U.S. Stocks Rise on Stimulus Bill Passage – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- U.S. stocks rose Monday after President Trump signed a Covid-19 aid bill, averting a government shutdown and ending uncertainty about the rollout of the spending package.
- Mr. Trump’s signing of the $900 billion bill paves the way for the government to make direct payments to American households as the surging coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt business and social activity.
- Shares of travel companies that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic were among the biggest gainers Monday.
- American Airlines jumped 3.2%, while Norwegian Cruise Line advanced 2.6% and fellow cruise operator Carnival gained 2.9%.
- Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 rose 0.7%. Markets in the U.K. were closed for Boxing Day.
- Sentiment in the region was buoyed after the European Union began distributing Covid-19 inoculations Sunday.
- Just days earlier, the EU reached a post-Brexit trade agreement with the U.K., bringing an end to years of uncertainty about future relations between the two sides.
- Hong Kong-listed shares in Alibaba Group Holding tumbled 8% on Monday.
- China’s central bank released a harshly worded statement Sunday criticizing Ant’s business practices and instructing the financial-technology giant to shift its focus back to its digital payments business.
Covid-19 Live Updates: Total U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 19 Million – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- The U.S. reported more than 150,000 new coronavirus cases as the nation faced a rising number of hospitalizations due to Covid-19.
- Sunday’s total was down from the previous day’s tally of more than 226,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
- Data is often affected by holiday periods.
- Reporting and data anomalies are expected during the next few weeks because of the winter holidays, according to the Covid Tracking Project.
- Hospitalizations due to Covid-19 rose back above 118,000 after dipping to 117,344 on Saturday, according to the Covid Tracking Project. The number of people in intensive-care units totaled 22,447 as of Sunday.
- Europe continued to roll out its Covid-19 vaccination campaign against the backdrop of a resurgent virus.
- In France, residents of nursing homes in Sevran, a Paris suburb, and Dijon became the first in the country to receive the vaccine.
- France plans to vaccinate 27 million people by the summer, health officials said.
- The six-week lockdown in the fall helped reduce the spread of the virus, but the number of new daily cases remains well above the 5,000 the government had set as a target going into the holiday season.
- On Dec. 15, France replaced the lockdown with an 8 p.m. curfew that was relaxed on Christmas Eve. The seven-day rolling average of new daily cases stood at more than 12,000 on Sunday, compared with a peak of 50,000 in early November.
- Germany, where vaccinations began in nursing homes on Saturday, recorded 10,976 new cases on Sunday, well off the 32,195 registered last Wednesday. But the Robert Koch Institute for infectious diseases has warned the data was likely understating the real level of infections because of limited testing capacity over the holiday period.
- In the U.K., where vaccinations have been under way for several weeks, the number of people in the hospital with Covid-19 stood at 21,286 three days before Christmas, the latest official data showed, only a few hundred short of the previous peak reached in April.
- The U.K. reported more than 35,000 new cases a day on average over the seven days through Sunday. Around 450 people a day succumbed to the virus on average over the seven days through Dec. 22.
U.S. holiday retail sales rise 3% as online shopping booms- Mastercard report – Reuters, 12/26/20
- U.S. retail sales rose 3% during this year’s expanded holiday shopping season from Oct. 11 to Dec. 24, a report by Mastercard Inc said on Saturday, powered by a pandemic-driven shift toward online shopping.
- U.S. ecommerce sales jumped 49% in this year’s holiday shopping season, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse report, underscoring the COVID-19 pandemic’s role in transforming customers’ shopping habits.
- Holiday e-commerce sales made up 19.7% of total retail sales this year, the data showed, noting that options such as buy online and pick-up-in-store, contactless technologies were key for retailers.
- “This was a healthier holiday season than many had forecast,” senior advisor for Mastercard Steve Sadove told Reuters in an interview.
U.S. fliers less familiar with Boeing 737 MAX crashes two years on, but wary when reminded: Reuters/Ipsos poll – Reuters, 12/28/20
- With the passage of time, Americans are less familiar with two fatal Boeing 737 MAX crashes, but if they are made aware of those disasters, more than half say they would probably avoid the aircraft, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll.
- The poll results, released on Dec. 28, a day before the 737 MAX resumes commercial flights in the United States, found that 39% of adults were familiar with the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 versus about half in a previous poll.
- Of those respondents, 73% correctly identified Boeing as the maker of the aircraft involved in the crashes, down from 82% who said the same in the poll that ran in May 2019.
- However, when respondents were told about the aircraft’s safety issues 57% said they were not likely to fly in a Boeing 737 MAX, while 37% say they would be likely to fly in it once it has been in the air for six months or more.
2020 Was One of the Worst-Ever Years for Oil Write-Downs – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- The pandemic has triggered the largest revision to the value of the oil industry’s assets in at least a decade, as companies sour on costly projects amid the prospect of low prices for years.
- Oil-and-gas companies in North America and Europe wrote down roughly $145 billion combined in the first three quarters of 2020, the most for that nine-month period since at least 2010, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis.
- That total significantly surpassed write-downs taken over the same periods in 2015 and 2016, during the last oil bust, and is equivalent to roughly 10% of the companies’ collective market value.
- The data, which encompassed the first three quarters of 2020, excluded Exxon Mobil Corp.’s recently announced plan to write down up to $20 billion in the fourth quarter and the $10 billion Chevron Corp. slashed in late 2019.
Investors Double Down on Stocks, Pushing Margin Debt to Record – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- A strong indicator of stock-market euphoria flashed red last month. Investors borrowed a record $722.1 billion against their investment portfolios through November, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, topping the previous high of $668.9 billion from May 2018.
- The milestone is an ominous one for the stock market—margin debt records tend to precede bouts of volatility, as seen in 2000 and 2008.
- Many investors also use their margin balances to trade options, contracts that give them the right to buy or sell shares at a specific price, later.
- Options trading exploded this year as individual investors flocked to the stock market.
- An average of 29 million changed hands each day this year, a 48% jump from 2019, according to data from Options Clearing.
US ECONOMY & POLITICS
Trump Signs Covid-19 Aid Bill Averting Government Shutdown – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- President Trump signed a sweeping pandemic-aid bill on Sunday night ending a standoff with Congress and paving the way for millions of Americans to get economic relief as the coronavirus pandemic surges across the country.
- Mr. Trump objected to the legislation last week, after it had already passed Congress with overwhelming bipartisan support, saying that lawmakers needed to increase the size of direct payments to Americans to $2,000, up from $600 per adult and per child for individuals with adjusted gross incomes under $75,000.
- He signed the legislation under pressure from lawmakers of both parties. In a statement, the president called on Congress to remove what he called wasteful spending in the bill and said he would send lawmakers a list of provisions he wants eliminated—an effort that Democrats said they will block.
- The massive year-end package that the president signed includes a $1.4 trillion bill to continue government funding into September, a measure that Mr. Trump has said includes wasteful spending on foreign aid.
- Mr. Trump said he would use the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 to temporarily freeze funding. The law allows Mr. Trump to send a proposal to lawmakers to rescind certain funds, which then freezes those funds for a maximum of 45 days, counted in a way that takes into account when Congress is in session, according to the Congressional Research Service.
House Set to Vote on $2,000 Checks and Vetoed Defense Bill – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- The House prepared to vote Monday on overriding President Trump’s veto of the annual defense policy bill, in a late flurry of congressional action that also includes the first test of the president’s call for $2,000 stimulus checks.
- The House will vote Monday evening on the legislation to increase the checks to $2,000, up from $600 per adult and per child for individuals with adjusted gross incomes under $75,000. It is unclear if the Senate will take up the measure, which would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the aid package’s price tag.
- House lawmakers are also planning on Monday to vote to override Mr. Trump’s veto of the separate $740.5 billion National Defense Authorization Act defense-policy bill, which the president criticized because of provisions related to the removal of Confederate base names and troop levels abroad, as well as the legislation’s lack of language revoking internet platforms’ broad immunity for the content they publish from users on their sites.
- Both the House and Senate passed the NDAA earlier this month with veto-proof majorities, but some Republicans have said they would side with Mr. Trump on the override vote.
Democrats Dominate Fundraising in Georgia Senate Runoffs – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- Democrats are pouring money into the Georgia special election that will determine which party controls the Senate, with candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock together collecting more than $210 million in two months, new fundraising filings show.
- That is about $78 million more than what the Republican incumbents, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, raised during the same period, according to the Federal Election Commission reports.
- Combined, the two GOP campaigns hauled in $132 million between Oct. 15 and Dec. 16, the time period covered by the new reports.
- So far, the candidates, party committees and outside groups have spent more than $452 million on television, radio and some digital ads, according to ad tracker Kantar/CMAG. Some $84 million more in ad buys are planned through the Jan. 5 election.
- Republicans are outpacing Democrats on TV largely thanks to a trio of big-spending outside groups with close ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell : American Crossroads, the Senate Leadership Fund and Peachtree PAC.
- Together, those groups account for about $138 million in ad buys, more than one-quarter of all special election advertising spending. On the Democratic side, the top three outside groups have collectively spent about $36 million.
U.S. EPA finalizing first-ever airplane emissions rules – Reuter, 12/28/20
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday will finalize the first-ever proposed standards regulating greenhouse gas emissions from airplanes, a spokeswoman told Reuters.
- The EPA said in July the proposed requirements would apply to new-type designs as of January 2020 and to in-production airplanes or those with amended type certificates starting in 2028.
- The EPA said Monday it anticipates nearly all affected airplanes to be compliant by the effective dates.
- The airplanes covered by the proposed rule accounted for 10% of all U.S. transportation greenhouse gas emissions and 3% of total U.S. emissions. They have been the largest source of transportation greenhouse gas emissions not subject to rules.
EUROPE & WORLD
China Tells Ant Group to Refocus on Its Payments Business – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- Chinese financial regulators moved to rein in Ant Group, the financial-technology giant controlled by billionaire Jack Ma, telling it to switch its focus back to its mainstay payments business and rectify problems in faster-growing areas such as personal lending, insurance and wealth management.
- China’s central bank on Sunday criticized Ant for its behavior toward competitors and consumers, and what regulators said was problematic corporate governance.
- It said the company “despised” complying with regulations and engaged in regulatory arbitrage, without providing specifics.
- Ant said it appreciated the guidance and would comply with the regulatory requirements. The company said it would develop a timetable and a plan of action.
Alibaba’s $10 billion buyback plan fails to halt stock slide as regulatory concerns mount – Reuters, 12/27/20
- Alibaba shares slumped 9% to their lowest since June on Monday, as the firm’s upsized $10 billion buyback program failed to ease concerns about a regulatory crackdown on co-founder Jack Ma’s e-commerce and financial empire.
- The downward spiral intensified when Chinese regulators announced on Thursday the launch of an antitrust investigation into Alibaba and said they would summon its Ant Group affiliate to meet.
- These developments are part of a crackdown on monopolistic behavior in China’s booming internet space in general, but Ma’s business empire in particular after he publicly criticized the regulatory system for stifling innovation.
- Regulators have warned Alibaba about the so-called “choosing one from two” practice under which merchants are forced to sign exclusive cooperation pacts preventing them from offering products on rival platforms.
China to leapfrog U.S. as world’s biggest economy by 2028: think tank – Reuters, 12/28/20
- China will overtake the United States to become the world’s biggest economy in 2028, five years earlier than previously estimated due to the contrasting recoveries of the two countries from the COVID-19 pandemic, a think tank said.
- The CEBR said China’s “skillful management of the pandemic”, with its strict early lockdown, and hits to long-term growth in the West meant China’s relative economic performance had improved.
- China looked set for average economic growth of 5.7% a year from 2021-25 before slowing to 4.5% a year from 2026-30.
- While the United States was likely to have a strong post-pandemic rebound in 2021, its growth would slow to 1.9% a year between 2022 and 2024, and then to 1.6% after that.
- Japan would remain the world’s third-biggest economy, in dollar terms, until the early 2030s when it would be overtaken by India, pushing Germany down from fourth to fifth.
- The United Kingdom, currently the fifth-biggest economy by the CEBR’s measure, would slip to sixth place from 2024.
EU-China investment deal likely this week – senior EU official – Reuters, 12/28/20
- China and the European Union are likely to clinch an investment deal this week that would give EU companies much better access to the Chinese market and protection for their assets there, a senior EU official said on Monday.
- Talks on the agreement launched in 2014, but were stuck for years as the EU complained that China was failing to make good on promises to lift curbs on EU investment, despite a pledge to open up the world’s second largest economy.
- Ambassadors of EU governments in Brussels discussed the investment agreement on Monday, and no country had any major problems with it.
- “The deal might already be done this week,” the official said, adding that the agreement, which could be struck during a video-conference on Wednesday, would be translated into legal texts over several months.
- “We get much better market access and the protection of our investments in China. Better market access is something we have been working for many years, and the Chinese have made quite a big step towards us,” the official said
China Jails Citizen Journalist for Her Accounts of Covid-19 in Wuhan – Wall Street Journal, 12/28/20
- A Chinese court imposed a four-year prison term on a citizen journalist who documented how Covid-19 ravaged the city where the coronavirus was first detected, in a case that underscores the lengths to which Beijing has defended its official narrative of the pandemic.
- Zhang Zhan, 37 years old, was convicted of “picking quarrels and provoking trouble” after a roughly 2½-hour trial at the Shanghai Pudong New Area People’s Court on Monday, where prosecutors accused her of spreading falsehoods about the coronavirus pandemic through social-media posts and interviews with overseas media, her lawyers said.
- The verdict came more than seven months after authorities detained Ms. Zhang in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the pandemic’s original epicenter, where she posted more than 120 YouTube videos chronicling conditions in the city and detailed what she saw as missteps in the government’s initial pandemic response.
- The case against Ms. Zhang is the first known prosecution of a citizen journalist who covered the coronavirus pandemic in Wuhan, where government efforts to punish whistleblowers and suppress information on the early outbreak stirred a public backlash and prompted some ordinary citizens to chronicle conditions in Wuhan with firsthand accounts over social media.
- At least three other citizen journalists in Wuhan disappeared in February and, though one of them briefly resurfaced in April, their fate remains unclear, rights activists say.
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