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AstraZeneca Vaccine, $600 Stimulus Checks, Intel - 5 Things You Must Know Wednesday

A push by House Democrats and President Trump to boost stimulus payments to $2,000 stalls in the Senate; AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine gets U.K. approval; hedge fund Third Point pushes Intel to make changes.

Here are five things you must know for Wednesday, Dec. 30:

1. -- Stock Futures Point Modestly Higher

Stock futures suggested a modestly higher open for Wall Street on Wednesday after a push by House Democrats and President Donald Trump to increase stimulus payments for most Americans to $2,000 stalled in the Republican-led Senate. 

Sentiment got a lift, however, from the U.K.'s approval of a second coronavirus vaccine that it will begin rolling out Monday. 

Contracts linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 87 points, S&P 500 futures were up 12 points and Nasdaq futures rose 47 points.

Checks for $600 - the amount in the coronavirus relief measure Trump signed into law on Sunday - have started being sent to Americans after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked an attempt by Democratic leader Chuck Schumer to set up a vote on a House-passed bill that would boost the payments to $2,000.

The failure to approve larger stimulus checks led stocks to close lower on Tuesday. The S&P 500 recorded its first loss in four trading sessions, a day after closing at record highs. 

The S&P 500 slipped 0.22%, the Dow declined 0.22% and the Nasdaq fell 0.38%.

“After a meteoric rise as risk dominoes toppled one by one this week, stocks fell back to earth a bit overnight,” said Stephen Innes of Axi said in a commentary. “And while larger stimulus paychecks would always be a welcome addition to the Q1 consumption bonanza, the current stimulus level as it sits will drive U.S. growth sufficiently higher bridging the gap when people get vaccinated and return to those activities most impacted by Covid-19 such as dining out, traveling and other personal service-related areas.”

2. -- AstraZeneca's Covid-19 Vaccine Gets U.K. Approval

The coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca  (AZN) - Get Astrazeneca PLC Sponsored ADR Report and the University of Oxford was approved by the U.K. government, making Britain the first country to authorize the shot for emergency use.

American depositary receipts of AstraZeneca rose 1.92% to $50.86 in premarket trading Wednesday.

The U.K. earlier in December was the first government to approve a vaccine from Pfizer  (PFE) - Get Pfizer Inc. Report and BioNTech  (BNTX) - Get BioNTech SE Report.

The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine will begin on Jan. 4, said U.K. Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

"The vaccine is our way out of the pandemic," Hancock said.

The vaccine's approval comes as the U.K. battles a more contagious variant of the coronavirus. The fast-spreading variant was found Tuesday in Colorado, the first reported case in the U.S.

The patient is a man in his 20s who has no travel history, said the Colorado State Laboratory. The case was reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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“We are working to prevent spread and contain the virus at all levels,” said Colorado Gov. Jared Polis.

3. -- Coronavirus - The Latest

The number of confirmed global deaths from Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, rose to more than 1.79 million, according to Johns Hopkins University. Confirmed cases of the virus across the world have passed 82 million.

The U.S. death toll is 338,632, the most in the world. The number of confirmed infected people in the U.S. was 19,515,430.

There were 168,817 new coronavirus cases in the U.S. on Tuesday and 1,718 deaths, according to data from the university.

The U.S. has vaccinated an average of only 200,000 people a day against Covid-19, Bloomberg reported, citing data it gathered from states and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

While the U.S. government's Operation Warp Speed has distributed millions of doses, some states have been slow to vaccinate people. The nation almost certainly won't hit the Trump administration’s goal of 20 million vaccinations by year-end, according to a Bloomberg analysis. 

4. -- Intel Is Pressed to Make Sweeping Changes

Intel  (INTC) - Get Intel Corporation Report slipped in premarket trading Wednesday following strong gains in the previous session after activist hedge fund Third Point urged the chipmaker to evaluate strategic alternatives. 

Intel shares declined 0.75% to $49.02 in premarket trading. The stock closed 4.93% higher on Tuesday at $49.39.

In a letter to Intel Chairman Omar Ishrak, Third Point CEO Daniel Loeb wrote that Intel needed to address its weakening position in microprocessor manufacturing against rivals in Taiwan and South Korea.

Loeb pointed to what he said was Intel's loss of market share to rivals in its core PC and data-center markets.

“We suggest the board retain a reputable investment advisor to evaluate strategic alternatives, including whether Intel should remain an integrated device manufacturer and the potential divestment of certain failed acquisitions," the Third Point letter said.

New York-based Third Point has amassed a stake of nearly $1 billion in Intel, according to reports.

Intel said it "welcomes input from all investors regarding enhanced shareholder value. In that spirit, we look forward to engaging with Third Point LLC on their ideas towards that goal."

5. -- Wednesday's Economic Calendar: International Trade, Pending Home Sales

The U.S. economic calendar Wednesday includes International Trade in Goods for November at 8:30 a.m. ET, Chicago PMI for December at 9:45 a.m., the Pending Home Sales Index for November at 10 a.m. and Oil Inventories for the week ended Dec. 25 at 10:30 a.m.

There are no companies scheduled to report earnings Wednesday.