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Business

    The repercussions from the demise of Toys R Us have begun to ripple outward beginning with Hasbro, which is reporting a loss and plunging revenue in its first quarter. The toy maker swung to a loss of $112.5 million, or 90 cents per share. Per-share earnings, adjusted for one-time costs, were 10 cents, less than a third of the 31 cents per share that Wall Street expected, according to a poll by Zacks Investment Research. Revenue tumbled to $716.3 million, well below projections from industry analysts for $824.7 million. Shares of Hasbro Inc. slid 6 percent before the opening bell Monday. Mattel Inc. fell 6 percent. _____ This story was generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on HAS at https://www.zacks.com/ap/HAS
  • A personal finance expert is suing Facebook at Britain's High Court, claiming the social media company is allowing the publication of scam ads featuring his name. Martin Lewis, who founded the MoneySavingExpert website, says his name has appeared on more than 50 advertisements in the last year, many of them get-rich-quick scams to con people. Lewis says 'it's affecting my reputation, but more importantly it is affecting real people who are handing over money in good faith while the scammers are raking in the cash.' Lewis's lawyer is lodging court papers for defamation Monday in a bid to make the social media company change its procedures. Facebook says it does not allow 'misleading or false' advertisements, and will remove any that are reported to the company.
  • Greece has beaten its bailout budget targets for a third successive year and eased its massive debt burden by a fraction as the country prepares to exit its international rescue program in four months. The country's independent statistics agency on Monday reported long-awaited data for 2017 that will affect ongoing negotiations between Athens and creditors on the terms of Greece's exit. The agency reported that the 2017 primary budget surplus — the balance before debt repayment is included— stood at 4 percent, while the national debt stood at 178.6 percent of gross domestic product, down from 180.8 the previous year. Economic output was 177.7 billion euros ($218 billion), confirming a return to growth, but still almost a billion euros lower that annual output in 2014.
  • Amsterdam police have arrested an Icelandic fugitive suspected of masterminding the theft of hundreds of computers used to mine bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Police spokesman Rob van der Veen confirmed Monday that Sindri Thor Stefansson was arrested Sunday night in downtown Amsterdam. He declined to give further details, saying that prosecutors will now work on Stefansson's extradition. Stefansson fled a low-security prison last Tuesday and flew to Sweden. Icelandic officials said it was unlikely that Stefansson had to show a passport at the airport since he traveled within Europe's passport-free travel zone but the plane ticket he used was under someone else's name. Stefansson was among 11 people arrested for allegedly stealing the computers in a series of burglaries in December and January.
  • Robots that can weld, lift and bolt are being developed to help bridge labor shortages at Japanese construction sites, though their use will be limited to night shifts when no human workers will be nearby due to safety and regulatory concerns. Major Japanese construction company Shimizu Corp. showed off several robots Monday, including one already in use at construction sites that picked up a big pile of boards and took them into an elevator. The Robo-Welder and Robo-Buddy, with twisting and turning mechanical arms, will be deployed at construction sites later this year, the company said. Japan's construction sector is booming but contractors are struggling to fill labor shortages — a problem playing out in other parts of the world, including the U.S. The robots demonstrated at a Shimizu test facility in Tokyo can reduce the number of workers needed for each of the tasks they carried out to about a third or a fourth of what's required today. But construction work is so varied, delicate and complex that the robots are able to handle just 1 percent of overall construction work, according to Masahiro Indo, Shimizu's managing executive officer, who oversees construction technology. Trying to raise that to even 10 percent is a major challenge and might be too costly, he said. Robotics are common in manufacturing sites, such as auto plants, but those machines are stationery and carrying out the same task over and over, often in sterile and enclosed environments. Robots used in construction sites have to move around. Although much of what they may do is repetitive, they still have to respond to uneven floors and zigzagging routes, depending on a building's design. Shimizu says it is developing its own artificial intelligence systems, using robots made by Kuka Robotics of Germany. If they work successfully, the robots could help reduce safety risks and long hours for construction workers. Shimizu showed that, in a typical task, a worker must use one arm — and his helmeted head — to hold up a board and hold bolts in his mouth while using his other arm to bolt a board in place using a hand-held machine. Robo-Buddy made that look easy. It used suction cups to pick up a board and sensors to place it exactly where it belonged as a mechanical arm swerved around and bolted the board in, moving from spot to spot. Using robots makes sense in urban construction, where buildings are high-rise and the same work is repeated on each floor. In Japan, where the birth rate has been declining for years, the workforce has also begun to shrink. Many construction workers are older, and contractors are having a hard time attracting young people, Indo said. There were about 3.4 million construction workers in Japan in 2014. That's expected to shrink to 2.2 million by 2025, according to Shimizu Corp. Most work on robotics has focused on entertainment and companion robots, such as SoftBank Corp.'s Pepper and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Kiribo Mini. But officials have made developing robots for other uses a national priority. Toyota also is working on robots that might be used for construction, such as the human-looking T-HR3 and a scooting human-support robot. In the U.S., Construction Robotics has developed a bricklaying robot. Shimizu, which is involved in a number of overseas projects, said it was looking into exporting the robotics technology, but no decision has been made yet. ____ Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama Her work can be found at https://www.apnews.com/search/yuri%20kageyama
  • Global shares were mostly lower Monday following Friday's steep slide in technology shares on Wall Street. Markets had only a muted reaction, if any, to North Korea's announcement that it would stop nuclear and missile testing. KEEPING SCORE: Britain's FTSE 100 was almost unchanged at 7,365.29. Germany's DAX edged 0.1 percent lower to 12,522.34 and the CAC 40 of France declined 0.2 percent to 5,404.24. The future for the S&P 500 lost 0.1 percent and the future for the Dow lost 0.2 percent. ASIA'S DAY: Tokyo's Nikkei 225 fell 0.3 percent to 22,088.04 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.1 percent to 2,474.11. Hong Kong's Hang Seng declined 0.5 percent to 30,254.40 and the Shanghai Composite index dropped 0.1 percent to 3,068.01. Australia's S&P ASX 200 advanced 0.3 percent to 5,886.00. Shares rose in India but fell in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. WALL STREET: Losses in technology, retailers, packaged foods and beverage makers weighed on U.S. stocks Friday, pulling the market lower for a second day in a row. The S&P 500 index fell 0.9 percent to 2,670.14. The Dow Jones industrial average slid 0.8 percent to 24,462.94. The Nasdaq composite lost 1.3 percent to 7,146.13 and the Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks gave up 0.6 percent, to 1,564.12. For every stock that rose on the New York Stock Exchange, two declined, though the indexes finished the week with gains. NORTH KOREA: North Korea's announcement on Saturday to suspend further nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and close its nuclear test site raised hopes in Washington and Seoul for a breakthrough in the upcoming nuclear negotiations. However, the North's statement stopped short of suggesting it would give up its nukes or halt production of missiles. That raises the question of what might come of a meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Friday. ANALYST VIEWPOINT: 'While geopolitical tensions remain bubbling under the surface, rising oil prices and higher U.S. yields suggest investors are likely to deal with increased volatility as a broad range of political, economic and financial events unfolds,' Stephen Innes of OANDA said in a commentary. ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude lost 44 cents to $67.96 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. On Friday it gained 7 cents to settle at $68.40 per barrel. Brent crude, used to price international oils, sagged 39 cents to $73.67 per barrel. CURRENCIES: The dollar rose to 108.19 yen from 107.64 yen on Friday. The euro fell to $1.2233 from $1.2290. The pound slipped to $1.3971 from $1.4001.
  • When will the European Central Bank join the U.S. Federal Reserve and start raising interest rates? This much is clear: It won't be soon. Weaker signals from the economy and worries about a possible trade war between the United State and China have left the top monetary authority for the 19 countries that use the euro in no hurry to start withdrawing its monetary stimulus. And that means the central bank's short-term interest rate benchmark will almost certainly stay at zero well into next year, ensuring low borrowing costs for businesses but miserly returns for savers. Analysts think ECB President Mario Draghi will try to say as little as possible Thursday about when the bank might phase out its 30 billion euros ($37 billion) per month in bond purchases, currently slated to run at least through September. The ECB would only start considering raising rates once the bond-buying is over. The bank's 25-member rate-setting council meets at the bank's skyscraper headquarters in Frankfurt, Germany, to set monetary policy for the 19 countries that are members of the euro currency union. No changes in stimulus settings or interest rates are expected. But Draghi's post-meeting news conference will be closely parsed for clues about the end of the bank's monthly bond purchases — clues that Draghi may not especially care to give right now. The purchases are set to run at least through September but the bank has otherwise left the end date open. Several analysts think the bank will decide only in June or July whether to extend the purchases. 'Our best guess is that Mr Draghi will strike a balance between expressing optimism about the economy, and concern about recent bad news,' said Jack Allen, European economist at Capital Economics. The bank has struggled to raise inflation from the current 1.3 percent annually toward its goal of just under 2 percent. The bond purchases aim to do that by increasing the amount of money in the economy. Extending the bond-purchase stimulus for another few months might not have a huge impact by itself. Its key influence would be on expectations for when the bank might follow the U.S. Federal Reserve and finally start raising rates after years of unprecedented monetary stimulus. That is because the ECB has said it will only raise rates 'well after' the end of the purchases. So a purchase extension, even with a reduced amount of, say, 15 billion euros a month has the effect of pushing the first rate increases even farther into the future. If the purchases cease at the end of this year, that could push a first rate rise from the current record low of zero into mid- or even late 2019. That means continued monetary stimulus the bank considers critical for the economy to keep growing. But more stimulus for longer can also have side effects, such as the risk of inflating some markets, like housing or stocks, and propping up inefficient companies that couldn't survive without ultra-cheap borrowing. Behind the bank's caution: slightly weaker data on industrial production, retail sales and construction suggest the eurozone is going through a period of slightly lower economic growth in the first months of 2018, after a robust increase of 2.5 percent in 2017, the highest in 10 years. Also, Draghi has said that escalating trade tensions could hit business confidence, though the initial impact of steel and aluminum tariffs imposed by U.S. President Donald Trump would be small. An eventual stimulus exit will have wide ranging impacts on markets, business and consumers. The bank must move cautiously to avoid panicking stock markets that have risen thanks to extensive central bank stimulus after the 2008-9 global financial crisis and Great Recession. Rising short term rates would mean more returns for savers, while higher long-term rates would mean greater debt service costs for governments and home buyers. Higher rates could also send bond prices lower; but higher returns on bonds and certificates of deposit over the long term would make them more attractive compared with riskier investments like stocks.
  • The sprawling network funded by the billionaire Koch brothers is having a very good run with President Donald Trump in the White House and Republican control of Congress. Tax cuts are now signed into law. A conservative judge is seated on the Supreme Court. And many governmental regulations, including those on labor and environmental practices, are facing rollbacks. That success is starting to get attention. Democrats are increasingly questioning how far the network's influence extends into the White House, casting the groups' backing by industrialists Charles and David Koch as puppeteers behind Trump's agenda and hoping to rouse their own donors to fight back. The network in turn is ratcheting up its focus on areas where it aligns with Democrats— most notably immigration legislation — and reviving calls for bipartisanship. 'We've come off one of the most successful years in our network's history,' said James Davis, executive vice president of Koch-backed Freedom Partners and a spokesman for the Seminar Network, the broader organization of groups and donors. 'And we're going to turn up the heat on both parties to drive forward.' But there's another outcome, too: Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and other senators recently fired off letters to the administration asking for a detailed accounting of the network's role at various government offices including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The senators name more than a dozen individuals working in the administration with ties to the groups. On Monday, the lawmakers will launch a series of Senate floor speeches turning a spotlight on the influence. 'Americans have a right to know if special interests are unduly influencing public policy decisions that have profound implications for public health, the environment, and the economy,' wrote Whitehouse with Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass.; Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev.; Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; and Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M. The influence of the Koch-backed groups is somewhat surprising. They are an array of organizations and include Americans for Prosperity, Freedom Partners and Concerned Veterans for America, whose donors include some of the wealthy attendees of the twice-a-year Seminar Network conferences. The groups took a pass on donating to Trump's presidential bid. But they have managed to influence policy through several top allies in key jobs sprinkled across the administration. Among those in the Koch orbit with ties to the administration, perhaps the most prominent is Marc Short, the White House director of legislative affairs, who is a past president of Freedom Partners, the network's chamber of commerce-styled group. Short plays a key policy-making role and is a Capitol Hill fixture of legislative battles. The senators mention several others with top policy roles, including Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president. Koch groups have been central to Trump policies Democrats oppose — among them tax cuts for the wealthy, loosening of environmental regulations, and expanding private-sector health care for veterans. Trump's first-year regulatory rollbacks were drafted by one of the Koch-backed groups and became a ready blueprint for action in Congress. The network, however, doesn't just toe the Trump line. On Monday, the group is stepping up its effort to push Congress not to let up on legislating as lawmakers turn to focus instead on campaigning for midterm elections. Two groups in the network are releasing a letter to congressional leaders of both parties, urging them to take up a bipartisan compromise to help young immigrants, known as Dreamers, who have been living in the U.S. illegally since childhood. They want Congress to pass a deal that was on the table earlier this year — a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers and $25 billion for border security. Because most Americans want a solution that would allow the Dreamers to avoid deportation, the group says Trump and Congress should be able to come up with a solution. 'There is no reason to continue to delay action on the Dreamers,' wrote officials from Freedom Partners and the LIBRE Institute, two network groups. 'What are we waiting for?' The group is also pushing Congress to take up criminal justice reform, another issue with bipartisan support that has lagged. Republicans have little appetite to engage on big-ticket items as they struggle to keep control of their majority in the House, and try to pick off Democratic incumbents up for re-election in the Senate from conservative Trump-won states. And Democrats, while saying they are willing to engage with the Koch-backed groups, are at times envious of their operation and eager to pound on their influence, which includes chapters that mimic traditional party apparatus in many battleground states. It doesn't help build bipartisanship when much of the advocacy the Koch groups undertake, unleashing their army of volunteers and spending sums on advertising, ends up going against Democratic senators in Missouri, Wisconsin, North Dakota and others in tough election battles. ___ Follow Lisa Mascaro on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LisaMascaro
  • General Motors said Monday that it has reached a tentative agreement with its South Korean labor union on measures to cut costs and allocate new car models to GM Korea factories. The agreement between GM and its union steers the American carmaker away from filing for bankruptcy protection for its loss-making Korean unit. It also paves the way for support from the Korea Development Bank, which holds a 17 percent stake in GM Korea. The union will vote on the deal later this week. 'Ratification of the tentative agreement is critical to our viability plan and securing support of the Korean government and our shareholders, KDB and GM,' GM Korea CEO Kaher Kazem said in a statement. 'The labor union has demonstrated its commitment and we continue to work with our other key stakeholders to gain their support.' The agreement reached by GM and its union after 14 rounds of negotiations calls for freezing wages and canceling bonuses this year and cutting some benefits. GM will allocate production of new models of sport-utility vehicles to two local factories to stabilize their operations. Those models are 'important new products' with big production volume that will be mostly shipped abroad, Barry Engle, GM's executive vice president told reporters. The GM Korea union did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The labor union shared part of the transcript from the final negotiations on its website where its union chief said that he will not forget how the company unilaterally pressured the workers to make concessions, warning that could be an obstacle in the company's path to recovery. GM shocked South Korea when it announced in February that it plans to close one of four Korean factories in Gunsan by May as part of a broader restructuring plan. Since the shutdown was announced, about 2,600 GM Korea workers, or 16 percent of its 16,000 South Korean workers, have agreed to leave the company in a voluntary severance program including 1,100 employed at Gunsan factory. One of the biggest sticking issues between GM and the union during their protracted negotiations was what to do with 680 Gunsan workers who did not want to leave the company. The two parties agreed to work toward resolving that issue by sending them to other plants and encouraging other workers to voluntarily leave GM. To keep its Korean unit afloat, GM is seeking investment and tax incentives from South Korea's government, which controls the Korea Development Bank. The government will decide on injecting fresh funds into GM Korea after reassessing its finances and outlook. The government said Monday that it respects the agreement between GM and the union. It said it would speed up due diligence under way to find ways to put GM Korea on track for recovery. GM struggled in South Korea as its cars lost popularity in the domestic market and its exports and profit margin fell. Since GM's acquisition of Daewoo Motor Co. in 2002, South Korea has served as an Asian manufacturing hub for GM, mainly producing small and compact cars. But GM's recent restructuring of its overseas businesses, especially its decisions to stop selling mainstream Chevrolet models in Europe, to sell its Opel and to stop selling cars in India, hurt its South Korean unit, which produced cars for the European markets and parts to be sent to emerging countries for assembly.
  • Korean Air Lines said Monday that two daughters of its chairman will resign from their executive positions amid mounting public criticism over the women's behavior and allegations that the family engaged in smuggling. An official at the Korea Customs Service, meanwhile, confirmed that authorities raided the airline's headquarters in Seoul seeking evidence on alleged smuggling and tariff evasion. Chairman Cho Yang-ho announced the resignation of his daughter Hyun-ah, who returned to leadership last month after a four-year hiatus following a 'nut rage' scandal, and her younger sister Hyun-min, who is under investigation for allegedly hurling a cup of water at a business meeting. 'We are deeply sorry for upsetting the public and Korean Air employees with my family's problems,' Cho said in a statement. 'Everything is my fault. I apologize to the public.' Cho said Korean Air will create a new management position to hire a senior manager outside the Cho family member and establish a compliance committee. A former Constitutional Court judge will head the committee to beef up internal oversight, the flag carrier said. Hyun-ah achieved worldwide notoriety after she had an onboard tantrum in 2014 when a first class flight attendant served her nuts in a bag instead of on a dish. Cho was the head of the airline's cabin service at the time. The plane was forced to return to the gate at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport. She was released from jail after South Korea's appeals court suspended her prison term for coercion and obstruction of business. Her sister, who is also known as Emily Cho, oversaw the company's marketing and commercials. She apologized on Facebook for allegedly throwing the cup of water at an ad agency official during a meeting. South Korean media reports have cited anonymous tips from airline employees that the Cho family smuggled foreign goods into South Korea by disguising them as corporate assets. A Korean Air spokesman said the family is fully cooperating with the investigation. The Cho family's troubles angered many South Koreans who resent abuses of power by elite families connected to many of the country's biggest publicly listed businesses. Such family-run conglomerates dominate the South Korean economy. The families and their companies are facing growing pressure for stricter oversight and more transparency in corporate governance.