Update on the latest in business:

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian markets gain after Japan central bank boosts aid

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets gained today after Japan’s central bank promised more asset purchases to shore up financial markets and more governments prepared to revive struggling economies by reopening businesses.

Tokyo’s benchmark surged 2.8% and Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney also gained. In Seoul, the Kospi was 2.1% higher.

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Wall Street ended last week higher after President Donald Trump signed legislation to provide an additional $500 billion in virus aid, including loans to small businesses.

NABE-SURVEY OF ECONOMISTS

Survey: Business economists’ outlook darkens since virus hit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A survey of U.S. business economists in mid-April finds that one-third of their companies had shut down at least some of their operations, and two-thirds had laid off or furloughed workers or cut their pay to try to minimize the impact of the coronavirus.

The National Association for Business Economics reports in a survey that economic prospects have nosedived, with 86% of the 107 NABE members who were surveyed expecting a shrinking gross domestic product over the coming year.

And for the first time since the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, more business economists report falling sales than rising sales at their companies over the past three months.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MIDEAST OIL CRASH

Mideast economies take massive hit with oil price crash

BAGHDAD (AP) — The historic crash in oil prices in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic is reverberating across the Middle East as crude-dependent countries scramble to offset losses from a key source of state revenue.

The economies of all the Arab Gulf oil exporters are expected to contract this year.

Iraq faces the most dire situation, and officials are trying to find ways to cut spending. That could mean painful cuts in earnings for millions in the public sector.

The blow to regional revenues only further hurts populations trying to get by amid coronavirus restrictions — raising the threat of new social unrest. 

GAS PRICES

Gas prices fall slightly

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline fell 9 cents over the past two weeks, to $1.93 per gallon.

Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey said Sunday that prices at the pump have dropped 61 cents over the past nine weeks and 80 cents since mid-October.

Lundberg says prices are expected to continue their slide as demand declines amid widespread stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic.

The highest average price in the nation for regular-grade gas is $3.13 per gallon in Honolulu.

The lowest average is $1.30 in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The average price of diesel is $2.62, down 7 cents.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SMALL BUSINESS

A flood of business bankruptcies likely in coming months

NEW YORK (AP) — The billions of dollars in coronavirus relief targeted at small businesses may not prevent some of them from ending up in bankruptcy court. The number of business filings under Chapter 11 of the federal bankruptcy law rose sharply in March, and attorneys who work with struggling companies are seeing signs that owners are contemplating the possibility of bankruptcy.

Many businesses around the country remain uncertain when economic activity will be allowed to resume, potentially rendering any government relief money they get too little too late. But a federal law that took effect in February gives owners a better chance of keeping their companies under Chapter 11.

Even larger companies are in trouble, including already struggling retailers who had to shut their stores.

Independent oil companies whose revenue was slammed by the collapse in energy prices also are strapped, as are other companies that were already burdened with high debt levels before the virus struck.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-LOANS

Three hotel chains say they won’t return money

UNDATED (AP) — Three publicly traded hotel companies tied to a Texas businessman say they will not give back millions of dollars in loans from a government program aimed at helping small businesses.

According to an Associated Press calculation from securities filings, Ashford Inc., Ashford Hospitality Trust and Braemar Hotels & Resorts applied for $126 million in loans and received $69 million. The hotels are tied to Texas hotel magnate Monty Bennett.

The hotels say they will use the money to protect jobs. Since mid-March, the companies and their hotel properties have furloughed or laid off 90% of their workforce.

The PPP is intended to help small businesses with fewer than 500 employees.

The Small Business Administration issued an advisory Thursday clearly aimed at larger companies that took money, with new guidelines implying that unless a company can prove it was truly eligible for a loan, the money should be returned by May 7.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-GEORGIA

Georgia restaurants allowed to reopen as restrictions loosen

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia’s reopening is set to continue today when movie theaters can welcome customers and limited in-restaurant dining may resume in a loosening of coronavirus restrictions.

This comes after other businesses, including barbershops, gyms, tattoo shops and nail salons, were allowed to start seeing customers Friday.

While many gratefully opened their doors after a monthlong closure, others didn’t feel ready yet and remained shuttered.

A similar mixed response is expected for the businesses allowed to reopen today.

Gov. Brian Kemp last week announced that he was relaxing restrictions despite health experts’ warnings of a potential surge in infections and disapproval from President Donald Trump.

Kemp released 39 requirements that restaurants must follow if they reopen, including a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet and all employees wearing face coverings “at all times.” Movie theater ushers have been ordered to enforce social distancing.

JAPAN-ECONOMY

Japan central bank eases monetary policy to counter pandemic

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s central bank is making it easier for cash-strapped companies to get funding in response to the growing economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic.

The Bank of Japan also decided today to expand purchases of commercial paper and corporate bonds, helping companies get easier access to funding.

In a move that was widely expected, the central bank also decided to remove the ceiling on its purchases of government bonds.

The steps are similar to what central banks around the world have taken. But the BOJ already has been purchasing trillions of yen (tens of billions of dollars’) worth of government bonds to counter deflation. 

DIAMOND OFFSHORE-BANKRUPTCY

Diamond Offshore files for bankruptcy as oil prices crash

BANGKOK (A) —Contract driller Diamond Offshore has filed for bankruptcy, as the industry is hammered by crashing oil prices.

Court documents show Houston-based Diamond Offshore Drilling Inc. filed the petition in Houston on Sunday.

The global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the oil industry in the U.S., which pumps more crude than any other country.

Both offshore and onshore oil companies have been laying off hundreds of people.

Diamond Offshore reported a net loss of $62.7 million in the last quarter of 2019, even before future for the U.S. benchmark plunged below zero this month.  

VIRUS OUTBREAK-ALASKA-GIRL SCOUTS

Alaska Girl Scouts to get relief loan for lost cookie sales

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Girl Scouts of Alaska is expected to receive a federal recovery loan to help compensate for lost cookie sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Anchorage Daily News reported Sunday that First National Bank Alaska has facilitated the federal Paycheck Protection Program loan.

Leslie Ridle, head of one of two Girl Scouts councils in Alaska, says fears of girls becoming infected with COVID-19 forced the organization to cut its six-week sales season in half.

Sales of the famed cookies fund nearly everything the council does, including camps and scholarships for 3,500 girls and wages for 20 full-time employees.

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