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Asia stocks lower after Wall Street gains on recovery hopes

BEIJING (AP) — Major Asian stock markets declined Wednesday after Wall Street gained on hopes for a global economic recovery and Japan's exports sank.

Market benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul retreated.

On Wall Street, the benchmark S&P 500 index rose for a third day, gaining 1.9% after U.S. retail spending was stronger than expected.

Also Tuesday, the Federal Reserve promised to keep its policy ultra-loose to support business activity.

Global stock markets have regained most of this year's losses as investors look ahead to a rebound from the coronavirus pandemic despite rising infections in the United States, Brazil and some other major countries.

Analysts warn the gains might be too big and too fast to be justified by the uncertain economic outlook.

U.S. retail figures showing an 18% gain over the previous month are encouraging but still $50 billion below what might have been expected without the coronavirus, said Rob Carnell of ING in a report.

“We don’t imagine markets will share this nuanced view.” said Carnell. “They will likely make the most of any good news and continue to be dismissive of any bad news.”

The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.3% to 2,921.34 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo retreated 0.7% to 22,414.50. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 0.5% to 24,210.17.

In Seoul, the Kospi shed 0.8% to 2,121.32 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 was off under 0.1% at 5,939.60. New Zealand advanced while Singapore declined.

Adding to the mixed picture, Japan's government reported May exports fell 28.3% from a year earlier in their biggest decline since the 2008 global crisis.

May might mark the low point for Japanese exporters as their major foreign customers begin to emerge from lockdowns, said Marcel Thieliant of Capital Economics in a report.

Financial markets have been underpinned by promises from the Fed and other central banks to inject more money into economies through bond purchases and other steps.

However, many analysts are skeptical about the U.S. stock market’s run since it began climbing after hitting a bottom in late March, down 34% from its record.

Investors have been pushing up shares of companies that would benefit from a reopening economy.

On Tuesday, Nordstrom jumped 12.9% for one of the biggest gains in the S&P 500, leading a group of retailers that stand to benefit if shoppers return to stores.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for July delivery lost 89 cents to $37.49 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract gained $1.26 on Tuesday to settle at $38.38. Brent crude, the benchmark for international prices, shed 70 cents to $40.26 per barrel in London. It rose $1.24 the previous session to $40.96 a barrel.

The dollar declined to 107.23 yen from Tuesday's 107.33 yen. The euro was little-changed at $1.1266.

Nebraska Democrats renounce their Senate pick over comments

OMAHA — The Nebraska Democratic Party called on its U.S. Senate nominee to drop out of the race Tuesday after he was accused of making sexually inappropriate comments in a group text with campaign staffers.

The party announced that its state executive committee voted unanimously on Monday evening to withdraw all of its resources from Chris Janicek’s campaign.

Janicek, the owner of an Omaha cupcake bakery, is challenging Republican Sen. Ben Sasse, who is seeking a second term. Janicek accepted the Democratic nomination a little more than a month ago after winning a seven-candidate primary race, but the odds of winning in November were against him in Republican-dominated Nebraska even before his party withdrew its support.

“Our Democratic Party has no tolerance for sexual harassment,” state Democratic Party Chairwoman Jane Kleeb said in a statement. “Our party will not extend resources or any type of support to any candidate that violates our code of conduct and doesn’t treat men and women with the dignity and respect they deserve.”

Party officials declined to elaborate on Janicek’s exact comments, but in a news release, they said a campaign staff member showed them sexually inappropriate remarks that the candidate made in a group text. They said they demanded that Janicek withdraw as the party’s nominee, which he refused to do.

The campaign staffer, who has since quit, filed a formal complaint with the party alleging that Janicek violated its code of conduct that prohibits sexual harassment.

In a brief phone interview, Janicek said he doesn’t plan to drop out of the race. He alleged that the party was targeting him because he disagreed with its more liberal activists on issues such as abortion rights and gun control, while he has taken a more moderate stance.

“They’re using this as a crutch,” he said.

Janicek didn’t deny that he made an offensive comment, but he said he apologized for it and assumed the matter would be kept private.

Party officials can only replace Janicek on the November general election ballot if he files a request with the Nebraska secretary of state’s office to have his name removed.

If Janicek does withdraw, the party would have a few months to field a replacement. The last day for the secretary of state’s office to certify candidates this year is Sept. 11, 50 days before the general election.

South Heartland positive case rate dips below 1%

The weekly number of laboratory-confirmed positive cases of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, as a percentage of the total number of tests administered has dropped below 1% in the South Heartland Health District.

The South Heartland health department announced Monday night that for the week of June 7-13, it had received test results from 546 COVID-19 lab tests on South Heartland district residents.

Of those 546 tests, just four came back positive, for a “positivity” rate of 0.7%. That rate was down from 2.0% for the week of May 24-30 and 2.1% for May 31-June 6.

The South Heartland health district includes Adams, Webster, Clay and Nuckolls counties.

On Monday night, South Heartland announced one new confirmed case of the viral infection since Saturday. The new patient is a Clay County woman in her 50s.

Overall, 312 positive cases in district residents have been logged since the first was confirmed on March 18. Case tallies by county are 280 for Adams, 25 for Clay, six for Webster and one for Nuckolls.

As of Monday, 287 of the patients had recovered. The district death toll stands at 11.

In all, 21 of the patients have required hospitalization.

On Monday, Gov. Pete Ricketts announced 89 of Nebraska’s 93 counties, including all Nebraska counties in Tribland except Hall and Hamilton, would be moving into “Phase 3” of reopening effective June 22. Hall and Hamilton counties, which have been hit hard by the disease, will move into Phase 2.

Phase 3 allows for larger indoor and outdoor gatherings and full occupancy for bars and restaurants, so long as social distancing and other precautions are observed.

In its news release, South Heartland allowed that based on positivity rates, hospitalization numbers, and recent death numbers, as well as health care factors such as available hospital beds, intensive care beds and ventilators, “the current status is encouraging for South Heartland district and Nebraska overall.”

Bever said caution remains in order, however.

“I would like to remind residents that we still need to practice social distancing and protect others by wearing masks,” she said. “It is easy to spread the virus to vulnerable individuals if you are asymptomatic and not taking precautions. In fact, working to reduce the spread of this respiratory illness is our new normal — this week, as we continue in Phase 2, and for the weeks to come as we enter Phase 3 and beyond.”

As of Friday, a number of South Heartland residents equivalent to 7.1% of the district’s total population had been tested for COVID-19. Testing has become more readily available in recent weeks.

Across Nebraska, 180 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed on Tuesday, bringing the statewide running case total to 17,031, with 231 deaths, the state Department of Health and Human Services reported.

As of Tuesday, 40% of the state’s hospital beds, 42% of its intensive care beds and 78% of its ventilators were available for patients who might need them.

County board grants tax exemption for Lifehouse

Members of the Adams County Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 at their regular meeting Tuesday to grant the request from Lifehouse Church for the 2019 permissive exemption for the church’s new home it purchased in 2019.

The exemption in question equals $44,765 in property tax.

Lifehouse paid the first half of the property tax, $22,382.50, which was due May 1.

County Assessor Jackie Russell said, as she understands it, the county treasurer would have to contact all the affected taxing entities that received a portion of the payment and make sure it’s not a hardship to give it back in a lump sum. Otherwise, a payment plan could be set up.

The church purchased the former Paul Spady Motors building at 2850 Osborne Drive East on May 29, 2019, for $1.5 million.

Part of the building is being used for a for-profit business, but the space used by the church is nonprofit.

Russell spoke last year with Paige Mackey, children’s pastor and administrator for Lifehouse, about the process of filing for a permissive exemption. Russell informed her the church had missed the July 1 deadline for 2019 and was only eligible for the 2020 year at that point because Lifehouse missed the filing deadline.

The church never filed a permissive exemption for 2019.

Russell has said if someone purchases a property and converts it to a tax-exempt use, such as a church, the property owner has until July 1 of the same year to file a request for an exemption.

The purchaser has until Dec. 31 to apply for tax-exempt status for the upcoming year.

In this case, the property was purchased in May and the exemption wasn’t sought out before July 1.

Church representatives Mackey and Alton Jackson asked on Tuesday that the board consider making the decision to relieve the church of the property tax that’s been placed upon it for the nonprofit portion of its property, to honor its legal right to property tax exemption.

Exacerbating the property tax issue, financial giving at Lifehouse was negatively affected while the congregation wasn’t allowed to meet in person for several weeks due to the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19.

“Not only have we gone through this crisis with the tax situation, but we’ve also gone through a crisis of trying to exist,” Jackson said.

Not long after the church moved into its new home last year, it also experienced a fire caused by an issue with the building’s sign.

Board Chairman Lee Hogan said the county already had heard from the state what needed to be done in the case and it was out of the county’s hands.

Jackson said he called the state and was told the decision was up to the county board.

He asked for local help.

The church previously occupied a large space at the Imperial Mall, which closed May 31, 2019.

“Everybody got kicked out because owners of the mall, in New York, could give a rip about Hastings, Nebraska,” Jackson said. “I know you guys give a rip about Hastings, Nebraska.”

Russell said she has no power in adjusting Lifehouse’s 2019 permissive exemption.

Her powers include correcting property taxes and property value issues caused by clerical error, amended property and current year over/under valuations.

“I don’t think I can, legally, as an assessor correct anything at this point,” she said. “You’d have to talk to the property assessment division if there’s something you’re wanting to do.”

Russell said the property assessment division could file a Tax Equalization and Review case against the county board, the state tax commissioner could file a Tax Equalization and Review case against the county board, and as county assessor Russell herself could file a Tax Equalization and Review case in the matter.

Deputy County Attorney Dave Bergin said it’s possible the state auditor will call it a problem and void the county board’s decision.

Supervisors Dale Curtis, Scott Thomsen and Michael Stromer dissented.

The dissenting supervisors who spoke were empathetic to the church’s plight, but didn’t want to set a precedent.

“It’s an emotional issue, I understand that, but if we have statutes and laws we have to go by — there’s a lot of people who are hurting out there,” Thomsen said.

Supervisor Chuck Neumann made the motion to provide the exemption for Lifehouse Church. Supervisor Eldon Orthmann provided the second.

“Yeah, the auditor might come back and there might be this and there might be that,” Neumann said. “If it happens it happens. The auditors might say ‘You shouldn’t have done that.’ We got a 22-page audit, more or less, telling us things we needed to do. A lot of the things never get done year after year. I’m willing to take a chance.”

In other business, the supervisors:

Unanimously approved setting the public hearing needed to close a portion of South Winchester Avenue for 9:35 a.m. July 21.

Unanimously approved the bridge construction bid from Theisen Construction of Norfolk for a pair of projects, including the $200,000 county bridge match program funding site of Oregon Trail Road a ½ mile west of Showboat Boulevard and one in Nuckolls County. Theisen’s bid of $741,602 for both projects was the lowest of three bids received. The Nuckolls County Board of Commissioners also must approve the bid.

Unanimously approved, as the Board of Equalization, tax list corrections for six over-under valuations.

Voted 6-0-1 to approve, as the Board of Equalization, a permissive exemption application from St. Cecilia Catholic Church. Neumann abstained.

Unanimously approved a revised Adams County employee wage step plan, which calls for 3% increases for employees still in the step plan, except for maintenance supervisor Tom Reichert, who is holding multiple positions and will receive an 8.2% increase. Employees no longer in the step plan will see 2.3% increases, which is the same as elected officials.

Unanimously approved a U.S. Department of Agriculture wildlife contract renewal for $11,450, which is about $400 more than the previous year.

Unanimously approved a letter of agreement with Region 3 Behavioral Services through June 2022.

Unanimously approved a Region 3 county match request of $82,733, which is decrease of $149.

Unanimously approved setting the date to continue the isolated land hearing for 1:30 p.m. July 7.

Unanimously approved a resolution for the appropriation of funds including $15,615 for the public defender’s office, $160 for microfilm, and $1,026 for the Veterans Service Office to balance the 2019/2020 budget.

Voted 6-0-1 to adopt Mary Lanning Healthcare’s Healthy Me as the county wellness plan, at a cost of $138 per employee. Supervisor Glen Larsen abstained.

Received a program update and funding request of $10,000 from Horizon Recovery.