Business Highlights

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3.3 million seek US jobless aid, nearly 5 times earlier high

WASHINGTON (AP) — A record-high number of people applied for unemployment benefits last week as layoffs engulfed the United States in the face of a near-total economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus. The surge in weekly applications for benefits far exceeded the previous record set in 1982. Layoffs are sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into what most economists expect to be deep and painful recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have closed factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they're forced to cut jobs to save money.

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Congress' relief bill would vastly expand unemployment aid

NEW YORK (AP) — A vast expansion of unemployment benefits for millions of Americans who will lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus outbreak is included in the financial relief package that is nearing final approval in Congress. The $2.2 trillion package will, for four months, add $600 a week to standard unemployment benefits, which vary by state. It also provides funding for states to let people collect their payments immediately, eliminating a one-week waiting period. And it adds 13 weeks of coverage for people who have exhausted their existing jobless benefits.

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Stocks surge again after relief bill passed; indexes up 6%

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks surged again on Wall Street as a massive coronavirus relief bill moved closer to passing Congress. Major indexes jumped more than 6%, bringing the S&P 500 up 17% since Monday. The astonishing rally came even as the massive scale of the downturn slamming the economy becomes more apparent. Nearly 3.3 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week, shattering the record set in 1982. The S&P 500 remains 22% below its February high and analysts expect more dire economic headlines in the days ahead. The rescue bill cleared the Senate late Wednesday and is headed for a House vote Friday.

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Many businesses cautious about restarting economy amid virus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — President Donald Trump has called the country to open for business by mid-April, but some experts warn it's not as easy as flipping a switch: Economies run on confidence, and that is likely to be in short supply for as long as coronavirus cases in the United States are still rising. Many public health experts have warned that the current restrictions should only be lifted gradually. They expect efforts to curb the disease will continue for several months at least. But many businesses are wary of reopening too soon. They are worried that could be seen as irresponsible. And even if they did reopen, would customers come if the virus isn't under control?

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What's in store: Groceries installing barriers amid outbreak

QUINCY, Mass. (AP) — Grocery stores across the U.S. are installing protective plastic shields at checkouts to help keep cashiers and shoppers from infecting one another with the coronavirus. The see-through barriers are going up this week at supermarket chains including Stop & Shop, Giant Eagle, Kroger, Walmart and Publix. Grocers say they're trying to protect employees and consumers, since bagging and paying for food takes place well within the minimum 6-foot distance public health experts are urging people to maintain. Some grocery stores in France also installed similar barriers last week when that country went into lockdown.

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Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda, Toyota seek to restart factories

DETROIT (AP) — Ford, Fiat Chrysler, Honda and Toyota took steps Thursday to restart North American factories that have been closed to protect workers from the coronavirus. The plants would reopen in early or mid-April, restoring the largest source of cash for automakers that generally book revenue when they ship vehicles to dealerships.Auto companies, like other businesses, are trying to manage their way through the coronavirus crisis, which has forced factories to close amid employee concerns that they could catch the virus while working close to others at factory work stations.

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In drastic move, Italy shuts most factories to halt virus

SOAVE, Italy (AP) — Italy has become the first western developed nation to idle most of its industry to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The move is a potential cautionary tale for other governments, such as the Trump administration, that are resisting such drastic measures. After more than two weeks of a nationwide lockdown, the Italian government decided to expand the mandatory closure of nonessential commercial activities to heavy industry. Italy's decision is more in line with draconian measures taken by China than with declarations coming out of other democratic partners, who are at least a week or two behind Italy’s rate of virus infections.

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'Not forgotten': UK unveils big new scheme for self-employed

LONDON (AP) — The British government unveiled another massive income support scheme on Thursday, this time for the 5 million-or-so self-employed people, many of whom face financial ruin from the shock of the coronavirus pandemic. Treasury chief Rishi Sunak said the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme will replicate the one he announced last week for workers that firms retain rather than lay off. However, the money to the self-employed won't be paid out until June, a delay that's prompted concerns about how many will make ends meet in the intervening period.

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The S&P 500 index ended up 154.51 points, or 6.2%, to 2,630.07. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 1,351.62 points, or 6.4%, to 22,552.17. The Nasdaq gained 413.24 points, or 5.6%, to 7,797.54. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks gained 69.95 points, or 6.3% to 1,180.32