1. U.S. Stocks Rise on Vaccine Optimism; Dollar Falls

U.S. stocks climbed as vaccine progress boosted optimism in one of the final trading sessions of 2020. The dollar continued its slide, weakening to the lowest in 2 1/2 years. Energy shares were among the best performers in S&P 500 Index. Travel and leisure companies advanced in Europe after the U.K. approved a coronavirus shot by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford. Volumes were light during the holiday week, with the Stoxx 600 Index seeing about half of the usual activity as it edged lower. Bitcoin extended its record-breaking rally, trading near $28,000.

The S&P 500 Index gained 0.4% as of 10 a.m. in New York.

The Stoxx Europe 600 Index slipped 0.1%.

The MSCI Emerging Market Index climbed 1.5%.

2. AstraZeneca-Oxford Covid Vaccine Gains First Clearance With U.K. Nod

AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford’s Covid-19 vaccine won U.K. clearance, marking the first approval worldwide for a shot that will be key to mass immunizations despite continuing questions over its efficacy. The vaccine will be prioritized for the country’s most vulnerable groups, with shots starting Monday, according to the government. It’s the second coronavirus injection to be cleared for emergency use in the U.K. after one from Pfizer and BioNTech was authorized in early December. The move will help the U.K. ramp up vaccinations as a surge in coronavirus infections that’s fueled by a new strain puts growing pressure on hospitals.

3. Human-Run Hedge Funds Trounce Quants in Covid Year

After years of being outgunned and outclassed by computer-driven quantitative strategies, human stock-pickers climbed back on top in 2020, helped by aggressive bets in technology and the flood of central bank money that buoyed markets. The dizzying gyrations of the pandemic-stricken year humbled even the most sophisticated of quants — notably behemoths Renaissance Technologies and Two Sigma — whose trading models were thrown off by swings their computers had never seen before. Overall, human-run funds put up some of their best numbers in a decade, with several boldfaced names, including Tiger, Coatue and D1, posting returns in excess of 35%. Whether by luck or by skill, they showed that in this most unusual of years, stock-pickers could still stand up to the seemingly inexorable rise of the machines.

4. England Faces Wider Lockdown in Race to Control New Strain

More areas of England are set to be placed under lockdown, as the new coronavirus strain puts growing pressure on hospitals. People living in London, Essex and Kent should behave as if they have Covid-19, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in an interview with LBC radio on Wednesday. The spread of the new variant means more parts of the country will be placed under toughest tier 4 lockdown restrictions, Hancock said. He will set out details in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday afternoon. His comments come amid growing fears the National Health Service is at risk of being overwhelmed after the U.K. reported more than 50,000 new cases on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since the start of the pandemic. The number of people being treated in the hospital for coronavirus already exceeds the peak recorded during the first wave of infections in spring.

5. Republicans Rebuff Trump, Democrats by Blocking $2,000 Checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday blocked an attempt by Democrats to force quick action increasing direct stimulus payments to $2,000 as President Donald Trump warned that failing to act now amounted to a “death wish” by Republicans. McConnell objected to a motion by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer to approve by unanimous consent a stimulus-checks bill that passed the House on Monday. He also blocked a motion by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont to vote on the stimulus checks immediately after the Senate votes on overriding Trump’s veto of a key defence policy bill.

6. Johnson’s Brexit Deal Clears Its First Parliamentary Hurdle

Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal cleared the House of Commons, putting the U.K.’s trade agreement with the European Union on course to become law within hours. Members of parliament voted 521 to 73 to approve the accord after they were recalled from their Christmas break for an emergency session on Wednesday. The House of Lords, the unelected upper chamber, will vote on the legislation later in the evening. With the main opposition Labour Party backing the bill, the legislation is almost certain to become law in a single day, 24 hours before the U.K. leaves the EU’s single market and customs union.

7. U.S.’s First Case of U.K. Mutation Sparks Search for Source

A 20-something man from Colorado is the first American known to be infected with a new variant of coronavirus that emerged this fall in the U.K., raising concern that a more transmissible strain could spread widely across the country. The Colorado State Laboratory confirmed the patient had the mutated form of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, and informed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The infected man has no recent travel history, challenging health officials to find the possible source of infection and identify others who may be at risk. He is currently in isolation in Elbert County, located halfway between Denver and Colorado Springs.

8. EU, China Give Political Nod to Market-Opening Investment Pact

The European Union and China announced the political approval of an agreement to open the Chinese market further to EU investors, marking a major step in talks that began in 2013. The breakthrough in negotiations on an EU-China investment deal signals the bloc’s determination to focus on economic opportunities in Asia even amid criticism of Beijing’s record on human rights. The accord could enter into force in early 2022. For the EU, the deal risks irking the incoming U.S. administration, which has urged the Europeans to consult with them over China’s economic practices. Failure by the U.S. and EU to forge a common position would give Beijing an advantage as western leaders reassess geopolitical relations in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidency.

9. Pending Sales of U.S. Existing Homes Decline for a Third Month

A gauge of U.S. pending home sales fell for the third consecutive month in November, suggesting higher prices and limited inventory are slowing momentum in the housing market despite record-low borrowing costs. The National Association of Realtors’ index of contract signings to purchase previously owned homes declined 2.6% from the prior month to 125.7, according to data released Tuesday. The drop in the index from the prior month shows more tempered activity in the housing market as prices continue to climb amid lean inventory. Still, the pending sales gauge remains well above pre-pandemic levels, indicating still-elevated demand as buyers seek more space.

10. Qatar Wealth Fund Invests $125 Million in Battery Firm Fluence

Fluence, a global battery storage joint venture of Siemens AG and AES Corp., said it reached an agreement with the sovereign wealth fund of Qatar for a $125 million investment. The funding will give the Qatar Investment Authority a 12% stake in Fluence and values the battery company at more than $1 billion. Siemens and AES will retain a 44% stake each following completion of the deal, the companies said. The global energy storage business is expected to boom in the coming decades as utilities will look to batteries to backstop an increasing amount of intermittent solar and wind power.

Thank you for reading the article. Apologies on the slight delay in posting today as I was travelling in the evening with no access to the internet.
Happy New Year!