Vilsack questions what he heard from China re: ASF, testifies today on state of Black farmers
In Today’s Digital Newspaper
• Growing market implications from Suez Canal mishap
• U.S. jobless claims reach lowest level of the pandemic
• Traders focus on today’s Treasury auction
• Biden’s first White House-based presser this afternoon
• Index of U.S.-traded Chinese stocks fell into bear-market territory
• Surging U.S. economy but delivery delays a concern
• How 10 prominent economists think about overheating
• Men looking for work behind surge in illegal immigration across southern U.S. border
• Ag demand update
• Head of Mexican farm group: government’s corn crop estimate inflated
• IKAR boosts its Russian wheat production and export outlooks
• Heavy rains and flooding could set the stage for another big Aussie wheat crop
• Democrats are considering tax increases; Biden to discuss in speech next Wed.
• More details of USDA’s PAP
• Vilsack testifies online today before House Ag hearing re: state of Black farmers
• What if low-income Americans had access to same retirement plan Congress?
Biden Administration Personnel
• Biden taps Harris to lead border response
• Known big corn sales to China mark weekly export sales update
• Vilsack says China ASF situation not as upbeat or simple as China official says
• Higher wheat quality could boost French wheat exports to China
• China considers taking more control over internet users’ data
Energy & Climate Change:
• Administration, groups urge Supreme Court to uphold decision on refinery
• States file suit against Biden admin. over pause in oil, gas leases on federal lands
• NHTSA sends fuel economy standards preemption proposal to OMB
Food & Beverage Industry Update:
• Kroger hopes to boost its health business through its pandemic efforts
• AstraZeneca releases updated data on its coronavirus vaccine
Politics & Elections:
• Just what N.Y. Gov. Cuomo did not need: more trouble
Other Items of Note:
• What Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will tell Congress today
• North Korea fired two ballistic missiles today
• Bottles of wine suspended in space for a year still taste excellent
Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight, with European shares mostly weaker and Asian shares mostly firmer. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward lower openings. In Asia, most major benchmarks closed higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 rallied 1.1% and South Korea’s Kospi added 0.4%. China’s Shanghai Composite Index edged down 0.1%.
U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow held in positive territory until the close, finally ending down 3.09 points, 0.01%, at 32,420.06. The Nasdaq dropped 265.81 points, 2.01%, at 12,961,89. The S&P 500 was down 21.38 points, 0.55%, at 3,889.14.
An index of U.S.-traded Chinese stocks fell into bear-market territory, as concerns grew about being kicked off exchanges.
On tap today:
• Bank of Japan Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda speaks at a workshop on climate-related financial risks at 7:20 a.m. ET.
• U.S. jobless claims are expected to fall to 735,000 in the week ended March 20 from 770,000 a week earlier. Follow our coverage here. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: Jobless claims reached their lowest level of the pandemic last week, as the U.S. economy’s revival picks up speed. Worker filings for unemployment benefits, a proxy for layoffs, fell to 684,000 last week from 781,000 a week earlier, the Labor Department said . Claims are now at the lowest point since mid-March of last year and below the pre-pandemic high of 695,000.
• U.S. gross domestic product is expected to expand at a 4.1% annual pace in the fourth quarter, unrevised from an earlier estimate. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: The growth in the U.S. economy in the fourth quarter came in an 4.3% annual pace, a touch higher than previous reported. Gross domestic product was raised from the previous reading of 4.1% mostly because of somewhat higher exports and business investment, revised government figures show.
• USDA Weekly Export Sales report, 8:30 a.m. ET
• USDA food price outlook, 9 a.m. ET
• Kansas City Fed's manufacturing survey for March is expected to tick up to 25 from 24 a month earlier. (11 a.m. ET)
• USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack testifies online before House Ag hearing "to review the state of Black farmers in the United States," noon ET. Only 0.1% of Trump administration’s coronavirus farm relief went to Black farmers, according to Vilsack. In an interview with the Washington Post, Vilsack said the previous administration’s response exacerbated disparities in the American farm economy. Black farmers received only $20.8 million of nearly $26 billion in the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program. “We saw 99% of the money going to White farmers and 1% going to socially disadvantaged farmers, and if you break that down to how much went to Black farmers, it’s 0.1%,” he said. “Look at it another way: The top 10% of farmers in the country received 60% of the value of the Covid payments. And the bottom 10% received 0.26 percent.” Link to WaPo article.
• President Biden holds his first news conference at the White House, 1:15 p.m. ET
• National Biodiesel Board holds news conference to discuss the organization's policy priorities for 2021, 2 p.m. ET.
• International Grains Council releases monthly Grain Market Report, London.
• USDA quarterly Hogs and Pigs report, 3 p.m. ET.
• Bank of Mexico releases a policy statement at 3 p.m. ET.
• Federal Reserve speakers: Vice Chairman Richard Clarida on the economy and monetary policy at 10:10 a.m. ET, New York’s John Williams on the economy and monetary policy at 10:30 a.m. ET, Atlanta’s Raphael Bostic on measuring the economy during Covid-19 at 12 p.m. ET, Chicago’s Charles Evans on the economy and monetary policy at 1 p.m. ET, and San Francisco's Mary Daly on monetary policy during Covid-19 at 7 p.m. ET.
A surging U.S. economy, but… The Federal Reserve anticipates that the Covid-19 vaccination campaign and trillions of dollars of fiscal stimulus will propel the U.S. economy to its fastest expansion in more than 30 years. That is piling pressure on the globe-spanning supply chains that multinationals rely on to make everything from exercise bikes to furniture. In a series of surveys around the world released Wednesday, manufacturers reported lengthening delivery times for raw materials and other inputs, rising production backlogs and a sharp pickup in input prices.
How 10 prominent economists think about overheating. A New York Times article (link) details what some economists think about the U.S. economic outlook. Economists acknowledge that some rise in inflation is inevitable, as demand for certain goods and services outstrips supply. (Other events, like strained supply chains, are also pushing up prices.) Where they disagree is over the severity of the inflation that will result:
- The Biden administration and its allies think that prices will recalibrate, unemployment will fall and inflation will stabilize at a manageable level.
- Skeptics worry that people will believe elevated inflation is the new normal, leading to climbing prices, demands for higher wages, a weakening dollar and higher interest rates on government debt. That could prompt policymakers to intervene forcefully — and set off a recession.
A summary of common themes digested by the NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:
- Several, like Greg Mankiw and Jason Furman of Harvard, said they would start to worry about several years of inflation above 3%.
- Others, like Austan Goolsbee of the University of Chicago and Claudia Sahm of the Jain Family Institute, are looking out for a significant acceleration in inflation, as happened in the 1970s.
- Wendy Edelberg of the Brookings Institution is watching for signs that people believe an economic overheating is permanent, like a housing and construction boom and high readings in the five-year, five-year forward inflation expectation rate.
- Larry Summers, who recently kicked the debate into higher gear, thinks there are roughly equal odds that everything will turn out fine, that ever-rising inflation will set in and that the Fed will crash the economy to stop that from happening.
What's driving the surge in illegal immigration across the southern U.S. border? Men looking for work, according to the Wall Street Journal (link). Unlike migrant surges in 2019 and 2014, which were predominantly made up of Central American families and unaccompanied children, so far this one is being driven by individual adults. Most of the migrants are Mexicans, often men in search of work with the pandemic easing and the U.S. economy set to boom.
Wait until Sens. Sanders and Warren see this: What if low-income Americans had access to the same retirement plan as members of Congress? “The unfortunate fact that most Americans lack adequate wealth and retirement savings has been a consistent reality in the U.S. economy for decades. One major driver of this phenomenon is that the United States does not have effective retirement savings programs for low-income individuals. ... To achieve the goal of more equitable wealth distribution and retirement security, we view a plan modeled off of the Thrift Savings Program (TSP) with a government match and the potential for a private employer match as a hopeful way to expand retirement coverage to low-and middle-income workers. Our estimates suggest that for the average household in the poorest 25% of the wealth distribution, after 40 years participation in the TSP could provide them with retirement account balances anywhere between $138,000 and $610,000 before fees and taxes,” the New School’s Teresa Ghilarducci and former Trump administration economic adviser Kevin Hassett write in a new policy proposal for the Economic Innovation Group. Link for details.
• Outside markets: The U.S. Treasury 10-year note yield is fetching 1.623% this morning. Rising bond yields in the U.S. that are outpacing government bond yields in other countries are inviting capital flows into the greenback, including from the Euro currency. The U.S. is beating the Euro zone on economic growth prospects and on the Covid-19 battle. Meantime, Nymex crude oil prices are lower today and trading around $60.00 a barrel. Gold and silver are weaker, with gold around $1,727 per troy ounce and silver around $24.63 per troy ounce.
• Traders are watching today’s auction of $62 billion in seven-year U.S. Treasury notes at midday. This auction comes after February’s Treasury note auction flop that prompted a big sell-off in U.S. Treasuries.
• Crude oil futures are under pressure ahead of the U.S. trading start, giving back more of the Wednesday advance. U.S. crude is trading around $59.50 per barrel and Brent around $62.65 per barrel. Crude was weaker in Asian action, with U.S. crude falling to $60.09 per barrel and Brent to $63.46 per barrel.
• Suez Canal blockage update: The cargo ship Ever Given remains stranded in the Suez Canal, with the 400-meter, 224,000-tonne vessel continuing to block traffic for dozens of ships carrying crude oil, energy products and consumer goods unable to transit the waterway connect. According to reports, there are more than 20 tankers carrying crude oil and refined products along with at least even liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers and more than a dozen container ships that have been affected with more waiting in the Mediterranean Sea. The Suez Canal has temporarily suspended traffic due to efforts to dislodge the ship that ran aground in the Canal Tuesday. At least eight tugs have been working to free the ship from the waterway, according to the Suez Canal Authority.
Tugs and diggers have so far failed to dislodge the Ever Given, a massive container ship stuck in the Suez Canal after losing the ability to steer amid high winds and a dust storm. The best chance for freeing the ship may not come until Sunday or Monday, when the tide will reach a peak, according to Nick Sloane, the salvage master who refloated cruise ship Costa Concordia in 2012 when it capsized off the coast of Italy.
Market impacts growing: If the situation in Suez continues for a significant amount of time, rates may rise along with oil prices. Multinationals could also begin worrying about disruptions to their supply chains, and any imported goods from Asia to Europe will see delays. Experts also say that if the blockage is not cleared within the next 24-48 hours, some shipping firms will be forced to re-route vessels around the southern tip of Africa, which would add roughly a week to the journey. About 12% of global trade and roughly 30% of the world’s shipping container volume transit through the Suez Canal, making it one of the world's most important waterways. A rough estimate shows the blockage is costing about $400 million an hour, based on calculations from Lloyd's List. Bloomberg calculates that the Ever Given is currently blocking roughly $9.6 billion worth of shipping traffic.
Ever-growing ship sizes mean that incidents like the blockage of the Suez Canal may become more common. Link to Bloomberg article.
• Ag demand: South Korea’s Major Feedmill Group (MFG) reportedly bought another 66,000 MT of animal feed wheat from optional origins in a private deal; this follows two other feed wheat import deals by MFG this week. The country’s largest feedmaker, Nonghyup Feed Inc., reportedly purchased around 130,000 MT of animal feed wheat to be sourced from global origins. Ethiopia issued a tender to buy around 400,000 MT of milling wheat from optional origins.
Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):
• Head of Mexican farm group says government’s corn crop estimate inflated
• IKAR boosts its Russian wheat production and export outlooks
• Heavy rains and flooding could set the stage for another big Aussie wheat crop
— Democrats are considering tax increases, including to the corporate rate and top individual rate, to help pay for a roughly $3 trillion or higher infrastructure, climate and education proposal President Biden is working on. The White House said he and his economic team will complete the proposal in time for the president to discuss it in a speech in Pittsburgh next Wednesday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said raising the corporate tax rate and increasing taxes on capital gains were possible options during a meeting last week, according to a senior Democratic aide.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he had a lengthy discussion with White House officials last weekend about various options.
Republicans are solidly against the potential tax increases, arguing that they would hurt the economy as it recovers from the coronavirus pandemic. GOP lawmakers have said they could back a narrow infrastructure package that doesn’t make significant increases to the deficit.
— Update on USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP):
- Summary: USDA announced plans to distribute more than $12 billion for the Pandemic Assistance for Producers (PAP) which will help farmers and ranchers who previously did not qualify for Covid-19 aid and expand assistance to farmers who have already received aid. Additional sign-ups will not be necessary for those who previously submitted CFAP applications. The funding includes $6 billion to develop new programs or modify existing proposals using remaining discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act. Another $5.6 billion will be directed to formula payments to cattle producers and eligible flat-rate or price trigger crops. Also, $500 million in new funding is included for existing programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program, Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, Local Agricultural Marketing Program, Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program, Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Agricultural Research Service, National Institute of Food and Agriculture and the Economic Adjustment Assistance for Textile Mills Program. Sign-up for the new program begins April 5. Link to USDA announcement.
- USDA expanded direct financial assistance for commodity producers with the intent to expedite payments totaling more than $4.5 billion, impacting more than 560,000 producers. Producers of 2020 price trigger crops and flat-rate crops are eligible to receive a payment of $20 per eligible acre of the crop. Price trigger commodities, as defined in the second Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, are major commodities that meet a minimum 5% price decline for the week of Jan. 13-17, 2020, and July 27-31, 2020.
- Flat-rate crops either do not meet the 5%-or-greater national price decline trigger or do not have data available to calculate a price change. For flat-rate crops, CFAP-2 payments were calculated based on eligible acres of the crop planted in 2020. More than 230 fruit, vegetable, horticulture and tree nut commodities were eligible for CFAP-2 along with honey, maple sap, and turfgrass sod; more information can be found here. These commodities will also receive a payment of $20 per acre.
- $6 billion is being directed to develop new programs or modify existing proposals that were included as discretionary funding in the end-of-year Covid-19 stimulus package. USDA is making modifications to direct support payments to account for price differentiation among commodities, including costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities.
The funding will go to develop “a number of new programs or modify existing proposals using discretionary funding from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and other coronavirus funding that went unspent by the previous administration.” USDA said that where new rulemaking is required, they would do so this spring.
The expanded aid will go for:
— Dairy farmers through the Dairy Donation Program or other means:
— Euthanized livestock and poultry;
— Specialty crops, beginning farmers, local, urban and organic farms;
— Costs for organic certification or to continue or add conservation activities;
— Other possible expansion and corrections to CFAP that were not part of today’s announcement such as to support dairy or other livestock producers;
— Timber harvesting and hauling;
— Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crop and seafood producers, processors and distributors;
— Improving the resilience of the food supply chain, including assistance to meat and poultry operations to facilitate interstate shipment;
— Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants or other community organizations; and
— Reducing food waste.
- An additional $100 million in Specialty Crop Block Grants administered through each state’s Department of Agriculture, along with an additional $100 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program.
- Assistance for cotton: USDA is using a portion of the appropriated money for payments to domestic users of upland cotton and extra long staple cotton between March 1, 2020, and Dec, 31, 2020. The payment rate is calculated by multiplying 6 cents per pound by the average monthly consumption of the domestic user from Jan. 1, 2017, through Dec. 31, 2019, then multiplying it by 10, e.g., cotton payment = $0.60 x (avg. monthly consumption Jan 1, 2017-Dec 31, 2019).
- Contract producers still on hold: Additional payments for swine producers and contract growers under CFAP-AA remain on hold and USDA said that is likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of the broader evaluation and future assistance; however, FSA will continue to accept applications from interested producers. Many producers were left out of the CARES Act and subsequent CFAP iterations because farmers who raise animals under a contract for another entity that owns the animals could not participate. But these producers saw their income significantly reduced as many of their barns (which they financed the construction of and still were required to service the debt on) remained empty due to supply chain disruptions earlier in the pandemic. The Covid-19 relief bill passed Dec. 21 identified these producers as being eligible for support. However, USDA clarified that payments for contract growers under CFAP Additional Assistance (CFAP-AA) are currently on hold and are likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of a broader evaluation. FSA will continue to accept applications from interested contract growers during this evaluation period.
- Cattle: Included in USDA’s Wednesday announcement is additional inventory-based direct payments for cattle producers. USDA is implementing an increase in CFAP-1 payment rates for cattle based on the number of cattle in inventory between April 16, 2020, and May 14, 2020. USDA estimates that roughly 410,000 producers will be impacted by this and that the total level of support could equal roughly $1.1 billion. These payments will be made automatically, so there will be no need for producers who were already enrolled to reapply. Only producers who previously applied for CFAP-1 are eligible to receive this additional payment. Payment rates are detailed below:
- Depopulated animals. As a result of significant supply chain disruptions, some producers were forced into having to euthanize their animals. The Covid-19 relief bill passed Dec. 21 directed the Agriculture Secretary to make payments to producers for losses incurred due to the depopulation of livestock and poultry due to insufficient processing access. The bill laid out that these payments will be up to 80% of the fair market value of the depopulated animals, and for the costs of depopulation. USDA’s Wednesday announcement does not detail support for these producers, and Secretary Vilsack stated that USDA will need to develop programs to reimburse these producers as they were not covered by the previous programs being utilized to make this round of payments.
- Swine: Information released by USDA on Jan. 15 said swine producers who participated in CFAP-1 would receive an automatic “top-up” payment of $17 per head, increasing the total CFAP-1 inventory payment to $34 per head. However, additional CFAP-1payments for swine producers are currently on hold and are likely to require modifications to the regulation as part of a broader evaluation.
- Formula adjustments. USDA said it will finalize routine decisions and minor formula adjustments on applications and begin processing payments for certain applications filed as part of the CFAP-AA program. Included in those applications for which payments will be processed are pullets (poultry) and turfgrass sod. For specialty crop producers, USDA is modifying the sales-based rules from CFAP-2 to allow specialty crop producers to include crop insurance indemnities and disaster payments in their 2019 sales, which was the basis for determining the amount of support under CFAP-2, or by substituting 2018 sales.
FSA also adjusted the CFAP-2 payment calculation for certain row crops, addressing an issue that existed for producers who had crop insurance coverage but did not have a 2020 actual production history-approved yield. Now, when APH is not available, FSA will use 100% of the 2019 Agriculture Risk Coverage-County benchmark yield to calculate payments, instead of the 85% the earlier CFAP 2 calculations required.
- USDA will develop rules for new programs that will put a greater emphasis on outreach to small and socially disadvantaged producers, specialty crop and organic producers and timber harvesters, and provide support for the food supply chain and producers of renewable fuel, among others. Existing programs like CFAP will fall within the new initiative and, where statutory authority allows, will be refined to better address the needs of producers.
USDA reopened CFAP-2 sign-up to improve access and outreach to underserved producers. As part of this announcement, USDA committed at least $2.5 million to establish partnerships and direct outreach efforts intended to improve outreach for CFAP-2. USDA said it will cooperate with grassroots organizations with strong connections to socially disadvantaged communities to ensure they are informed and aware of the application process.
BIDEN ADMINISTRATION PERSONNEL
— Biden taps Harris to lead border response. President Joe Biden has tapped Vice President Kamala Harris to lead the White House effort to tackle the migration challenge at the U.S. southern border and work with Central American nations to address root causes of the problem. Biden made the announcement as he and Harris met at the White House on Wednesday with Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandra Mayorkas and other immigration advisers to discuss the increase in migrants, including many unaccompanied minors, arriving at the border in recent weeks.
The number of migrants detained by U.S. authorities at the Mexican border steadily increased over the course of 2020 and is coming close to matching a 2019 surge. Harris’s assignment reflects a growing foreign policy portfolio for the vice president, which has included one-on-one calls with the leaders of Australia, Canada, France, and Israel.
— Known big corn sales to China mark weekly export sales update. The sales of nearly 3.9 million tonnes of corn announced via daily export sales announcements from USDA were key in the weekly update for the week ended March 18. Net sales for 2020-21 to China included 3,890,609 tonnes of corn, 76,250 tonnes of wheat, 60,460 tonnes of sorghum, 649 tonnes of soybeans and net reductions of 1,753 running bales of cotton (new sales of 39,700 running bales were more than offset by 39,300 running bales of cancelations and 2,200 bales shifted to another destination).
For 2021-22, there were sales of 41,388 running bales of cotton.
Sales for 2021 of beef were reported at 3,569 tonnes and 10,453 tonnes of pork.
— Vilsack: China’s ASF troubles remain despite assurances from China. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said he received assurances from his Chinese counterpart this week that the country has the spread of African swine fever (ASF) “under control,” but Vilsack said the situation is likely not that upbeat or simple. “I suspect that what we have is a situation where there are probably some hot spots that are taking place in China,” Vilsack told members of the National Association of Farm Broadcasting. “They don’t have it totally under control, but I don’t think it’s anywhere near as devastating as it was six or nine months ago.”
— Higher wheat quality could boost French wheat exports to China. “To further develop the Chinese market, we are encouraging the French sector to produce high and medium quality wheat for export and thus meet the Chinese need,” Sun Wei, deputy general manager wheat at China's state-controlled grain trader COFCO International, said at a seminar organized by France Export Cereales. France has already shipped nearly 1.6 MMT of wheat to China since July, with some traders saying shipments to Beijing could hit 2 MMT by the time the 2020-21 season comes to an end. But the bulk of France’s wheat is a lower-protein type that’s similar to China’s domestic crop. Sun also said strengthening its phytosanitary could boost French wheat exports to China.
— China considers taking more control over internet users’ data. Beijing has reportedly proposed creating a joint venture with domestic tech platforms that would oversee all of the personal information, according to Bloomberg. It comes as the Chinese government tightens the reins on tech giants like Alibaba and Tencent.
ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE
— Administration, groups urge Supreme Court to uphold decision on refinery exemptions in court filings. The Department of Justice (DOJ) said the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit which said EPA overstepped its authority when it granted small refinery exemptions (SREs) to three refiners for the 2016 compliance year. The court ruled the SREs should have only been made available to those refiners that had continuously received them previously. “By providing an initial, ‘temporary’ exemption that can be extended only under specified circumstances, Congress struck a sensible balance, giving small refineries time to develop compliance strategies while maintaining the ultimate goal of universal compliance,” the filing from the DOJ and EPA said.
Filings by the Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) and others echoed that view, saying the law supports the court decision and that the SREs “siphon a significant portion of renewable fuel blending requirements” called for under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS).
The Supreme Court will hear arguments in the case April 27.
— States file suit against Biden administration over pause in oil, gas leases on federal lands. Fourteen states filed suit Wednesday on the Biden administration’s pause on oil and gas leasing on federal lands and waters. Thirteen states, including Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and West Virginia filed in federal court in Louisiana while Wyoming filed its own suit in a federal court in that state. The Interior Department is to launch a review today of its oil and gas leasing program to determine if the administration will permanently halt new leases.
— NHTSA sends fuel economy standards preemption proposal to OMB. A proposed rule on Corporate Average fuel Economy (CAFE) Preemption has been sent to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Authority (NHTSA). It is not clear exactly what the proposed rule will cover but the inclusion of preemption in the title of the proposed rule would suggest the California waiver relative to mileage standards that the Trump administration did away with via its updated CAFE standards plan.
FOOD & BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
— Kroger hopes to boost its health business through its pandemic efforts. The country’s biggest supermarket chain — and fourth-largest pharmacy operator by prescription count — aims to deliver millions of Covid-19 vaccinations and create more repeat customers. But it will be up against Walmart and drugstore chains that are farther along in providing care for chronic conditions, have partnerships with insurers and have more locations. Link for details.
— Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 124,838,531 with 2,744,932 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count has topped 30 million and is at 30,011,549 with 545,282 deaths. The Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center said that there have been 130,473,853 doses administered, 43,761,029 have been fully vaccinated, or 13.4% of the U.S. population.
— AstraZeneca releases updated data on its coronavirus vaccine. The drug maker said that newer results from clinical trials had showed an efficacy rate of 76 percent, slightly lower than it reported earlier. U.S. officials had questioned why newer data wasn’t included in AstraZeneca’s original announcement. (There are still a few potential cases not yet factored into the results.)
POLITICS & ELECTIONS
— Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is under scrutiny for giving family members access to Covid-19 testing in the early days of the pandemic, adding to his political troubles. Link for more via NYT.
OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE
— Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is set to tell Congress that internet platforms should get liability immunity only if they have systems for “identifying unlawful content and removing it,” his written testimony says. Today’s House hearing is expected to focus on Section 230, the law that says platforms such as Facebook generally aren’t liable for what users post. Changes could affect every business and every American with an online presence.
— North Korea: Another missile launch. North Korea fired two ballistic missiles today, U.S. and Japanese officials reported, its second missile test in less than a week after it launched non-ballistic missiles on Sunday. “The first launch in just less than a year represents a threat to peace and stability in Japan and the region and violates U.N. resolutions,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said in reaction to the launch. The missiles traveled roughly 260 miles before entering the Sea of Japan in an area outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
— Bottles of wine suspended in space for a year still taste excellent, some very fortunate wine experts have reported, as the Institute for Wine and Vine Research in Bordeaux has begun to study the effects of weightlessness on wine and their grapevines. Twelve wine bottles, along with 320 grapevine snippets, were sent to the International Space Station last year in order to study the effects of aging and stress, as the Bordeaux region attempts to come to grips with the effects of climate change. The vines were found to have grown even faster in the confines of the space station than their counterparts back on earth.