Morning Money Memo…
Stocks around the world are tumbling for a second day as fears intensify about the threat of a wider conflict in the Middle East after a likely U.S. military strike on Syria. Oil prices are now at their highest level in 18 months. West Texas crude oil futures hit $110 this morning, an 18 month high. Prices have shot up more than 20 percent in the past month. While pump prices for U.S. motorists have been fairly stable in recent weeks and remain below year-ago levels, the spike in oil costs could soon lead to more expensive gas.
U.S. stocks plunged Tuesday and futures are down slightly this morning. The drop in New York was led by the S&P 500 index which lost 1.6 percent and the Nasdaq which fell 2.2 percent. The Dow Jones Index lost 170 points - a smaller 1.1 percent drop.
Many overseas markets are in turmoil, especially in developing nations. Dubai's DFM index fell more than 5 percent today - following a 7 percent loss the day before. In Asia the Nikkei Index in Tokyo and Hong Kong's leading stock average both closed down more than 1 and a half percent. While Syria is not a big oil producer there are fears that a U.S. military strike could lead an oil supply disruption with more aggressive action by Iran, which supports the Assad regime. One-fifth of the world's oil passes through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. A wider conflict in the Middle East could also threaten operations in the Suez Canal, which is controlled by Egypt.
The Labor Department has approved new rules to help boost the number of veterans and disabled people in the U.S. workforce. The regulations require government contractors to set a goal of having disabled workers make up at least 7 percent of their employees. The benchmark for veterans would be 8 percent.
Wal-Mart Stores will extend its health care benefits to workers' domestic partners, including those of the same sex, starting Jan. 1. With nearly 2.2 million workers, the nation's largest private employer says the changes were made to have one uniform policy for the company in all 50 states at a time when some states have their own definitions of domestic partnerships and civil unions. More than 60 percent of Fortune 500 companies already offer domestic partner benefits, according to a survey by the Human Rights Campaign. But the Supreme Court's June decision overturning part of a federal law that denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex partners has heightened attention on same-sex benefits.
The widely read New York Times website was down this morning for a second day. When readers typed in NYTimes.com they got an error message from web browsers. "Oops! Google Chrome could not find www.nytimes.com" was one response. Times officials did not immediately return phone and email messages for comment. In a Twitter message, Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said the cause was a "malicious external attack." Two weeks ago, the Times' website suffered an outage that the company blamed on a server problem.
Richard Davies Business Correspondent ABC News Radio abcnews.com Twitter: daviesabc