1. Stocks Steady Near All-Time Highs; Dollar Dips

Markets are ending a tumultuous year on a quiet note, with global stock indexes holding near record highs and the dollar at the lowest in two years. U.S. equity futures dipped on the last day of 2020 and all of the industries in the Europe Stoxx 600 were in the red. Markets in Japan, Germany and South Korea were shut for New Year’s Eve. In Asia, China’s benchmark CSI 300 Index closed at a five-year high. The yuan strengthened to the highest since June 2018.

Futures on the S&P 500 Index dipped 0.1% as of early morning London time.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 0.3%.

The MSCI Asia Pacific Index gained 0.2%.

The MSCI Emerging Market Index climbed 0.4%.

2. Bitcoin Touches $29,000 for Another Record High

Bitcoin vaulted above $29,000 to reach yet another record level on the last day of 2020, in a fitting end to a groundbreaking year for the world’s largest digital currency. It has advanced almost 50% in December, on track for its biggest monthly gain since May 2019. Bitcoin has now quadrupled in value this year amid the global coronavirus pandemic, while the wider Bloomberg Galaxy Crypto Index tracking the largest digital currencies is up about 280% as rival coins such as Ether have also rallied.

3. Slow Vaccine Campaign Raises Doubts of U.S. Dysfunction

U.S. health officials acknowledged that a Covid-19 immunization campaign is crawling out of the starting gate, raising the prospect that the nation’s all-in bet on vaccines could be afflicted by the same dysfunction that hobbled other measures to contain the pandemic. Only about 2.7 million Americans had been vaccinated as of Wednesday evening in New York. With one day remaining in the year, that represented roughly 13.5% of the U.S.’s stated goal of immunizing 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 — a number already repeatedly reduced. The task of delivering shots that could end a pandemic that has killed 341,000 U.S. residents is taxing a largely private medical system designed to maximize profit rather than deliver public health. Governments and institutions are struggling with complex logistics to keep the shots cold, organizing cohorts of people to receive them and persuading those made sceptical by a flood of online disinformation.

4. Homebuyers in the U.S. Face Worst Affordability Squeeze in 12 Years

Record-low mortgage rates were supposed to make it easier for homebuyers. Instead, they’ve helped push affordability to a 12-year low. Buyers in the fourth quarter needed to spend almost 30% of the average wage to afford a typical house, the biggest share for any three-month period since 2008. Low borrowing costs, now below 3% for a 30-year loan, have spurred a buying frenzy, driving up prices across the country as shoppers compete for a shrinking supply of listings. During the pandemic, prices have increased faster than earnings, leaping by double digits in 79% of the 499 counties included in the report. More than half of those counties are now less affordable than their historic averages.

5. Gold Heads for Best Year in a Decade With Dollar on the Ropes

Gold is set for the biggest annual advance in a decade after a tumultuous year, with gains this month aided by the dollar’s decline to the lowest level since April 2018. Bullion hit a record in August as investors feared an unprecedented wave of stimulus by central banks and governments would lead to currency debasement and inflation. Holdings in bullion-backed exchange-traded funds set an all-time high in October. While prices dropped as the roll-out of vaccines injected optimism into financial markets, the dollar’s continued weakness has helped support gold into the year-end.

6. U.K. Tells Public to Stay Home for New Year’s Eve Celebrations

Everyone in England should stay at home when they celebrate the New Year on Thursday night, the U.K. government said. People were asked to act as if they have Covid-19 to avoid spreading the virus. The advice is universal and applies to everyone regardless of which of England’s pandemic restriction tiers their region is in. The advice coincides with new rules putting 78% of the country’s population in the strictest tier 4 pandemic curbs, banning almost all household mixing and closing non-essential shops. While ministers say the rollout of vaccines will allow the country to start getting back normal by spring 2021, they have also warned the weeks ahead may be the hardest yet.

7. Bubble Tea Chain Naixue Raises New Funds at $2 Billion Value

The owner of bubble tea chain Nayuki, also known as Naixue’s Tea in Chinese, has completed a new funding round that values the company at nearly $2 billion. Shenzhen Pindao Restaurant Management Co. has raised more than $100 million in a Series C funding round led by private equity firm PAG. Billionaire Jack Ma’s Yunfeng Capital is also among the investors in the latest round. The bubble tea chain owner is considering an initial public offering in Hong Kong after the coronavirus outbreak clouded its earlier plans for a U.S. listing. The firm will spend the fresh funds on product research and supply chain digitization, while it has no IPO plan in the near term.

8. Tokyo Sets New Case Record; New Strain Spreads: Virus Update

Global deaths from Covid-19 passed 18 lakh. Tokyo recorded a record number of new infections, and Japan warned it could consider a state of emergency if the new outbreak can’t be contained. Cities that had gone weeks without new infections, including Beijing and Melbourne, are now reporting clusters, and the new, highly transmissible virus strain was found in Singapore and California. Countries around the world tightened border controls. The EU said it would bar travellers from the U.K. after Britain’s official exit on Jan. 1. Travel between Sydney and Melbourne will be blocked as of Jan. 2; both cities are seeing a resurgence in cases. Chinese authorities are urging people to stay home during the Lunar New Year holidays, which begin Feb. 11.

9. Putin Battles to Sell Russia’s Vaccine in New Rift With West

Russia is accusing the West of maligning its achievements in the global race to defeat Covid-19 as attempts to win key markets for its Sputnik V vaccine run up against the demands of regulators. Like neighbouring China, which is struggling to reassure nations testing its vaccines, Russia’s drive to convert what it calls a scientific triumph into geopolitical dividends has hit unexpected headwinds. President Vladimir Putin has pushed the inoculation in calls with other world leaders since touting Russia’s approval of Sputnik V in August as the globe’s first Covid-19 vaccine. But many countries’ regulators have been unwilling to give Sputnik V fast-track approval — even as they welcome U.S. and European vaccines that first completed comprehensive trials.

10. Ambani is no longer Asia’s richest man

Zhong Shanshan is a private billionaire who’s rarely quoted in the press. Now, after an improbable career spanning journalism, mushroom farming and health care, he’s become Asia’s richest person, eclipsing India’s Mukesh Ambani and a group of Chinese tech titans including Jack Ma. Zhong’s net worth has surged $70.9 billion this year to $77.8 billion, making him the 11th-richest person on the planet, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. It’s one of the fastest accumulations of wealth in history, and all the more remarkable considering that until this year he was little known outside of China. Zhong, 66, isn’t involved in politics and his business interests aren’t entwined with other rich families such as the property tycoons, which is why he’s known locally as the “Lone Wolf.” He owes his success to two unrelated fields. He took vaccine maker Beijing Wantai Biological Pharmacy Enterprise Co public in April, then months later Nongfu Spring Co, a maker of bottled water, became one of Hong Kong’s hottest listings. Nongfu shares have jumped 155% since their debut, and Wantai’s are up more than 2,000%.

HAPPY NEW YEAR, READERS!

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