Stocks have first back-to-back gains since sell-off began

NEW YORK — Stocks scored their first back-to-back gains since a brutal sell-off began five weeks ago, but much of an early rally faded late in the day as a last-minute dispute threatened to hold up a $2 trillion economic rescue package in Congress. The S&P 500 rose 1.2 percent Wednesday, bringing its two-day gain to 10.6 percent. It had been up 5.1 percent earlier in the day as Congress moved closer to approving the plan to provide badly needed aid to an economy that has been ravaged by the coronavirus. The market is down nearly 27 percent since hitting a record high a month ago.

Airlines, others to benefit from $2 trillion rescue bill

WASHINGTON — The White House and Senate leaders agreed early Wednesday on a $2 trillion economic rescue package, the largest in the country’s history. The bill comes in response to the viral pandemic that has shut down businesses and crippled economies around the globe. It would give direct payments to most Americans, expand unemployment benefits and provide direct grants and loans to businesses and hospitals. The Republican-controlled Senate must still approve the bill before sending it to the Democratic-controlled House, so final details could change. Passage in the Senate was expected later Wednesday.

‘The whole city laid off’: U.S. jobless claims climb sky highNEW ORLEANS — New unemployment benefit claims are rising to levels unseen in recent U.S. history as a result of coronavirus concerns. States have reported receiving tens of thousands of new claims for unemployment insurance last week. Officials figures are to be released Thursday, and some economists project that new claims could reach 3 million nationwide. Some laid-off workers have encountered delays in filing claims because of overloaded websites and phone systems. Some states are warning that it could take longer than the normal two to three weeks to receive unemployment payments because of the sudden surge in claims.

Drugmaker backpedals on specialty status for COVID-19 drug

WASHINGTON — The maker of an experimental coronavirus drug is giving up the specialty status it received days ago from U.S. regulators. Gilead Sciences faced criticism from public advocacy groups that it could use the designation to boost profits amid the pandemic. The specialty status for rare disease treatments is potentially worth millions of dollars in tax breaks and competition-free sales. The designation was created by Congress decades ago to encourage companies to develop drugs for niche diseases and conditions. Gilead Sciences said Wednesday it would ask the Food and Drug Administration to revoke the designation it received this week.

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