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Update on the latest in business:

January 15, 2019

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares recover as China outlines 2019 policy plans

SINGAPORE (AP) — Asian markets bounced back from slight early losses on Tuesday after senior economic officials said Beijing will cut taxes and keep monetary policy flexible to help weather China’s slowdown.

News that Chinese exports fell in December weighed on U.S. indexes. Technology companies fell, but a strong quarterly report by Citigroup lifted bank stocks. The broad S&P 500 index shed 0.5 percent to 2,582.61. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4 percent to 23,909.84 and the Nasdaq composite was 0.9 percent lower at 6,905.92. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks slipped 1 percent to 1,432.81.

Mainland Chinese company shares surged after senior economic leaders, briefing reporters Tuesday on the outcome of an annual policy-setting meeting last month, pledged to keep the monetary policy of the world’s No. 2 economy flexible but stable and to support growth with improved access to financing for private and smaller enterprises.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose above $51 per barrel.

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

FINANCIAL MARKETS-CASH RULES

Cold, hard safety blanket: Cash rules as stocks, bonds waver

NEW YORK (AP) — Suddenly, cash is king again.

For years, cash languished at the bottom of the investment rankings, weighed down by nearly non-existent interest rates. But with the Federal Reserve raising short-term rates four times last year, money-market funds and online savings accounts began paying interest that came close to approaching inflation.

This while stocks, bond funds and gold all posted losses in 2018.

Investors now can find rates of 2 percent or higher while hiding out in cash, and that 2 percent looks even better when compared with the whiplash-inducing ride that stocks forced investors to endure last year. S&P 500 index funds lost more than 4 percent in their worst showing in a decade, but they also dragged investors through more than a dozen days where they lost more than 2 percent on the way there.

The steady-and-not-so-slow-anymore returns for cash, plus expectations for even more market volatility in 2019, means strategists along Wall Street are seeing cash as a viable investment option for the first time in years.

Some investors have peeled off a portion of the big profits made from stocks in recent years and plugged it into cash in hopes of preserving it. Others, meanwhile, have pulled back from the riskier bonds they bought in search of higher income when rates were at record lows, moving back into money-market funds, certificates of deposit and online savings accounts.

INTERNET GAMBLING

Justice Department opinion could threaten online gambling

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A legal opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice made public Monday could threaten the viability of online gambling that crosses state lines such as poker.

The 23-page opinion interprets the federal Wire Act, which prohibits interstate wagering, to apply to any form of gambling that crosses state lines, not just sports betting. The opinion marks a reversal for the department, which under the Obama administration in 2011 said online gambling within states that does not involve sporting events would not violate the federal law.

The 2011 opinion opened the door for cash-strapped states and their lotteries to bring online gambling to their residents, as long as it did not involve interstate sports betting.

Nevada, New Jersey and Delaware legalized online gambling after that opinion was issued, and the three states have agreements allowing poker players to compete online across the states. Pennsylvania became the fourth state to legalize online casino gambling in 2017.

Since it began in Nov. 2013, internet gambling has been the brightest spot for casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, often making the difference between an up month and a down one for the nine casinos.

Now, the Justice Department says the previous opinion misinterpreted the statute.

Experts on Monday said the sports betting industry will remain unaffected because the Wire Act already applied to that form of gambling under the previous interpretation.

CHINA-ECONOMY

China to cut taxes, keep currency stable to counter slowdown

BEIJING (AP) — Senior Chinese economic officials say they will slash taxes, step up spending and help resolve financing problems of private and small enterprise to help counter the country’s worst slowdown since the global financial crisis.

The officials said Tuesday that Beijing will keep its monetary policy stable but flexible. A deputy central bank governor, Zhu Hexin, said the People’s Bank of China was confident it can keep the value of the Chinese yuan steady.

The officials were outlining plans for 2019 that were set at an annual policy meeting in December.

In July-September, China’s economic growth sank to a post-crisis low of 6.5 percent compared with a year earlier despite government efforts to stem the downturn by ordering banks to lend more and by boosting spending on public works construction.

FOOD SAFETY-SHUTDOWN

FDA resuming inspections of riskier foods halted by shutdown

NEW YORK (AP) — The Food and Drug Administration says it is resuming inspections of some of the riskiest foods such as cheeses, produce and infant formula as early as Tuesday.

Routine inspections had been briefly halted as a result of the partial government shutdown.

FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb says the agency is bringing back about 150 employees for the inspections. Riskier foods account for about a third of the agency’s roughly 8,400 routine inspections each year.

The FDA oversees packaged foods and produce. Meat, poultry and processed eggs are checked by another federal agency and have continued. States also handle about half of the FDA’s inspections and those have also continued.

CALIFORNIA WILDFIRES-UTILITY

California governor says PG&E not trusted player

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California Gov. Newsom says “safety, reliability and affordability” are his main concerns as he addresses the likely bankruptcy of the state’s largest utility.

Newsom sought to assure the public Monday that Pacific Gas & Electric Co.’s potential bankruptcy won’t result in power shut-offs. Unlike the utility’s 2001 bankruptcy amid California’s energy crisis, the utility is now facing bankruptcy due to massive liabilities from deadly wildfires.

The Democratic governor says protecting victims of the wildfires and ratepayers is a top priority for his new administration but he hasn’t decided on any action. He says staving off the bankruptcy filing is ideal but it may not be possible.

He says PG&E has not been a “trusted player” in the past.

ZINKE-JOB

Former US Interior boss takes job at investment company

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has gotten a job with a private investment company after leaving the Trump administration amid unresolved ethics investigations.

North Carolina-based Artillery One said Monday that Zinke has been hired as managing director and will pursue investing opportunities in energy, financial technology and cybersecurity.

After spending almost two years leading an agency that oversees 500 million acres of public lands, Zinke announced his resignation from the Interior Department last month. He’s denied any wrongdoing amid investigations into his private business dealings, a decision to block a tribal casino and other matters.

VENEZUELA-MADURO

Embattled President Maduro raises Venezuelan wages to $6.70

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is boosting the minimum wage again amid the country’s relentless battle against hyperinflation.

Maduro presented his economic plans Monday at the start to his second disputed term, with increasing calls for him to give up power in the crisis-wracked country.

Though rich in oil, Venezuela is enduring a historic crisis as citizens struggle to afford basic goods and masses flee the country.

Maduro is raising the minimum wage by 300 percent, bringing monthly salaries to roughly $6.50. It’s a step he has taken a dozen times in the last two years.

Maduro says he also intends to dramatically boost oil production.

The president is under heightened pressure from opposition politicians and foreign leaders urging him to step down and return Venezuela to democratic rule.

DRONES-REGULATIONS

Feds to ease rules on drone flights over people and at night

Federal officials plan to ease restrictions on flying drones over crowds and at night.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says that her agency will propose letting some drone operators do those things without a special waiver from current rules.

For example, waivers for night flights wouldn’t be needed for operators who go through special training and put anti-collision lighting on their drones.

The Transportation Department released the preliminary rules on Monday.

Chao says she knows that some people fear that drones create safety and privacy issues. But she says the Transportation Department’s actions will help develop the safe testing and use of drones.

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