FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares mostly rise as oil prices recover

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mostly higher today following a rally on Wall Street and even oil prices recovering from their recent plunge to zero.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 closed 1.5% higher, while South Korea’s Kospi rose 1.1%. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 lost earlier gains to inch down nearly 0.1%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng edged up 0.6%, while the Shanghai Composite inched down 0.1%.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose 2.3% to 2,799.31, trimming its loss for the week to 2.6%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 2%, to 23,475.82, and the Nasdaq composite picked up 2.8%, to 8,495.38.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SMALL BUSINESS RELIEF

Banks: New $310B for small businesses likely already used up

NEW YORK (AP) — Banking industry groups say the more than $300 billion set aside to replenish the emergency loan program for small businesses impacted by the coronavirus pandemic is likely already all spoken for.

The Senate has approved an additional $310 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program, which the House of Representatives is expected to vote in favor of today.

But banking groups say the volume of applications already sent to the Small Business Administration makes it likely that much, if not all, the money allotted will go to those already in the queue. 

Any new applicants would likely miss out on this funding round.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CONGRESS

As 4th virus relief bill nears passage, fight looms over 5th

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is on the verge of passing an almost $500 billion coronavirus relief bill, but battle lines already are forming over the next package.

Lawmakers are facing enormous demands to approve additional billions for state and local governments, the Postal Service, and even roads and bridges. Yet talk of another coronavirus measure is facing early opposition from conservatives concerned about the deficit.

For now, big spending is carrying the day.

The bill expected to pass the House today totals $483 billion, with $321 billion to replenish a small-business payroll fund and money for hospitals and testing. President Donald Trump says he’ll sign it into law.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-MEAT PLANTS

Tyson Foods idles largest pork plant as virus slams industry

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Tyson Foods suspended operations Wednesday at an Iowa plant that is critical to the nation's pork supply but was blamed for fueling a massive coronavirus outbreak in the region.

The Arkansas-based company said the closure of the plant in Waterloo would deny a vital market to hog farmers and further disrupt U.S. meat supply. Tyson had kept the facility, its largest pork plant, open in recent days over the objections of alarmed local officials.

The plant can process 19,500 hogs per day, accounting for 3.9% of U.S. pork processing capacity, according to the National Pork Board.

More than 180 infections have been linked to the plant and officials expect that number to dramatically rise. Testing of its 2,800 workers is expected to begin Friday. Cases and hospitalizations in Black Hawk County have skyrocketed in recent days and local officials say the plant is the source of most infections.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-LAS VEGAS MAYOR

Mayor called reckless for urging Vegas to test reopening

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Nevada officials condemned comments Wednesday by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman after she called for casinos and other nonessential businesses to reopen and suggested the city could serve as a test case to measure the impact during the coronavirus pandemic. One local official called her comments “reckless and dangerous" and another described them as an “embarrassment.”

The politically independent mayor suggested that “viruses for years have been here” and said that she had suggested that the residents of Las Vegas become “a control group” to see how relaxing closures and restrictions would affect the city.

Goodman for weeks has spoken out against Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak's orders shuttering casinos and nonessential businesses, calling it “total insanity” that's “killing Las Vegas.”

Sisolak has repeatedly pushed back, saying that he understands the economic harm the order is causing but saving lives is more important.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-FLORIDA

Reopening Florida's theme parks could be long, slow process

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Reopening Florida's theme parks, among the world's most visited attractions and one of the state's biggest economic engines, could be a long process fraught with logistical and public health considerations, an industry executive told a task force charged with reopening the state for business.

John Sprouls, the chief administrative officer for Universal Orlando Resort made his comments on the third day of meetings by Gov. Ron DeSantis's Re-Open Florida Task Force, an assembly of dozens of leaders representing industry, education and government.

DeSantis again asserted that the state had “flattened the curve” on the global outbreak, noting that reality is far different from the scenario predicted by some models weeks ago.

ARGENTINA DEBT

Argentina doesn't make payment, starting default countdown

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentina says it didn’t make $500 million in debt payments due Wednesday, starting a 30-day countdown to a possible default unless the government and bondholders can reach a deal on restructuring its massive foreign debt.

The failure to pay came a week after the government of President Alberto Fernández presented a proposal to restructure roughly $70 billion in debt involving the suspension of its debt obligations for three years and a 62% reduction for interest payments.

Argentina will use the period to seek creditor acceptance of its proposal, which it has said will remain in force until May 8 and aims at “restoring the sustainability of public debt in foreign currency.”

If creditors do not accept the offer — and at least three groups of bondholders have said they will not — Argentina will officially be in default by the end of May, the second default in two decades.

Argentina is under a mandatory quarantine due to COVID-19 and was in a recession with high inflation and 35.5% of its population in poverty even before the pandemic.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-CRUISE SHIP

14 more on cruise ship off Japan test positive

TOKYO — Japanese officials say 14 more crew members on an Italian-operated cruise ship docked in southern Japan have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total of the on-board outbreak to 48.

The Costa Atlantica has been docked in Nagasaki since late January for repairs and maintenance by the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry. The ship has 623 crew members, including a Japanese translator, and no passengers.

Nagasaki officials say one of the infected crew members has since become seriously ill and was sent to a hospital, where he is currently on a ventilator.

Officials say the remaining crew members are without serious symptoms and are being self-quarantined in single rooms on the ship, except for those on duties essential to keep the ship functions, including cooking and delivering food for their colleagues.

VIRUS OUTBREAK-SOUTH KOREA

South Korea says its economy shrank 1.4% during 1st quarter of 2020

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea says its economy shrank 1.4% during the first three months of the year, the worst contraction since late-2008.

It is a reflection of the massive shock the coronavirus unleashed on domestic demand and trade. The Bank of Korea says domestic consumption decreased 6.4% from the previous quarter as people, while staying at home to avoid virus transmissions, spent less on restaurants, leisure activities, clothing and cars.

Amid worldwide lockdowns, exports shrank 2% despite a seasonal rebound in shipments of semiconductors, one of the country’s major export items.

South Korea was one of the first nations outside mainland China to be hard-hit by the virus, but its caseload has been slowing in recent weeks, allowing government officials to relax social distancing guidelines.

The country is reporting eight new infections and two more deaths, bringing its confirmed totals to 10,702 cases and 240 fatalities.