AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Just Got U.K. Approval. Why the Stock Market Shrugged.

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson with a vial of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo by Paul Ellis – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

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AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine was approved by U.K. regulators Wednesday—but the approval doesn’t look likely to change market skepticism about the company.

The vaccine developed by AstraZeneca along with Oxford University became the second to be approved for distribution by the U.K. The news was greeted with muted enthusiasm by investors, who sent the share up a modest 0.1% in London trading.

It’s possible the news was already reflected in the stock after a senior Oxford scientist said last week that he was expecting approval after Christmas, something that caused the stock to jump 4%. But Astra has barely moved in 2020—its American depositary receipts have ticked up just 0.1% in 2020.

Astra-specific issues such as its $39 billion acquisition of U.S. biotech Alexion, an amount investors seem to consider generous, could be blamed for the nothing year. Yet Pfizer, the first company to see its vaccine approved and distributed widely, is also basically flat on the year.

That may be a sign that investors don’t expect pharmaceutical companies to book much profit from the vaccine, especially as more come on the market. China’s Sinopharm, for instance, just announced that its vaccine is 79% effective.

Still, this is one of those cases where the world is better off, even if investors aren’t.

—Al Root

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McConnell Blocks Quick Vote on $2,000 Stimulus Checks

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell rejected Democrats’ attempt at a quick vote on a House bill authorizing an increase in direct payments to Americans from $600 to $2,000, setting up a debate in the upper chamber that is expected to last the rest of the week.

  • McConnell said he wants the Senate to consider the increase along with additional measures proposed by President Donald Trump, including more restrictions on tech companies and “further ways to protect the sanctity of America’s ballots while continuing to respect the federal government’s limited role.”
  • President Trump warned Republicans of dire outcomes if they failed to increase stimulus payments, writing on Twitter, “Unless Republicans have a death wish, and it is also the right thing to do, they must approve the $2000 payments ASAP. $600 IS NOT ENOUGH!”
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Tuesdaythe $600 payments may start to arrive in people’s bank accounts via direct deposit overnight, and paper checks will begin to be mailed Wednesday. Americans can check the status of their payment later this week on the IRS’s website.
  • Just as the first confirmed case of a new strain of the Covid-19 first found in the United Kingdom popped up in Colorado, President-elect Joe Biden promised a “much more aggressive effort” at vaccine distribution once he takes office. About 2 million Americans have been inoculated, far fewer than the 20 million expected by year end.

What’s Next: McConnell wants the Senate to vote Wednesday on overriding Trump’s veto of a defense bill that the House authorized Monday. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said he would object to a vote on whether to override that veto until there is a vote to increase direct payment to Americans.

—Anita Hamilton


The Boeing 737 Max Is Finally Back in the U.S.

After being grounded in March 2019 following two deadly crashes killing a total of 346 people, the Boeing 737 Max has taken flight again in the United States.

  • American Airlines used the jet to fly from Miami to New York and back Tuesday without incident. The single aisle plane has better fuel efficiency than its predecessors and is used mostly on domestic or short international flights.
  • The Federal Aviation Administration lifted its grounding order for the Max after requiring that Boeing install software updates and wiring fixes. Families of the victims in the two crashes sent a letter to lawmakers last week saying “the entire recertification process is suspect.”
  • A Senate report earlier this month also criticized the recertification process. “It appears, in this instance, FAA and Boeing were attempting to cover up important information that may have contributed to the 737 MAX tragedies,” the report said. The Federal Aviation Administration called the findings “unsubstantiated allegations.”
  • Boeing responded to the report, saying, “we take seriously the committee’s findings and we continue to review the report in full.

What’s Next: While Boeing has received new orders for the Max, demand may be affected by the dearth of air travelers during the pandemic. American Airlines said Tuesday it plans to fly less than half the number of flights between now and February than it did during the same period in 2019.

—Anita Hamilton


Activist Investor Calls on Intel to Make Changes

Daniel Loeb’s hedge fund is pushing for big changes at chip maker Intel. The activist investor said the Intel’s business woes pose a national security risk.

  • Loeb’s Third Point has built a nearly $1 billion stake in the $200 billion company, The Wall Street Journal reported. Loeb is pushing Intel to hire an investment advisor to help determine if it should remain an integrated device manufacturer and if it should divest some of its recent acquisitions.
  • The company’s decline presents a national security concern, Loeb wrote in a letter to Omar Ishrak, the chairman of Intel’s board. Without immediate change, “America’s access to leading-edge semiconductor supply will erode, forcing the U.S. to rely more heavily on a geopolitically unstable East Asia to power everything from PCs to data centers to critical infrastructure and more.”
  • Intel said in a news release that it “welcomes input from all investors regarding enhanced shareholder value” and that it looked forward to engaging with Third Point.

What’s Next: Intel stock has fallen 17.5% in 2020, amid double digit gains for the broader S&P 500. Last month, Barron’s said that Intel stock was undervalued, and pointed to potential upside if the chip maker can turn things around.

—Connor Smith


Britain, EU Launch Formal Ratification of Post-Brexit Trade Deal

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU leaders formally signed on Wednesday the trade treaty they concluded last week after 10 months of tough negotiations. The House of Commons is expected to ratify the deal later today.

  • After it demanded to have the time necessary to examine the 2,000-page document, the European Parliament will have until the end of February to vote on the trade deal. It will be temporarily implemented in the meantime.
  • Britain legally left the EU on Jan. 31 and will exit Europe’s single market and customs union on Dec. 31.
  • The European Research Group, a gathering of hard-line Brexit advocates in Johnson’s’ ruling conservative party, said earlier this week it would support the deal as it met its criteria on the sovereignty it says Britain needed to reclaim from the EU.
  • Keir Starmer, the opposition Labour Party’s leader, has instructed his group of lawmakers to vote for the deal, arguing that the alternative—no deal—would lead to worse economic consequences. That guarantees that the U.K. Parliament will ratify the treaty today.

What’s Next: The U.K.-EU relationship will be in legal limbo from Jan. 1 as long as the European Parliament has not ratified it. However spirited the debates among the many parties represented in the EU’s top legislative body, there is little chance that it will turn down a deal that took so long to conclude.

—Pierre Briançon


Times Square’s New Year’s Eve Celebration Goes Mostly Virtual

The crystal-laden ball in Times Square will still drop at midnight on New Year’s Eve, but almost no one will get to see it in person this year due to the pandemic.

  • Approximately 400,000 partyers typically crowd into Times Square to watch the spectacle each year. The area will be closed to the public this year except for some 40 essential workers and their families who will watch the event from separate, socially-distanced enclosures. The workers include a teacher, a grocery clerk, and a Covid-19 tester.
  • This year’s event will feature celebrity performances from Jennifer Lopez, Cyndi Lauper, Billy Porter, Andra Day, Gloria Gaynor, Machine Gun Kelly and Pitbull. Ryan Seacrest, Lucy Hale and Porter will host the event.
  • One thing that won’t be different this year is the 3,000 pounds of confetti released at the stroke of midnight from building rooftops throughout Times Square.

What’s Next: Anyone can watch the event, which kicks off at 6 p.m. EST, live online via an app or on television

—Anita Hamilton


Dear Moneyist,

I don’t even know where to start but here it goes.

My dad passed away recently. He served our country for 22 years. He was very ill and told no one.

When he died at the hospital in Savannah, Ga., his sister just watched him die, and left me to take care of everything. I had to go to his apartment, take care of his car, and find a funeral home in Georgia to transport his body to Puerto Rico where he will be buried.

At his apartment I found a little card, very simple card with his sister’s name and also an account number. This card was just a laminated piece of paper. I called the bank, and I was told that his sister was listed as an authorized person on my father’s account. Remember, when my dad died she left me to take care of everything.

I called her to let her know that there is an account and that there is $27,000 in it. She responded to say, “It was your father’s intention to leave me that money.” She says she will be returning to Georgia to collect the money. She paid for the funeral in Georgia, and she paid for the funeral in Puerto Rico, and now she is asking for documents to send them to Veteran’s Affairs to claim back the money that was spent on these funerals.

The last time I spoke with his sister, she told me that I’m only interested only in his money. That just makes me want to leave it at that, and move on, and let her have it. I am his only daughter. Do I have a right to that money even though she was an “authorized person” on his bank account?

—Grieving Daughter

Read The Moneyist’s response here.

—Quentin Fottrell


Corrections and amplifications: AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine is the second to be approved by the U.K. A previous version of this article incorrectly said it was the third.


—Newsletter edited by Mary Romano, Anita Hamilton, Matt Bemer, and Ben Levisohn