Asian stocks mixed after Wall Street slide, ruble turmoil
BEIJING (AP) — Asian stocks are mixed Wednesday after Wall Street slid and oil prices tumbled and investors wait for a U.S. Federal Reserve statement on monetary policy.
The ruble dropped 20 percent under pressure from lower oil prices and Western sanctions over Moscow’s conflict with Ukraine. That was despite a decision by Russia’s central bank to hike its benchmark interest rate to support the ruble. That’s prompted Carl Weinberg of High Frequency Economics to declare: “The end is near for Russia’s economic and financial stability.” Weinberg warns foreign creditors might face a wave of defaults by Russian borrowers.
Meanwhile, the fall in oil prices resumes. Benchmark U.S. crude is down more than $1, trading below $55 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained 2 cents on Tuesday, settling a $55.93.
The Dow lost 112 points Tuesday, closing at 17,068.87. The S&P 500 dropped nearly 17 points, or 0.9 percent, to 1,972.74. And the Nasdaq composite fell 57, or 1.2 percent, to 4,547.83.
Major business and economic events scheduled for Wednesday
WASHINGTON (AP) — The government will have something to say about trade data, prices and interest rates today.
This morning, the Labor Department releases Consumer Price Index for November, while the Commerce Department announces the current account trade deficit for the third quarter.
This afternoon, Federal Reserve policymakers are to release a statement on interest rates. Analysts are expecting they will drop a promise to keep interest rates low for a “considerable time,” though they are not expected to make an immediate change in monetary policy. The Fed has said monetary policy will return to normal sometime next year following its history-making stimulus in the aftermath of the 2008 global crisis.
FedEx Corp. reports quarterly financial results before the market opens.
Obama signs $1.1 trillion spending bill into law
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama has signed a massive $1.1 trillion spending bill that keeps the government operating over the next nine months.
The legislation was a bipartisan compromise that angered liberals and conservatives alike but avoided a government shutdown and put off partisan clashes over immigration to next year.
Ensuring a debate over immigration, though, the legislation only finances the Homeland Security Department until Feb. 27.
The bill was one of the last acts of Congress under the current Republican House and Democratic-controlled Senate. In January, the new Congress will return with Republicans in charge of both chambers.
The spending bill retains cuts negotiated in previous budget battles and rolls back some banking regulations. But it retains spending for Obama’s health care law and pays for the administration’s fight against Ebola.
Sony tells theaters they don’t have to show ‘The Interview’
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Sony Pictures Entertainment reportedly is telling theater owners that they can cancel their plans to show “The Interview.”
The decision to debut the film on Dec. 25 is now with individual theater chains.
The development comes just hours after hackers issued threats against theatergoers and patrons of the comedy about an assassination attempt against North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The hackers urged audiences to stay away from venues showing the movie, invoking the memory of September 11, 2001.
The Department of Homeland Security has said that there is no credible intelligence to indicate a threat.
US to press for more market access in China talks
CHICAGO (AP) — U.S. trade officials will press China to allow greater market access for American goods and services during meetings this week in Chicago.
Talks with a Chinese delegation run through Thursday.
It’s the first time that the annual meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade is being held in Chicago.
Participants will try to make progress on an investment treaty that the two countries have been negotiating.
U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman says key topics include protection of intellectual property and trade secrets as well as ensuring there’s a level playing field for U.S. companies in China.
American companies say a treaty would help make operating conditions in China’s state-dominated economy clearer and more predictable.
Trade between the two countries totaled $617 billion last year.
APPLE-CLOSING SHOP IN RUSSIA
Apple stops sales in Russia, citing unstable ruble
CUPERTINO, Calif. (AP) — Apple has halted online sales of its iPhones, iPads and other products in Russia amid financial turmoil triggered by the steep decline in the country’s currency.
The ruble plunged by as much as 20 percent Tuesday, even after Russia’s central bank increased interest rates sharply in an attempt to shore up the currency. The ruble’s value has fallen by more than 60 percent since January. Its decline has coincided with a dramatic decrease in the price of oil, a pillar of Russia’s economy.
Cupertino, California-based Apple said Tuesday that the ruble’s instability has made it too difficult to set its prices in Russia, prompting the closure of its online store there.
Keystone pipeline to top Senate agenda next year
WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says approving the Keystone XL pipeline will top the Senate agenda in January. The issue could set up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
Congressional Republicans have been pushing for approval of the pipeline for years. Obama has resisted because of environmental concerns.
The pipeline would carry tar sands oil from Canada into the United States and eventually to the Texas Gulf Coast.
The Republican-led House has repeatedly passed legislation approving the pipeline. But the bills have died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Republicans will take control of the Senate in January, and McConnell said approving the pipeline will be the first issue on the agenda.
McConnell said the pipeline would create jobs.
ALASKA OFFSHORE DRILLING
Obama withdraws Alaska’s Bristol Bay from drilling
ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — President Barack Obama is withdrawing Alaska’s Bristol Bay from consideration for oil and gas drilling.
The decision announced Tuesday under the federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act means no leases will be sold for petroleum drilling in the area. The bay provides 40 percent of America’s wild seafood and supports up to $2 billion in commercial fishing every year.
Obama says in a video announcement that the natural resource is too precious to be put out to the highest bidder.
Bristol Bay is north of the Alaska Peninsula, which juts out west from mainland Alaska at the start of the Aleutian Islands chain.
Alaska’s Republican U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, says the petroleum industry hasn’t shown interest in the region and she’s not objecting to the president’s decision at this time.
Surge in health law sign-ups
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration says sign-ups under the president’s health care law surged last week, driven by a deadline for Jan. 1 coverage.
Health and Human Services officials say more than 1 million people picked a plan from Dec. 6 through Dec. 12, bringing the total to nearly 2.5 million.
Those numbers are partial, covering 37 states served by HealthCare.gov. Statistics for states running their own websites will be reported later.
Sign-up season runs through Feb. 15, but Monday was the deadline to pick a new plan, or switch existing coverage, in time for the start of 2015.
Although HealthCare.gov is working far better, the federal call center experienced long wait times.
$151m verdict over Wal-Mart workers’ breaks upheld
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Pennsylvania’s highest court is upholding a $151 million verdict in favor of employees at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club who say they were forced to work through their breaks.
The Philadelphia Inquirer says Monday’s decision affects 187,000 people who worked for Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart Stores Inc. between 1998 and 2006.
Wal-Mart says it thinks the case should not have been a class action lawsuit and it’s considering a federal appeal.
The lawsuit involved employees being off the time clock when they were supposed to be on break or being forced to skip breaks.
Wal-Mart argued it was subject to “trial by formula.” But a lawyer for the employees says individual pay records were analyzed and summarized.
The justices sent the case back to a Philadelphia judge to recalculate attorneys’ fees.
CALORIES ON MENUS-ALCOHOL
Menus will sport new calorie labels for alcohol
WASHINGTON (AP) — Restaurant drinkers who don’t want to know how many calories are in their margarita or craft beer will have a way out: Avoid the menu and order at the bar.
New menu labeling rules from the Food and Drug Administration will require chain restaurants with 20 or more outlets to list calories in alcoholic drinks on menus by next November.
But the rules don’t apply to drinks ordered at the bar or any drinks that aren’t listed on the main menu. And unlike other beverages and foods, most bottles and cans don’t have to list full nutritional information.
After years of lobbying for more nutritional information on alcoholic beverages, public health advocates say the menu labeling rules are a first step.
McDonald’s in Japan limits orders of fries
TOKYO (AP) — Only small fries with that?
McDonald’s in Japan has begun limiting the serving size of fries. It says prolonged labor negotiations with port workers on the West Coast have made it difficult to meet demand despite an emergency airlift of 1,000 tons of potatoes and another extra shipment by sea.
Japanese consume more than 300,000 tons of french fries a year, mostly at fast-food restaurants, and largely made from imports of frozen, processed potatoes. Domestic production has been declining for years, while imports have risen.
McDonald’s has 3,100 outlets in Japan. It also cut prices for set meals to compensate for including only small fries.