By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
The U.S. tally of confirmed cases of the coronavirus illness COVID-19 climbed above 10 million on Monday, and financial markets enjoyed a historic rally following positive news on a leading COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Pfizer Inc. (NYS:PFE) and partner BioNTech SE (NAS:BNTX) sparked a rally that saw stock indexes soar to record intraday levels after they said their experimental vaccine candidate showed 90% efficacy in a Phase 3 clinical trial, putting the two drug makers in the lead in the race to develop a vaccine.
“For the first time we can see a light at the end of the tunnel and a return to ‘normalcy’ seems likely within 2021,” Raymond James analyst Steven Seedhouse wrote in a note to clients.
Stock futures were already up about 400 points before the announcement, after Democrat Joe Biden was projected to become the 46th U.S. president over the weekend. Biden has made it clear managing the pandemic will be a top priority for his administration, contrasting with incumbent President Donald Trump’s downplaying of the crisis and insistence it would “disappear.”
As expected, Biden unveiled his COVID-19 task force early Monday, assembling a team of leading health experts led by Dr. David Kessler, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology and biostatistics at UCSF; Dr. Vivek Murthy, who served as the 19th surgeon general of the United States in 2014–17; and Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, an associate professor of internal medicine, public health and management at Yale University and associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine.
The team also includes Ezekiel J. Emanuel, an oncologist and vice provost for global initiatives and chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania; Atul Gawande, professor of surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; Samuel O. Thier, a professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School and of health policy and management at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; and Michael Osterholm, Regents Professor and McKnight Presidential Endowed Chair in Public Health and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.
Biden weighed in on the vaccine news, cautioning that, while it’s “excellent news,” it’s also important to recognize that vaccination is still months away, given the many logistical challenges and the fact that the trial data has not been peer-reviewed. Pfizer and BioNtech said they would apply for an emergency-use authorization, which is not a full FDA approval but is viewed as an important tool for advancing therapies during the crisis.
“This is why the head of the CDC warned this fall that for the foreseeable future a mask remains a more potent weapon against the virus than the vaccine,” Biden said in a statement. “Today’s news does not change this urgent reality. Americans will have to rely on masking, distancing, contact tracing, hand washing and other measures to keep themselves safe well into next year. Today’s news is great news, but it doesn’t change that fact.”
The U.S. added 103,657 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, and at least 464 new deaths. The U.S. has averaged 111,175 cases a day in the past week, a 59% increase from two weeks ago.
The U.S. has 10 million cases and 237,742 fatalities, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University, or about a fifth of the global tallies.
The head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, noted Monday that half of all cases and deaths in the world from COVID-19 are in just four countries. Other cities and countries have succeeded in containing the spread using “a comprehensive, evidence-based approach,” Tedros said in remarks to the World Health Assembly.
“We might be tired of COVID-19. But it is not tired of us,” he said.
In other news:
• There are 56,768 COVID-19 patients in U.S. hospitals currently, according to the COVID Tracking Project, the highest level since July 29 and up 65% from a month ago. As hospitals in rural areas fill, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert declared a two-week state of emergency and placed his entire state under a face mask mandate, reversing his previous approach to the crisis. Herbert, a Republican, made the announcement in a video posted on Twitter.
• Russia counted a record 21,798 COVID-19 infections on Monday, Reuters reported, bringing its total tally to 1.8 million. Moscow counted 6,897 new cases. Officials also reported 256 deaths in the last one-day period, bumping the death toll to 30,793.
• German Health Minister Jens Spahn warned again that the country could lose control of the pandemic if the infection rate continues to rise, the Guardian reported. Germany averaged about 20,000 new cases a day last week and 2% needed to be admitted to intensive care units. Spahn warned that up to 40% of Germans are in a high risk category because it has the second oldest population in the world, after Japan.
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The number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide now stands at 50.7 million, the Johns Hopkins data show , and the death toll is 1.3 million. At least 33 million people have recovered from COVID-19.
Brazil has the second highest death toll at 162,397 and is third by cases at 5.7 million.
India is second in cases with 8.6 million, and third in deaths at 126,611.
Mexico has the fourth highest death toll at 95,027 and 10th highest case tally at 967,825.
The U.K has 49,154 deaths, the highest in Europe and fifth highest in the world, and 1.2 million cases, or eighth highest in the world.
China, where the disease was first reported late last year, has had 91,671 cases and 4,741 fatalities, according to its official numbers.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DOW:DJIA) recently was down 80 points, while the S&P (S&P:SPX) was down 0.2%.
What’s the latest company news?
• AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc.’s beaten-down shares (NYS:AMC) soared on the positive vaccine news, amid hopes a vaccine will be available sooner rather than later and allow cinemas and other indoor event spaces to allow more customers to enter. Cinemark Holdings Inc. (NYS:CNK) shares also rose sharply. Other live event providers also rose, including World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. (NYS:WWE) Madison Square Garden Sports (NYS:MSGS) and Live Nation Entertainment Inc. (NYS:LYV)
• McDonald’s Corp. (NYS:MCD) reported third-quarter earnings that beat the Street and raised its dividend. Revenue of $5.42 billion was down from $5.50 billion and also ahead of the $5.40 billion FactSet consensus. Global comparable sales fell 2.2%, though the U.S. was up 4.6% for the quarter. The FactSet consensus was for a 2.6% global decline. Monthly comparable sales improved sequentially with September up in the low double digits. All dayparts were up with a strong dinner performance. Nearly all restaurants are open, however COVID-19 resurgences have put restrictions on operating hours and dining room capacity, particularly outside of the U.S. McDonald’s raised its quarterly dividend 3% to $1.29, payable on Dec. 15.
• Novavax Inc. (NAS:NVAX) has been granted U.S. Food and Drug Administration fast track designation for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate, a move that should accelerate development of the vaccine. The company is aiming to get the candidate, called NVXCoV2373, into a Phase 3 trial in the U.S. and Mexico by end-November. “While the regulatory review of this clinical program will be expedited, Novavax remains committed to a data-driven and scientifically rigorous approach in demonstrating safety and efficacy, which we believe will support confidence in the vaccine in the U.S. and globally,” Gregory M. Glenn, president of R&D at Novavax, said in a statement.
• Party City Holdco Inc. (NYS:PRTY) reported a surprise third-quarter profit, a big revenue beat and provided an upbeat fourth-quarter outlook. Revenue slipped 1.2% to $533.8 million, well above the FactSet consensus of $489.3 million. Same-store sales grew 8.3%, helped by strength in balloon, birthday and entertainment categories, to beat expectations of a 2.3% decline. October revenue fell 15.9% to $364.3 million, while same-store sales for the month declined 2.9%, as Halloween declines were partially offset by strength in core categories. “Our Halloween results were ahead of our expectations, driven by strong results within décor and better than expected sales of costumes, despite the challenges of a pandemic-impacted backdrop,” said Chief Executive Brad Weston. For the fourth quarter, the company expects adjusted EPS of 31 cents to 37 cents, above the FactSet consensus of 29 cents, and revenue of $675 million to $695 million, which is above expectations of $660 million.
• Rite Aid Corp. (NYS:RAD) announced a new marketing and branding campaign that includes a new corporate logo, digital experience and a test of a “store of the future” design. Rite Aid says it is targeting millennial and Gen X women, and has been working toward the revamp over the last year, with new supplier relationships, employee training and tools and more. The new store designs have launched in Etters, Pa.; Littleton, N.H.; and Moscow, Pa., with additional store trials coming. Pharmacists are central to the company’s revamp and in the store trials, they are free to walk the floor and help customers. The beauty section is also focused on “natural,” chemical-free products.