Update on the latest in business:

NCIAL MARKETS

Stocks wobble, hover near record highs

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are wobbling between small gains and losses in afternoon trading on Wall Street, hovering around their record highs as investors remain cautiously optimistic about the economic recovery. Vaccine distribution has been ramping up and President Joe Biden has bumped up his deadline for states to make doses available to all adults by April 19. The vaccines are helping to fuel a recovery, but the virus is still very much a threat as variants are discovered and threaten additional lockdowns. Losses from industrial and health care stocks kept gains in technology, communication and other companies in check. Bond yields fell.

TRADE-GAP

US trade deficit jumps 4.8% to $71.1 billion in February

SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit grew to a record $71.1 billion in February as a decline in exports more than offset a slight dip in imports, with severe weather taking much of the blame from analysts who were expecting a slightly lower deficit. The coronavirus pandemic has stifled global trade for more than a year, but those barriers appear to be falling as millions of people get vaccinated and countries start easing operating restrictions for businesses. Total trade after two months of 2021 is just 1.8% behind where it was at this point last year, before the global economy was blindsided by the pandemic.

COVID RELIEF PAYMENTS

US Treasury: 156 million coronavirus relief payments issued

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department says it has issued more than 156 million payments as part of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan. This includes 25 million payments on Wednesday that were primarily to Social Security beneficiaries who hadn’t filed 2019 or 2020 tax returns. The direct payments of as much as $1,400 per person were the cornerstone promise of Biden’s $1.9 trillion package to contain the pandemic and revive the U.S. economy. The government since March 12 has paid out $372 billion, a sum that likely boosted hiring last month as Americans had more money to spend. White House officials previously estimated 158.5 million households would receive the payments.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-HEALTH INSURANCE

More than a half million Americans gain coverage under Biden

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government says more than a half million Americans have already taken advantage of the Biden administration’s special health insurance sign-up window that’s keyed to the COVID-19 pandemic. And the government anticipates even more consumers will gain coverage in coming months. That’s because millions of people just became eligible for pumped-up taxpayer subsidies toward their premiums under President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief legislation. With the number of uninsured Americans rising during the pandemic, Biden reopened the law’s health insurance markets as a backstop. Then, the virus aid package essentially delivered a health insurance price cut by making taxpayer subsidies more generous, while also allowing more people to qualify for financial assistance.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-EUROPE-ASTRAZENECA

EU agency: Rare clots possibly linked to AstraZeneca shot

LONDON (AP) — The European Union drug regulator says that it found a “possible link” between the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and a rare clotting disorder. But it declined Wednesday to impose any new age restrictions on the vaccine, saying the benefits of the shot still outweigh risks. Its U.K. counterpart, however, said it would offer people under 30 the choice of another product. The European Medicines Agency described the clots as “very rare” side effects. Experts reviewed several dozen cases that came mainly from Europe and the United Kingdom, where around 25 million people have received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-VARIANT-US

CDC: Variant found in Britain most common in US

UNDATED (AP) — A variant of the coronavirus first identified in Britain is now the most common strain of coronavirus circulating in the United States. The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, says the strain, formally known as B.1.1.7, is “now the most common variant circulating in United States.” The strain has been shown to be more transmissible and infectious among younger Americans, which Walensky says contributed to rising case counts in recent weeks. Walensky says new outbreaks have been tied to youth sports and day care centers. She encouraged states with rising caseloads to curtail or suspend youth sport activities to slow the spread of the virus. The U.S. leads the world with 30.8 million cases and more than 556,000 confirmed deaths.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-VACCINE ACCESS

WASHINGTON — The federal government is expanding COVID-19 vaccine access to all federally qualified community health centers. White House COVID-19 adviser Andy Slavitt announced the development Wednesday, which expands opportunities for underserved communities to find vaccines in their communities. There are roughly than 1,400 of the health centers nationwide, which serve communities both hardest hit by the coronavirus and the most difficult to reach for vaccination. The White House says a majority of doses distributed by the community health centers have gone to racial and ethnic minorities.

BIDEN-INFRASTRUCTURE

Biden administration makes pitch for higher business taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is drilling down on the argument that higher corporate tax rates would ultimately help an ailing economy. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says that the resulting investments in infrastructure and workers from the taxes would boost growth. President Joe Biden has proposed a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan that would largely be funded by a 28% corporate tax rate and an expanded global minimum tax set at 21%. The increases would produce roughly $2.5 trillion in revenues over 15 years, enough to cover the eight years’ worth of infrastructure investments being proposed.

BIOFUEL-FUTURE

Biofuels producers, farmers not sold on switch to electric

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — The president and the auto industry maintain the nation is on the cusp of a gigantic shift to electric vehicles and away from liquid-fueled cars, but biofuels producers and some of their supporters in Congress aren’t buying it. They argue the U.S. should increase sales of ethanol and biodiesel, not abandon them. President Joe Biden has proposed an infrastructure plan that includes increased funding to promote a shift to electric vehicles. Producers of corn-based ethanol and soy-based biodiesel say that even if the U.S. dramatically increases sales of electric vehicles, liquid-fueled cars and trucks will make up a majority of vehicles on the road for many years.

ITALY-G20-INTERNATIONAL TAXATION

G20 working for deal on international corporate tax by July

MILAN (AP) — Italy’s finance minister says that Group of 20 ministers hope by their meeting in Venice in July to reach an agreement on international taxation. While the matter of international taxation has been in discussion for several years, Daniele Franco said Wednesday there has been an “acceleration in the process” this year. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen last week urged the adoption of a minimum global corporate income tax, working within the G-20 framework. Franco said the discussions are focused on two pillars of global international taxation: The fair allocation of profits among different countries where multinationals operate, and the global minimum effective tax rate.

CARNIVAL-OUTLOOK

Carnival says it lost $2 billion in 1Q but bookings are up

UNDATED (AP) — Carnival Corp. says it lost $2 billion in the first quarter as the cruise industry remained shut down in many parts of the world by the pandemic. But the company says bookings are picking up, and 2022 could be a strong year for cruises. Carnival said Wednesday that it expects nine ships spread across six of its cruising lines to be sailing by this summer, including in Italy, Greece and the United Kingdom. The outlook is less clear in the huge American market, however, as cruise companies squabble with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over details of health measures before ships can resume sailing.

TARGET-BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES

Target to spend more than $2B at Black-owned businesses

NEW YORK (AP) — Target will spend a total of more than $2 billion at Black-owned businesses by 2025 as part of its effort to advance racial equity. That’s a significant increase in overall spending on Black-owned businesses, according to Target, though it declined be more specific Wednesday. The Minneapolis retailer will add a broad spectrum of products from more than 500 Black-owned businesses and will increase its spending at more Black-owned companies, from marketing to construction. It will also introduce new resources, like a dedicated team to help Black-owned suppliers scale their businesses to work with mass chains. The Forward Founders program builds off Target’s accelerator program that helps entrepreneurs.

SAKS-FUR FREE

Saks joins a growing list of retailers to go fur-free

NEW YORK (AP) — Saks Fifth Avenue is joining a growing list of retailers and brands including Macy’s, Versace and Prada that will stop using animal fur as it reacts to a backlash from consumers. Saks Fifth Avenue said Wednesday that it will phase out using fur by the end of fiscal 2022. That includes both brand partner and store-label merchandise sold online and in stores. As part of the decision, Saks will eliminate the sale of products made from animals that were raised for the use of their fur or those made with fur from wild animals. Shearling, goatskin, cattle hide, down, feathers, leather and faux fur products will continue to be sold online and in stores.

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