Some Compromise Movement on Possible End-of-Year Covid Aid Package

Posted on 12/03/2020 7:54 AM

Huge gov’t payments = big boost in U.S. farm income for 2020, but what about 2021?

 


In Today’s Updates


 

Market Focus:
• China's economic recovery expanding
• U.S. Fed recap continues to note uncertainty
• Net farm, net cash farm income both up sharply as gov’t payments surge
• OPEC+ delegates appear to be leaning towards an oil cuts rollover

• China rumors in corn, soybean, wheat markets yesterday
• $2 billion deal for a portfolio of 23 warehouses in U.S.
• Little relief from rising container freight rates across the shipping world: WSJ  
• Argentine crush workers the latest to strike

• Global food prices hit highest level in nearly six years

• FAO trims global wheat crop for 2020, warns dryness could hold back 2021 crop

• Indonesia will raise tariffs on exports of crude palm oil next week

• Export data moves into focus for hog market

 

Policy Focus:
• Congressional leaders see potential for compromise on new Covid aid
• More than 5.2 million companies received loans from PPP

 

U.S./China update:
• Update on China’s buys of U.S. ag goods
• U.S. bans imports of cotton products from China’s Xinjiang region
• Chinese firms on American stock exchanges must comply with U.S. accounting standards
• Chinese draft law would expand its stockpiling efforts for grains and oils
• Chinese duties on Australian wine to remain in place for up to four months
• China heightens scrutiny of cold chain foods

 

Energy & Climate Change:

• 2022 is poised to be a very consequential year for the biofuels industry
• Nestlé details plans to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050


Coronavirus update:
• U.S. deaths hit daily record
• EPA’s Wheeler self-quarantining
• U.S. to distribute vaccines to immunize 100 million people by end of February
• CDC cuts recommended quarantine period

 

Politics & Elections:
• GOP picks Rep. Thompson as ranking Republican on Ag panel
• Senate advances confirmation of Federal Reserve nominee Christopher Waller


Other Items of Note:
• Census delay
• U.S. Grain Standards Act reauthorization sent to Trump
• USDA announces $14.4 million in funding for animal health projects
• APHIS reopens comment period on domestic FMD vaccine production
• Death of Valérie Giscard d’Estaing, president of France from 1974 to 1981

 


MARKET FOCUS


 

Equities today: Global stock markets were mixed overnight. U.S. stock indexes are pointed toward narrowly mixed openings. The Hang Seng Index rose 195.92 points, 0.74%, at 26,728.50. The Nikkei edged up 8.39 points, 0.03%, at 26,809.37.

 

     U.S. equities yesterday: The Dow rose 59.87 points, 0.20%, at 29,883.79. The Nasdaq eased 5.74 points, 0.05%, at 12,349.37. The S&P 500 was up 6.56 points, 0.18%, at 3,669.01.

 

On tap today:

 

     • USDA Export Sales report, 8:30 a.m. ET.
     • U.S. jobless claims are expected to rise to 780,000 in the week ended Nov. 28 from 778,000 a week earlier. (8:30 a.m. ET) Update: Jobless claims fell 75,000 to 712,000 last week, the Labor Department said this morning, after a recent jump as the labor-market recovery navigates a surge in coronavirus cases.
     Jobless claims
     • IHS Markit's U.S. services index for November is expected to tick down to 57.5 from a preliminary reading of 57.7. (9:45 a.m. ET)
     • Institute for Supply Management's services index for November is expected to fall to 55.9 from 56.6 a month earlier. (10 a.m. ET)

 

China's economic recovery expanding. A private gauge of China’s service-sector activity showed a further recovery of business activity in November. The Caixin China services purchasing managers index has now held above the 50-mark that separates expansion from contraction for seven straight months. Business confidence improved to the highest level for over nine-and-a-half years and new business expanded at the quickest rate since April 2010. The factory sector led China's post-Covid rebound. With the virus apparently under control, that has now broadened to include services.

 

    China economy

 

U.S. Fed recap continues to note uncertainty. The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book report characterized U.S. economic expansion as “modest or moderate” since the prior report, but they also cautioned, “four Districts described little or no growth, and five narratives noted that activity remained below pre-pandemic levels for at least some sectors. Moreover, Philadelphia and three of the four Midwestern Districts observed that activity began to slow in early November as Covid-19 cases surged.”

 

     While outlooks remained positive, the report noted that “optimism has waned — many contacts cited concerns over the recent pandemic wave, mandated restrictions (recent and prospective), and the looming expiration dates for unemployment benefits and for moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures.”

 

     Perspective: The report, an anecdotal recap of the US economic situation in each of the 12 Fed districts, was based on information collected on or before Nov. 20. That means the latest actions that have curtailed economic activity nor the developments on a Covid vaccine were not fully reflected in the report that is issued two weeks prior to the next Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting. Still, the report largely echoes economic data that has come since the November FOMC session and still underlines that uncertainty on the outlook exists.

 

Net farm, net cash farm income both up sharply from 2019 as gov’t payments surge. U.S. net farm income in 2020 is now seen at $119.6 billion, up $36 billion (43.1%) from 2019, posting the fourth straight annual increase in net farm income on an inflation-adjusted basis. The 2020 mark would be the highest in inflation-adjusted terms since 2013.

 

     Net cash farm income is pegged at $134.1 billion, up $23.4 billion in inflation-adjusted terms from 2019, 21.1%, and would be the highest since 2014.

 

     What is included in net cash farm income versus net farm income? Net cash farm income encompasses cash receipts from farming as well as farm-related income, including Government payments, minus cash expenses. It does not include noncash items—including changes in inventories, economic depreciation, and gross imputed rental income of operator dwellings—reflected in net farm income.

 

     In September, USDA forecast net farm income at $102.7 billion and net cash farm income at $115.2 billion.

 

     USDA now forecasts that cash receipts for farmers will be $366.5 billion, down 0.9% from $369.7 billion in 2019. That reflected a rise in crop receipts to $200.2 billion, up from $193.7 billion in 2019, but animal and product receipts are looked to be $166.3 billion, down 5.5% from $176.0 billion in 2019.

 

     The rise in crop prices has helped boost the cash receipts as USDA in September forecast those at $196.6 billion with animal/product receipts at $161.7 billion.

 

     Cash expenses are forecast to decline to $313 billion in 2020, down 1.4% from 2019, an even further decline than USDA forecast in September when net expenses were looked to be $313.5 billion.

 

     There was a big jump in government payments as CFAP dollars flow to farmers. Based on USDA’s December forecast, total government payments will account for 38.9% of net farm income in 2020. 

 

     Total direct government payments to farmers are forecast at $46.5 billion in 2020, up 107.1% from $22.4 billion in 2019. “This overall increase reflects higher anticipated payments from supplemental and ad hoc disaster assistance, mainly direct payments for Covid-19 related assistance,” USDA said. In September, USDA forecast the total direct government payments at $37.2 billion. At the time, we noted USDA’s farm income estimates would be significantly altered at year’s end.

 

     The bulk of the taxpayer payments in USDA’s December forecast — $32.4 billion or 69.7% — are from the two Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) efforts undertaken by USDA and the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) operated by the Small Business Administration. Payments in calendar year 2020 for the USDA programs are forecast at $24.3 billion ($11 billion for CFAP 1 and $13.3 billion for CFAP 2).

 

     For PPP, USDA said those payments are forecast at $5.9 billion.

 

     Forecast payments under the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program are put at $5.03 billion, up from $4.7 billion in September, while Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) payments are now seen at $1.07 billion versus just $102.9 million in September. In 2019, PLC payouts were $1.95 billion with 710.1 million in ARC payments.

 

     Loan Deficiency Payments (LPDs) in 2020 are forecast at $16.9 million, up from $6.8 million in 2019, while Marketing Loan Gains (MLGs) are put at $151.6 million in 2020, up from just $695,000 in 2019.

 

     Conservation payments are pegged at $3.845 billion, up slightly from $3.83 billion in 2019.

 

     Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) payments are expected at $184.1 million for 2020, down from $294.6 million in 2019.

 

     There were also $3.7 billion in Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments issued in calendar 2020.

 

     Farm financial indicators creep higher. Farm sector equity is to increase to $2.69 trillion, up 1.1% in 2020 versus 2019. That comes as the expected increase in farm assets ($45.5 billion) is greater than the expected rise in farm debt ($16.6 billion). When adjusted for inflation, farm sector assets are expected to increase $7.6 billion, while farm sector debt is expected to rise $11.4 billion.

 

     Farm sector debt is seen at $435.2 billion, including $283 billion in real estate debt and $152.1 billion in non-real estate debt. Real estate debt is seen up 6.1% from 2019 while non real estate debt is expected to be up just 0.2%.

 

     As for the debt-to-equity ratio, that is now seen at 16.2% in 2020, up from 15.76% in 2019. That marks the highest level since it was at 17.6% in 2002, but remains well below the 1985 peak of 28.5%.

 

     The debt-to-asset ratio moved up to 13.95% in 2020, up from 13.61% in 2019, also the highest since 2002 when it was 15%. But, that 2020 ratio is still well below the 1985 peak of 22.2%.

 

     Perspective: Government payments are an even greater component of 2020 farm income, having risen consistently over the course of 2020 in USDA’s forecasts due to the CFAP efforts undertaken by the Trump administration. But the crop receipts also increased from rising crop prices cannot be ignored relative to the farm income situation.

 

     USDA’s first outlook for 2021 farm income will be issued in February. As we saw in in the February 2020 outlook, barring any immediate announcement of additional financial help or direct payments to farmers from an incoming Biden administration, that forecast will most likely be for a drop in farm income compared with 2020, the key being how much. What government analysts likely will not presume is continued and perhaps even higher prices for some key U.S. commodities in the months and calendar year ahead. But that could well be the case based on ending stocks for a few commodities and if China continues is robust appetite for protein. But as we saw in 2020, if the market pressures continue on the ag sector, USDA will likely be pressed to provide some additional help farm farmers even as at least one of the possible candidates to head USDA — Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) — has already said that the ad hoc payments to farmers need to decline.

 

     Farm income

 

     Farm financials

 

Market perspectives:

 

     • Outside markets: The U.S. dollar index is weaker early today and hit another 2.5-year low overnight. The other important outside market sees January Nymex crude oil futures prices weaker and trading around $45.00 a barrel. The OPEC oil cartel is meeting late this week and is reported to be discussing raising its oil output quotas, with Russia doing the same. The yield on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note futures is currently trading at 0.93%.


     •  Crude oil futures are under pressure as OPEC+ countries have resumed deliberations on its output reductions. U.S. crude was trading around $44.85 per barrel and Brent around $47.90 per barrel. Prices were weaker in Asian action with a focus on U.S. inventory figures and the OPEC+ situation. U.S. crude was down 17 cents at $45.11 per barrel while Brent crude was down 14 cents at $48.11 per barrel.

 

     • OPEC+ delegates appear to be leaning towards an oil cuts rollover, with a modest boost to their collective oil output — by as much as 500,000 barrels a day —starting next month. A compromise would go a long way among some of the world's biggest producers as they meet later today to formalize a deal.

 

     • China rumors in the corn, soybean, wheat markets yesterday was that as much as 1 million tons may have been bought, according to a trade contact.  The shipment period was late Spring. The corn basis firmed some with the news. The source adds: “As with corn and wheat, rumors of some China buying of new-crop bean cargoes. Quantities rumored was two to three cargoes for Sept/Oct position.”

 

     • $2 billion deal for a portfolio of 23 warehouses in the U.S. is the latest indication of continued demand for industrial properties amid the rise of e-commerce.

 

     • Little relief from rising container freight rates across the shipping world. Spot prices on Asia-to-Europe lanes have soared to a 10-year high, the Wall Street Journal reports (link), adding the world’s busiest trade corridor to the rate inflation that has sent costs on trans-Pacific business jumping and jolted maritime supply chains. The Shanghai Shipping Exchange’s latest spot-market measure shows prices from China to Europe have more than doubled since the end of August. The increase is in part the result of high demand from retailers refilling shelves and wary companies stockpiling for the U.K.’s Brexit withdrawal from the European Union, but the WSJ items says shippers say tight capacity and the lack of equipment is also slamming their operations. “Shipping experts say the high rates should persist into the first quarter, right into the period when carriers will be looking to lock in next year’s contract prices.”

 

     Shipping rates

 

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

     • Argentine crush workers the latest to strike
     • Global food prices hit highest level in nearly six years
     • FAO trims global wheat crop for 2020, warns dryness could hold back 2021 crop
     • Indonesia will raise tariffs on exports of crude palm oil next week
     • Export data moves into focus for hog market

 

POLICY FOCUS

 

— Democrats start to give on new aid package price tag. Democratic leaders signaled they were prepared to reduce their demands for the next round of coronavirus relief, fueling hopes that an agreement could be reached with Republicans by year’s end to boost struggling businesses and households.

 

     $908 billion proposal now a Democratic ‘starting point.’ House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), the chamber’s Democratic leader, said that a new, bipartisan $908 billion coronavirus relief proposal released Tuesday should serve as the starting point for talks with GOP leaders and the White House.

 

     “Of course, we and others will offer improvements,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement, “but the need to act is immediate and we believe that with good-faith negotiations we could come to an agreement.”

 

     Republicans see a move to compromise. Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Democratic leaders’ call to center negotiations around the bipartisan proposal was a move in the right direction. “They’ve gotten reasonable and I think that could help us get to a solution,” he said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) didn’t comment on the Democratic leaders’ statement, but he said earlier in the day that they were showing “a new willingness to engage in good faith.”

 

     Earlier Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the White House backed a GOP offer released Tuesday. That proposal, similar to Senate Republicans’ previous $519 billion bill, doesn’t include Democrats’ desired funding for state and local governments.

 

     “The president will sign the McConnell proposal that he put forward yesterday,” Mr. Mnuchin said Wednesday. Mnuchin said the White House was reviewing the new bipartisan proposal. President Trump hasn’t weighed in on the discussions, but White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said Wednesday that Covid-19 aid was a priority.

 

     On Wednesday, Joe Biden said that any relief package passed during the lame-duck session “at best is only going to be a down payment on what’s going to happen early next year.” He said his transition team “is already working on what I will put forward in the next Congress to address the multiple crises we are facing, especially the economic crisis and Covid.”

 

     Perspective: Pelosi’s blinking on the price tag and Biden’s down payment comment are clear indications that a deal for another fiscal support package, with likely more next year, is at hand. But some wonder if McConnell will push a price tag much higher than the Senate’s initial push for a package of just over $500 billion. Timing is key now as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday that congressional leaders hoped to finish up by the end of next week to give lawmakers time to quarantine before Christmas.

 

— More than 5.2 million companies received loans from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the $523 billion centerpiece of the government’s pandemic aid for businesses. But the first full accounting of the data from the Small Business Administration shows what most suspected: More than a quarter of the money went to just 1 percent of borrowers. Link for details via the New York Times.

 

    PPP details


U.S./CHINA UPDATE


 

— Update on China’s buys of U.S. ag goods. For the week ended Nov. 26, USDA reported net export sales activity to China included 3,000 tonnes of wheat (there were actually new sales of 65,000 tonnes of white wheat to China but cancellations of 65,000 tonnes of white wheat, so essentially a wash, a situation which indicates China replaced a higher-priced cargo with a cheaper one), 154,782 tonnes of corn, 276,567 tonnes of sorghum, 476,851 tonnes of soybeans, 130,811 running bales of upland cotton, all for 2020-21.

     For pork and beef, USDA reported sales for 2020 of 796 tonnes of beef and 7,436 tonnes of pork, with sales for 2021 of 56 tonnes of beef and 1,408 tonnes of pork.

 

Congress has approved exiling Chinese stocks from the U.S. after approving a bill that would kick foreign companies off U.S. exchanges if they have failed to comply with the U.S. Public Accounting Oversight Board's audits for three years in a row. The legislation easily cleared the Senate in May and has now won bipartisan support in the House and President Trump is expected to sign the bill. Chinese firms have raised money from U.S. shareholders for years, but their auditors violate a fundamental investor protection: China typically will not allow American regulators to inspect their work. Several U.S.-listed Chinese firms, including Alibaba, NetEase and Yum China, have also recently carried out secondary listings in Hong Kong, which would become more frequent if the law takes effect.

 

— Chinese draft law would expand its stockpiling efforts for grains and oils. China has published a new draft law that would extend management of grain reserves that had previously only applied to central state stockpiles. The country’s National Development and Reform Commission said in a statement that the law was drawn up as “new situations and questions have risen regarding grains reserves security administration, posing severe challenges to China's grains stockpile security.” The state planner indicated local governments should build reserves of processed grains and oils of an appropriate scale in central areas of medium to large cities and areas with markets that are prone to volatility. These reserves are only meant to be used in cases of major grain shortages, significant price moves, natural disasters and other such emergencies.

 

— Chinese duties on Australian wine to remain in place for up to four months, possibly longer. China says it will keep its anti-dumping duties on imports of wine from Australia for up to four months and indicated it could extend them to nine months in special circumstances, the country’s commerce ministry said today. He provided no details as to what might qualify as special circumstances. The country hit Aussie wine with tariffs ranging from 107.1% to 212.1%, adding to existing tensions between the countries.

 

— China heightens scrutiny of cold chain foods. “The current epidemic prevention and control situation is still complex and austere, and the risk of the disease entering through imported cold chain links is continuously rising as the exchange of international personnel and goods increases," China’s market regulator said in a statement on its website yesterday. The country has increased inspections on food importers, supermarkets e-commerce platforms and restaurants relative to cold chain products. The administration will require authorities to have all cold storages registered by year-end, and it reiterated that cold-chain food products cannot be sold within China without a report showing they have undergone a nucleic acid test for the virus. This has driven up costs, upended trade and trimmed consumer demand. Global health authorities continue to say the risk of getting Covid-19 from food or food packaging is very low.

 

— DHS issues WRO for cotton products made by China’s XPCC. U.S. Customs and Border Patrol at all U.S. points of entry will detail shipments of cotton and cotton products originating from the Xinjian Production and Construction Corps (XPCC) via a Withhold Release Order (WRO) based on information that “reasonably indicates the use of forced labor, including convict labor,” according to a statement from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

     The agency said the order applies to “all cotton and cotton products produced by the XPCC and its subordinate and affiliated entities as well as any products that are made in whole or in part with or derived from that cotton, such as apparel, garments, and textiles.”

 

     This marks the sixth action taken by the Trump administration’s CBP relative to goods made by forced labor in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, DHS said. DHS Acting Deputy Secretary ken Cuccinelli said, the action was to make sure that those who are abuse human rights “are not allowed to manipulate our system in order to profit from slave labor. ‘Made in China’ is not just a country of origin it is a warning label.”

 

     He also said that the action could affect “billions of dollars” of imports when the action scales up. The administration in early July announced issued a Xinjiang Supply Chain Business Advisory and the Department of Treasury July 11 announced that it had sanctioned XPCC and prohibited doing business directly with XPCC.

 

     China’s Xinjiang produces 85% of China’s cotton and DHS said that the actions thus far are not a region-wide blockade on cotton products from Xinjiang. But Cuccinelli said that XPCC is so prevalent in the region’s economy that blocking products from the firm will be similar to a region-wide ban. “It is so massive that even though it appears that it’s a single company, from our perspective it is equivalent to a regional WRO,” Cuccinelli said. Acting CPB Commissioner Mark Morgan said while the U.S. wants to target those using forced labor, they do not want to negatively impact entities that are not using forced labor. “That’s why we are going to continue to investigate and we are not going to issue a region-wide WRO until we feel we can implement that correctly,” he noted.

 

     The U.S. textile industry has expressed concern about a region-wide ban as it would be difficult to determine which products come from Xinjiang, and Morgan acknowledged CBP “shared those concerns.” But Cuccinelli warned that a region-wide ban is “definitely under consideration.” XPCC employs 12% of the Xinjian population and produces 17% of its cotton products. This is potentially one of the additional actions on China that the administration signaled were being looked at and could be announced yet before the administration leaves office. As we have previously noted, the situation with Xinjiang has also seen commercial firms in Europe and some in the U.S. include provisions in supply contracts that indicate no Xinjiang cotton is allowed. That has fostered indications that China may opt to import more cotton to use in export efforts while potentially utilizing Xinjiang supplies for domestic needs.

 

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

 


ENERGY & CLIMATE CHANGE


 

— The U.S. biofuel industry, especially ethanol proponents, worry a lot. History shows that when an industry is largely based on a government mandate, the economic fate in large part rests on the operation of that mandate.

 

     2022 is poised to be a very consequential year for the biofuels industry given the confluence of three things: the “set” post-2022, the expiration of the tax credit and mid-term elections in several crucial midwestern states and districts. Some long- and short-term biofuel issues include:

  • Final 2021 biofuel, 2022 biodiesel levels. Biofuel supporters have continued to push for the agency to put out their final decisions, though some are now urging the agency to just leave it up to the incoming Biden administration. This is not the first time an administration has missed the statutory deadline, though the Trump administration had made the deadline each year until now. Some have written stories that the industry is being left in “disarray” due to the lack of the final levels. However, in December 2015, EPA announced the final calendar year biofuel levels for 2014, 2015 and 2016, well behind the statutory deadline for 2014 and 2015. EPA has indicated it has essentially had to reset its proposed levels as a result of the Covid impacts as that has affected forecast fuel usage levels and thus biofuel demand.
  • Help for biofuel industry. Any Covid aid package has been sought as a way to help struggling biofuel producers for impacts from the pandemic. But those calls have not been as strong in recent weeks with the industry output of ethanol continuing to rise.
  • Small refinery exemptions (SREs). Biofuel backers and opponents have well-staked-out positions on this topic, with biofuel backers having a court ruling on their side in this one. EPA has denied 54 gap-year requests submitted by refiners in a bid to put them on rack to win future SREs. Another 17 remain outstanding at EPA with now 41 SREs pending for the 2019 and 2020 compliance years combined. The Renewable Fuels Association has called for the current EPA to leave the decisions up to the Biden administration. That is an interesting stance given the prior rejections of the gap-year requests which were clearly submitted out of an expectation that the court ruling would mean few would receive them for the 2019 and 2020 compliance years.
  • RFS beyond 2022. The industry is focusing on the RFS beyond 2022 which is the final year that EPA has statutory authority for the program. That will be an issue that will build in 2021 and 2022 but will be driven largely by Congress with input from the administration.
  • Climate change. Biofuel supporters are counting on the push for addressing climate change to include expanded potential for biofuels as a way to lower harmful tailpipe emissions. That will have to depend in part on a view that biofuel production does not cause a negative contribution to carbon capture etc. That will mean more focus on advanced and cellulosic biofuel improvements to get the latter in particular to reach the key threshold of being economically viable. 
  • Electric vehicles (EVs). This is an issue that biofuel interests have not publicly been commenting on extensively, but one that clearly has an impact on future biofuel demand. More miles driven by EVs reduces fuel demand and by extension biofuel demand. 
  • USDA roll-out of the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program (HBIIP). Does that continue into the Biden administration?
  • Proposed E-15 labeling changes that have been sitting at EPA, reportedly approved but not yet published.
  • 500-million-gallon remand required by the U.S. Circuit court that was “illegally” waived in the 2016 RFS.
  • What happens in 2035 when California and other jurisdictions in the U.S. and Canada ban new gas-powered vehicles?

— Nestlé details plans to reduce its net greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050. Today, it released a detailed 27-page plan (link) on how it will get there. Nearly two-thirds of the Swiss food giant’s emissions come from agriculture, where reducing emissions requires working with some 500,000 farmers and 150,000 suppliers. That’s more complicated than simply switching to renewable electricity or offsetting business travel (which Nestlé is also doing).

 


CORONAVIRUS UPDATE


 

 Summary: Global cases of Covid-19 are at 64,596,395 with 1,494,986 deaths, according to data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. case count rose to 13,925,350 with 273,874 deaths.
 

       Link to Covid Case Tracker
       Link to Our World in Data

 

— U.S. Covid-19-related deaths hit a new high. The daily death toll was 3,157 on Wednesday and newly reported infections were at their second highest. Health experts project fatalities will continue to climb.

 

— EPA’s Wheeler self-quarantining after contact with someone testing positive for Covid-19. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said he would self-quarantine after coming in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19. The person Wheeler had contact with is asymptomatic. "After consulting my doctor and out of an abundance of caution, I will quarantine until I've gone through the proper testing protocols," Wheeler said in a statement.

 

— U.S. should be able to distribute enough coronavirus vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna to immunize 100 million people by the end of February, which would protect the elderly, healthcare workers and people with pre-existing conditions. There could even be more doses than expected if Johnson & Johnson's potential vaccine is authorized before then, according to Dr. Moncef Slaoui, who is leading the Trump administration's vaccine program Operation Warp Speed. CVS and Walgreens are gearing up to deliver most of the vaccine doses for the nation's approximately 15,600 nursing homes and 29,000 assisted-living communities, but the effort will need to navigate rollout details that may vary by state.

 

— CDC cut the recommended quarantine period for people exposed to Covid-19 to seven to 10 days, reflecting findings on how long infections take to develop.

 


POLITICS & ELECTIONS


 

—  GOP picks Rep. Thompson as ranking Republican on Ag panel. The Republican Steering Committee backed Rep. GT Thompson (R-Pa.) to become the new Ranking Member on the House Ag Committee, replacing Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) who retired. The Steering panel picked Thompson over Reps. Austin Scott (R-Ga.) and Rick Crawford (R-Ark.), both members who had also sought the top Republican post on the panel. “The challenges ahead of us are considerable, but we will continue to put farm families first and ensure our country has the most safe and affordable food supply chain on the planet,” Thompson said. The Republican and Democratic caucuses will choose their committee leaders today.

 

— Senate advanced the confirmation of Federal Reserve nominee Christopher Waller, though a bid to confirm Judy Shelton to the Fed board appears unlikely to succeed.
 


OTHER ITEMS OF NOTE     


 

— Census delay: Census Bureau schedules indicate the agency needs until Jan. 23 to complete the count and transmit figures, which would be too late for President Trump’s plan to exclude unauthorized immigrants from the tally.

 

— U.S. Grain Standards Act re-authorization sent to Trump. The House Wednesday cleared the United States Grain Standards Reauthorization Act (GSA) of 2020 (S 4054) under suspension of the rules, sending the plan to President Donald Trump for his signature. The legislation would reauthorize the GSA through Sept. 30, 2025. Several groups hailed the passage of the legislation which the Senate had approved Nov. 16. The reauthorization also included some changes, including that delegated state agencies to notify users of official inspection or weighing services at least 72 hours in advance of any intent to discontinue such services. It will also ensure that Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) user fees are directed solely to inspection and weighing services and FGIS will undertake a comprehensive review of the current boundaries for the officially designated grain inspection agencies in the domestic marketplace.

 

— USDA announces $14.4 million in funding for animal health projects. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced it is awarding $14.4 million to 76 projects by states, universities and other partners aimed at protecting animal health. APHIS said $9.4 million is being offered for 46 projects under the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program (NADPRP). The projects are aimed at “increasing practical livestock biosecurity measures, as well as advancing rapid depopulation and disposal abilities to be used during high consequence animal disease outbreaks,” APHIS detailed.

 

     Meanwhile, another $5.1 million is being awarded through the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to projects led by NAHLN laboratories representing 21 states. The projects “will help NAHLN enhance early detection of high-consequence animal diseases and improve emergency response capabilities at NAHLN veterinary diagnostic laboratories,” APHIS said. Funding for the NADPRP and NAHLN awards was provided under the 2018 Farm Bill. In 2019, the programs awarded $10.2 million across 44 projects.

 

— APHIS reopens comment period on domestic FMD vaccine production. USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said it reopened the public comment period for a petition by Zoetis seeking approval to produce foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) vaccine on the U.S. mainland. While introduction of live FMD virus into the U.S. is barred by federal law, the company said the strain used to manufacture the vaccine should be exempted as it cannot cause FMD. APHIS said it is “providing commenters with additional scientific information” supporting its own determination that production of the vaccine in the U.S. “poses no risk of causing FMD infection in animals.” The extended deadline is meant to give “interested persons the opportunity to review the additional information and submit comments,” the agency added. The extended public comment period runs through Jan. 21, 2021.

 

Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the president of France from 1974 to 1981, died from coronavirus-related health issues. He was 94. In office, he oversaw a modernization of society after years of Gaullist rule — abortion was legalized, divorce laws relaxed, and the voting age lowered. He was also an architect of European integration. Not helped by the oil shock of the late 1970s, he lost the Elysée to the socialist François Mitterrand.

 


 

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