FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares mixed as China recovers from Wall Street drag

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mixed Thursday as sentiments got initially dragged down by a slide on Wall Street, but Chinese benchmarks later recovered on optimism for growth.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 lost 1.6 percent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.7 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was little changed while the Shanghai Composite edged up 0.4 percent. South Korean markets were closed for a national holiday.

On Wall Street, the S&P 500 fell 30.45 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,713.83, while the Dow Jones industrial average lost 380.83, or 1.5 percent, to 25,029.20 and the Nasdaq composite dropped 57.35, or 0.8 percent, to 7,273.01. The dominant fear for the month was the threat of higher inflation and interest rates, and February was the worst month for the U.S. market in two years.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

Business and economic reports due out today.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Commerce Department issues two reports today.

One covers personal income and spending for January; the other, construction spending in the first month of the year.

Also today, the Institute for Supply Management releases its manufacturing index for February and Freddie Mac reports on this week's average mortgage rates.

Automakers also release vehicle sales for February today.

CHINA-ECONOMY

Companies look to China's legislature for economic reforms

BEIJING (AP) — Businesspeople are looking to China's ceremonial legislature for assurance President Xi Jinping (shee jihn-peeng) is speeding up reforms aimed at making the cooling economy more productive as he prepares the country for a return to one-man rule.

Next week's annual session of the National People's Congress comes after the Communist Party proposed to end presidential term limits. That has created hope Xi might feel more confident about embracing painful changes needed to curb surging debt, overhaul state industry and open the economy wider to private competitors.

A party statement affirmed promises to give market forces the "decisive role" in allocating resources. But moves to centralize power in Xi's hands and give the party more control over business have fueled doubts about Beijing's commitment.

TAX OVERHAUL-NEW CALCULATOR

How much tax to withhold? New calculator to help figure it

WASHINGTON (AP) — Millions of Americans are now getting bigger paychecks as a result of the new tax law. So the government is issuing an online calculator for figuring whether enough money is being set aside.

The calculator unveiled by the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service helps people determine whether they have the correct amount of money withheld by employers from paychecks — to avoid facing a huge tax bill for 2018. The calculator asks taxpayers to estimate their 2018 income and other items that affect their taxes, such as filing status and number of dependents.

The changes reflect the massive Republican tax plan signed into law in December.

Experts advise checking the calculator to ensure people have the correct number of withholdings and updating W-4 forms filed with employers.

SPOTIFY-IPO

Spotify's music service seeks to drum up $1 billion in IPO

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Music-streaming pioneer Spotify is hoping to attract a new crowd of fans on Wall Street to help fend off a growing competitive threat posed by Apple.

Spotify will expand its financial arsenal with an initial public offering of stock aiming to raise $1 billion. That figure could change as Spotify's bankers assess investor demand for Spotify shares ahead of the IPO, a process likely to be completed early in the spring.

The company's first steps toward its offering came in a confidential filing a few weeks ago, but the documents weren't released until Wednesday.

The numbers revealed Spotify's music-streaming service boasts 71 million subscribers, nearly twice as many as Apple's rival service.

But Spotify still isn't profitable. The Luxembourg-based company lost 1.2 billion euros ($1.5 billion) last year.

BEST BUY-MOBILE PHONE STORES

Best Buy to close its small-format mobile phone stores

NEW YORK (AP) — Best Buy is shuttering all 250 of its small-format mobile phone stores in the U.S., saying the locations have become less profitable.

A memo from the CEO to employees says the stores will close by the end of May and every effort will be made to retain the workers.

The nation's largest consumer electronics chain launched the stores more than a decade ago, before Apple's iPhone was launched. The mobile phone business was growing quickly, with high profit margins.

But it said the business has matured and running the mobile stand-alones cost more than its larger stores, and that 85 percent of the stand-alones are within 3 miles of a big box store.

Best Buy says the stand-alone stores accounts for just over 1 percent of the company's total revenue.

WALMART-GUN POLICY

Walmart sets age of 21 to buy firearms, ammunition

NEW YORK (AP) — Walmart says it will no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21.

The retailer's new policy comes after Dick's Sporting Goods announced earlier Wednesday that it would restrict the sale of firearms to those under 21 years old. It didn't mention ammunition. Walmart says the decision came after a review of its firearm sales policy in light of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida.

Walmart Inc. stopped selling AR-15 guns, and other semi-automatic weapons in 2015. It doesn't sell bump stocks, the accessory attached to a semi-automatic gun that makes it easier to fire rounds faster. It also doesn't sell large-capacity magazines.

The retailer says it is also removing items resembling assault-style rifles from its website.

MARTIN SHKRELI-TRIAL

'Pharma Bro' asks judge for leniency, saying he was a fool

NEW YORK (AP) — "Pharma Bro" Martin Shkreli (SHKREL'-ee) has written a letter to a judge asking for leniency and admitting that he was wrong and a fool.

The brash former pharmaceuticals company CEO tells the judge that if she gives him a lenient sentence he will do his best to use his skills for the betterment of humanity.

The 34-year-old Shkreli was convicted in August of cheating investors in two failed hedge funds. He's to be sentenced March 9.

He describes the trial and six months in prison as a "frightening wake-up call."

Shkreli was out on bail during his trial but was jailed when a judge decided he'd made veiled online threats against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Shkreli is perhaps best known for boosting the price of a life-saving drug.

SPORTS GAMBLING-GENERATION GAP

Sports betting's big wager: Will younger bettors ante up?

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — States hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will allow them to collect a financial windfall from sports betting could face another hurdle.

The explosion in popularity of daily fantasy sports has created a generation of sports fans more attuned to individual player statistics than how two teams may fare against each other.

Experts say that even more important is whether states can offer online sports wagering to fans raised on smartphones and laptops.

That will depend on the language in the court's ruling, expected in June.

New Jersey has challenged a 1992 federal law restricting sports gambling mainly to Nevada.

It's estimated more than two dozen other states could seek to allow sports gambling in the next five years if New Jersey is successful.