Highlights: energy prices in Europe, digital currency

Amid protests, Europe restricted in cutting high energy prices

MADRID – European governments are cutting fuel taxes and doling out 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, fishers and others whose livelihoods depend on fuel, the measures are not enough. They staged protests to pressure politicians to ease their financial woes. The war has exacerbated a months-long energy crisis in Europe, and governments have limited options to provide lasting relief as households and businesses face crippling energy bills, high prices at the pump and d other effects. Volatile energy markets control soaring natural gas and oil prices and drive record inflation.

Pandemic relief money spent on hotel, ballpark and ski slopes

WASHINGTON — An Associated Press study finds that state and local governments have spent nearly $1 billion in federal coronavirus aid on projects that have little to do with the fight against the pandemic. Expenses run the gamut. In Broward County, Florida, $140 million will help build an upscale hotel. In Dutchess County, New York, $12 million is being used to renovate a minor league ballpark. Alabama plans to spend $400 million to build new prisons. When congressional Democrats passed their $1.9 trillion U.S. bailout a year ago, they called it “emergency funding” that would keep frontline workers working, open schools and speed up vaccinations.

The tax unit receives no funds to apply the sanctions to the rich Russians

WASHINGTON — The criminal investigative branch of the IRS tasked with tracing the assets of sanctioned Russian oligarchs has not received a cash injection into the Ukraine aid program. This appears to be due to a broader Republican reluctance to pour more money into IRS enforcement actions. Republicans close to the spending bill negotiations said the IRS’s job should be to administer and enforce the US tax code, not impose penalties. The White House requested $30 million to trace financial activities associated with those sanctioned. Many of the sanctions imposed on the Russian elite and its central bank are imposed by the US Treasury Department and its various enforcement agencies, including those of the IRS.

US plan aims to end racial and ethnic bias in home appraisals

Vice President Kamala Harris has announced a plan to end racial and ethnic discrimination in the assessment of home values. The plan is part of a larger federal effort to close a wealth gap that systemic inequality has perpetuated. Among the 21 steps of the plan is a legislative proposal to modernize the governance structure of the appraisal industry. Appraisers help determine the value of a home so buyers can qualify for a mortgage. An analysis by mortgage buyer Freddie Mac shows appraisers are more likely 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 climb again

NEW YORK — Stocks closed lower on Wall Street on Wednesday, returning 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 financial stocks were among the biggest losers. Retailers and communications companies also lost ground. Energy stocks rose along with crude oil prices. Bond yields have fallen. US President Joe Biden traveled to Europe on Thursday for an emergency NATO meeting, where sanctions and the Russian oil embargo are likely to be high on the agenda.

Powell: Digital currencies will require new regulations

WASHINGTON — Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell said Wednesday that new forms of digital currency such as cryptocurrencies and stablecoins pose risks to the U.S. financial system and will require new rules to protect consumers. Powell, speaking at a panel hosted by the Bank for International Settlements, a global organization of central bankers, also said new technologies are likely to make electronic payments cheaper and faster. But they could also destabilize existing financial institutions, he said.

Putin wants ‘hostile countries’ to pay for gas in rubles

MOSCOW — President Vladimir Putin has announced that Russia will now require “hostile” countries to pay for Russian natural gas exports only in rubles. Putin said in a meeting with government officials on Wednesday that “a number of Western countries have taken illegitimate decisions on the so-called freezing of Russian assets, thereby drawing a line on the reliability of their currencies, undermining confidence in these currencies”. Economists said the move appeared designed to try to prop up the rouble, which has slumped 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 Retailer Show Moves to Utah Despite Boycott Threats

DENVER — The Outdoor Retailer Show has announced it will return from Denver to Salt Lake City next year despite boycott threats from major recreation companies and an environmental group. The biannual show moved to Denver in 2018 after Utah lawmakers asked President Donald Trump to repeal the new Bears Ears National Monument. Two dozen outdoor recreation companies, including Patagonia, REI and The North Face, and The Conservation Alliance have threatened to boycott the show if it returns to Salt Lake City. But the Outdoor Retailer owner says he can fight better to protect the public lands of the event’s former longtime home in Utah.

The S&P 500 fell 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 Small Business Index ended down 36.14 points, or 1.7%, at 2,052.21.