Bitcoin, Moderna, FedEx, Google - 5 Things You Must Know Thursday

Congress appears closer to reaching a coronavirus aid package; Federal Reserve pledges continued support for economy; bitcoin crosses $23,000 for first time; Moderna vaccine goes before FDA advisory panel.
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Here are five things you must know for Thursday, Dec. 17:

1. -- Stock Futures Rise as Congress Closer to Stimulus Bill

Stock futures rose Thursday as congressional leaders appeared closer to agreeing to a coronavirus aid package and as the Federal Reserve said it would maintain monthly bond purchases until the economy makes "substantial further progress."

Contracts linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 94 points, S&P 500 futures rose 17 points and Nasdaq futures gained 59 points. The tech-heavy Nasdaq closed at another record high on Wednesday.

While the finishing touches of the $900 billion relief plan were still being worked out, some details of what will be included in the package have emerged.

People briefed on the negotiations told Bloomberg the draft of the plan includes $600 in payments for individuals, $300 a week in supplemental unemployment insurance payments and aid for small businesses. It also includes roughly $17 billion for airlines.

The package omits aid to state and local governments and lawsuit liability protection, sticking points that have held up previous negotiations.

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell pledged Wednesday the central bank would keep providing support to the U.S. economy.

The Fed said it would maintain its pace of bond buying program, currently at $120 billion a month, and said its broader strategy of accommodation would remain in place until "substantial further progress" has been made in meeting its employment and inflation goals. 

Powell said he expects the economy to rebound at a healthy pace in the second half of 2021 as vaccines against the coronavirus are widely distributed. 

“It’s clear that the Fed will provide significant support for markets for quite some time," said Jeff Buchbinder, equity strategist for LPL Financial. "It will be tougher to stick with that stance once the pandemic ends and the recovery gets rolling next year, so that’s when Fed-watching will get really interesting.”

2. -- Coronavirus - The Latest

The number of confirmed global deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, rose to 1.65 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed cases of the virus across the world have risen to 74,288,196.

The U.S. death toll is 307,501, the most in the world. The number of infected people in the U.S. approached 17 million.

U.S. deaths set another daily record, with 3,835 deaths reported on Wednesday, according to Bloomberg.

Moderna's  (MRNA) - Get Report coronavirus vaccine candidate will go before an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration on Thursday. The full FDA could sign off on emergency use for the vaccine as early as Friday.

Earlier this week, staff at the FDA said Moderna's vaccine for Covid-19 was "highly effective" in preventing the potentially deadly disease. Moderna said its vaccine candidate has an efficacy rate of about 94%.

TheStreet's Best Stocks of the Year: Moderna Is No. 3

Vice President Mike Pence will publicly receive the coronavirus on Friday, and President-elect Joe Biden is expected get vaccinated as soon as next week, amid concern that many Americans may refuse the injection.

French President Macron has tested positive for the coronavirus and will isolate for seven days but continue to work.

3. -- Thursday's Calendar: Jobless Claims, FedEx Earnings

The economic calendar Thursday includes Housing Starts and Permits for November at 8:30 a.m. ET, weekly Jobless Claims for 8:30 a.m. and the Philadelphia Fed Manufacturing Index for December at 8:30 a.m.

Earnings reports are expected Thursday from FedEx  (FDX) - Get Report, General Mills  (GIS) - Get Report, Rite Aid  (RAD) - Get Report, Sanderson Farms  (SAFM) - Get Report, Accenture  (ACN) - Get Report, Jabil  (JBL) - Get Report and Navistar International  (NAV) - Get Report.

4. -- Bitcoin Trades Above $23,000 for First Time

Bitcoin traded above $23,000 for the first time in history as investors and speculators jumped on board.

The world’s largest digital currency has more than tripled during 2020. It crossed $20,000 for the first time, just on Wednesday.

Bitcoin rose more than 9% on Thursday to $23,256.92, according to a composite of prices compiled by Bloomberg. 

Many experts believe that more gains lie ahead for bitcoin - some expect it to trade above $30,000. But if investors and speculators lose faith in the digital currency, it can easily plunge as it did in February and March, and from December 2017 to December 2018.

But if bitcoin sustains its momentum, then “testing $36,000 will be the next real objective,” Dan Gunsberg, CEO of crypto trading platform Hxro told Bloomberg. He indicated, however, that a significant break below $13,800 would herald a much weaker period.

5. -- Google Sued by 10 States for Operating Digital Advertising Monopoly

Alphabet's  (GOOGL) - Get Report Google was sued by 10 U.S. states on Wednesday, with the search giant being accused of collaborating with Facebook  (FB) - Get Report in secretive data deals in order to maintain a monopoly in digital advertising.

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Texas, alleged that when Facebook emerged in 2017 as a powerful rival to Google, Google responded by initiating an agreement in which Facebook would curtail its competitive moves, in return for guaranteed special treatment in Google-run ad auctions, The Wall Street Journal reported.

“Google is a trillion-dollar monopoly brazenly abusing its monopolistic power, going so far as to induce senior Facebook executives to agree to a contractual scheme that undermines the heart of [the] competitive process,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who led the suit.

Facebook declined to comment for the Journal. Google denied engaging in any anticompetitive behavior.

“Attorney General Paxton’s ad tech claims are meritless, yet he’s gone ahead in spite of all the facts. We’ve invested in state-of-the-art ad tech services that help businesses and benefit consumers,” a Google spokesperson said. “We will strongly defend ourselves from his baseless claims in court.”

Alphabet rose 0.48% in premarket trading to $1,765.55.

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