Barron’s Weekly Market Updates – February 19, 2021
Friday, February 19, 2021
Mixed Finish. Stocks ended little changed Friday, leaving the Dow Jones Industrial Average clinging to a small weekly gain while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite lost ground. The Dow ended with a gain of around 1 point near 31,494, leaving the blue-chip gauge up 0.1% for the week. The S&P 500 fell around 7 points, or 0.2%, to finish near 3907, while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite edged up 9 points, or 0.1%, to around 13,874. The S&P 500 saw a weekly fall of 0.7%, while the Nasdaq declined 1.6%.
Pfizer, Seeking Big Sales of Covid-19 Vaccine, Adds to Its Lead
As Pfizer pushes toward the $15 billion in revenue it expects to pull in from sales of its Covid-19 vaccines this year, a wave of news on Thursday and Friday seemed to only solidify the company’s position in the very top tier of Covid-19 vaccine makers.
The news included a study from researchers in Israel published on Thursday that, though it comes with significant caveats, suggested that Pfizer’s Covid-19 vaccine, developed in partnership with the German biotech BioNTech, reduced Covid-19 rates after just a single dose in a population of healthcare workers.
On Friday, meanwhile, Pfizer and BioNTech submitted data to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that could ease the stringent storage requirements now required for the vaccine. And the companies also said they had begun dosing patients in a study of the vaccine in pregnant women.
Uber’s Business Model Under Pressure After Company Loses Key Legal Battle
Uber lost a key court ruling on Friday, which could hurt its business model in one of its biggest international markets.
The U.K.’s Supreme Court has decided that drivers of the ride-hailing app should be classified as workers, which means they are entitled to holiday pay and the minimum wage. The crucial ruling from the country’s top court has broad implications for the so-called gig economy and could mean Uber faces large compensation claims.
The number of people filing for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose last week, in a sign that the labor market remains under pressure.
There were 861,000 people filing initial claims for the week ended Feb. 13, according to Labor Department data released Thursday. The tally was 13,000 higher than the previous week’s upwardly revised total and well above the 773,000 projected by economists. The four-week moving average for new claims fell by 3,500 to 833,250. Initial claims remain above prepandemic records and are nearly four times their level of a year ago.
Congress Grills Key Players in GameStop Trading Frenzy
Regulators may want to put the brakes on some of the wild trading that sent GameStop shares up tenfold in one week last month, but some people involved in trading think that too many brakes may be what’s actually hurting the system.
That’s one early takeaway from the testimony that witnesses submitted for Thursday’s hearing on the GameStop saga in the House Committee on Financial Services.
Walmart Warns of Slowing Growth, Announces Wage Hikes for 425,000 Workers
Walmart’s fiscal fourth-quarter earnings came up short and it warned of slowing earnings growth, news that overshadowed stronger sales and a dividend hike.
The retail giant also said it planned to raise wages for roughly 425,000 employees to an average above $15 an hour, although its starting minimum wage will remain $11. Rivals Amazon.com and Target have starting wages of $15 an hour, and the Biden administration has proposed increasing the federal minimum wage, which stands at $7.25 an hour.
January retail sales blew past expectations, fueled by the latest round of stimulus checks.
U.S. consumer spending rose at a seasonally adjusted rate of 5.3% last month, according to data released by the Commerce Department on Wednesday, breaking a three-month streak of declines over the holiday shopping season and coming in well ahead of the 1.2% increase that economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal expected.
World Health Organization Authorizes AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 Vaccine
The World Health Organization granted an emergency-use listing to AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine that will allow it to be used widely in developing nations.
AstraZeneca’s vaccine has been authorized in the European Union, the U.K., and other countries. But the World Health Organization designation, issued Monday, will allow the vaccine, which is easy to store and inexpensive, to be distributed through the COVAX Facility, the WHO-led effort to send doses to low-income countries.
Novavax Unveils Potentially Huge Deal to Supply Vaccines
The biotech Novavax announced a potentially enormous deal to supply 1.1 billion doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to Covax, a worldwide network designed to fairly share access to coronavirus vaccines around the world, along with its partner the Serum Institute of India.
The actual size of the deal for Novavax is difficult to gauge, as the 1.1 billion-dose commitment includes a previously announced agreement with the Serum Institute.
IBM Reportedly Mulls Selling Its Watson Health Unit
IBM is reportedly considering the sale of its Watson Health business.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the company is considering various options for the business, which has about $1 billion in revenue, well under 2% of the company’s total revenue. The Watson Health unit uses artificial intelligence techniques to serve hospitals, medical-device companies, pharmaceutical firms, and insurance providers.