Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks mixed after Wall Street sinks despite rate cut

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets were mixed today after Wall Street sank despite an emergency U.S. interest cut aimed at defusing fears a virus outbreak might depress global economic activity.

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3% Wednesday and the S&P-ASX 200 in Sydney retreated 1.7%. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 advanced 0.2% and the Kospi in Seoul rose 2.3%.

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Hong Kong’s Hang Seng fell 0.1%, while India’s Sensex opened down 0.6%. Benchmarks in Shanghai and Sydney declined while Tokyo and Seoul advanced. Hong Kong was little-changed.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 index declined to 3,003.37. The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 2.9% to 25,917.41. The Nasdaq composite fell 3% to 8,684.09.

U.S. markets have fallen 11% since setting a record two weeks ago.

VIRUS OUTBREAK ECONOMY

Fed’s Powell faces a puzzling crisis with no simple solution

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jerome Powell is confronting his stiffest test yet as head of the Federal Reserve in an atmosphere vastly altered from what his predecessors faced. It makes an uncertain situation even more challenging.

On Tuesday, Powell announced a surprise half-point interest rate cut that shrank the Fed’s key rate to a range of just 1% to 1.25%. It marked the first time the central bank has cut rates between scheduled policy meetings since the 2008 financial crisis. And it’s the steepest rate cut the Fed has made since then.

The Fed’s unusual move was a response to economic fears and dizzying stock market plunges that are unnervingly reminiscent of the crisis that nearly toppled the financial system in 2008.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-HAND SANITIZER-SHORTAGE

Looking for hand sanitizer? Good luck finding it

NEW YORK (AP) — The hand sanitizers on Amazon were overpriced. A Walmart this weekend was completely sold out. Only on his third try was Ken Smith able to find the clear gel — at a Walgreens, where three bottles of Purell were left. He bought two.

Fear of the coronavirus has led people to stock up on the germ-killing gel, leaving store shelves empty and online retailers with sky-high prices set by those trying to profit on the rush. More is on the way, although it’s not clear how long it will take retailers to restock.

Sales of hand sanitizers in the U.S. were up 73% in the four weeks ending Feb. 22 compared to the same period a year ago, according to market research firm Nielsen.

The alcohol-based gunk is convenient, but hand sanitizer isn’t the best way to clean your hands. For that, soap and water still reigns supreme, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

EXXON-CLIMATE

Exxon outlines its steps to reduce harmful methane emissions

NEW YORK (AP) — Exxon Mobil on Tuesday outlined how it is reducing the methane its operations release into the atmosphere, detailing its efforts as governments around the globe write new rules to regulate the harmful greenhouse gas.

The oil and gas giant is seeking to influence the way those rules are written, hoping companies and regulators adopt the procedures Exxon says helped reduce methane emissions by 20% in some of its U.S. drilling operations over the past two years.

Some environmental advocates see Exxon’s move as a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, which in August proposed relaxing regulations on methane emissions. But they also said Exxon needs to be much more aggressive in its efforts to curtail global warming.

CLEARVIEW-FACIAL RECOGNITION

Senators scrutinize web-scraping facial recognition startup

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. senators are scrutinizing a facial recognition software company over privacy concerns and the possible sale of its services to authoritarian regimes.

New York-based startup Clearview AI has drawn attention following investigative reports about its practice of harvesting billions of photos from social media and other services to identify people.

Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, sent a letter to the company Tuesday seeking more information about its marketing in Saudi Arabia and other countries. Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden’s staff also met with the company about his own concerns.

BuzzFeed reported that it obtained a Clearview client list showing its technology has been tried by U.S. federal agencies, major retailers and law enforcement agencies in numerous countries.

Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other companies in February demanded that Clearview stop harvesting their users’ images.

FRANCE-PENSION OVERHAUL

French pensions: Government survives two confidence votes

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron’s government has survived two no-confidence votes, allowing it to plow ahead with divisive changes to the retirement system.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Paris and other French cities Tuesday to denounce the pension plans. They fear the plans will force people to work longer for less money.

Demonstrations follow the government’s decision last week to use a constitutional power that allows the bill to pass in the National Assembly without a vote.

Opposition lawmakers from the left and right called two non-confidence votes Tuesday against Macron’s centrist government. But they both failed because Macron’s party has a large majority. 

WORLD CHEESE CONTEST

Wisconsin hosts largest technical dairy competition in world

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — The largest technical cheese, butter and yogurt competition in the world started Tuesday in Wisconsin, with a record 3,667 entries from 26 nations.

The 55 judges taste, sniff and inspect the 132 classes of dairy products during the biennial World Championship Cheese Contest.

The judges include cheese graders, cheese buyers, dairy science professors, and researchers from 19 nations and 14 states.

Rebekah Sweeney, spokeswoman for the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, which organizes the event, says their judges do a more detailed evaluation than other cheese competitions, with a 100-point scoring system that looks at 36 potential defects.

Sweeney says one judge and 30 people from a Japanese university could not attend because the university didn’t allow international travel due to the new coronavirus.

The winner of the cheese competition will be announced Thursday.

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