U.S. Stocks Rise in Shortened Session – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- U.S. stocks edged higher Thursday, putting major indexes on track to finish the holiday-shortened week little changed.
- Investors have been focused on a swath of issues this week, including the prospects for additional fiscal support for the economy and signs of the rebound faltering.
- Elevated coronavirus infection levels and a new variant of Covid-19 that emerged in the U.K. have prompted concerns that there may be additional lockdown measures in the winter months, weighing on market sentiment.
- Bets that a fresh fiscal-stimulus package would offer support to families and small businesses in coming days have come into question after President Trump vetoed a $740.5 billion defense-policy bill on Wednesday and demanded last-minute changes to coronavirus-relief legislation.
- His unexpected criticism of the bill has prompted another standoff between the White House and Capitol Hill. Mr. Trump hasn’t yet said if he will veto the aid package.
- House Republicans on Thursday rejected Mr. Trump’s call to increase direct payments to Americans to $2,000, adding further uncertainty to the future of the package.
- Data released Wednesday showed that household spending dropped for the first time in seven months and layoffs remained elevated as a surge in virus cases weighed on economic recovery.
Covid-19 Live Updates: Reported U.S. Daily Infections Rise – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- Newly reported Covid-19 cases in the U.S. rose from a day earlier, as the federal government reached a deal with Pfizer to secure 100 million more doses of the company’s coronavirus vaccine.
- The U.S. reported more than 228,000 new cases of infection for Wednesday, up from more than 195,000 a day earlier, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
- On Friday, the U.S. recorded nearly 250,000 cases of infection, a daily record.
- Deaths for Wednesday in the U.S. fell slightly, to 3,359 from 3,410 a day earlier, according to Johns Hopkins. On Dec. 16, the U.S. had more than 3,600 fatalities related to Covid-19, Johns Hopkins data showed.
- The U.S. has reported more than 326,000 deaths from Covid-19 since the onset of the pandemic.
- According to the Covid Tracking Project’s report for Wednesday, there are more than 119,000 people in the U.S. who are hospitalized for Covid-19.
- That included more than 22,000 people who were being treated in intensive care units across the country.
- Israel will impose a third nationwide lockdown starting Sunday to contain a resurgence in Covid-19 cases, even as the government kicked off its vaccination campaign this week—aiming to be among the first in the world to inoculate the majority of its population by early spring.
- The new lockdown will last for at least two weeks but could be extended if infection rates don’t decrease significantly, health officials said early Thursday.
- Israelis won’t be permitted to travel more than one kilometer from their homes, except to buy necessities.
- The U.K. has banned travel by visitors from South Africa, to prevent further cases of another new variant of the coronavirus entering the country.
- The U.K. is already seeing a surge in cases linked to one new variant, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Wednesday that public health officials have detected two cases in the U.K. of a second variant first identified by doctors in South Africa.
- South Africa’s government said the new variant first identified there is spreading quickly across the country, with 26% of all tests now returning positive results.
- In France, health authorities reported nearly 15,000 new infections and 216 deaths on Wednesday—fewer than neighbors such as the U.K. and Germany, thanks in part to a strict lockdown.
- In Italy, streets had fewer people than on a normal Christmas Eve as the country entered a hard lockdown until Jan. 6.
- Only food stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses were open, and bars and restaurants can only do takeaway until 10 p.m.
- Russia, meanwhile, reported a record number of new infections and deaths Thursday, with the spread of the virus showing little sign of abating. Authorities recorded nearly 30,000 new coronavirus cases and 635 deaths.
Another new coronavirus variant found in Nigeria, says Africa CDC – Reuters, 12/24/20
- Another new variant of the novel coronavirus seems to have emerged in Nigeria, the head of Africa’s disease control body said on Thursday, cautioning more investigation was needed.
- The news comes after Britain and South Africa both reported new variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that appear to be more contagious, leading to new travel restrictions and turmoil in markets.
- The detection of the new variants in Nigeria and South Africa prompted an emergency meeting of the Africa CDC this week, Nkengasong said.
- The news comes as cases are surging in both Nigeria and South Africa.
- In the past week, Nigeria reported a 52% increase in cases and South Africa a 40% increase, Nkengasong said.
- The new, faster-spreading variant that South Africa detected on Dec. 18 is now the predominant one there, Nkengasong said, although – as with the new variant in Britain – there is no evidence that it leads to a more severe disease.
5G Auction Shatters Record as Bidding Tops $69 Billion – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- The Federal Communications Commission’s ongoing sale of wireless licenses has fetched more than $69.8 billion after three weeks of bidding, a record sum that could alter cellphone carriers’ prospects for the next decade.
- The auction proceeds have already topped the $44.9 billion raised in 2015 by an earlier sale of midrange cellular licenses, which U.S. cellphone carriers used at the time to enhance their 4G service.
- Each bid is swathed in secrecy until the auction process ends.
- Analysts expect big names like AT&T and Verizon Communications to walk away with a large share of the licenses to match assets that rival T-Mobile captured with its February takeover of Sprint.
Apple’s China App Store Sheds Videogames as Beijing Tightens Internet Control – Wall Street Journal, 12/23/20
- Apple is booting thousands of videogame apps from its platform in China as the government clamps down harder on such content, illustrating the tech giant’s vulnerability to state pressure on its business.
- The iPhone maker this month warned Chinese developers that new wave of paid gaming apps are at risk of removal from its app store, according to a memo viewed by The Wall Street Journal, after the company removed thousands of such apps earlier this year.
- The app-store purge comes as China has stepped up efforts to police its internet, tightening content controls and censorship, including a demand that Tripadvisor and more than 100 other apps be removed from the Apple store in the country.
- The Cyberspace Administration of China called the apps illegal without spelling out the offenses Tripadvisor or the other apps, most of which are from Chinese developers, had committed. Tripadvisor declined to comment.
Laptops, desktop sales see ‘renaissance;’ shortages won’t ease until 2022 – Reuters, 12/24/20
- The world stocked up on laptop and desktop computers in 2020 at a level not seen since the iPhone debuted in 2007, and manufacturers still are months away from fulfilling outstanding orders, hardware industry executives and analysts said.
- Annual global shipments of PCs, the industry’s collective term for laptops and desktops, topped out at about 300 million in 2008 and recently were sinking toward 250 million. Few expected a resurgence.
- But some analysts now expect 2020 will close at about 300 million shipments, up roughly 15% from a year ago.
- Tablets are experiencing even faster growth.
- By the end of 2021, installed PCs and tablets will reach 1.77 billion, up from 1.64 billion in 2019, according to research company Canalys.
- The virus pressed families into expanding from one PC for the house to one for each student, video gamer or homebound worker.
US ECONOMY & POLITICS
House Efforts to Alter Coronavirus Package Fail, Leaving Aid in Limbo – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- Republicans blocked Democrats’ effort to pass legislation approving $2,000 stimulus checks for Americans by unanimous consent in the U.S. House, and countered with an attempt to cut foreign aid that was thwarted by Democrats in turn.
- Rep. Debbie Dingell (D., Mich.), presiding over the rare Christmas Eve session, said neither proposal had been “cleared by bipartisan floor and committee leadership” and therefore couldn’t be “entertained”—confirming that leadership on each side of the aisle had objected to the other party’s proposed legislation.
- In addition to complaining that the checks were too skimpy, Mr. Trump had criticized the spending portion of the 5,593-page year-end package, which includes routine funding for foreign allies and international programs.
- The president’s attacks on the legislation threw Washington into chaos and raised the possibility of a government shutdown next week.
- The delay in passing a coronavirus-relief package might be felt soonest for some receiving unemployment benefits.
- The week ending Dec. 26 is the last full week for which pandemic-related unemployment benefits are funded.
- In early December, roughly 14 million people were receiving benefits through the two pandemic programs that were set to expire this month, representing nearly three-quarters of those currently receiving jobless benefits.
Trump vetoes defense bill, setting up showdown with Congress – Politico, 12/23/20
- President Donald Trump vetoed major defense policy legislation Wednesday, sending the measure back to Congress for what could be the first successful override of his presidency if enough Republicans are willing to defy the commander in chief.
- In a statement rejecting the National Defense Authorization Act, Trump cited lawmakers’ refusal to repeal online liability protections, known as Section 230, and a provision that would force the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate leaders, among other gripes.
- The Trump administration has also opposed measures in the defense bill that limit his authority to remove troops from Afghanistan and Germany. Trump is pushing to lower U.S. troop levels to 2,500 in Afghanistan by Jan. 15.
- Separately, his administration is pressing to move 12,000 troops out of Germany after Trump criticized the NATO ally for not spending enough on defense.
- The issue has divided Republicans, as some GOP lawmakers who supported the NDAA may side with Trump on a veto override vote.
- Trump’s veto is only the sixth for a defense bill in just over four decades. His immediate predecessors Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each vetoed one defense bill in eight years in office.
Biden’s Nominees Face Narrow Path in Senate – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- Some of President-elect Joe Biden’s nominees are set to face a narrow path to confirmation, with potential delays that could result in his key cabinet picks being seated later than is traditional for incoming administrations.
- While many of Mr. Biden’s picks have drawn bipartisan support, several stand to face opposition from top Republicans, and they will have to make it through committee for a full Senate vote, where a simple majority is needed.
- GOP criticism has been especially vocal toward Neera Tanden, Mr. Biden’s choice to lead the Office of Management and Budget, and Xavier Becerra, his pick for Health and Human Services secretary.
- The proposed Senate schedule released on Tuesday—which Democrats could change if they win the majority—has the chamber meeting on Jan. 3 for the start of the session and again on Jan. 6 to count the votes of the Electoral College.
- The next session day listed is Jan 20.
Andrew Yang Files Paperwork to Explore New York City Mayoral Run – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang has filed paperwork with New York City’s campaign finance board to explore a run for mayor.
- Mr. Yang filed with the board on Wednesday. The paperwork is the first official step in beginning a campaign.
- It allows him to enroll in a city program that matches campaign donations, a board spokesman said.
- Mr. Yang, a Manhattan resident, would join a crowded field of candidates vying to be the next mayor of the nation’s largest city.
- The city’s 2021 mayoral race will be the first to use ranked-choice voting, which allows voters to rank their favorite candidates instead of voting for just one.
- The Democratic primary will be held June 22, and the victor is likely to win the general election in the largely blue city.
EUROPE & WORLD
Brexit Trade Deal Is Reached Between U.K., European Union – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- The U.K. and the European Union secured an agreement over their future relations, setting the seal on the 2016 British referendum decision to leave the bloc and bringing to a close years of economic uncertainty and fraught politics in the U.K.
- The deal, coming just days ahead of an end-year deadline, calms the worst fears of a major economic disruption in coming weeks as Britain unmoors from its largest trading partner and is tackling another intense phase of the coronavirus pandemic.
- The accord, which follows months of tense negotiations and will take effect on Jan. 1, sets out the terms of a much more distant relationship between Britain and the EU than at present.
- Under the terms of the accord, both sides will continue to trade free of tariffs but there will be significant new bureaucracy for importers and exporters. The free flow of workers between the two economies will end and trade in services will be much reduced. London’s vast financial center will no longer have guaranteed access to European markets.
Alibaba, Ant Face Crackdowns from Chinese Regulators – Wall Street Journal, 12/24/20
- On Thursday, Chinese regulators said they were taking action against billionaire Jack Ma’s two crown jewels, e-commerce giant Alibaba and finance behemoth Ant Group, moves that followed the abrupt shutdown last month of Ant’s planned blockbuster public listing.
- Taken together, the actions mark Beijing’s strongest enforcement action against a technology empire that has come to embody China’s striking rise—and its founder Mr. Ma, a flamboyant celebrity businessman who has earned comparisons to Amazon.com’s Jeff Bezos.
- The effort underscores Beijing’s resolve to rein in technology giants seen to be growing too quickly and, critics say, using their influence in ways that are reckless and disruptive to society.
- The country’s antimonopoly regulator said in its statement Thursday that it was acting on reports that Alibaba was pressuring merchants who sell goods on its platforms to commit to not selling on its competitors’ platforms.
- Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama died in Cochin, India. (1524)
- The War of 1812 between America and Britain ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent. (1814)