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Update on the latest in business:

Posted September 12

FINANCIAL MARKETS

Asia stocks mostly rise as Irma and North Korea worries fade

Asian shares were mostly higher today, encouraged by optimism on Wall Street as Hurricane Irma weakened and made way for recovery efforts and a North Korean holiday passed without new missile launches.

Irma wreaked havoc along the entire Florida peninsula and was still dropping rain and causing power outages and some damage around the Southeast. But the storm had weakened considerably from its peak, relieving investors' worries. Insurers and travel companies did well in U.S. markets Monday, while home improvement stocks declined on expectations of less business from storm repairs.

Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea have been on investors' minds recently, but North Koreans observed the 69th anniversary of the country's founding, without testing another intercontinental ballistic missile, as South Korea's government had warned it might.

On Wall Street yesterday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index made its biggest gain since late April as it rose 26.68 points, or 1.1 percent, to finish at a record high of 2,488.11. The Dow Jones industrial average gained 259.58 points, or 1.2 percent, to 22,057.37. That wiped out a month of losses linked to international tensions as well as worries about the lingering effects of recent hurricanes.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil slipped to just above $48 a barrel.

The dollar gained against the yen aqnd the euro.

FOXCONN PLANT

Wisconsin set to approve $3 billion for Foxconn

The Wisconsin Senate is poised today to approve nearly $3 billion in cash payments for Taiwan-based Foxconn Technology Group, an unprecedented incentive package for the electronics company to locate a flat-screen factory in the state.

The proposed subsidy would be the largest ever from a U.S. state to a foreign company and 10 times bigger than anything Wisconsin has extended to a private business. It would take at least 25 years for Wisconsin to see a return on its investment, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated.

Foxconn would receive $2.85 billion in cash payments over 15 years if it invests $10 billion in the state and employs 13,000 people. It could also qualify for $150 million in sales tax exemptions for construction equipment.

The Assembly, which like the Senate is firmly in GOP control, takes a final vote Thursday. The bill then goes to Gov. Scott Walker, who led negotiations on the deal and has a deadline to sign a bill by the end of the month.

Critics, including Democrats who don't have the votes to stop it, say state taxpayers are giving up too much. They also question whether the state economic development agency, which has had trouble tracking much smaller projects, will be able to properly verify that the required investments are made and jobs created.

SKOREA-SAMSUNG-FOLDABLE PHONE

Samsung says it aims to launch foldable smartphone next year

Samsung Electronics Co. says it aims to launch a foldable smartphone next year under its Galaxy Note brand.

Koh Dong-jin, president of mobile business at Samsung Electronics, said the company is setting its eyes on 2018 to release a smartphone with a bendable display but there are several hurdles it has to overcome.

He did not elaborate. Analysts said mass-producing a foldable phone with top tech features and a thin body will take time.

When Samsung will release its first foldable phone has been a perennial question in the market since Samsung first showcased a flexible display prototype called Youm in 2013. For at least the past two years, there have been rumors that Samsung is close to showing off its first smartphones that can be folded.

Koh also said the company is working with auto-systems maker Harman to develop an artificial intelligence-enabled speaker that users can speak to play music and conduct other tasks. He did not say when it will hit the market. Samsung acquired the Stamford, Connecticut-based company at the end of last year as part of its plans to expand in the emerging market for connected cars.

The comments were made at Samsung's news conference to announce the Galaxy Note 8 smartphone to domestic media, just hours before Apple announces its 10th-anniversary iPhone models.

BRITAIN-BREXIT

UK lawmakers back key Brexit bill, but fight still looms

British lawmakers voted a key Brexit bill past its first big hurdle in Parliament early today. But many legislators branded the bill a government power grab, and vowed to change it before it becomes law.

After a debate that stretched past midnight, the House of Commons backed the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill by a vote of 326 to 290. That means lawmakers approve the bill in principle, but the government will now face attempts to amend it before a final vote later this year.

A key plank in the Conservative government's Brexit plans, the bill aims to convert thousands of EU laws and regulations into U.K. domestic laws on the day Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the measure provides "certainty and clarity" ahead of the divorce. Brexit Secretary David Davis said that without it, the U.K. faces "a chaotic exit from the European Union."

But the opposition says it would give the government dangerous new powers to amend laws without parliamentary scrutiny.

COAL PLANTS-POLLUTION RULES

Trump administration halts pollution controls at Utah plants

An appeals court granted a request Monday from President Donald Trump's administration to halt a plan for new pollution controls at Utah's oldest coal-fired power plants aimed at reducing haze near national parks.

The development marks a reversal for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which last year under Barack Obama unveiled the rules and defended itself in a lawsuit brought by Utah and Rocky Mountain Power.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals approved EPA administrator Scott Pruitt's request to halt that lawsuit while his agency revises a plan that called for new equipment to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions at two coal plants in Emery County.

Environmental and clean air groups expressed dismay over the decision Monday that they say rejects EPA's own research that showed the plan would have cut down haze near eastern Utah's Arches and Canyonlands national parks, in addition to other conservation and wilderness areas.

The move by the EPA wasn't a surprise. While visiting Salt Lake City and meeting with Republican Gov. Gary Herbert in July, Pruitt said his agency was reconsidering the plan.

The move is part of a troubling nationwide rollback of key environmental protections by the Trump administration, said Michael Shea, a senior policy associate with the clean air group HEAL Utah.

IRMA-FLIGHT CANCELLATIONS

Flight cancellations mount as Irma pushes north from Florida

Airports up and down Florida remained closed Monday and flight cancellations moved north along with Tropical Storm Irma.

More than 4,200 U.S. flights scheduled for Monday were canceled by mid-afternoon — and more than 9,000 since Saturday — according to tracking service FlightAware.

Still, Irma weakened from a hurricane to a tropical storm and did not cause as much damage in Florida as some forecasters had feared. Airline stocks rose, led by American Airlines, which has a huge base in Miami.

American had planned to restart in Miami on Monday but pushed service back until Tuesday. Spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline had to wait for approval to fly from federal aviation officials, and until security screeners and airport vendors could return to work.

Spokesman Greg Chin said terminal buildings at Miami International Airport suffered significant water damage, and ceiling tiles at gate areas fell down throughout the airport.

HURRICANES-ECONOMY

Harvey and Irma to slow US growth but rebound should follow

With businesses disrupted, fuel and chemical refineries out of commission and consumers struggling to restore their lives, Hurricanes Harvey and Irma will likely pack a tough double-whammy for the U.S. economy.

Nearly one-fifth of the nation's oil refining capacity has been shut down because of Harvey, and fuel production has dropped sharply as a result, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Consumers will also spend less in the immediate aftermath of the storms. Even those ready to make purchases will face closed storefronts and dark restaurants.

Irma will cause tourists to delay — and in many cases never take — trips to Florida's beaches or Disney World. Chemical refineries have also been closed, reducing the production of plastics.

While the economic toll pales beside the human costs, analysts estimate that the nation's annualized growth rate will be one-half to one full percentage point slower in the July-September quarter than it would otherwise have been.

APPLE-ESCALATING PHONE PRICES

Apple may test the bounds of iPhone love

Apple is expected to sell its fanciest iPhone yet for $1,000. If so, that would take the company into a new financial frontier that will test how much consumers are willing to pay for a device that's become an indispensable part of modern life.

The unveiling of a dramatically redesigned iPhone will likely be the marquee moment Tuesday when Apple hosts its first product event at its new spaceship-like headquarters in Cupertino, California. True to its secretive ways, Apple won't confirm that it will be introducing a new iPhone, though a financial forecast issued last month telegraphed something significant is in the pipeline.

In addition to several new features, a souped-up "anniversary" iPhone — coming a decade after Apple's late co-founder Steve Jobs unveiled the first version — could also debut at an attention-getting $999 price tag, twice what the original iPhone cost. It would set a new price threshold for any smartphone intended to appeal to a mass market.

EQUIFAX-CUSTOMERS

Getting up to speed on the Equifax data breach scandal

Still dealing with the exposure of vital data about 143 million Americans, Equifax is trying to clarify language about people's right to sue. The company said Monday that it has made other changes to address customer complaints.

The company is trying to staff up its call centers more in order to handle the increased customer service calls. It also now says people will get randomly generated PINs when they try to put a security freeze in place. People had complained about PINs being based on the time and date requests were made.

Equifax also acknowledged that its language particularly over the right to sue has been confusing at best, and said it was removing that language from their website. The company said that "enrolling in the free credit file monitoring and identity theft protection that we are offering as part of this cybersecurity incident does not waive any rights to take legal action."

Some lawyers have already announced suits that they hope will be class-action cases.

ALASKA NEWSPAPER-BANKRUPTCY

Judge to decide fate of Alaska's largest newspaper

The fate of Alaska's largest daily newspaper will be determined by a federal bankruptcy judge.

Judge Gary Spraker heard testimony Monday in the bankruptcy filing of the Alaska Dispatch News.

A bid of $1 million was submitted by Alaska businessmen to take over the Anchorage newspaper, but there's a long list of creditors involving about $12.5 million in debt.

If the sale is not approved, the paper could fold and sell of its assets. There were no other bidders.

Alice Rogoff purchased the Anchorage Daily News and its building from The McClatchy Co. in 2014 for $34 million. In August, she filed for bankruptcy protection with the newspaper losing about $500,000 a month.

Rogoff testified Monday and was asked if she thought the $1 million sale price was fair. She said no, but that was the only offer she received

BRAZIL-STOCK INDEX

Key Brazil stock market index closes at all-time high

Brazil's main stock market index has closed at an all-time high, an indication that investors feel the worst days of the country's economic slide are over.

Sao Paulo's Bovespa index rose 1.7 percent to 74,319 on Monday. The previous record of 73,516 came May 20, 2008, when Brazil's economy was booming.

So far this year, Bovespa has climbed 23.4 percent despite political turmoil surrounding unpopular President Michel Temer and his key allies.

Bovespa's rise was fueled in part by Temer getting Congress to approve a loosening of work rules and his surviving a corruption allegation that could have suspended him from office.

Stock prices also were boosted when former left-of-center President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was convicted of corruption and became less likely to run for office next year.

BIKINI BARISTAS-LAWSUIT

Bikini baristas sue Washington city over dress code law

Seven bikini baristas and the owner of a chain of the coffee stands called "Hillbilly Hotties" sued the city of Everett, Washington, on Monday, saying two recently passed ordinances banning bare skin violate their right to free expression.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, says the ordinances passed by the Everett City Council deny bikini-stand employees the ability to communicate through their attire, are vague and confusing, and unlawfully target women.

The lawsuit said: "Just like Starbucks with green aprons, UPS with brown trucks and outfits, and Hooter's with short-orange shorts, the baristas' attire evokes a message at work." It said such messages include "freedom, empowerment, openness, acceptance, approachability, vulnerability and individuality."

One of Everett's new laws requires the workers to wear a minimum of tank tops and shorts. It specifically applies to employees at "quick service" restaurants, which also include fast food and food trucks.

IDENTITY THEFT-FIXING THE PROBLEM

More than 15 million Americans victims of ID fraud last year

More than 15 million Americans were victims of ID fraud last year, a record high. An annual survey by Javelin Strategy & Research says fraudsters stole about $16 billion. The theft of personal information can turn peoples' lives inside out, damage their finances, eat away at their time and cause tremendous anxiety and emotional distress.

The Equifax attack was particularly damaging. Intruders made off with precisely the information needed to pose as ordinary citizens and defraud them — and did so with data for roughly 44 percent of the U.S. population.

Experts have warned for years that the widespread use of Social Security numbers, lax corporate security and even looser individual password practices could lead to an identity-theft apocalypse.

EXXON SETTLEMENT

Environmental groups, senator challenge $225M Exxon deal

Four environmental organizations and a Democratic state senator have told a federal appeals court that New Jersey's $225 million settlement with Exxon Mobil short-changed the public.

State Sen. Ray Lesniak and an attorney for the environmental groups continued their yearslong push to intervene in New Jersey's settlement with the Texas petroleum company on Monday. They argued before a three-judge appeals court in Trenton that the trial judge was wrong to deny them the ability to intervene in the 2015 settlement.

The state's legal fight against Exxon goes back to 2004, when New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection brought a suit against Exxon over decades of pollution at two oil refineries in Bayonne and Linden. A months-long trial was about to result in trial Judge Michael Hogan's decision when Republican Gov. Chris Christie's administration and Exxon announced the settlement.

TESLA CRASH

Tesla driver's family doesn't blame car for his death

The family of a man who died when his Tesla sedan struck a tractor-trailer says it doesn't blame the car or its partially self-driving Autopilot system for his death.

Joshua Brown's family released the statement Monday, the day before the National Transportation Safety Board is scheduled to decide the cause of the crash.

The 40-year-old Brown, 40, died May 7, 2016, in Williston, Florida, after a tractor-trailer turned in front of him. He was using Autopilot, which should brake automatically if it senses an impending collision.

Brown's family says he loved his Model S and understood Autopilot's limitations. They believe Brown and his car simply failed to see the truck in the moment before the crash.

Brown's family says Tesla also has made "significant improvements" in its software because of the accident.

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