Why is the market so excited by Pfizer's vaccine breakthrough? Because even the CEO didn't think their vaccine would be as effective as it appears to be.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla was on Squawk Box this morning shortly after the company's bombshell news that its Covid-19 vaccine, developed with BioNTech (pronounced "bion-tech"), is 90% effective. Dow futures had been up about 400 points before Pfizer's news crossed the tape; by the time he came on air, futures were up about 1,400 points, and opened today at a record high
"I was cautiously optimistic," Bourla said, "[but] I never thought it would be 90%." In fact, he added, the vaccine is more than 90% effective; it sounded like they basically rounded down. Compare that with the flu shot, which is only around 40-60% effective in a given year, and you can see why he and everyone else are so impressed.
It had also been getting conspicuously quiet on the Pfizer vaccine front in recent weeks. Bourla had been saying for months the company should know its efficacy by the end of October; he then dialed that back last month after criticism from researchers and bioethicists that that timeline was too aggressive. The vaccine was also becoming a political football, and Bourla kept insisting the timeline had nothing to do with the election.
You have to wonder, in a presidential race this close, whether it would have changed the outcome if Pfizer's news came a week ago. Nonetheless, Bourla said he learned of the results at 2 p.m. yesterday. And given that some analysts were starting to wonder if the silence meant that the vaccine wasn't working as well as hoped, today's news came as an absolute thunderbolt.
It's perhaps even a bigger deal for the rest of the market than it is for Pfizer. The "market movers" page on CNBC right now (around 10 a.m. ET) is a beautiful thing. Carnival is up 40%. Royal Caribbean right behind it. Vornado, the top New York City real estate manager, is up 33%. In the Dow, Amex is up 18%, Chevron is up 13%, and Disney and Boeing are up more than 10%.
Now, it's not such a pretty picture for the "stay-at-home" plays. Etsy is down 18%. Take-Two, the game developer, is down 8.5%. In the Nasdaq, Zoom is down 15%, and Netflix is down 7%. Peloton is down 20%! (Biogen is down more than 30% today, but that's unrelated; its Alzheimer's drug failed to win FDA support.)
Is this the long-awaited catalyst for the value trade? That will be the topic of debate for the next days and weeks. Bill Miller on Friday told us yes; Stan Druckenmiller will be on today around 1:30 p.m. ET to share his take. The implications go way beyond that rotation too, to everything from how this will affect the next stimulus package to the way that policy makers handle the Covid surge with this in mind.
In closing, a word of caution; the vaccine won't be widely available for months. The Covid spike is really bad in the meantime. I wonder if officials will be more inclined to do shutdowns now knowing that the vaccine is on its way, versus a "we have to live with it" managed reopening strategy.
But let's not ruin the moment. This is really, truly wonderful news.
See you at 1 p.m!
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