U.S. Stocks Rise on Vaccine Rollout, Stimulus Hopes – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- U.S. stocks rose Monday on optimism that talks for additional fiscal stimulus are progressing and that the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines could help stem the pandemic.
- U.S. lawmakers on Sunday signaled a growing willingness to compromise on the most contentious issues that have held up the passage of a fresh coronavirus-relief package in recent months.
- Leadership from both parties indicated they might look to passing a narrower spending bill.
- Investors are betting that a deal will be struck, and the additional spending will help bolster the economic rebound.
- Pfizer started shipping its Covid-19 vaccine in the U.S., dispatching trucks from a Michigan plant.
- Inoculations could begin as soon as Monday. That is bolstering optimism that rising infection levels may be checked in coming months, prompting an end to restrictions on social and business activity.
- An end to lockdowns would improve the outlook for companies whose operations have been disrupted this year by the pandemic.
- Shares of Alexion Pharmaceuticals rose 29% after AstraZeneca agreed to buy the Boston-based company for $39 billion in cash and stock. Shares in AstraZeneca fell 7%.
- Pluralsight rose 5.7% after private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners agreed to buy the educational-software maker.
Coronavirus Live Updates: U.S. Death Toll Nears 300,000 – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- The U.S. death toll from Covid-19 approached 300,000 and daily cases topped 190,000, as sites across the country prepared to receive their first shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
- California reported more than 36,000 new coronavirus cases for Sunday, the fifth day in a row the state’s daily total exceeded 30,000, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
- According to the California Department of Public Health, intensive-care units at hospitals in the San Joaquin Valley, one of five health regions in the state, were at 100% capacity.
- The scarcity of ICU beds means that under state guidelines, the region must abide by a stay-at-home order until at least Dec. 28, and then must clear a threshold of having 15% or more ICU beds available before the order can be lifted.
- Nationwide, the number of people hospitalized due to Covid-19 rose to 109,331, the eighth daily record in a row, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of people requiring treatment in ICUs also hit another all-time high of 21,231.
- The U.S. death toll rose by more than 1,300 Sunday, pushing the total to over 299,000.
- Europe is struggling to contain a surge in coronavirus infections, with several countries facing a fresh rebound after strict lockdowns initially brought case numbers sharply down last month. Nations ranging from the U.K. to the Netherlands and France have all seen a pick-up in cases since the start of December.
- Germany, whose mild restrictions since Nov. 2 only managed to stabilize daily case numbers, will go into a strict lockdown on Wednesday, after a sharp rise in new confirmed infections and Covid-19 related deaths last week.
- The new measures will stay in place until Jan. 10 but government officials on Sunday said they would likely be extended because January and February normally mark a peak in seasonal respiratory infections.
- Germany registered 16,362 novel coronavirus infections on Sunday, according to the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases—4,000 more than a week ago. Deaths related to the diseases stood at 21,975 on Monday.
- In the U.K., case numbers have begun to rise sharply again, less than two weeks after England exited a second national lockdown and moved into a system of regional restrictions.
- Over the week to Sunday, recorded new cases averaged 18,023 a day, up 19.1% on the previous week. Hospitalizations are also climbing to an average 1,530 a day, a rise of 12.8% over the previous seven days.
First Americans Receive Covid-19 Vaccinations – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- The first U.S. Covid-19 vaccinations outside of clinical trials began Monday, kicking off the most urgent mass immunization campaign since polio shots were rolled out in the 1950s.
- A nurse in New York was among the first to receive the shot Monday morning, and health workers throughout the U.S. were also set to receive the newly authorized vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. Pfizer shipped vaccine vials out Sunday, and hospitals and health departments across the country received them early Monday.
- Some 145 U.S. hospitals and other sites were slated to receive vaccine doses Monday, followed by 425 on Tuesday and 66 on Wednesday, according to Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, the federal initiative to deliver Covid-19 vaccines.
- Only a small percentage of the population will get access to the shots initially, as early supplies are limited.
AstraZeneca to buy Alexion for $39 billion to expand in immunology – Reuters, 12/12/20
- Britain’s AstraZeneca has agreed to buy U.S. drugmaker Alexion Pharmaceuticals for $39 billion in its largest ever deal, diversifying away from its fast-growing cancer business in a bet on rare-disease and immunology drugs.
- The deal comes in a week that AstraZeneca said it was conducting further research to confirm whether its COVID-19 vaccine could be 90% effective, potentially slowing its rollout, and as a rival shot from Pfizer was launched in Britain and approved for use in the United States.
- The British company said on Saturday that Alexion shareholders would receive $60 in cash and about $115 worth of equity per share – either in AstraZeneca’s UK-traded ordinary shares or in dollar-denominated American Depositary Shares.
- AstraZeneca said it expected the deal to immediately boost core earnings and to deliver pretax synergy gains of around $500 million per year. It also expects around $650 million in one-time cash costs during the three years following completion.
Huntington Bancshares Agrees to Merge With TCF Financial – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Huntington Bancshares agreed to merge with TCF Financial in the latest in a recent string of regional-bank tie-ups.
- The companies on Sunday announced an all-stock deal, confirming an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal.
- It would be one of the larger recent bank combinations, valuing Detroit-based TCF at nearly $6 billion, or about an 11% premium.
- Columbus, Ohio-based Huntington has a market value of $13 billion.
- Together, the banks would have about $170 billion in assets, with a network of branches around the country that is especially concentrated in Midwestern states such as Illinois and Michigan.
- The deal, if completed, would vault Huntington closer to its fiercest in-state competitors, Fifth Third Bancorp and Key Corp, which have about $200 billion and $170 billion in assets, respectively.
Blackstone Raises Wager on Life Sciences With $3.5 Billion Property Deal – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Blackstone Group is amping up its bet on biotechnology lab space and other life-sciences real estate, agreeing to pay $3.45 billion for a portfolio of buildings primarily in the active Cambridge, Mass., market.
- The acquisition is the latest sign of growing investor interest in life-sciences real estate during the pandemic. The portfolio of lab buildings, which Blackstone is buying from Brookfield Asset Management, consists of 2.3 million square feet of space.
- Most is on a 30-acre campus adjacent to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
- More than 95% of the portfolio is leased thanks to strong demand from pharmaceutical and other life-sciences companies that want to be close to the school’s students, faculty and research activities, Blackstone said.
Vista Equity Partners Agrees to Buy Software Maker Pluralsight – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners agreed to buy educational-software maker Pluralsight.
- The deal values Pluralsight at $20.26 a share, or $3.5 billion including debt, the companies said in a statement confirming an earlier report by The Wall Street Journal.
- Farmington, Utah-based Pluralsight is a cloud based online-education platform for software developers that sells to both businesses and individuals.
Reddit Snaps Up Dubsmash to Expand in Fast-Growing Video App Market – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Reddit said Monday it bought video-sharing app Dubsmash to expand its presence in one of the hottest corners of the internet: user-created video.
- Fifteen-year-old Reddit says Dubsmash—with its free app for creating and sharing user-generated videos—is its first major acquisition; financial terms of the cash-and-stock deal weren’t disclosed.
- Dubsmash says about 30% of its users log in daily to create video. The company, which doesn’t generate revenue but has grown a following through word-of-mouth, says it is dedicated to giving a spotlight to underrepresented creators and communities not seen on mainstream social networks.
- “The transition to video will be bigger than the transition to mobile,” said Reddit Chief Executive and co-founder Steve Huffman. “We’re still only at the beginning.”
Electronic Arts outbids Take-Two with $1.2 billion deal for Codemasters – Reuters, 12/12/20
- Video games maker Electronic Arts said on Monday it had reached an agreement to buy Codemasters in a deal worth $1.2 billion, trumping an earlier agreement between the British company and rival Take-Two Interactive Software.
- UK-based Codemasters, known for its Formula One games for PlayStation 4, said it considered the new offer to be superior to Take-Two’s cash-and-stock buyout offer of 485 pence per share.
- EA’s offer represents a premium of 13.1% to the last closing price of the company’s shares and it expects the deal to be completed in the first quarter of calendar 2021.
- EA, maker of The Sims, Need for Speed and FIFA, said it expects the deal to grow net bookings and underlying profitability.
Oracle moves headquarters to Texas from Silicon Valley – Reuters, 12/11/20
- Business software maker Oracle said on Friday it was moving its corporate headquarters to Austin, Texas from Redwood City, California.
- Oracle is the latest tech firm to exit Silicon Valley after the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a broader shift to remote work, making companies reconsider California’s higher operational costs and hefty taxes.
- Employees can pick their office location and choose whether to work from home part-time or full-time, Oracle said in a regulatory filing.
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise, a spinoff of the decades-old corporation often mentioned in the accounts of the founding of Silicon Valley, said earlier this month it would move its headquarters from California to the Lone Star State.
- Data analytics firm Palantir Technologies also shifted headquarters to Denver, Colorado from Palo Alto, California in August.
Exxon Promises to Cut Greenhouse-Gas Emissions, End Flaring by 2030 – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Exxon Mobil pledged to reduce the greenhouse-gas emissions from its operations over the next five years and eliminate the “routine flaring” of methane by 2030 as it responds to pressure from activists and investors to reduce its carbon footprint.
- The Texas oil giant said Monday that it would cut the “intensity” of emissions from its oil and gas production by 15% to 20%, reduce its methane emissions intensity by 40% to 50%, and cut its flaring intensity by 35% to 45%.
- The company also said it would end routine flaring, or venting, of methane from its oil and gas operations by the end of the next decade.
- Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that, like carbon dioxide, is a contributor to climate change, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
- The targets are related to emissions that come directly from Exxon’s operations and not from its products, like gasoline and jet fuel. Exxon said it would begin disclosing emissions data related to its products next year.
Falling plane values, e-commerce rise fuels boom in converting passenger planes to freighters – Reuters, 12/13/20
- From Air Canada to China’s CDB Aviation, airlines and leasing firms are rushing to permanently convert older passenger jets into freighters, betting on a boom in e-commerce as the value of used planes tumbles amid the pandemic.
- Aviation analytics firm Cirium expects the number of P2F conversions globally will rise by 36% to 90 planes in 2021, and to 109 planes in 2022.
- The market value of 15-year-old planes has fallen by 20% to 47% since the start of the year depending on the model, according to advisory firm Ishka, which makes freighter conversions more attractive.
- Air Canada is looking to convert several of its Boeing 767s, Russia’s S7 Group is acquiring its first 737-800 converted freighters from lessor GECAS, and lessor CDB Aviation has ordered two Airbus SE A330 conversions from ST Engineering’s EFW joint venture with Airbus.
- The P2F conversions are a step beyond the cheaper temporary conversions many airlines have implemented during the pandemic, which remove passenger seats to carry more cargo.
US ECONOMY & POLITICS
Congressional Leaders Weigh Narrow Covid-19 Relief Bill – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- A group of rank-and-file lawmakers made a last-minute push to craft a bipartisan coronavirus aid proposal, as leadership in both parties indicated they might drop the most contentious issues in the talks and pass a narrower bill.
- The bipartisan set of lawmakers has in recent days struggled to finish crafting a $908 billion aid package, tripping up over disagreements on creating liability protections for businesses and other entities to help them guard against coronavirus-related suits.
- House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) indicated Sunday that Democrats may be open to a bill without state and local aid, which they have long insisted on in talks with Republicans.
- The bipartisan group is preparing to split their proposal into two parts, according to people familiar with the talks, segmenting $160 billion in state and local aid and liability protections into their own legislation.
- The other $748 billion in aid, covering $300 a week to state unemployment benefits for four months, $300 billion in aid to small businesses, and $35 billion for health-care providers, among other measures, would be the second bill.
- McConnell indicated earlier this week that the liability measures at the center of the bipartisan talks were likely to be insufficient to earn GOP support.
- Bill Cassidy (R., La.) said Sunday that he didn’t know if Mr. McConnell would allow the full bipartisan measure to come up for a vote.
Congress Eyes Targeted Coronavirus Aid for Small Businesses – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Lawmakers considering a fresh round of financial aid for small businesses are focusing on firms with fewer employees that could show they have been hurt by the pandemic-triggered downturn, addressing criticisms that dogged the Paycheck Protection Program.
- A bipartisan proposal for a broader, $908 billion coronavirus-aid bill includes $300 billion for the Small Business Administration and a restart of the PPP, which closed in August.
- The plan would limit loans to businesses that have 300 or fewer employees and can demonstrate that they sustained a 30% revenue loss in any quarter of 2020.
- In a survey conducted between late September and late November by Reimagine Main Street, a nonpartisan campaign advocating for small businesses during the economic recovery, nearly 60% of 8,328 small-business owners said they will need financial help or more capital in the next six months.
Georgia Senate Runoffs Early Voting Begins as Requests for Mail-In Ballots Top 1 Million – Wall Street Journal, 12/14/20
- Early in-person voting began in Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs on Monday, with both parties racing to turn out supporters for the Jan. 5 election that will determine control of the Senate.
- The opening of some polling locations for voters comes as roughly 1.2 million voters already have requested absentee ballots for the runoff election, and more than 200,000 of them have returned their ballots, according to publicly available data compiled by University of Florida professor Michael McDonald at the U.S. Elections Project, as of Friday.
- Absentee-ballot applications already are at about 67% of the total requests recorded in Georgia’s November election, according to Mr. McDonald’s research.
- The use of absentee ballots exploded during the pandemic and were crucial to President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia, with the Democrat winning 848,726 absentee votes compared with 450,522 for President Trump, according to state data.
- If Democrats win both runoffs, their party will gain control since Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, as president of the Senate, can cast a vote to break any ties.
U.S. Agencies Hacked in Foreign Cyber Espionage Campaign Linked to Russia – Wall Street Journal, 12/13/20
- Multiple federal government agencies, including the U.S. Treasury and Commerce departments, have had some of their computer systems breached as part of a widespread global cyber espionage campaign believed to be the work of the Russian government, according to officials and people familiar with the matter.
- Russia’s foreign-intelligence service is suspected of being behind the hacks of the U.S. government networks—in which some internal communications are believed to have been stolen—and the operation is related to a cyber breach disclosed last week of U.S.-based cybersecurity firm FireEye, one of the people familiar with the matter said.
- The person added that several government agencies in total have likely been compromised.
- The hacking operation exposed as many as hundreds of thousands of government and corporate networks to potential risk and alarmed national-security officials in the Trump administration as well as executives at FireEye, some of whom view it as far more significant than a routine case of foreign cyber espionage, people familiar with the matter said.
- While those familiar with the hack couldn’t precisely specify its scope or the resulting damage to the U.S. government, several described it as among the most potentially worrisome cyberattacks in years, because it may have allowed Russia to access sensitive information from government agencies, defense contractors and other industries.
- One person familiar with the matter said the campaign was a “10” on a scale of one to 10, in terms of its likely severity and national-security implications.
EUROPE & WORLD
U.K., EU Leaders Extend Marathon Brexit Talks – Wall Street Journal, 12/13/20
- K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and top European Union officials decided not to pull the plug from Brexit negotiations Sunday, with officials signaling last-minute progress on some of the issues that have bedeviled the talks.
- Officials on both sides said they were narrowing differences over the question that lies at the center of their dispute: How much will the U.K. be tied to EU norms as the price for a tariff-free trade deal with its largest trading partner? On that question hangs trade worth close to $900 billion a year.
- With time running short—a deal has to be in place by Jan. 1 to prevent huge disruption to trade and security cooperation—officials on both sides said negotiators appeared to be finding some common ground though they cautioned much work needed to be done.
- “Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile,” the joint statement said.
China steps up Internet sector scrutiny, fines deals involving Alibaba, Tencent – Reuters, 12/13/20
- China warned its Internet giants on Monday that it would not tolerate monopolistic practices and to brace for increased scrutiny, as it slapped fines and announced probes into deals involving Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings.
- The State Administration of Market Regulation (SAMR) said it would fine Alibaba, Tencent-backed China Literature and Shenzhen Hive Box 500,000 yuan ($76,464) each, the maximum under a 2008 anti-monopoly law, for not reporting past deals properly for anti-trust reviews.
- It said it would also look into a merger between game livestreaming firms Huya Inc and DouYu International announced in October.
- Tencent is a major investor in both and the Chinese tech giant had pushed the deal, Reuters has previously reported.
- In addition, the SAMR said it will review and investigate other deals based on tip-offs that some firms had cornered a lot of operating power in certain sectors – a process it expects will be lengthy and involve a large number of companies.
- George Washington died at age 67. (1799)
- Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole, beating an expedition led by Robert F. Scott. (1911)
- The Soviet Union was dropped from the League of Nations. (1939)
- Israel formally annexed the Golan Heights. (1981)