FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares track Wall St gains as inflation fears subside

HONG KONG (AP) — Asian shares posted solid gains on Thursday that mirrored Wall Street's advance as investors' worries over inflation receded, although trading was thin as some markets closed for Lunar New Year holidays.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 rose 1.5 percent and Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.2 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng advanced 2 percent in a half-day trading session. Indexes in Southeast Asia, New Zealand and India also rose. Markets in mainland China, South Korea and Taiwan were closed for the lunar new year holiday.

On Wall Street, major U.S. benchmarks rose for the fourth straight day. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 1.3 percent to close 2,698.63. The Dow Jones industrial average added 1 percent to 24,893.49. The Nasdaq composite climbed 1.9 percent to 7,143.62.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

Major business and economic reports due out today

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department reports today on U.S. producer price inflation in January.

Also, the Federal Reserve reports on January's U.S. industrial production.

At the same time, the Treasury Department releases its report on international money flows data for December.

On the home building front today, the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo releases its February index of builder sentiment and Freddie Mac reports on this week's average U.S. mortgage rates.

SWITZERLAND-EARNS-NESTLE

Nestle posts drop in 2017 profit, to end L'Oreal stake deal

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle says it's ending its agreement with the well-heeled Bettencourt family of France over the L'Oreal cosmetics empire and is exploring options for its Gerber Life Insurance business.

The announcement came as the Vevey, Switzerland-based company reported net profit fell nearly 16 percent to 7.18 billion Swiss francs ($7.7 billion) last year, compared to 8.53 billion in 2016. The company said the drop was mostly due to accounting of cash-flow issues at Nestle Skin Health.

Nestle said Thursday that revenues edged up 0.4 percent to 89.8 billion francs, while underlying profit rose 4.6 percent to 3.55 billion francs.

The company reported growth of 2.4 percent, and CEO Mark Schneider acknowledged that organic sales growth came in "below our expectations" following "weak sales development" toward year-end.

REVEAL-MODERN DAY REDLINING

Kept out: How banks block people of color from homeownership

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Fifty years after the federal Fair Housing Act banned racial discrimination in lending, African Americans and Latinos continue to be routinely denied conventional mortgage loans at rates far higher than their white counterparts.

According to millions of Home Mortgage Disclosure Act records analyzed by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, modern-day redlining persisted in 61 metro areas even when controlling for applicants' income, loan amount and neighborhood.

The yearlong analysis, based on 31 million records, relied on techniques used by leading academics, the Federal Reserve and Department of Justice to identify lending disparities.

It found a pattern of troubling denials for people of color across the country, including in major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta, Detroit, Philadelphia, St. Louis and San Antonio. African Americans faced the most resistance in Southern cities - Mobile, Alabama; Greenville, North Carolina; and Gainesville, Florida - and Latinos in Iowa City, Iowa.

No matter their location, loan applicants told similar stories, describing an uphill battle with loan officers who they said seemed to be fishing for a reason to say no.

BERKSHIRE HATHAWAY INVESTMENTS

Buffett's firm invests in drugmaker Teva, trims Phillips 66

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Billionaire Warren Buffett's company revealed a new investment in Teva Pharmaceuticals and trimmed its holdings in oil refiner Phillips 66 by selling 35 million shares back to the company for $3.3 billion.

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. disclosed those changes and several other tweaks to its stock holdings Wednesday in documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Berkshire said it held 18.9 million shares of Teva at the end of the year.

Berkshire's filings don't reveal whether Buffett or one of the conglomerate's two other investment managers made the move, but the relatively small Teva stake worth about $350 million suggests it may not have been Buffett's decision.

Besides investments, Berkshire owns more than 90 subsidiaries in a variety of industries, including insurance, utilities, railroads, and manufacturing.

GOOGLE-AD BLOCKING

Critics wary as Google's Chrome preps ad-blocking crackdown

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Starting Thursday, Google will start using its Chrome browser to eradicate ads it deems annoying or otherwise detrimental to users. It just so happens that many of Google's own most lucrative ads will sail through the new filters.

The move, which Google first floated back in June, is ostensibly aimed at making online advertising more tolerable. Chrome will flag sites that run annoying ads such as auto-playing video with sound, and it will block all ads on offending sites if they don't reform themselves.

Google's aim is partly to convince people to turn off their own ad-blocking software, which costs publishers revenue by preventing ads from displaying.

But critics say it is acting selfishly by leaving untouched formats like pre-roll ads, which frequently appear before videos on its YouTube platform.

APPLE-SPEAKER STAINS

Apple's new speaker making an unwelcome mark in some homes

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Apple's new internet-connected speaker is proving to be more appealing to the ears than to the eyes, depending on where the device is placed.

Some people who bought the just-released $349 speaker, dubbed the HomePod, are reporting it leaves a white ring on wooden furniture.

Apple says the problem often occurs with speakers that, like the HomePod, are equipped with a silicon base to minimize vibration. The company recommended wiping wood tarnished by the HomePod with a soft or damp cloth, or putting the speaker on another device.

The marks left by the HomePod threaten to stain Apple's reputation for designing products that frequently get as many rave reviews for the way they look as for how they work.

UBER-FINANCES

Uber CEO wants the 'love back' after rough 2017

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi says he believes the ride-hailing service can still become a beloved brand despite a wave of damaging revelations about its treatment of employees, drivers, regulators and rivals.

Khosrowshahi says "getting the love back" has been one of his top priorities since Uber lured him from online travel agency Expedia five months ago to replace co-founder Travis Kalanick as CEO. Although he says he is pleased with the company's progress so far, Khosrowshahi cautioned that the San Francisco company still has a long way to go to win back the trust of its consumers and drivers.

He made his remarks during a late Wednesday appearance at a technology conference hosted by Goldman Sachs.

Khosrowshahi also predicted that Uber will be well on the way to turning a profit by the it time makes an initial public offering of its stock next year, despite a $4.5 billion loss last year.

BRAIN TRAUMA-BLOOD TEST

First blood test to help diagnose brain injuries gets US OK

CHICAGO (AP) — The first blood test to help doctors diagnose traumatic brain injuries has won U.S. government approval.

The move means Banyan Biomarkers can commercialize its test, giving the company an early lead in the biotech industry's race to find a way to diagnose concussions.

The test doesn't detect concussions and the approval won't immediately change how patients with suspected concussions or other brain trauma are treated.

The test detects two proteins present in brain cells that can leak into the bloodstream following a blow to the head. Banyan's research shows the test can detect them within 12 hours of injury. It's designed to help doctors quickly determine which patients with suspected concussions may have brain bleeding or other brain injury.

JEEP AD-FISH FLAP

Jeep in hot water over ad with SUV romping in wild waters

RENO, Nev. (AP) — The head of one of the nation's largest fish conservation groups says Fiat Chrysler's Super Bowl ads "glorified" the destruction of aquatic habitat in an apparent attempt to appeal to off-road thrill-seekers.

It's the second time ads by the automaker have drawn complaints since the Feb. 4 game.

Trout Unlimited President and CEO Chris Wood said Wednesday that one ad gave the impression a Jeep Cherokee was splashing down the middle of a wild streambed.

Fiat Chrysler is defending the ads but says there are no plans to run them again. It says the spot with the Cherokee was shot on a flooded county road and another with a Jeep Wrangler was filmed in a man-made lake with a man-made waterfall on private land.

The automaker also came under fire last week for another Super Bowl ad featuring a Ram pickup set against audio of "The Drum Major Instinct" sermon delivered by Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago.