Asian stocks tumble after Wall Street rises on pricier oil

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets tumbled today after soaring U.S. job losses tempered enthusiasm about a possible deal to stabilize oil prices amid anxiety over the global economic decline due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo and Hong Kong all retreated. Australia's main index fell 2.3%.

Some markets followed Wall Street higher in early trading after President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he expected major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia to back away from their price-cutting war. But by midday, all major Asian markets had retreated. Southeast Asian benchmarks were mixed.

Yesterday on Wall Street, the S&P 500 rose 2.3% to 2,526.90. It dropped as much as 0.6% earlier Thursday after the U.S. government reported more than 6.6 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.2% and the Nasdaq rose 1.7% to 7,487.31.


Jobs report Friday is expected to end record hiring streak

WASHINGTON (AP) — After a record 113 straight months of hiring, the government's monthly jobs report today is expected to show that the American jobs machine came to a sudden halt in March as a result of the coronavirus.

According to FactSet, economists are forecasting that the government will say employers shed about 150,000 jobs and that the unemployment rate rose from a half-century low of 3.5% to 3.9%.

But the jobs figure will vastly understate the magnitude of last month's losses because the government surveyed employers before the heaviest layoffs struck in the past two weeks. Nearly 10 million Americans have since applied for unemployment benefits, far more than for any corresponding period on record.


California delays some business taxes for up to a year

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's governor says small businesses can keep up to $50,000 in sales tax receipts for the next year as the COVID-19 outbreak has forced people to stay home and many shops to close.

The move announced Thursday means businesses with $5 million in sales or less will get up to a year to give the state up to $50,000 in sales taxes they collect from customers. It's essentially an interest-free loan aimed at keeping small businesses afloat in a state where the governor has ordered everyone to stay home to prevent the spread of a virus that has so far killed 233 people.

The action could have a significant impact on state and local budgets, as sales taxes make up a big part of government bank accounts. State officials could not say how much it would cost over the next year, noting the only money lost would be interest payments. As of Thursday, at least 20,000 businesses had asked the state for a 90-day delay in sales tax payments.


Stimulus aid for small businesses will go to some big chains

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — As the federal government prepares to launch a $349 billion loan program meant to help small businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic, critics have growing concerns that some mom-and-pop shops might get squeezed out. The Paycheck Protection Program was billed as a way to help local businesses retain workers and pay bills.

But an expansive definition of “small business” in the law means that it will be open to much more than just Main Street shops when lenders start processing applications Friday. Operators of name-brand hotel, restaurant and service chains and franchises with thousands of employees at scores of locations are also eligible.


Data shows not enough are abiding by guidelines

WASHINGTON (AP) — White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says incoming infection data suggests not enough Americans are abiding by guidelines in the national “call to action” to stem the spread of the virus. Administration officials say the United States' infection and death rate from the virus is akin to what hard-hit Italy is facing. Italy has a population of about 60 million and has recorded nearly 14,000 deaths and 115,000 infections. The United States, with a population of about 327 million, has recorded more than 5,800 deaths and more than 240,000 infections.

Birx notes that Spain, Italy, France, and Germany have begun “to bend their curves.”

But she says Americans will need to do a better job abiding by social distancing guidelines issued by the White House so the U.S. can do the same.

The White House issued its social distancing guidelines on March 16. Americans were advised to work from home when possible, cancel onsite learning and frequently wash hands.


Tesla posts gains

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) —Tesla's sales of its increasingly popular electric cars got off to fast start this year. That’s despite the company having to slam the brakes along with other major automakers last month because of worldwide efforts to contain the worst pandemic in a century. Numbers released Thursday disclosed Tesla delivered 88,400 vehicles during the first three months of the year. That's a 40% increase from the same time last year and nearly matched analysts' estimates.

The news lifted Tesla's stock 18% in extended trading, but the shares still have lost nearly half their value since peaking in early February amid rising hopes that the company's cars were on the verge of making the leap from the luxury to mainstream market.

Tesla CEO Elon Muck was among those who initially downplayed the threat posed by the coronavirus, and publicly predicted it would be not much worse than the flu. He has since pledged to help make the ventilators needed for people battling COVID-19, although local officials had to pressure Tesla to close its main factory in Fremont, California, last month after an edict was issued to close down most businesses.


Mexican economy may contract by 4 to 8% in 2020

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's Treasury predicts the country's economy will contract by as much as 3.9% in 2020 the face of the spreading COVID-19 pandemic, but private analysts are making even more dire predictions: the country's worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The Bank of America predicts that Mexico's GDP could contract by 8%. That would be a bigger downturn than even the December 1994 peso crisis, the GDP then contracted by 6.2% in 1995.

The bank said Mexico will face the twin shocks of a predicted 6% economic contraction in the United States, its largest trading partner, and oil prices that have fallen to about $10.60 per barrel for Mexican export crude.

The U.S. downturn “impacts Mexico negatively mostly through trade but also through lower remittances,” the money that Mexican migrants send home, according to the report.

Mexican migrants sent home a record $36 billion in remittances in 2019, making it a larger source of revenue than tourism or oil exports.


World bank approves aid

WASHINGTON (AP) — The World Bank has approved its first funds to help some of the globe’s poorer countries combat the coronavirus outbreak. It approved total aid of $1.9 billion for 25 countries.

World Bank President David Malpass predicted that the bank could provide up to $160 billion in assistance over the next 15 months.

The largest amount of assistance in the first awards was $1 billion for India followed by $200 million for Pakistan, $129 million for Sri Lanka, $100 million for Afghanistan and $83 million for Ethiopia.

The approval of the first round of support for 25 countries will be followed quickly with aid to another 40 countries, officials said.


Zoom addressing security challenges

UNDATED (AP) — At the end of last year, the video-conferencing company Zoom had about 10 million daily users. By March, it was 200 million. Zoom’s CEO Eric Yuan is addressing some of the security concerns that have arisen as tens of millions of workers fled the office and logged in to Zoom.

The company is enacting a 90-day freeze on new features so that it can deal with concerns about privacy on the platform. It's also bringing in third-party expertise to assess how it's handling user security.

Among the issues disrupting users is “zoombombing," when people who are not part of a group break into a Zoom meeting to post images or memes.