1. U.S. Futures Rise; Pound Gains on Brexit Deal Hope
U.S. futures climbed with European stocks and the pound jumped as investors awaited the unveiling of a post-Brexit trade accord after both sides earlier agreed on an outline of the deal. The Stoxx 600 Index edged higher ahead of an expected press conference from Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Thursday, which was delayed over last-minute haggling. Negotiators worked through the night putting the finishing touches on the historic pact, which will formally complete Britain’s separation from the European Union. The pound rose to the highest in about a week, while the euro was steady. Contracts on the S&P 500 Index nudged higher and most Asian stocks gained. Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. sank more than 8% in Hong Kong after China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at the tech giant.
Futures on the S&P 500 Index rose 0.1% as of early morning New York time.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index increased 0.2%.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index rose 0.5%.
The MSCI Emerging Market Index gained 0.4%.
2. GOP Blocks Bid for $2,000 Payments Trump Demanded
House Republicans blocked Democrats’ attempt to meet President Donald Trump’s demand to pay most Americans $2,000 to help weather the coronavirus pandemic. Republicans objected to the bill House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sought to pass by unanimous consent Thursday to replace the $600 payments in the latest pandemic relief legislation with the $2,000 payments. Democrats will try again with a roll call vote on a new bill Dec. 28, when the House also plans a vote to override Trump’s veto on the National Defense Authorization Act.
3. China Targets Jack Ma’s Alibaba Empire in Monopoly Probe
China kicked off an investigation into alleged monopolistic practices at Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and summoned affiliate Ant Group Co. to a high-level meeting over financial regulations, escalating scrutiny over the twin pillars of billionaire Jack Ma’s internet empire. The probe announced Thursday marks the formal start of the Communist Party’s crackdown on the crown jewel of Ma’s sprawling dominion, spanning everything from e-commerce to logistics and social media. The pressure on Ma is central to a broader effort to rein in an increasingly influential internet sphere: Draft anti-monopoly rules released November gave the government wide latitude to restrain entrepreneurs who until recently enjoyed unusual freedom to expand their realms.
4. New Virus Strain’s Transmissibility to Cause More Deaths
The mutated coronavirus strain that’s been spreading in the U.K. appears to be more contagious and will likely lead to higher levels of hospitalizations and deaths next year. The variant is 56% more transmissible than other strains. There’s no clear evidence that it results in more or less severe disease. The U.K. government had previously said the mutated variant appears to be as much as 70% more transmissible than other circulating strains. Additionally, it has almost two dozen mutations that may affect proteins made by the coronavirus. That has raised concern that tests, treatments and vaccines that just started rolling out might be less effective, though Europe’s health regulator said the variant probably isn’t different enough from earlier ones to elude Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE’s shot. Countries including Australia, Denmark and Singapore have also discovered the strain.
5. Brexit Deal Gets Held Up by Last-Minute Haggling Over Fish
U.K. and European Union negotiators are locked in talks in Brussels over the final details of a historic post-Brexit trade accord, with both sides engaged in last-minute haggling over fishing rights. While the outline terms of the deal, including broad fishing quotas, were agreed on Wednesday, negotiators have hit a last-minute disagreement over the precise number of each species EU boats will be able to catch in U.K. waters. It isn’t clear how long it will now take for the discussions to reach a conclusion. In a sign the deal may only emerge late on Christmas Eve, EU ambassadors, who are required to scrutinize any agreement after it is made public, were stood down on Thursday afternoon and told to make themselves available over the holiday period.
6. China’s Rebound Continues With Exports and Commodities Booming
China’s economic recovery continued in December, underpinned by booming global demand for exports, rising commodity prices and a rallying stock market. China was already pulling further ahead of other major economies in November, with domestic demand growing, foreign investment rising and record export demand propelling growth even as other major nations struggle amid soaring virus cases. With the Communist Party signalling there won’t be a sudden withdrawal of monetary and fiscal assistance, there’s growing confidence for a healthy expansion in 2021.
7. U.K. Strain 56% More Infectious; Israel Locks Down: Virus Update
China said it would pause flights to and from the U.K., which yesterday imposed tougher regulations across a swath of England in an effort to rein in a new strain of coronavirus. A study showed that the variant is 56% more transmissible than other strains, although there’s no clear evidence that it results in more or less severe disease. Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE will double the supply of their vaccines to the U.S., which said it has administered a total of more than 1 million shots in 10 days. California became the first U.S. state to surpass 2 million infections after a jump in cases. Israel’s cabinet approved a third national lockdown of as long as four weeks.
8. Robinhood Financial Hit With Class-Action Suit for Selling Stock Orders
Robinhood Financial LLC was sued in a proposed class action for allegedly failing to inform clients it was selling their stock orders to trading firms and effectively charging back-door commission fees. The complaint filed Wednesday in San Francisco federal court follows the company’s $65 million settlement last week with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission over similar allegations. While Robinhood touted “commission-free” trading on its platform, it didn’t disclose that it relied extensively on “payment for order flow,” collecting payment from market makers in exchange for executing trades, according to the suit.
9. Turkey Central Banker Tightens Again in Boost to Credibility
Turkey’s central bank governor delivered another meaty interest-rate hike, bolstering credibility with investors after he pledged to tighten policy when needed to keep prices in check. The Monetary Policy Committee led by Governor Naci Agbal lifted the one-week repo rate to 17% from 15% on Thursday. The lira extended gains against the dollar and was trading 0.9% higher. The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index of equities rose as much as 0.8% after the decision. The bank pledged in its rates decision to maintain a tight stance until it sees “a permanent fall in inflation,” citing risks from a weak lira, domestic demand and commodity prices including food costs.
10. Dover Truck Backups Persist on Christmas Eve Despite Progress
The U.K.’s main trucking gateway to the European Union remained backed up for the fifth day, despite progress moving traffic through the Port of Dover. Thousands of truckers were stuck in logjams around Britain’s busiest ferry port on Christmas Eve, separated from families, many as far away as Poland. Some 4,000 trucks alone were crowded onto the site of Manston Airport, a disused airfield in Kent being used to conduct Covid-19 testing required before they can board ferries to Calais, France. Some 170 military personnel tested truckers overnight, enabling their journeys to continue into Europe. France reopened its borders on Wednesday after a two-day blockade, on the condition that drivers have proof of a negative test.