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Asian stocks rise ahead of US-China trade pact

BEIJING (AP) — Asian stock markets rose today ahead of the signing of a U.S.-Chinese trade pact as investors shrugged off weaker-than-expected American jobs data.

Benchmarks in Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea advanced. Japanese markets were closed for a holiday.

Investors showed little concern over Friday's data showing American employers added fewer jobs than forecast in December. Concern over a potential U.S.-Iranian conflict faded.

Traders looked ahead to this week's signing of an interim U.S.-Chinese trade deal, which they hope will be a step toward ending a tariff war that threatens to drag down global economic growth.

On Friday, the S&P 500 index fell 0.3% to 3,265.35 from its record set Thursday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly topped the 29,000 level for the first time but ended down 0.5%. The Nasdaq composite dropped 0.3%, to 9,178.86.


Leading NGOs boycott Saudi Arabian G20 civil society talks

BEIRUT (AP) - Three leading international NGOs say they're boycotting meetings Saudi Arabia is holding with civil society groups ahead of hosting this year's Group of 20 summit.

Transparency International, Amnesty International and CIVICUS say that participating would lend legitimacy to a kingdom “trying to whitewash its dire human rights record.”

The announcement comes as the oil-rich country begins its first meetings this week to kick off the dedicated meetings for civil society within the G20 known as the Civil 20.

The groups say they can't participate in a process “that seeks to give international legitimacy to a state that provides virtually no space for civil society.”


New Labor Dept. rule clarifies 'joint employer' standard

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Labor Department has issued a final rule that clarifies when a worker is employed by more than one company. It’s an issue that affects franchise businesses such as McDonald's and temporary staffing firms. The rule taking effect March 16 provides a four-part test to determine whether a company is a “joint employer." The rule replaces an Obama administration policy that potentially made more businesses liable for failures by franchisees or contractors to pay overtime or minimum wages.

The issue has taken on greater importance in recent years as more Americans work for temp firms, contractors and franchises. By some estimates, roughly 14 million Americans are in such “alternative work arrangements.”

The new rule, which will take effect March 16, provides a four-part test to determine whether a company is a “joint employer." The tests are: Whether or not it can hire or fire the employee; whether it supervises the employee's work schedule; whether it sets their pay; and if it maintains their employment records.


Former top stockbroker to go on trial for fleecing clients

UNDATED (AP) — A former Pennsylvania stockbroker faces trial today on criminal fraud charges. Anthony Diaz was fired by five brokerages and resigned from another amid persistent customer complaints and rules infractions. Yet he kept investing other people’s money until Wall Street’s self-regulator had seen enough and permanently barred him in 2015.

Diaz was ordered to pay millions of dollars in damages to customers he allegedly fleeced. Some clients say they lost their life savings because of Diaz.

The ex-broker has pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is expected to begin today in Scranton, Pennsylvania.


Ex-drug company execs face reckoning in opioid bribery case

BOSTON (AP) — The founder and former top employees of a pharmaceutical company are being sentenced in a bribery scheme that prosecutors say helped fuel the national opioid epidemic. Starting Monday, seven people who worked for Insys Therapeutics will appear in Boston federal court for their sentencing. The case against company founder John Kapoor and his associates was considered the first to hold an opioid maker criminally liable for an epidemic that's claimed nearly 400,000 lives over two decades.

Prosecutors say officials at Arizona-based Insys Therapeutics paid millions of dollars in bribes to doctors across the country so they would overprescribe Subsys, a fentanyl-based oral spray meant to ease intense pain suffered by cancer patients. Prosecutors say they company also deployed other questionable marketing tactics. One sales executive, who prosecutors said used to be an exotic dancer, gave a physician a lap dance at a club.

Insys Therapeutics has since filed for bankruptcy protection, and it's not clear whether the company will fully pay what's owed. The company has been approved to sell off Subsys and its other drugs for about $30 million, but the it maintains its assets, all told, are worth only $175 million.


Gas prices jump 4 cents per gallon to $2.64 in past 3 weeks

CAMARILLO, Calif. (AP) — The average U.S. price of regular-grade gasoline has jumped 4 cents per gallon to $2.64 over the past three weeks. Industry analyst Trilby Lundberg of the Lundberg Survey says gas prices are unlikely to continue to increase because crude oil costs have dropped.

The price at the pump is 33 cents higher than it was a year ago.

The highest average price in the nation for regular-grade gas is $3.58 per gallon in Honolulu. The lowest average is $2.21 in Houston. The average price of diesel is $3.08, up two cents.


China auto sales fall again in 2019 amid trade war

BEIJING (AP) — China's auto sales fell for a second year in 2019 as a trade war with Washington and an economic slowdown fueled consumer anxiety and demand for electric vehicles weakened,

The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers says sales in the industry's biggest global market declined 9.6% from 2018 levels to 21.4 million sedans, SUVs and minivans.

The downturn is squeezing global and Chinese automakers at a time when they are spending billions of dollars to meet government targets to sell electric vehicles.

After two decades of explosive growth, China suffered its first annual decline in auto sales in 2018 as unease over the tariff war with President Donald Trump and slowing economic growth prompted consumers to put off big purchases.


Family says Amazon package had dirty diapers in it

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey family says they received dirty diapers from Amazon's delivery service.

WPIX-TV reports that when Nassly Sales opened her Amazon package, she was shocked to see the diapers covered in what appeared to be fecal matter.

Sales says she purchases diapers for her two daughters each month from the Amazon Warehouse section which sells returned items at a discounted rate.

The Jersey City woman says she feared for her daughter's health since she was born 26 weeks premature and has a compromised immune system.

An Amazon spokesperson says the company worked with the family to resolve the issue.

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