FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asian shares mixed ahead of US inflation, Lunar New Year

TOKYO (AP) — Asian shares were mixed Wednesday with investors adopting a wait-and-see stance ahead of Lunar New Year holidays and the release of U.S. inflation data.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped nearly 0.3 percent while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.3 percent. South Korea's Kospi was up nearly 1.0 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 1.2 percent while the Shanghai Composite index added 0.4 percent.

On Wall Street, the Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 0.3 percent to 2,662.94. The Dow added 0.2 percent to 24,640.45. The Nasdaq composite gained 0.5 percent to 7,013.51 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks finished up 0.3 percent at 1,494.95. Volatility has increased, with the Dow Jones industrial average twice falling 1,000 points in a day last week, sometimes gaining or losing hundreds of points in a few minutes.

ECONOMY-THE DAY AHEAD

Consumer prices, retail sales reports to be released

WASHINGTON (AP) — Market players are awaiting the U.S. Labor Department's monthly report on consumer prices, due out at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time. The report takes on added importance since recent swings in financial markets were touched off by worries that inflation might rise too quickly, prompting the Federal Reserve to accelerate monetary tightening.

The Commerce Department will release retail sales data for January.

JAPAN-ECONOMY

Japan's economy grows at 0.5 percent annual pace in Oct-Dec

TOKYO (AP) — Japan's economy grew at a slower than expected 0.5 percent annual pace in the October-December quarter, as strong exports failed to fully compensate for relatively weak domestic demand.

The data released Wednesday showed Japan has managed eighth straight quarters of growth, the longest expansion since the financial bubble of the late 1980s. But the figures were well below analysts' forecasts.

Growth in the previous quarter was revised down to 2.2 percent from 2.5 percent.

The government said Wednesday that the economy grew 0.1 percent in quarterly terms. The lackluster performance reflects the difficulty of stimulating more investment and spending as Japan's population ages and declines.

Housing investment weakened although overall consumer spending, which accounts for the lion's share of activity, was higher.

KUWAIT-IRAQ RECONSTRUCTION

Kuwait to give $2 billion in loans, investments for Iraq

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait's ruling emir says his oil-rich nation will give $1 billion in loans and $1 billion in direct investments to help rebuild Iraq.

Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah made the announcement on Wednesday at a summit seeking donations to help rebuild Iraq after the war against the Islamic State group.

The announcement is in many ways stunning — many at the gathering in Kuwait remember how Iraq under dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait only a generation ago. It shows Kuwait's deep desire to see its northern neighbor have a stable government after the years of unrest following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam.

Overall, Iraq is seeking $88.2 billion in aid from donors.

SEXUAL MISCONDUCT-STEVE WYNN

Sexual assault reports against Wynn filed with Vegas police

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Two women have come forward saying casino mogul Steve Wynn sexually assaulted them in the 1970s. Police in Las Vegas on Tuesday said the women filed reports in the past two weeks.

According to a police statement, one woman reported Wynn assaulted her in Las Vegas and the other said she was assaulted in Chicago. The Las Vegas case will not be investigated because the statute of limitations in Nevada is 20 years.

The victim of that alleged assault contacted the department from St. Louis on Jan. 29, three days after the Wall Street Journal reported that a number of women said Wynn harassed or assaulted them and that one case led to a $7.5 million settlement. The other, filed in Las Vegas on Feb. 5, is being forwarded to the Chicago Police Department.

The billionaire has vehemently denied the allegations, which he attributes to a campaign led by his ex-wife. Wynn is facing scrutiny by gambling regulators in Nevada and Massachusetts, where the company is building a roughly $2.4 billion casino just outside Boston. Regulators in Macau, the Chinese enclave where the company operates two casinos, are also inquiring about the allegations.

CHIPOTLE-CEO

Chipotle looks to fast-food chain Taco Bell for next CEO

NEW YORK (AP) — Chipotle, hoping to rebuild its business after a series of food safety scares, has named an executive from fast-food chain Taco Bell as its next CEO.

Brian Niccol, chief executive at Taco Bell chain for three years, will start at Chipotle next month. He'll be tasked with helping turn around the burrito chain, which has long positioned itself as a step up from fast food.

Chipotle has been trying to win back customers since 2015, when its sales plunged after an E. coli outbreak. Earlier this month, the chain said a key sales figure rose in the fourth quarter, but mostly because it raised menu prices and paid less for avocados. Fewer customers came to its restaurants during the quarter, the company said.

Niccol helped launch breakfast at Taco Bell and rolled out mobile ordering across its restaurants.

SAM'S CLUB-SHIPPING

Sam's Club to offer free shipping for premium members

NEW YORK (AP) — Sam's Club is offering free shipping for premium members and simplifying its membership tiers.

Starting Wednesday, the Walmart-owned warehouse club will give free shipping on online orders for Plus members on 95 percent of the items it sells. Most shipping costs previously were based on the item's size and weight, the shipping method and the delivery address.

Free shipping and faster delivery have been key areas as retailers try to adapt to shoppers' shift online. Sam's Club is also aiming to better compete with Costco Wholesale Corp.

Sam's Club announced last month it was closing 63 U.S. clubs and converting some to e-commerce fulfillment centers. A union has estimated that could affect about 10,000 jobs. Sam's Club executives say they don't know yet how many will get new positions.

FEDERAL UTILITY-AIRCRAFT

Group wants probe of utility's jets, luxury helicopter

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A clean-energy advocacy group called for an investigation Tuesday after finding that the Tennessee Valley Authority bought two corporate jets, a luxury helicopter and another plane in recent years. The utility says its inspector general is already reviewing the matter.

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy focused on the 2015 and 2017 model jets, 2013 helicopter with a Mercedes-Benz upgrade trim and 2015 turboprop airplane. TVA says the aircraft were bought for about $35.3 million.

TVA maintains that the planes and helicopters are necessary to meet customers and stakeholders and pursue economic development by attracting companies to the region.

BARNES & NOBLE-STAFFING

Barnes & Noble cites new staffing policy in layoffs

NEW YORK (AP) — Barnes & Noble, which announced a round of layoffs this week, is pointing new staffing rules that will allow stores to increase or decrease the number of people on the clock depending on need.

The nation's largest book chain said Tuesday in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that the change will lead to annual cost saving of $40 million. The company insists that the staff cuts will not affect customer service.

The New York bookseller, which has struggled to compete with Amazon, said last month that sales at established locations slid 6.4 percent during the holidays.

MATTEL-UNO-DOS

Mattel doubles down on Uno with a new card game called Dos

NEW YORK (AP) — What's next for Uno? Dos, of course.

Mattel is launching the new card game Dos next month in hopes of giving its nearly 50-year-old Uno brand a second life. Dos has similar rules as Uno, except players make two piles of cards and can throw down two cards at a time instead of one.

It comes as Mattel tries to turn its business around, mainly by updating classic brands, such as Barbie dolls and Hot Wheels cars. The toy maker's revenue fell 11 percent last year, hurt by the bankruptcy filing of Toys R Us and the changing tastes of kids, who are increasingly reaching for a tablet instead of a toy.

Uno, however, was a bright spot: The company says Uno sales were up 12 percent in 2017 from the year before. Mattel, which is based in El Segundo, California, has sought to sell Uno in more places, including dollar stores and video game shops.

FAST FOOD-VALENTINE'S DAY

Fries, not flowers: Fast-food chains try to lure valentines

NEW YORK (AP) — Is that love in the air or french fries? White Castle, KFC and other fast-food restaurants are trying to lure sweethearts for Valentine's Day.

It's an attempt to capture a bit of the $3.7 billion that the National Retail Federation expects Americans to spend on a night out for the holiday. Restaurant analyst John Gordon at Pacific Management Consulting Group says it appeals to people who don't want to splurge on a pricier restaurant. And some customers enjoy it ironically.

White Castle, which has been offering Valentine's Day reservations for nearly 30 years, expects to surpass the 28,000 people it served last year. KFC is handing out scratch-and-sniff Valentine's Day cards that give off a fried chicken aroma.

Panera Bread wants couples to get engaged at its cafes; those who do can win food for their weddings from the soup and bread chain. And Wingstop sold out of its $25 Valentine's Day kit, which came with a gift card and a heart-shaped box to fill with chicken wings.