Covid-19 Vaccine Rollout Begins in U.S. with Another Vaccine Likely Cleared This Week

Posted on 12/14/2020 7:53 AM

Revised Covid aid package to be unveiled today | Vilsack, House Ag Chairman list agenda


In Today’s Updates


Market Focus:
• Start of Covid-19 vaccines, extended Brexit talks supporting markets
• Japan survey shows rise in business optimism
• Pound soars in relief rally as Brexit talks extended
• Soaring prices & reduced availability of steel have touched off panic-buying
• FOMC meeting this week to discuss balancing risks and vaccines
• Conditions generally favorable for Brazil, but drying still a concern in Argentina

• Grain inspectors, oilseed workers extend strike at Argentine ports

• Russia will impose an export tax on wheat shipments from Feb. 15 to June 30

• Ukraine’s wheat export prices hold steady, corn prices dip

• South Korea issues national standstill order to contain bird flu


Policy Focus:
• Congressional leaders considering splitting a coronavirus aid proposal
• Glauber again says U.S. exceeding WTO subsidy commitments


U.S./China update:
• Lawmakers urge extending exemptions to tariffs on China beyond end of year


Trade Policy:
• Biden USTR nominee Tai outlines Democratic trade policy
• Two-day meeting of WTO General Council begins Wednesday


Energy & Climate Change:

• Biden considering naming Gina McCarthy, former head of EPA, as climate czar
• CFTC commissioner says ‘climate change poses a major risk’

Food & beverage industry update:
• Perdue Farms asks CDC to coordinate state policies re: Covid-19 vaccines
• Covid hits 20% of workers at Fresno chicken plant

Coronavirus update:
• Pfizer starts shipping its Covid-19 vaccine
• Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine expected to be approved by Friday
• State leaders short billions of dollars in funding to provide Covid-19 vaccinations
• U.S. gov’t ushing to roll out a $250 million public education campaign
• More than 6,600 college athletes, coaches & staff members tested positive  
• Germany will enact nationwide lockdown over Christmas


Politics & Elections:
• State electors will certify today Joe Biden won November election in Electoral College
• Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by Texas
WSJ opinion editor defends op-ed on Jill Biden
• Biden: Vilsack “wasn’t anxious to come back” to USDA job he held for eight years
• Vilsack notes his top priorities for USDA next year
• House Ag panel chair to focus on Black farmers in 2021
• Singer Willie Nelson offers suggestion for USDA deputy secretary

Other Items of Note:
• Hackers, presumed to be Kremlin-backed, broke into U.S. gov’t agencies
• Consumers around the world facing a Christmas tree supply crunch
• Holiday decorations selling out faster than usual in many stores




Equities today: U.S. equity futures are higher as lawmakers on Sunday signaled a growing willingness to compromise on the most contentious issues that have held up fresh coronavirus relief. Inoculations in the U.S. using Pfizer's Covid-19 vaccine could begin as soon as today. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 was recently up 1% with most regional markets seeing gains of 1% to 2%. China’s Shanghai Composite Index advanced 0.7% and Japan’s Nikkei 225 edged 0.3% higher. South Korea’s Kospi declined 0.3%.


     U.S. equities Friday: The Dow was up 47.11 points, 0.16%, at 30,046.37. The Nasdaq fell 27.94 points, 0.23%, at 12,377.87. The S&P 500 fell 4.64 points, 0.13%, at 3,663.46.


     For the week, the S&P fell 1%, the Nasdaq lost 0.7% and the Dow slipped 0.6%.


     The Russell 2000 small-cap index’s gain of 15% for the year surpassed the S&P 500 large-cap benchmark’s 13% gain for the first time in 2020, according to Dow Jones Market Data. If the Russell 2000 maintains its edge, it would outperform the S&P 500 for the first time since 2016.


On tap today:


     • China's fixed-asset investment, retail sales and industrial output data for November are out at 9 p.m. ET.
     • USDA Export Inspections, 11 a.m. ET.


— Japan survey shows rise in business optimism. Japanese business sentiment has improved dramatically, according to the “tankan” survey released by the government. The reading on large manufacturers rose to minus 10 for October after being at minus 27 in the prior reading, with gains in all categories measured in the index, including in manufacturing and nonmanufacturing companies. This is the first improvement in three years for the reading ends a string of six straight quarters of decline.


Market perspectives:


     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is lower early today. January Nymex crude oil futures prices are higher and trading around $47.00 a barrel. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note futures is currently trading around 0.9%.


     • Crude oil futures are moving higher as shipments of the Pfizer Covid vaccine start moving. U.S. crude was trading around $47.05 per barrel while Brent was trading around $50.50 per barrel. Crude oil prices firmed in Asian action, with US crude up 13 cents at $46.70 per barrel and Brent up 16 cents at $50.13 per barrel.

     • British pound jumped 1.4% against the U.S. dollar and 1% against the euro this morning, after U.K. and European Union negotiators on Sunday agreed to extend their marathon Brexit talks. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, and Boris Johnson, Britain’s prime minister, agreed to continue negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal. The two sides remain at odds over rules for competition and fishing rights. Britain’s transition period, during which EU rules still apply and it retains access to the bloc’s single market, ends on Dec. 31.


     • Benchmark price for hot-rolled sheet steel has doubled since early August to a two-year high of $900 a ton, according to S&P Global Platts. Steel distributors said soaring prices and the reduced availability of steel have touched off panic-buying by some manufacturers.


     • Federal Reserve officials this week could discuss how to balance the risks of a growth stall this winter with a bigger rebound later in 2021, following the distribution of a coronavirus vaccine. The Federal Reserve will hold its final meeting of 2020 on Tuesday and Wednesday, with any guidance on continued asset purchases watched closely by Wall Street.


Items in Pro Farmer's First Thing Today include (Link to subscribe to FTT):

     • Conditions generally favorable for Brazil, but drying still a concern in Argentina
     • Grain inspectors, oilseed workers extend strike at Argentine ports
     • Russia will impose an export tax on wheat shipments from Feb. 15 to June 30
     • Ukraine’s wheat export prices hold steady, corn prices dip
     • South Korea issues national standstill order to contain bird flu




—  A two-phased Covid-aid package is the latest revised bipartisan proposal expected to roll out today. The $908 billion proposal will be split in two pieces: a less controversial $748 billion portion that includes funding for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, vaccine distribution, schools and testing and a separate $160 billion bill for state and local governments that includes a liability shield. The best chance for passing a bill would be to attach it to the 12-bill omnibus package Congress must pass by Friday to fund the federal government.


     House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) indicated that he is open to a slimmed down measure that does not include monies for states and localities in order to pass relief by the end of the year. “We need to get the essential done,” Hoyer told CNN’s Inside Politics. “We'll have time to get stuff done that we didn't include because we couldn't get political agreement. We'll have time to do that.”


     On Friday, Dec. 18, the U.S. Senate is scheduled to adjourn, although an extension is possible.


— President Trump’s and congressional farm relief payments over the last two years will push the U.S. over WTO limits on government support for agriculture, according to a new paper by Joseph Glauber, senior fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute and a former USDA chief economist. Link to paper.




A bipartisan group of House lawmakers urged the Trump administration to extend exemptions to tariffs on China beyond the end of the year, when they are set to expire. A bipartisan group of 75 House members urged USTR Bob Lighthizer and President Donald Trump to extend all exclusions from the Section 301 tariffs imposed on China, which are set to expire at the end of the year. In September, the White House said it would extend tariff exemptions on a variety of goods, including medical masks and certain electronic products, until the end of the year. But the letter, led by Reps. Jackie Walorski (R-In.), Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), Darin LaHood (R-Ill.) and Ron Kind (D-Wis.), urges the administration to extend them further “to provide economic stability as businesses grapple the unprecedented hardships caused by the Covid-19 pandemic… We should certainly examine our reliance on China for these articles and increase U.S. production, and we are actively engaged in crafting policies to do so,” the lawmakers wrote. “However, reducing tariffs is still necessary to maximize our supply of PPE and other supplies while companies build production capacity in the U.S. and re-shore supply chains.” Lawmakers acknowledged the exclusions were granted in part to allow businesses time to move their supply chains out of China, but they said the pandemic has made it difficult for many companies to prospect new manufacturing sites.


U.S./China Phase 1 tracker: China’s purchases of U.S. goods. Link




— Biden USTR nominee Tai outlines Democratic trade policy. In her introductory speech on Friday, Biden USTR nominee Katherine Tai said her team would aim to make trade a “force for good.” She said trade is “a means to create more hope and opportunity for people, and it only succeeds when the humanity and dignity of every American, and all people, lie at the heart of our approach.” Tai helped negotiate a deal that could become a foundation for such a policy when she led talks on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) as the head trade lawyer for House Ways and Means. Tai used to head China enforcement at the USTR and observers expect her to take a hard line on the Beijing government.


— On Wednesday, a two-day meeting of the WTO General Council begins, the World Trade Organization’s highest-level decision-making body. Discussions are expected on a proposal to waive intellectual property rights for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments.




— Biden is considering naming Gina McCarthy, former head of the EPA, as climate czar to oversee climate policies across federal agencies, according to Reuters, citing two people familiar with the plan. McCarthy currently serves as president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading national environmental group. The position would not require U.S. Senate confirmation. Biden selected former Secretary of State John Kerry to serve as his global climate czar, making him part of the U.S. national security team and charging him with coordinating with other counties on the environment.


     To head EPA, Biden reportedly is considering Michael Regan, who currently runs North Carolina’s environmental agency.


— Rostin Behnam, a commissioner at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, said that “climate change poses a major risk to the stability of the U.S. financial system,” but the potential solutions also include “really exciting” investment opportunities. Panelists from business explained to the New York Times (link) how they’re revamping their operations, with and without government help, including Chris Adamo of Danone, Lucas Joppa of Microsoft, Kathleen McLaughlin of Walmart and Ariel Meyerstein of Citi. Catherine Coleman Flowers of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice and Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement underlined the importance of climate policy for historically disadvantaged communities and young people. And Rajiv Shah, the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said he expected renewed global cooperation on climate policy when Joe Biden enters office, “coupled with the leadership of big companies and big financial institutions.”




— Perdue Farms is asking the CDC to coordinate state policies on distributing Covid-19 vaccines to avoid a patchwork approach for determining which industries and workers are treated first. Companies and labor advocates have called for prioritizing food and agricultural workers for vaccines, after health care employees and others on the front line. Link to details via Reuters.


— Covid hits 20% of workers at Fresno chicken plant. At least 242 workers have tested positive for Covid-19 at three Foster Farms chicken processing plants in the Central Valley, including 20 percent of employees at the hardest-hit facility, in Fresno. Link to Los Angeles Times article for details.




 Summary: Sources: Johns Hopkins University as of 6:30 a.m. ET; Hospitalization figures from the Covid Tracking Project as of yesterday.

     • 72,336,167: Confirmed cases world-wide, and 1,614,159 deaths
     • 190,920: New U.S. cases recorded yesterday
     • 16,257,899: Total confirmed cases in the U.S.
     • 1,389: Deaths in the U.S. recorded yesterday
     • 299,191: Total U.S. deaths
     • 109,331: People currently hospitalized in the U.S. 


     Link to Covid Case Tracker
     Link to Our World in Data


— Pfizer has started shipping its Covid-19 vaccine, via trucks from a Michigan plant carrying the shots to health departments and hospitals gearing up to deliver the injections against a surging pandemic. Doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine are headed toward 145 health departments and hospitals around the U.S., and some high-risk groups could start getting inoculated as soon as today. The initial delivery will be completed in all 50 states by Wednesday, said Gustave Perna, the army general who serves as chief operating officer for Operation Warp Speed. Only 2.9 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine will be delivered in the first shipment, a fraction of what’s needed to vaccinate health-care workers and nursing home residents, who are atop the priority list. Link to New York Times article on how many vaccine doses each state will receive. Britain and Canada have also approved the vaccine, and Britain began inoculations last week.


     Moderna’s version of a Covid-19 vaccine is expected to be approved by the government for emergency use by Friday, said Moncef Slaoui, the head of Operation Warp Speed, during an interview on Fox News Sunday. The two vaccine products combined are estimated to cover 40 million doses (or 20 million people) by the end of December. The U.S., working in phases, expects by the end of March to have immunized 100 million people against Covid-19.


     Meanwhile, state leaders say they are short billions of dollars in funding needed to provide Covid-19 vaccinations to all Americans who want to be inoculated by health officials’ June goal. Link to WSJ article for details.


— U.S. government is rushing to roll out a $250 million public education campaign to encourage Americans to take the vaccine. Public support is split: 60% of people said they were likely to get the shot, a recent Pew poll found, while more than 20% were strongly opposed.


— More than 6,600 college athletes, coaches and staff members have tested positive for the coronavirus this year, according to a New York Times analysis, the most comprehensive public measure of the virus in college sports. The vast majority of those infections have been reported since Aug. 15.


—  Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancellor, announced tighter coronavirus restrictions, including closing most shops until mid-January. Figures released on Sunday showed a daily increase of more than 20,000 cases of Covid-19. Meanwhile South Korea’s president warned that the country may need to impose its strictest level of curbs for the first time, following the second record increase in new cases in as many days.




— State electors will certify today that Joe Biden, not President Trump, won the November election in the Electoral College. Biden should finish with 306 votes, compared with 232 for Trump, who declared in an interview that aired on Sunday that his efforts to contest the election will continue. Four years ago, 306 of them were pledged to vote for Trump and another 232 were bound to Hillary Clinton. By the end of the process, Trump ended up with 304 electoral votes and Clinton finished with 227. Seven electors — from Hawaii, Texas and Washington State — went rogue and voted for someone other than the candidate they were pledged to support. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia require electors to vote for the candidate for which they are pledged.


     This evening, Biden will deliver remarks about the Electoral College’s certification of his victory.

     Biden’s win came amid record turnout, with more than 158 million votes cast. Biden drew over 7 million more votes than Trump, giving him a 4.5 percentage point victory, the largest margin for a challenger over an incumbent president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1932 win over Herbert Hoover.


— The Supreme Court on Friday rejected a lawsuit by Texas that had asked the court to throw out the election results in four battleground states that President Trump lost in November, ending any prospect that a brazen attempt to use the courts to reverse his defeat at the polls would succeed. The court, in a brief unsigned order, said Texas lacked standing to pursue the case, saying it “has not demonstrated a judicially cognizable interest in the manner in which another state conducts its elections.” The actual tally of cases is assuredly far larger. The Times was able to gather complete data for just 78 of the 130 universities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Football Bowl Subdivision, the top level of college football. Some of those schools released the statistics only in response to requests filed under public records laws.


— The Wall Street Journal’s opinion editor defended an op-ed on Jill Biden that called on her to refrain from referring to herself as “Dr. Biden” because she is not a medical doctor and accused Democrats of a coordinated response to the piece.


— At an event in Delaware on Friday, Biden said Vilsack “wasn’t anxious to come back” to the job that he held for eight years in the Obama administration. “He wasn’t looking for this job, but I was persistent,” Biden said. “I asked him to serve again in this role because he knows USDA inside and out.”


     Vilsack noted his top priorities for USDA next year: Pandemic relief for hungry families, rural communities, food workers and agriculture producers is the key priority. Confronting climate change is another as Biden has said he wants U.S. agriculture to be the first to reach net-zero emissions, and he reiterated Friday that he supports paying farmers for climate-friendly practices like capturing carbon in their fields and forests.


     Vilsack promised to “continue the important work of rooting out inequities and systemic racism in the systems we govern and the programs we lead.” The former USDA chief has been criticized by Black farmers and civil rights advocates for not doing enough during his eight years as secretary to combat decades of discrimination within the department. Shirley Sherrod, the Georgia rural development director who was falsely accused and forced to resign during the Obama administration when Tom Vilsack was USDA secretary, said Friday that Vilsack should be given “the opportunity to get it right this time.” In an interview with Joy Reid on MSNBC, Sherrod said USDA needs a leader who knows the department but that he did not do everything he should have the first time he was secretary. “There should be no excuse whatsoever. ... He doesn’t have a learning curve. ... I do think he has something to prove to us.”


— House Ag panel chair to focus on Black farmers in 2021. Incoming House Agriculture Chairman David Scott (D-Ga.), the first Black lawmaker to hold the panel gavel, says his No. 1 priority for the panel is bringing justice to farmers of color who have long faced discrimination within the industry and in trying to access USDA farm programs. “There is a new sheriff in town,” Scott said during a webinar hosted by the Southern Economic Advancement Project and the Black Belt Justice Center. “We are going to be at the point of the spear for our Black farmers.” He announced plans to hold a first-ever full committee hearing on the status of Black farmers, including testimony from producers, USDA officials and credit experts, among others. “As chairman, I can assure you that our Agriculture Committee will provide leadership in eliminating racial injustice and discrimination in our agriculture industry,” Scott added.


— USDA deputy secretary suggestion. Singer Willie Nelson and Carolyn Mugar, executive director of Nelson’s Farm Aid organization, have Biden to urge him to nominate Janie Simms Hipp as USDA deputy secretary. Hipp is the CEO of the Native American Agriculture Fund, a foundation established with funds left over from the settlement of the Keepseagle case against USDA for past discrimination against Native American farmers. She is on leave from that position to serve on the Biden-Harris transition team reviewing the Interior Department. Hipp served at USDA in several capacities during the Obama administration, including as director of USDA’s Office of Tribal Relations.



— Hackers, presumed to be Kremlin-backed, broke into the computer networks of several American government agencies. The Treasury and the Department of Commerce were among those hit. The cyber-attack appears to have been sophisticated and wide-ranging, with the White House saying it was investigating the incident. National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said the administration is “taking all necessary steps to identify and remedy any possible issues related to this situation.”


— Consumers around the world are facing a Christmas tree supply crunch, as shoppers scramble to spruce up the homes they have spent much of the past year getting intimately acquainted with under lockdown. The Wall Street Journal reports (link) that 8-foot trees are going for as much as $2,167 in Hong Kong and prices for otherwise substandard trees have spiked in the United States. The shortage is likely due to supplier miscalculations on demand, and a fear of oversupplying a market where many have been facing unemployment for months. The time needed to grow a tree to most home standards — about 8 to 12 years — means that finding more at short notice is difficult. “We have retailers asking us to go out and cut more trees, which we are not doing because we have to save some for next year,” one U.S. grower said.


     Meanwhile, holiday decorations are selling out faster than usual in many stores, the WSJ also reports (link), leaving some stores with bare shelves and no time to restock as the days count down toward the holiday. “It’s the latest stark example of how the pandemic has upended retail strategies this year, with consumer buying patterns shifting drastically and most forecasting plans left in tatters,” the article notes. In this case, “Americans are seeking to fill dark, increasingly cold pandemic days by buying up lights, trees and ornaments at a rapid pace.” But stores often make purchasing decisions far in advance and Walmart, Costco Wholesale and other retailers didn’t anticipate the surge in demand. “With most seasonal products made in China, there’s no time to produce and ship new orders, leaving no more inventories on the way to deck the halls.”



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