Stocks Drop, Oil Tumbles on Fresh Covid-19 Travel Restrictions – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Stocks dropped Monday as a fast-spreading strain of coronavirus emerging from England prompted fresh travel restrictions, dealing another blow to prospects for the global economic recovery.
- The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 355 points, or 1.2%, in morning trading.
- The S&P 500 slid 1.7%, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite tumbled 1.5%.
- Overseas, European shares tumbled after countries across the continent and beyond barred travelers from Britain in an effort to keep out a highly infectious variant of coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in England.
- The pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 slumped 2.9%.
- Oil prices also retreated amid expectations that fresh restrictions on European travel and transport will pinch fuel demand heading into 2021. Futures on Brent crude, the international energy benchmark, lost 3.6% to $50.36 a barrel.
- Worries about the new strain of the virus overshadowed an agreement struck by lawmakers on a fiscal relief package that will ease pressure on the American economy.
- The roughly $900 billion aid package would support consumption in the coming months, investors said.
- In the U.K., where officials over the weekend tightened lockdown measures on London and the surrounding areas in an effort to contain the new strain of virus, the benchmark FTSE 100 slid 2.2%.
- The British government said the new strain appeared to be spreading 70% faster than earlier variants.
Covid-19 Live Updates: U.S. Hospitalizations Hold Steady as Newly Reported Cases Decline – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Newly reported U.S. Covid-19 infections were down slightly from a day earlier, and hospitalizations were about the same, as Congress reached a deal on a new virus aid package.
- The nation reported more than 189,000 cases for Sunday, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, a decline from Saturday’s 196,295.
- It was also down from the week-earlier 191,142.
- There were 113,663 people hospitalized because of the coronavirus as of Sunday, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
- That is down slightly from 113,929 a day earlier and 113,955 as of Friday, following Thursday’s record of 114,459.
- It includes 21,761 patients in intensive-care units.
Countries Ban Travel from U.K. in Race to Block New Covid-19 Strain – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Countries across Europe and beyond barred travelers from Britain on Sunday in an effort to keep out a highly infectious new strain of the coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in England.
- The British government said on Saturday the new strain appeared to be spreading 70% faster than earlier variants and is responsible for a surge in cases in London and its surrounding areas.
- There is no evidence so far that the new variant causes more serious infections or will neutralize the vaccines, British scientists say, but there are concerns it will make controlling the virus’s spread less manageable, even with a vaccine.
- The British government imposed a new lockdown on the affected regions, including the closure of all nonessential retail, and abandoned plans to allow a five-day truce of Covid-19 restrictions across the country over Christmas where three households could mingle.
- Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands and Belgium on Sunday announced bans on passenger air travel from the U.K. Other countries were considering similar moves in an effort to prevent a worsening of the pandemic before Christmas.
- This variant of the pathogen, known in the Gisaid database as VUI202012/01, has 17 distinct mutations, and 23 if additional mutations that don’t serve any function are included.
- The most notable occur in the virus’s spike protein, which dot the surface of the virus and is the means by which it breaks into a host’s cells.
Nike raises full-year sales forecast, posts surprise earnings growth – Reuters, 12/18/20
- Nike said on Friday that full-year revenue will likely be better than previously expected, after COVID-wary shoppers demanding outdoor sportswear drove its third consecutive surge in online sales.
- Revenue rose about 9% to $11.24 billion in the second quarter ended Nov. 30, while analysts on average had expected $10.56 billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.
- Nike said digital sales jumped 84%, with triple-digit growth in North America – its biggest market – and strong double-digit increases in other parts of the world.
- The company reported a 12% increase in profit to $1.25 billion, or 78 cents per share, beating analysts’ expectations of 62 cents per share.
- The world’s biggest athletic apparel company said it expects annual revenue growth in the “low-teens,” up from its previous forecast of a high single-digit to low double-digit increase.
Shell to write down assets again, taking cuts to more than $22 billion – Reuters, 12/21/20
- Royal Dutch Shell on Monday said it will write down the value of oil and gas assets by $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion following a string of impairments this year as it adjusts to a weaker outlook.
- In an update ahead of its fourth quarter results on February 4, Shell said the post-tax charge was due in part to impairments on its Appomattox field in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, the closure of refineries and liquefied natural gas (LNG) contracts.
- In October, Shell, the world’s biggest LNG trader, wrote down the value of its LNG portfolio by just under $1 billion, focusing on its flagship Prelude project in Australia.
- That followed a $16.8 billion writedown in the second quarter which also included Prelude and a sharp cut in its price outlook.
Apple temporarily shuts California stores in virus surge, some in UK after new curbs – Reuters, 12/19/20
- Apple has temporarily shut all of its 53 stores in California because of a coronavirus outbreak and 16 stores in the United Kingdom following restrictions introduced by the government in London, a spokesman said on Saturday.
- The company said on Friday it was temporarily shutting some stores in California following a surge in COVID-19 cases, sending the iPhone maker’s shares down in trading after the bell. That announcement covered at least 12 stores.
- Customers would still be able to pick up existing orders for the next few days, the spokesman said.
- The statement did not mention when Apple expects the stores to reopen.
Thoma Bravo Agrees to Buy RealPage for $9.6 Billion – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Private-equity firm Thoma Bravo has struck a deal to buy property-management-software provider RealPage for $9.6 billion, in one of the largest recent leveraged buyouts.
- RealPage, based in Richardson, Texas, provides a technology platform used by owners and managers of rental properties.
- Tenants might pay their rent or submit a maintenance request using RealPage’s software.
- The company also keeps a database of real-time lease transactions, allowing it to forecast where markets are heading.
- Thoma Bravo is paying $88.75 per share for the company, a 31% premium to RealPage’s closing price Friday of $67.83, officials at the firms said.
IBM to buy European cloud startup Nordcloud – Reuters, 12/21/20
- International Business Machines will acquire European startup Nordcloud, the latest in a series of acquisitions for the 109-year old firm preparing a mega spin-off to focus on cloud computing.
- The world’s first big computing firm has set its sights on the so-called hybrid cloud, where it sees a $1 trillion market opportunity as more companies use a combination of their own datacenters and leased computing resources to manage and process data.
- IBM did not disclose on Monday how much it paid for the Finland-based firm.
- Since taking office in April, Chief Executive Officer Arvind Krishna has acquired at least five startups from the hybrid cloud space.
Lockheed Martin inks $4.4 billion deal to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne – Reuters, 12/21/20
- Lockheed Martin said on Sunday it has agreed to buy U.S. rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings for $4.4 billion, including debt and net cash.
- Lockheed said it will pay $56 per share for Aerojet Rocketdyne, a 33 percent premium to Friday’s closing price.
- The purchase price will be reduced to $51 per share after the payment of a pre-closing special dividend, Lockheed added.
- The Bethesda, Maryland-based company already uses Aerojet Rocketdyne’s propulsion systems in its aeronautics, missiles and fire control offerings.
- Lockheed said the transaction, which is set to be scrutinized by regulators given the company’s leading position in the defense sector, is expected to close in the second half of 2021.
US ECONOMY & POLITICS
Covid-19 Pandemic Relief Package Reaches Final Agreement in Congress – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Lawmakers reached a final agreement on the roughly $900 billion coronavirus relief package, moving Congress closer to approval of a fresh infusion of aid to households, small businesses and schools after months of gridlock.
- The emerging agreement is expected to provide a $600 direct check to many Americans, $300 a week in enhanced federal unemployment benefits, and aid for schools, vaccine distribution and small businesses.
- The legislation is set to add $300 to weekly unemployment payments for 11 weeks and extend two other unemployment programs until they begin phasing out in mid-March and end in early April.
- The direct checks are expected to be $600 per adult and $600 per child, with the amounts decreasing for individuals with more than $75,000 in income and $150,000 for couples.
- President Trump had pushed for including direct checks in the legislation.
- Roughly $280 billion would go toward the Paycheck Protection Program, the bulk of the $325 billion the bill puts toward small businesses.
- Theater operators and owners of small performance venues would be eligible for $15 billion in grants, and the bill provides $15 billion for airline payroll support.
- Schools would receive $82 billion under the agreement, and $10 billion would go toward child care.
- The deal includes $25 billion in rental assistance, extends a moratorium on evictions, and approves $13 billion in funds for food-stamp and child-nutrition benefits.
- And lawmakers agreed to increase the amount of money aimed at combating the virus, adding $30 billion for the procurement and distribution of a vaccine, as well as $22 billion for testing and tracing.
- Lawmakers also included $1.8 billion in tax credits for businesses to provide paid leave.
U.S. lawmakers back $1.9 billion to replace telecom equipment from China’s Huawei, ZTE – sources – Reuters, 12/21/20
- U.S. lawmakers will back $1.9 billion to fund a program to remove telecom network equipment that the U.S. government says poses national security risks as part of a $900 billion COVID-19 relief bill, two sources briefed on the matter said on Sunday.
- The Federal Communications Commission said in June it had formally designated China’s Huawei and ZTE as threats, a declaration that bars U.S. firms from tapping an $8.3 billion government fund to purchase equipment from the companies.
- Lawmakers will also back $3.2 billion for an emergency broadband benefit for low-income Americans, senior congressional aides confirmed after Reuters first reported the planned broadband spending.
- The source also said the program will supply a $50 monthly subsidy to qualifying households “to help them afford broadband service and an internet-connected device.”
Big Tech’s stealth push to influence the Biden administration – Reuters, 12/21/20
- Silicon Valley is working behind the scenes to secure senior roles for tech allies in lesser-known but still vital parts of president-elect Joe Biden’s administration, even as the pushback against Big Tech from progressive groups and regulators grows.
- The Biden transition team has already stacked its agency review teams with more tech executives than tech critics.
- It has also added to its staff several officials from Big Tech companies, which emerged as top donors to the campaign.
- Now, executives and employees at tech companies such as Alphabet-owned Google, Amazon.com, Facebook, and Microsoft are pushing to place candidates in senior roles at government agencies, according to four sources with knowledge of the matter.
- The agencies many of these executives are aiming for include the U.S. Commerce Department, Office of the United States Trade Representative, the Office of Information & Regulatory Affairs – a key agency under the White House Office of Management & Budget which drafts policies impacting the tech industry, the State Department and the Department of Defense, according to the sources.
EUROPE & WORLD
U.K. Assets Fall Over Deadlocked Brexit Talks, New Lockdowns – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- The British pound was on course for its steepest one-day fall against the U.S. dollar since the worst of March’s market rout as the continuing failure to arrive at a post-Brexit trade agreement and new measures in the U.K. to curtail the spread of Covid-19 weighed on British assets.
- Over the weekend, the government imposed a fresh lockdown across London and the surrounding areas of England in the days leading up to Christmas, a period of traditionally higher consumer spending.
- The U.K. is also now less than two weeks away from the end of the Brexit transition period, after which it won’t remain in European Union trade agreements.
- Negotiations over a free-trade deal that would reduce some of the expected disruptions remain in deadlock.
- British assets fell broadly, with the U.K.’s FTSE 100 Index down 2.3%. The FTSE 250, the gauge for small and midsize companies, declined 2.7%.
U.K. Braces for Possible Shortages of Some Foods as France Closes Border to Trade Over New Covid Strain – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- The U.K. was braced for potential food shortages and disruption to manufacturing Monday if France continued a ban on freight as well as people traveling from Britain in an effort to stop the spread of a new strain of the coronavirus.
- The move to bar entry from the U.K., announced by Paris late Sunday, cuts off Britain’s main freight link to Europe, shutting down trade between ports like Dover and Calais that handle up to 10,000 trucks a day.
- The travel ban, initially set for 48 hours, came as a host of nations including Germany, Canada and Denmark barred passengers from Britain after U.K. officials said a new, more transmissible strain of coronavirus was responsible for a surge in cases in London and southeast England.
- Already, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium have confirmed a small number of cases of the new coronavirus strain, dubbed N501Y, which scientists believe could be as much as 70% more transmissible than established strains.
- Officials from European countries convened Monday to discuss how to respond, while the British government was to hold an emergency meeting amid concerns over shortages in some stores stemming from disruption at the border.
Denmark to Dig Up Millions of Dead Mink After Botched Covid-19 Cull – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- Denmark will dig up millions of dead mink it culled to stamp out a potentially dangerous mutation of the virus that causes Covid-19, only to find that their rotting carcasses could cause a fresh contamination risk.
- The Danish parliament voted Sunday to exhume up to 5.5 million of the animals beginning in May after environmental inspectors found that some water sources might already have been polluted by bacteria as the bodies decay.
- The drama began in November, when Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s government signed the death warrant for the country’s 17 million mink—three times the human population.
- Researchers had found that the farms where they were bred for their fur could act as a reservoir for a new strain of the virus that might resist the new vaccines now being deployed. Scientists advising the government warned that the mutation could become endemic among feral mink, creating a lasting problem.
- The cull effectively brought Denmark’s $750-million-a-year mink industry—the world’s biggest—to an unedifying end.
Jack Ma Makes Ant Offer to Placate Chinese Regulators – Wall Street Journal, 12/21/20
- As Jack Ma was trying to salvage his relationship with Beijing in early November, the beleaguered Chinese billionaire offered to hand over parts of his financial-technology giant, Ant Group, to the Chinese government, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
- The offer, not previously reported, appeared a mea culpa of sorts from Mr. Ma as he found himself face to face with officials from China’s central bank and agencies overseeing securities, banking and insurance.
- The Nov. 2 meeting took place a few days before Ant was supposed to go public, in what would have been the world’s biggest initial public offering.
- His olive-branch offer at the meeting failed at saving the IPO and Beijing has since stepped up efforts to rein in China’s Big Tech giants.
China says firmly opposes U.S. bill that could remove Chinese firms from U.S. exchanges – Reuters, 12/21/20
- China said on Monday it firmly opposed U.S. President Trump signing a bill that would kick Chinese companies off U.S. stock exchanges unless they adhere to U.S. auditing standards, saying it contains discriminatory provisions against Chinese companies.
- “This is nothing but an unjustified political crackdown on Chinese enterprises listed in the United States,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a daily new briefing in Beijing.
- President Donald Trump on Friday signed legislation that would remove Chinese companies from U.S. stock exchanges unless they adhere to American auditing standards, the White House said, giving the Republican one more tool to threaten Beijing with before leaving office next month.
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