FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian stocks mostly up after Wall Street finishes higher

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Asian stock markets were mostly higher Friday following gains on Wall Street. Risk sentiment returned as the U.S. explores the possibility of returning to trade talks with 11 Pacific countries and clarifies that it is consulting allies before making a final decision on possible military strikes against Syria.

Trade has been a big issue that swayed global stock markets since the onset of trade dispute between the United States and China. Those concerns took a backseat as President Donald Trump asked advisers to explore the possibility of the U.S. returning to trade talks with 11 Pacific nations to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

U.S. stocks finished higher Thursday led by tech and bank stocks. The S&P 500 index gained 0.8 percent to 2,663.99. The Dow Jones industrial average added 1.2 percent to 24,483.05. The Nasdaq composite climbed 1 percent to 7,140.25. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks advanced 0.7 percent to 1,557.33.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil fell below $67 per barrel .

The dollar gained against the yen and weakened against the euro.

CHINA-TRADE

China's March trade weakens, surplus with US at $15.4B

BEIJING (AP) — China's global trade balance swung to a rare deficit in March as exports shrank but its surplus with the United States, the center of a worsening dispute with Washington, stood at $15.4 billion.

Exports contracted 2.7 percent from a year earlier to $174.1 billion, down from the 24.4 percent growth for the first two months of 2018, customs data showed Friday. Imports rose 14.4 percent to $179.1 billion, though that was down from 21.7 percent growth in January and February.

The trade surplus with the United States contracted 13 percent from a year earlier, while China's global trade balance swung to a $5 billion deficit.

President Donald Trump has approved a possible tariff hike on $50 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology. Trump is demanding Beijing take steps to narrow its trade deficit with the U.S., which Washington says stood at a record $375.2 billion last year.

China runs multibillion-dollar monthly surpluses with Europe and the U.S., which helps to offset deficits with Japan, South Korea and developing countries that supply industrial components and raw materials. The global trade balance often slips into deficit for one month early each year as factories restock following the Lunar New Year holiday.

Chinese President Xi Jinping announced market-opening measures including a cut in import taxes on autos and an easing of controls on foreign ownership in China's auto industry.

ECONOMY- THE DAY AHEAD

Major business and economic reports scheduled for today

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department releases its job openings and labor turnover survey for February today.

Also, some major financial institutions report their quarterly financial results.

Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo report earnings before the market opens.

CONGRESS-TRUMP-EPA

Senate confirms Trump pick for No. 2 job at EPA

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed a former coal industry lobbyist to be the second-highest official at the Environmental Protection Agency.

As the EPA's deputy administrator, Andrew Wheeler will be next in line to lead the agency if embattled administrator Scott Pruitt is forced out or resigns.

The Senate confirmed Wheeler 53-45 on Thursday. Three Democrats — Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin of West Virginia — joined with Republicans to approve Wheeler.

Democratic Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico had called for the vote to be delayed while lawmakers review Wheeler's credentials, citing Pruitt's uncertain status amid damaging ethics disclosures. His request was denied.

Wheeler worked at the EPA in the early 1990s and was staff chief of the Senate Environment Committee before becoming a lobbyist.

CONGRESS-TRADE

Trump reverses position on Asian trade pact

WASHINGTON (AP) — Farm state lawmakers say President Donald Trump has asked top administration officials to look into rejoining talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which the U.S. withdrew last year.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse says Trump said during a White House meeting with Midwest governors and lawmakers that he had "deputized" U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer and economic adviser Larry Kudlow to look into the U.S. rejoining the TPP. It would be aimed at opening U.S. farmers to more overseas markets.

Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts says Trump wants "to see if we couldn't take another look at TPP." Roberts says it would be "good news all throughout farm country."

Eleven other Pacific Rim countries signed a sweeping trade agreement last month that came together after the U.S. pulled out.

CONGRESS-TRADE-JAPAN

Japan cautious about Trump trade deal request

WASHINGTON (AP) — Japan is cautiously welcoming President Donald Trump's request to his trade team to explore the possibility of the United States rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said Friday morning in Tokyo that Japan welcomes the request if it means Trump recognizes the significance of the multi-nation trade pact.

He adds, though, that it would be difficult to renegotiate only parts of it, describing the agreement as delicate.

Trump pulled the U.S. out of the TPP early last year. Japan was among the 11 other countries that signed it last month without the U.S.

Japan's Kyodo News service reported that Finance Minister Taro Aso cautioned that Trump "can be temperamental and might say something different the next day."

CHINA-US-TRADE-SOYBEANS

China traders, farmers shrug off risk of US soybeans tariffs

SHANGHAI (AP) — Chinese soybean farmers, importers and processers say they are unconcerned about potential Chinese tariffs on American soybeans in an escalating dispute with the administration of President Donald Trump over trade and technology.

Chinese soy growers at an industry expo in Shanghai this week were cheering the proposed 25 percent Chinese tariff on American soybeans announced last week that could slash U.S. soy exports by 70 percent.

They relish the prospect of new business and higher prices, while farmers from Iowa to Indiana fret over losing their biggest overseas customer. Chinese soy traders and processers say they believe tariffs could be an opportunity to curb dependence on the U.S. and find alternative soy suppliers.

China has already been looking for other soy sources in places like Brazil, Canada and Russia.

TRUMP-POST OFFICE

Trump convenes task force to study US Postal System

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has signed an executive order establishing a task force to study the United States Postal System.

Trump says in the order that the USPS is on "an unsustainable financial path" and "must be restructured to prevent a taxpayer-funded bailout."

The task force will be assigned to study such factors as pricing in the package delivery market. It will have 120 days to submit a report with its recommendations.

The order does not specifically mention online shopping giant Amazon. But Trump has been railing against the company and its owner Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post.

Trump has tweeted wrongly that "Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon" and has promised, "this will be changed."

FACEBOOK-PRIVACY SCANDAL-FTC

Zuckerberg flubs details of Facebook privacy commitments

MENLO PARK, Calif. (AP) — Over two days of questioning in Congress, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg chief revealed that he didn't know key details of a 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission that requires Facebook to protect user privacy.

Zuckerberg repeatedly assured lawmakers Tuesday and Wednesday that Facebook is in compliance with that agreement. But he also flubbed simple factual questions about it.

At one point, he told Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette that he didn't know if Facebook had received a financial penalty in that settlement. It did not. At another, he acknowledged that he wasn't familiar with "all of the things the FTC said."

The FTC announced in March that it's investigating Facebook. Violations of the 2011 agreement could subject Facebook to fines of $41,484 per violation per user per day.

BACKPAGE-SEX TRAFFICKING

Backpage.com, its CEO plead guilty in Arizona

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The online advertising site Backpage.com and its chief executive have pleaded guilty to federal conspiracy charges in Arizona.

The guilty pleas by the company and CEO Carl Ferrer were made on April 5, but were unsealed late Thursday afternoon.

The acknowledgements of wrongdoing came shortly after Ferrer pleaded guilty on Thursday to a state money laundering charges in California and the company pleaded guilty to human trafficking in Texas.

Ferrer says in his federal plea deal that he was aware that a great majority of the site's ads were for sex services.

He also says he conspired with others at Backpage.com to launder the proceeds from such ads after credit card companies and banks refused to do business with tIndonesia-Credit Ratinghe site.

NETS SALE

Prokhorov completes sale of 49 percent of Nets to Tsai

NEW YORK (AP) — Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has completed the sale of a 49 percent interest in the team to Joe Tsai, who could become the controlling owner in three years.

The NBA's Board of Governors unanimously approved the sale Thursday to Tsai, the co-founder of China-based global internet company Alibaba Group Holding Ltd.

Prokhorov will remain the controlling owner for now through Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holding USA Inc. However, the deal allows Tsai to acquire further shares in 2021. If exercised, he would become the controlling owner.

Prokhorov bought the Nets in 2010 and the Russian oversaw the Nets' move from New Jersey to Brooklyn. The sale does not include Barclays Center, which his company will continue to own.

NUCLEAR REACTORS-SOUTH CAROLINA

Santee Cooper wants say in possible SCANA-Dominion merger

MONCKS CORNER, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina's state-owned utility says it wants a say in whether its partner in building two failed nuclear plants can merge with a Virginia utility.

In a filing Thursday, Santee Cooper says it hasn't decided if it will support or oppose Dominion Energy's offer to buy SCANA Corp and formally abandon two nuclear plants where billions were spent on design and construction without any power generated.

The Public Service Commission is gathering information before deciding whether the merger can happen.

The General Assembly is also considering bills to reduce or eliminate a monthly charge to customers to pay debt on the plants. Dominion has said if that passes, it may cause the utility to take back its merger offer. The Virginia utility has offered its own deal including one-time rebates.

INDONESIA-CREDIT RATING

Indonesia credit rating upgraded by Moody's

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) —Moody's has upgraded Indonesia's credit rating due to increased confidence the government will maintain its recent track record of responsibly managing the national budget and interest rate policy.

The president has ambitious plans to carpet Indonesia with modern roads, ports, rail and airports, and Moody's says the debt needed to fund those projects does not pose a "significant risk."

The upgrade raised Indonesia's sovereign credit rating to Baa2 from the lowest investment grade rating.