1. U.S. Stocks Slump With Virus Concerns Back to Fore
U.S. stocks dropped as restrictions to curb coronavirus cases dented some of the optimism over earnings and plans for additional stimulus. Energy companies were among the worst performers on the S&P 500 Index. The Stoxx Europe 600 index headed for its second straight weekly drop as a gauge of private-sector activity in the euro region fell deeper into contraction and Germany cut its forecast for economic growth. Yields on Treasuries and German bunds edged lower, and crude oil slid below $53 a barrel. The British pound weakened after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the U.K.’s third lockdown could last into the summer.
The S&P 500 lost 0.5% by 10:34 a.m. New York time.
The Stoxx Europe 600 Index fell 0.7%.
The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 0.7%.
The MSCI Emerging Markets Index slipped 1%.
2. Biden Calls for ‘Wartime’ Virus Fight as GOP Lawmakers Balk
President Joe Biden warned the nation to prepare for its darkest days in the yearlong pandemic, predicting that as many as 100,000 more Americans will die over the next month as he overhauls the federal coronavirus response and presses Congress for more aid. But Biden’s plea for the nation to assume a “wartime” footing did not immediately sway a recalcitrant Congress, where Republican opposition to his $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan only hardened. Even some liberal Democrats made clear they would not rubber-stamp the new president’s approach. Highlighting the enormous stakes for his presidency, Biden unveiled the new administration’s 200-page blueprint for battling the pandemic on Thursday, his first full day in office.
3. Pfizer Vaccine Safe for Elderly Despite Norway Scare: WHO
The World Health Organization said it sees no evidence that Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine contributed to the deaths of elderly people and urged that the shot still be used. Reports of deaths “are in line with the expected, all-cause mortality rates and causes of death in the sub-population of frail, elderly individuals, and the available information does not confirm a contributory role for the vaccine in the reported fatal events,” the WHO Global Advisory Committee on Vaccine Safety said in a statement on Friday. The risk-benefit balance of the vaccine “remains favourable in the elderly.”
4. U.K. Says Covid-19 May No Longer Be Spreading Exponentially
The coronavirus pandemic may no longer be spreading exponentially in the U.K., according to government data suggesting the country’s third lockdown is working. The official estimate of the “R rate” — which measures how many people each infected person passes the virus on to — fell to between 0.8 and 1, the results released on Friday showed. When R is above 1 the virus spreads exponentially. Last week, the R rate was estimated to be between 1.2 and 1.3. The government said the case rates remain “dangerously high” and urged the public to keep to lockdown rules.
5. Samsung Considers $10 Billion Texas Chipmaking Plant
Samsung Electronics Co. is considering spending more than $10 billion building its most advanced logic chip-making plant in the U.S., a major investment it hopes will win more American clients and help it catch up with industry leader Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. The world’s largest memory chip and smartphone maker is in discussions to locate a facility in Austin, Texas, capable of fabricating chips as advanced as 3 nanometers in the future. Plans are preliminary and subject to change but for now, the aim is to kick off construction this year, install major equipment from 2022, then begin operations as early as 2023.
6. EU’s McGuinness Warns City of London ‘Change is Coming’
The European Union’s top financial-services official warned the City of London that any deal for the industry remains a distant prospect. Mairead McGuinness, the European commissioner for financial services, said that “change is coming,” and “there is no recreating the single market for financial services when they have decided to leave the single market. With the financial industry largely sidelined in the trade deal enacted when Britain finally split from the EU on Dec. 31, firms are racing to adjust to the rupture in European markets. London lost more than 6 billion euros ($7 billion) in daily stock trades to EU venues on Jan. 4, the first business day after the transition period.
7. India Proposes Regulating Big Shadow Lenders More Like Banks
India’s central bank proposes tighter regulations for large shadow lenders to prevent events such as the collapse of a major financier in 2018, the effects of which still linger in the nation’s financial system. The Reserve Bank of India suggests classifying so-called non-bank financial companies into four categories based on parameters including the size of assets, according to a discussion paper released Friday. It proposes imposing a 9% core capital requirement on the top tier — just like banks — and they will be allowed to take on only limited leverage. The RBI has since begun tightening oversight on the sector.
8. Iran Says It’s Reviving Oil Output to Pre-Sanctions Levels
Iran has started ramping up its oil production and expects to reach pre-sanctions levels in one to two months, Deputy Oil Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia said. The oil market will be able to accommodate Iran’s maximum oil output of around 3.9 million to 4 million barrels a day. Subject to punitive U.S. sanctions, the country is barely pumping around half that amount currently. Iran has been subject to tough U.S. sanctions since 2018 when the administration of then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from an international deal that restricted the Middle Eastern country’s nuclear activities.
9. Saudi Arabia, Brazil Set to Get Vaccines as India Begins Exports
India will begin commercial shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to Brazil and Morocco Friday, followed by Saudi Arabia and South Africa, as Prime Minister Narendra Modi attempts to burnish his credentials as a key global leader. ”There’s huge international demand for our vaccines,” Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla told in an interview. “We expect to see more global players cooperating with their Indian counterparts in the pharma and healthcare sectors. This is likely to go beyond shifting parts of supply chains to India. We expect to see collaborations, manufacturing and R&D tie-ups in this field.” The inoculations being exported so far have been manufactured by the Serum Institute of India — the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturer by volume — which has partnered with AstraZeneca to make at least one billion doses of their shot.
10. Bitcoin’s Worst Week Since March Rattles Faith in Crypto Boom
The sharp selloff in Bitcoin this week is stoking fresh questions about the sustainability of the cryptocurrency boom. Prices for the digital asset have tumbled 14% this week, marking the steepest decline since March. Bitcoin was steady on Friday, holding near $31,000 and commentators have cautioned that a sustained drop below $30,000 could presage further losses. Bitcoin’s surge to a record of almost $42,000 on Jan. 8 embodied the embrace of risk in financial markets awash with stimulus. Some argue Bitcoin is also becoming a more mainstream investment with a role to play in hedging risks such as dollar weakness and faster inflation. Others see little more than speculative mania since the digital coin has more than tripled in the past year.