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FINANCIAL MARKETS

Stocks fall as fears about deadly virus grow; Dow drops 125

NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes are falling in midday trading on Wall Street amid increasing fears that a deadly virus could continue spreading globally.

A Chicago woman has become the second U.S. patient diagnosed with the new virus from China, health officials said. Health authorities worldwide have been taking measures to contain and monitor the coronavirus outbreak.

Airlines and other companies in the travel and tourism industries are tumbling, along with health care companies. Financial stocks are also faring poorly. Sliding oil prices are dragging down energy stocks.

A blowout earnings report from chipmaker Intel propelled technology shares higher. That sector got an additional push from Broadcom, which landed a deal to supply wireless components to Apple.

Safe-play stocks, including utilities and real estate companies, are also holding up well.

TRUMP-FUEL ECONOMY

Trump ups mileage proposal, but it's well below Obama plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is making a concession on its proposed minimum fuel economy requirement for new vehicles, but environmental groups and a key Democratic senator complain it does not go far enough, and still falls well below the requirements set under the Obama administration.

Fuel economy standards would increase 1.5% per year from 2021 through 2026 under the new proposal. That's a reversal from the Trump administration's proposal in 2018, which sought to freeze the standards at 2020 levels.

Environmentalists and Delaware Sen. Tom Carper hardly cheered the move, which doesn't come close to the 5% annual increase that the Obama administration had mandated.

Carper, senior Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, released some details of the latest fuel-standards proposal in a letter Wednesday urging the administration to scrap its new mileage proposal as ineffective and costly.

TRUMP-ABORTION-CALIFORNIA

California threatened with funds loss over abortion coverage

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration on Friday threatened California with a potential loss of federal health care funds over the state's requirement that insurance plans cover abortions.

The announcement, timed to coincide with the anti-abortion March for Life in the nation's capital, came hours before President Donald Trump addressed the marchers in person, becoming the first president to do so. Religious conservatives are a core element of Trump's political coalition, and his administration has gone out of its way to deliver on their demands.

The federal Health and Human Services Department said it is issuing a "notice of violation," giving California 30 days to comply with a federal law known as the Weldon amendment. That law bars federal health care funding from being provided to states or entities that practice "discrimination" against a health care organization on the basis that it "does not provide, pay for, provide coverage of, or refer for abortions."

The head of the HHS Office for Civil Rights, Roger Severino, said California is violating that restriction by requiring insurance plans to cover abortions.

HOUSTON EXPLOSION

Police: 2 dead after warehouse explosion shakes Houston

HOUSTON (AP) — A massive explosion Friday leveled a warehouse in Houston, leaving at least two people dead, damaging nearby buildings and homes and rousing frightened residents from their sleep miles away, authorities said.

The explosion happened about 4:30 a.m. inside a building at Watson Grinding and Manufacturing, which makes valves and provides thermal-spray coatings for equipment in various industries, authorities said. The building was reduced to burning rubble and debris, and some of the surrounding buildings suffered heavy damage to parts of their walls and roofs.

Nearby homes sustained significant damage. Some were knocked off their foundations.

Police Chief Art Acevedo confirmed the deaths Friday. He said authorities don't believe the explosion was intentional though a criminal investigation is underway.

PROPANE EXPLOSION

No criminal charges to be filed in deadly propane blast

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A Maine company that severed an underground propane line that caused a deadly propane explosion was cited for violating the state's Dig Safe law, but no criminal charges are warranted, according to officials.

Officials say the propane line was ruptured by a Manchester company that was installing safety posts in a parking lot about 5 feet from the building.

The state fire marshal's office said a 500-gallon propane tank was refilled three days before the September blast. The building manager evacuated the building and opened windows after noticing that there were propane fumes and that the tank was empty again. The explosion happened when the building manager and firefighters returned to the building to look for the source of the propane leak.

The blast, which leveled the building, was so powerful it blew a vehicle across an intersection and damaged nearby homes, leaving many homeless. One firefighter was killed and a half-dozen others were injured. Also injured was the building's maintenance manager, who remains hospitalized.

BRITAIN-FACIAL RECOGNITION

London police to use face scan tech, stoking privacy fears

LONDON (AP) — London police will start using facial recognition cameras to pick out suspects from street crowds in real time, in a major advance for the controversial technology that raises worries about automated surveillance and erosion of privacy rights.

The Metropolitan Police Service said Friday that after a series of trials, the cameras will be put to work within a month in operational deployments of around 5-6 hours at potential crime hotspots. The locations would be chosen based on intelligence but the police did not say where, the number of places, or how many cameras would be deployed.

Real-time crowd surveillance by British police is among the more aggressive uses of facial recognition in wealthy democracies and raises questions about how the technology will enter people's daily lives. Authorities and private companies are eager to use facial recognition but rights groups say it threatens civil liberties and represents an expansion of surveillance.

London's move comes after a British High Court ruling last year cleared a similar deployment by South Wales police, which has been using it since 2017 to monitor big events like soccer games, royal visits and airshows.

FRANCE-STRIKES

Despite renewed strikes, France pushes on with pension plan

PARIS (AP) — Women workers danced in protest and striking Eiffel Tower employees shuttered France's most famed monument Friday — but the government pushed ahead anyway with a troubled bill redesigning the national retirement system.

It's President Emmanuel Macron's signature reform, aimed at streamlining an increasingly costly system that allows some people to retire as early as their 50s. But it has unleashed 51 days of strikes, and new protests in Paris and other cities Friday , by unions who see it as an attack on hard-won worker rights, and on France's way of life.

Macron's government struggled Friday to sell the plan to a skeptical public after the Cabinet approved two bills aimed at enshrining the changes.

As the Cabinet met in the Elysee presidential palace, protesters marched along the Seine River past the nearby Louvre Museum, demanding that the government scrap the plan altogether.

Travelers faced renewed disruptions on regional trains and the Paris subway, and some schools and other public services also faced walkouts. The Eiffel Tower closed, and the Versailles chateau and Louvre Museum warned visitors of potential disruptions.

FRANCE-BITCOIN FRAUD

France charges bitcoin expert Vinnik with money laundering

PARIS (AP) — French officials have filed preliminary charges of money laundering and extortion against Russian bitcoin fraud suspect Alexander Vinnik, who is tangled in a multi-country legal battle.

The United States also wants to prosecute Vinnik, accusing him of laundering billions of dollars through BTC-e, one of the world's largest digital currency exchanges. His native Russia also wants to put him on trial.

Vinnik was arrested in the summer of 2017 while on a family holiday in northern Greece, at the request of U.S. authorities. He says he acted as a technical consultant to the BTC-e platform and had no knowledge of any illegal activity.

After a two-year legal tug-of-war, Vinnik was extradited from Greece to France on Thursday. He was immediately questioned by investigating judges, who handed him preliminary charges of extortion, money laundering and organized crime activity, according to a French judicial official.

Vinnik denies wrongdoing, and was on hunger strike for 35 days to protest his extradition to France. He wanted to go to Russia instead, where he faces lesser charges.

DOT ORG-DOMAIN NAMES

Nonprofits worry sale of dot-org universe will raise costs

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The company that controls the dot-org online universe is putting the registry of domain names up for sale, and the nonprofits that often use the suffix in their websites are raising concerns about the move.

Nonprofit organizations and some tech activists plan to protest Friday outside the Los Angeles headquarters of the regulatory body for domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is meeting this weekend and is expected to rule by mid-February on plans by private-equity firm Ethos Capital to buy the Public Interest Registry for $1.1 billion.

Opponents are concerned the cost of registering a dot-org website will skyrocket, and they worry about the potential loss of freedoms of speech and expression if the registry is in the wrong hands.

Ethos Capital and the Internet Society, which runs the registry now, said those concerns are misplaced and the sale is being misunderstood.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

The Associated Press

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