Update on the latest in business:
Asian shares slip as market mulls Kudlow, trade tensions
HONG KONG (AP) – Asian shares were mostly lower Thursday as investors assessed President Donald Trump’s pick for his new economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, amid lingering worries over a possible global trade war.
Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 edged less than 0.1 percent lower while South Korea’s Kospi rose 0.3 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slipped 0.2 percent and the Shanghai Composite in mainland China fell 0.5 percent.
On Wall Street, major U.S benchmarks ended lower. The S&P 500 index lost 0.6 percent to finish at 2,749.48. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 1 percent to 24,758.12. The Nasdaq composite fell 0.2 percent to 7,496.81.
ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD
Major business and economic reports due out today.
WASHINGTON (AP) – Freddie Mac reports on this week’s average mortgage rates today and the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo releases its March index of builder sentiment.
Also, the Treasury Department releases international money flows data for December.
Senate passes bill easing Dodd-Frank rules for banks
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Senate has passed bipartisan legislation easing bank rules that were enacted after the financial crisis to prevent a relapse.
The Senate voted 67-31 for a bill from Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho that would scale back provisions of the law known as Dodd-Frank.
The bill is particularly aimed at helping small and medium-sized banks, but critics argue that the likelihood of future taxpayer bailouts will increase if it becomes law.
The House has already passed more expansive legislation. Now, lawmakers will try to work out a compromise that both chambers can support. That may be difficult as negotiators try to appease GOP lawmakers without losing the support of a core group of Democratic senators who backed Crapo’s banking legislation.
‘Panama Papers’ law firm announces that it is closing down
PANAMA CITY (AP) – The Panamanian law firm whose more than 11 million leaked documents known as the “Panama Papers” shed light on how the world’s wealthy exploit financial secrecy to hide assets says it is closing at the end of March.
The data breach from the Mossack-Fonseca firm was published by an international consortium of journalists and shook the ranks of the rich and powerful.
The firm’s Wednesday statement says that at one time it had offices in 40 countries and some 600 employees. But after the 2016 publication of so many secrets it has closed offices and pared its staff to about 50.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists shared the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting with McClatchy and the Miami Herald for their reporting on the Panama Papers.
TOYS R US-LIQUIDATION
Toys R Us said to be planning to liquidate its US operations
NEW YORK (AP) – Toys R Us’s management has told its employees that it will sell or close all of its U.S. stores.
That’s according to a toy industry analyst who spoke to several employees who were on the call Wednesday.
Jim Silver, a toy industry expert, says Toys R Us’s CEO told employees the plan is to liquidate all of its U.S. stores and after that, it could do a deal with its Canadian operation to run some of its U.S. stores.
The company declined to comment.
The chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last fall, saddled with debt that hurt its attempts to compete.
It pledged then to stay open, but had weak sales during the critical holiday season. In January it announced plans to close about 180 stores.
Sears posts profit due to tax benefit, shares rise
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) – Sears Holdings said a key sales figure fell during the important holiday shopping season. But the struggling department store operator posted a profit for the quarter, mainly due to a tax benefit.
Shares of Sears Holdings Corp., which fell more than 70 percent in the last year, rose almost 9 percent in extended trading Wednesday.
The owner of Sears and Kmart has been closing stores, cutting costings and selling brands to save money and deal with falling sales.
During the fourth quarter, which included the holiday season, sales fell 15.6 percent at established stores.
FARM FRESH-STORES SOLD
Farm Fresh sells off 21 grocery stores to Kroger, Food Lion
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (AP) – The owner of a supermarket chain primarily found in Virginia is selling off 21 of its 38 stores.
Minneapolis-based Supervalu said in a statement Wednesday evening that 20 Farm Fresh Food & Pharmacy grocery stores in Virginia and one in North Carolina will be sold for $43 million in cash.
Kroger’s Harris Teeter brand is acquiring 10 of the stores, while its Mid-Atlantic Division will acquire another eight. Food Lion has bought the remaining three, including the one in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
The Virginian-Pilot reports that the chain dominated the Hampton Roads area for decades, but grew too quickly and found itself in the middle of a crowded market.
Supervalu says it’s still in discussions to potentially sell the remaining 17 stores to Farm Fresh employees and wholesale customers.
Lowe’s to end sponsorship of 7-time NASCAR champion Johnson
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Lowe’s, one of the last remaining corporate giants in NASCAR, has announced it will not sponsor seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson after this season, an ominous sign for the nation’s top racing series.
For Johnson and Hendrick Motorsports, it means the best NASCAR driver of his generation has a blank slate of “inventory” for the first time in nearly two decades.
For Lowe’s, the decision is simply business.
The home improvement company teamed with Hendrick and Johnson in 2001 when the driver was a nobody. Owner and company took a leap on Johnson, the driver Jeff Gordon promised them was going to be a star. Gordon was right and Johnson was so good that Lowe’s couldn’t leave.
Times have changed.
Sponsor after sponsor has scaled back on full package commitments, and teams now sell open inventory on their cars in pieces.
Surge in airline hiring boosts interest in aspiring pilots
DALLAS (AP) – Major U.S. airlines are hiring pilots at a rate not seen since before 9/11, and that is encouraging more young people to consider a career in the cockpit.
Hiring is likely to remain brisk for years. Smaller airlines in the U.S. are struggling with a shortage that will continue as they lose pilots to the bigger carriers, which in turn will need to replace thousands of retiring pilots over the next few years.
Last summer, Alaska Airlines subsidiary Horizon Air canceled more than 300 flights over two months for lack of pilots. Republic Airways filed for bankruptcy protection in 2016, citing a pilot shortage that forced it to ground flights.
Boeing predicts that the U.S. will need 117,000 new pilots by 2036.
NKOREA-AIR KORYO INC
Is canned soup fueling North Korea’s Air Force?
PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) – Is North Korea’s air force selling canned soup and taxi rides to upgrade runways and airstrips?
Amid the tough sanctions against the North because of its nuclear weapons, the answer may well be yes. The explanation gives some insight into how North Korea’s economy works under Kim Jong Un. The military augments its budget by operating other businesses, and flagship airline Air Koryo is one of North Korea’s most recognizable brands.
Air Koryo has its own fleet of taxis and a department store in central Pyongyang has aisles devoted to Air Koryo products, from liquor to soda to canned peaches.
The economy under Kim has shifted toward capitalist-style entrepreneurialism, and while it’s impossible to know how profitable it is, the swelling variety of goods and their ready availability are undeniable.