Amid the protests, Europe limited itself to curbing high energy prices
MADRID — European governments are cutting fuel taxes and spending tens of billions to help consumers, truckers, farmers and others cope with soaring energy prices, made worse by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But for some truckers, fishermen and others whose livelihoods depend on fuel, the measures aren’t enough. They have staged protests to urge politicians to ease their financial pains. The war has exacerbated a months-long energy crisis in Europe, and governments have limited ability to provide lasting relief as homes and businesses face crippling energy bills, high prices at the pump and other repercussions. Volatile energy markets control natural gas and oil prices, which skyrocket and drive record inflation.
• • • •
Pandemic relief funds spent on hotels, baseball fields and ski slopes
WASHINGTON — A review by the Associated Press finds that state and local governments have spent nearly $1 billion worth of federal coronavirus aid on projects that have little to do with fighting the pandemic. The issues go the scale. In Broward County, Florida, $140 million will go towards building an upscale hotel. A $12 million renovation of a minor-league stadium is being used in Dutchess County, New York. Alabama plans to spend $400 million to build new prisons. When congressional Democrats passed their $1.9 trillion American bailout plan a year ago, they described it as “emergency funding” that would keep frontline workers on the job, open schools and boost vaccinations.
• • • •
The IRS unit receives no funds to enforce sanctions against rich Russians
WASHINGTON — The criminal investigation arm of the IRS tasked with searching for the property of sanctioned Russian oligarchs has not received a cash injection in the Ukraine aid package. This appears to be due to a general reluctance among Republicans to put more money into IRS enforcement actions. Republicans close to the spending bill negotiations said the IRS’s job should be to administer and enforce U.S. tax law, not enforce sanctions. The White House requested $30 million to trace financial activity related to sanctioned individuals. Many of the sanctions imposed on Russia’s elite and its central bank are administered by the US Treasury Department and its various enforcement agencies, including those of the IRS.
• • • •
The US plan aims to end racial and ethnic bias in home valuations
Vice President Kamala Harris has announced a plan to end racial and ethnic discrimination in home valuations. The plan is part of a broader federal effort to close a wealth gap perpetuated by systemic inequality. Among the plan’s 21 steps is a proposed law to modernize the governance structure of the reviews industry. Appraisers help determine the value of a home so buyers can obtain a mortgage. Analysis by mortgage buyer Freddie Mac shows appraisers tend to undervalue homes in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. This form of discrimination widens the racial wealth gap.
• • • •
Stocks fall on Wall Street as crude oil prices rebound
NEW YORK — Stocks on Wall Street ended lower on Wednesday, giving up almost all of the gains they had made a day earlier as crude oil prices rose sharply again. The S&P 500 lost 1.2%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.3% and the Nasdaq fell 1.3%. Technology, healthcare and financials were among the biggest losers. Retailers and communications companies also lost ground. Energy stocks rose in tandem with crude oil prices. Bond yields fell. US President Joe Biden traveled to Europe on Thursday for an emergency NATO meeting where sanctions and the Russian oil embargo are likely to top the agenda.
• • • •
Powell: Digital currencies will require new regulations
WASHINGTON – Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that new forms of digital money, such as cryptocurrencies and stablecoins, will pose risks to the US financial system and will require new rules to protect consumers. Powell, speaking at a panel organized by the Bank for International Settlements, a global organization of central bankers, also said new technology is likely to make electronic payments cheaper and faster. But they could also destabilize existing financial institutions, he said.
• • • •
Putin wants “unfriendly countries” to pay rubles for gas
MOSCOW – President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia will require “unfriendly” countries to pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles from now on. At a meeting with government officials on Wednesday, Putin said that “a number of Western countries have taken unlawful decisions on the so-called freezing of Russian assets, effectively imposing a line on the reliability of their currencies and undermining trust in those currencies.” Economists said the move appears designed to prop up the ruble, which has collapsed against other currencies since Putin invaded Ukraine and western countries responded with sweeping sanctions against Russia. But some expressed doubts that it would work.
• • • •
Outdoor trade fair moves to Utah despite boycott threats
DENVER – The Outdoor Retailer trade show has announced it will be relocating from Denver back to Salt Lake City next year, despite threats from boycotts from big-name leisure companies and an environmental group. The biannual show moved to Denver in 2018 after Utah lawmakers asked President Donald Trump to overturn the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument. Two dozen outdoor recreation companies, including Patagonia, REI and The North Face, as well as The Conservation Alliance have threatened to boycott the show if it returns to Salt Lake City. But the owner of Outdoor Retailer says he can better fight to protect public lands in front of the event’s longtime former home in Utah.
• • • •
The S&P 500 lost 55.37 points, or 1.2%, to 4,456.24. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 448.96 points, or 1.3%, to 34,358.50. The Nasdaq lost 186.21 points, or 1.3%, to 13,922.60. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies declined 36.14 points, or 1.7%, to 2,052.21.