drug laws concerning marijuana.

Shein Latt was one of three people arrested last April when police raided the 20-acre plantation on an industrial estate in central Myanmar.

Police deemed the operation illegal because the farm was growing cannabis, which is against Myanmar law. Shein Latt said he was responsible for installing the farm’s irrigation system.

The company behind the enterprise, III M Global Nutraceutical, contended that the plants are hemp, a non-intoxicating form of cannabis that can be processed into CBD — cannabidiol — a compound that many believe has health benefits. Marijuana is another form of cannabis and is also a source of CBD. But it has psychoactive effects, causing a high. Myanmar law does not clearly distinguish it from hemp.

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