Asian shares mostly lower, Japan gains on upbeat data

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's benchmark advanced but other Asian shares fell today amid uncertainty over the coronavirus outbreak, which continues to claim more lives around the world.

Japan's Nikkei 225 finished 2.1% higher. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed nearly 0.9%, while South Korea's Kospi lost 0.3%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.3% and the Shanghai Composite dipped 0.5%.

A short-lived rally on Wall Street Tuesday suddenly vanished in a market dominated by sharp swings responding to the ups and downs of the news about the pandemic.

The S&P 500 dipped 0.2% to 2,659.41. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.1% to 22,653.86, giving up an earlier gain of 937 points. The Nasdaq composite dropped 3%, to 7,887.26.


Oil prices surge

UNDATED (AP) — Benchmark U.S. crude oil surged $1.18 to $24.81 a barrel today in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange after President Donald Trump reiterated in comments to Fox TV that he expects Russia and Saudi Arabia to resolve their price war.

U.S. crude had fallen $2.45, or 9.4%, to settle at $23.63 per barrel Tuesday.

Brent crude, the international standard, gained 61 cents to $32.48 today.


Pandemic’s impact on businesses continues to grow

UNDATED (AP) — The pandemic is sapping trillions from the economy and the ramifications for businesses, from banks to restaurants, is severe. Some companies have also recognized their customers are suffering and extended a hand.

— Allstate is sending shelter-in-place paybacks to customers, with most getting checks for 15% of their monthly premium in April and May. Auto and home owners customers with financial difficulties can delay two consecutive premium payments. The insurer is sending out $600 million to customers, according to a regulatory filing.

— JPMorgan Chase has done away with minimum payment requirements on credit cards and it's waiving late fees. The bank will not report payment deferrals, such as late payments, to credit bureaus for up-to-date clients.

— BJ’s Restaurants is laying off about 16,000 workers.

— Nissan is furloughing about 10,000 workers as it extends a production suspension until at least April 27.

— Honda will stop paying its roughly 14,400 production workers in Ohio, Indiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina as it extends a production shutdown through May 1.

— Thousands of Spirit AeroSystems employees are being furloughed for three weeks without pay. Most managers and hourly employees at Spirit, Wichita’s largest employer, will be placed on unpaid leave Wednesday. Spirit has been hammered by problems at Boeing and its troubled 737 Max aircraft.

— T.J. Maxx's parent says it will be furloughing the majority of its hourly workers in its stores and distribution centers in the U.S. and Canada after Sunday. The company also operates such chains as Marshalls and HomeGoods. As of Feb. 1.

— Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is setting aside $1 billion in stock to establish a philanthropic venture focused initially on global relief efforts for the COVID-19 pandemic. Dorsey, who is also CEO of the financial-payments startup Square, will bequeath the new venture shares from his Square holdings.

— The Transportation Department gave smaller airlines a slight break in rules covering minimum service they must provide to get federal aid. The rules published Tuesday will let airlines drop flights to some airports if they serve one nearby.

— United Airlines is cutting more flights in San Francisco and Los Angeles for at least three weeks because of falling demand for travel. United’s president said last week the airline is losing $100 million a day.

— Walgreens is expanding COVID-19 drive-thru testing to 15 sites in seven states, up from just one last month. New locations are in Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee and Texas, regions experiencing escalating rates of COVID-19. Walgreens expects to be able to test 3,000 people per day, beginning later this week.


Report: Japan's economy to shrink by record 25%

TOKYO (AP) — A report by Goldman Sachs says Japan’s economy is headed to a record 25% contraction in the current quarter, even with the just announced government fiscal aid package.

The dismal report by economists Naohiko Baba and Yuriko Tanaka says exports are expected to dive by 60% in the April-June period. The contraction for the world’s third largest economy would be the biggest since GDP, or gross domestic product, began to be tracked in 1955.

The measures in Japan to curtail the spread of the pandemic don’t carry penalties, and public transportation continues to run. The declaration of a state of emergency centers around requests to work from home, and for department stores, restaurants and events to shut down.


Pandemic deals blow to plastic bag bans, plastic reduction

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Just weeks ago, cities and even states across the U.S. were banning straws, limiting takeout containers and requiring shoppers to bring reusable bags or pay a small fee. The pandemic is quickly changing that.

Massachusetts and Illinois just temporarily banned reusable bags in grocery stores, and Oregon this week put a pause on its new plastic bag ban as the coronavirus rages.

The plastics industry has seized the moment and is lobbying to overturn existing bans on single-use plastics.

Environmentalists worry that COVID-19, and the fear it engenders, could set back the movement to eliminate single-use plastics for years.


Judge refuses to approve fire victims letter attacking PG&E

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — A federal judge has refused to put his stamp of approval on a letter to Northern California wildfire victims from attorneys who allege that Pacific Gas & Electric may be breaking its promises as it tries to preserve a plan for getting out of bankruptcy in an unraveling economy.

The decision bolsters PG&E's efforts to hold together its plan.

The four-page ruling left the door open for the wildfire victims' committee to send out a letter outlining its concerns as the voting continues on PG&E's plan for dealing with the death and destruction caused by its electrical grid.

PG&E's lawyers had scoffed at the allegations as a desperate bid to renegotiate a $13.5 billion settlement reached with wildfire victims four months ago.


Earl Graves Sr., founder of Black Enterprise magazine, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Earl Graves Sr., who championed black businesses as the founder of the first African American-owned magazine focusing on black entrepreneurs, has died. He was 85.

His son, Earl “Butch” Graves Jr, said in a post on Twitter, that is father died Monday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Graves launched his magazine, Black Enterprise, in 1970. He later said his aim was to educate, inspire and uplift his readers. He served on the boards of several major corporations, including American Airlines, Daimler Chrysler and Rohm & Hass and backed the presidential bids of Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama,

In addition to Black Enterprise, Graves also ran Pepsi-Cola of Washington, D.C., one of the nation’s largest soft-drink distributors owned by African Americans. He sold his stake in the bottler to PepsiCo in 1998.