FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks tumble

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are broadly lower in midday trading on Wall Street as investors react to the departure of Gary Cohn, the top economic adviser to President Donald Trump. Wall Street liked Cohn, a former top executive at Goldman Sachs who opposed the administration's planned tariffs on steel and aluminum.

The Dow Jones industrial average has been down more than 250 points.

Industrial companies like Caterpillar are taking some of the worst losses. Harley-Davidson, which could become a target of retaliatory tariffs if the White House follows through on its tariff plans, fell 1.4 percent.

Dollar Tree plunged 15 percent after reporting weak results and a disappointing annual forecast. Other retailers also fell.

TRADE GAP

US trade gap rises to $56.6 billion, highest since 2008

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. trade deficit rose in January to the highest level since October 2008, defying President Donald Trump's efforts to bring more balance to America's trade with the rest of the world.

The Commerce Department says the trade deficit rose to $56.6 billion in January, up from $53.9 billion in December and the highest since October 2008's $60.2 billion trade gap. The trade deficit — the gap between what America sells and what it buys abroad — has risen for five straight months.

Trump says the administration is asking China to trim the huge trade surplus it runs with the United States, the largest of any country. The U.S. deficit with China hit a record $375 billion last year. Trump said Wednesday on Twitter that China has been asked to cut the surplus by $1 billion, or three-tenths of a percent.

Trump also says, in a separate tweet, that the U.S. is "acting swiftly" on intellectual property theft. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is overseeing an investigation into whether China is systematically violating U.S. intellectual property rights, particularly in the technology industry.

TRUMP-TRADE

Ross promotes 'surgical approach' to tariffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross says the White House is seeking to take a "surgical approach" to new tariffs, saying it is possible Canada and Mexico could be exempted.

House Speaker Paul Ryan used the same language Tuesday in calling for President Donald Trump to use a more targeted "surgical approach" to avert a potentially dangerous trade war.

Ross told reporters Wednesday: "The president indicated that if we can work something out with Canada and Mexico they will be exempted." He says it's "not inconceivable that others could be exempted on a similar basis."

Trump plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. But he has held out the possibility that Canada and Mexico might not face tariffs if they are willing to offer more favorable terms under the North American Free Agreement, which is being renegotiated.

TRUMP-TRADE-CHAMBER OF COMMERCE

Business leaders worry about planned tariffs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the world's largest business federation is urging President Donald Trump to refrain from imposing new global tariffs on steel and aluminum, warning it risks a trade war and will hurt the U.S. economy.

In a sharply worded statement, U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue says his group is "very concerned" about a potential trade war. He says it would risk the economic momentum spurred on by the new tax law.

Donohue says the tariffs would "directly harm American manufacturers" and lead to "widespread retaliation from our trading partners." He says it will not address the "true problem of Chinese steel and aluminum overcapacity."

Business leaders and Republicans in Congress are pressuring Trump to change course on the planned tariffs, warning it would hurt the economy.

EUROPE-US-TRADE

EU has 'serious doubts' on Trumps reasons for trade tariffs

BRUSSELS (AP) — The European Union's top trade official says that the bloc doubts U.S. President Donald Trump wants to slap heavy tariffs on steel and aluminum imports for national security reasons, but rather seeks economic gain.

Trump has long railed against what he deems unfair trade practices by China and others, and last week declared that he would levy penalties of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum imports.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem told reporters in Brussels that Trump's rationale appears to invoke the international legal right to protect national security.

She said: "We have serious doubts about that justification. We cannot see how the European Union, friends and allies in NATO, can be a threat to international security in the U.S."

PRODUCTIVITY

US productivity shows no gain in fourth quarter

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. productivity showed no gain in the fourth quarter, the poorest performance since an outright decline in the first quarter of 2016. It was further evidence of the struggles the country is facing in boosting worker efficiency.

The Labor Department says the flat reading was a slight improvement over an initial estimate a month ago that productivity had actually fallen at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 0.1 percent last quarter. Labor costs rose at an annual rate of 2.5 percent in the fourth quarter, a modest gain that followed a 1 percent increase in the third quarter.

For the year, productivity rose 1.2 percent, a weak performance but a slight improvement from no gain at all in 2016. Boosting productivity is seen as the country's biggest economic challenge.

ADP

Survey: US businesses hire 235,000 new workers in February

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. companies added a healthy 235,000 jobs last month, led by solid gains in construction, hotels and restaurants, and education and health care, according to a private survey.

Payroll provider ADP said Wednesday that February's hiring comes after businesses added 244,000 people in January and 249,000 in December. Those gains should be enough to lower the unemployment rate, currently a low 4.1 percent, over time.

A FactSet survey shows that economists believe the U.S. jobs report for February will likely show a gain of 200,000 jobs on Friday.

Still, ADP's report and government figures frequently diverge. Last month, the government said 200,000 jobs were added, below ADP's initial estimate of 234,000. That figure has since been revised higher.

SMALLBIZ-HIRING

ADP says small business hiring looks a little stronger

NEW YORK (AP) — Small business hiring is looking a little stronger. That report is from payroll provider ADP, which said its small business customers added 68,000 jobs in February, up from January's 63,000.

ADP also said it revised higher its previously reported job figures for both January and December.

Small business hiring has fluctuated for over a year and hasn't always kept pace with strong gains at larger businesses.

AMAZON-MISSOURI

Amazon to open center in St. Louis suburb employing 1,500

ST. PETERS, Mo. (AP) — Amazon is planning open a large packing and shipping facility in suburban St. Louis that will employ more than 1,500 full-time workers.

The Seattle-based online retailer announced plans Wednesday for the 800,000 square-foot fulfillment center in St. Peters.

The Missouri Department of Economic Development said Amazon could receive more than $11 million in state incentives.

Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens said in a video posted to Twitter that Amazon was investing $175 million in the facility.

Amazon currently employees several hundred people at a sorting center in the St. Louis suburb of Hazelwood, but this would be the company's first fulfillment center in Missouri.

Amazon has more than 75 fulfillment centers across the U.S. and Canada.

AMAZON-PRIME DISCOUNT

Amazon offers Prime membership discount to Medicaid users

NEW YORK (AP) — Amazon is seeking to woo more low-income shoppers by offering a discounted Prime membership to those on Medicaid.

The online retailer already offers a cheaper monthly membership to people who receive food stamps or other government assistance through Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. The company says expanding the discount to Medicaid recipients will make its Prime membership and its faster free shipping accessible to more people.

Analysts have said that Amazon's play for low-income shoppers is a way to go after Walmart Inc.'s customers and bring even more people into its Prime membership.

Amazon.com Inc. says those with a Medicaid card can apply for the discounted $5.99-a-month membership on its website. A full-price membership typically costs $99 annually or $12.99-a-month for those who don't want to commit to an annual fee.

AMERICAN GREETINGS PLANT

Greeting card manufacturer to close Bardstown plant by 2019

(Information in the following story is from: WDRB-TV, http://www.fox41.com)

BARDSTOWN, Ky. (AP) — A greeting card manufacturer says it will close its plant in Bardstown, Kentucky, by year's end, laying off at least 450 employees.

WDRB-TV cites an American Greetings Corporation news release that says the closure comes after "an evaluation of the company's future production needs."

Mayor Dick Heaton says laid-off employees should be able to easily find work, since other local businesses are expanding and opening facilities.

Japanese package manufacturer Takigawa Corporation is set to break ground in Bardstown next month and hire at least 180 people. Three local distilleries also are expanding and hiring more workers.

Bardstown's unemployment rate sits at 3.1 percent, a full percent below the national unemployment rate measured in January.

WEST VIRGINIA NEWSPAPER-SALE

Another bidder emerges for West Virginia newspaper

(Information in the following story is from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.)

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — An auction to sell West Virginia's largest newspaper, the Charleston Gazette-Mail, is scheduled for Thursday.

The Gazette-Mail reports bankruptcy court filings show a second company, HD Media of Huntington, West Virginia, has placed a bid.

A subsidiary of Wheeling-based Ogden Newspapers was the highest bidder Jan. 30, when Charleston Newspapers, owner of the Gazette-Mail, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and issued a 60-day layoff notice to employees.

The amount of HD Media's bid wasn't disclosed. But to push the sale to an auction, HD Media had to bid $500,000 more than Ogden's $10.911 million by the Tuesday deadline under the bankruptcy court's order.

Notice of the leading bidder will be issued at the conclusion of the auction.

DRUNKEN $1600 UBER RIDE

New Jersey company will pay man's drunken $1,600 Uber fare

GLOUCESTER COUNTY, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey man who got drunk in West Virginia and mistakenly ordered a $1,635 Uber ride to his home state will be reimbursed by a food delivery company.

Jamie Giovinazzo, founder of Eat Clean Bro in Freehold, New Jersey, says his company will pay the fare to thank Kenny Bachman for choosing not to drive while drunk. Giovinazzo says Bachman's decision helped keep the roadway safe for other motorists.

Bachman intended to get a ride to the house where he was staying near West Virginia University. He fell asleep in the car and awoke two hours into the 300-mile journey to his home in Gloucester County.

Bachman had requested donations via GoFundMe to pay the fare. That money will instead go to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.