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U.S. stock futures were higher after Tuesday's rally as investors grew more optimistic about Washington reaching a deal on another coronavirus economic relief package. However, a weaker-than-expected retail sales report put a damper on gains.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Tuesday soared 337 points, closing less than 20 points from its Dec. 4 record high. While the S&P 500's gain was also shy of its early December record high close, the Nasdaq's advance Tuesday was enough for a new record closing high.
All three stock benchmarks were nearing their all-time intraday highs from earlier this month on hopes that the nationwide rollout of the Pfizer and BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine and the possibility of FDA emergency use authorization of Moderna's vaccine later this week could start to turn the tide in the fight against the coronavirus. As of Tuesday, a record 112,816 people were hospitalized in the U.S. with Covid as the seven-day average of new deaths in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 2,491.
Also Wednesday morning, bitcoin breached the $20,000 level for the first time in history as crypto enthusiasts pointed to increased demand from institutional investors for the red-hot digital currency.
The government on Wednesday released its latest read on U.S. consumer spending, against the backdrop of pandemic-driven high unemployment and stricter Covid mitigation measures returning in many states. November retail sales dropped 1.1%, more than triple the expected decline. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of the nation's economic activity.
The retail sales data comes hours before the Federal Reserve ends its final two-day meeting of the year, with the release of its policy statement at 2 p.m. ET followed by Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's news conference. Near-zero percent interest rates to support the economy during the coronavirus crisis aren't expected to change, but central bankers could tweak their bond-buying program.
The top four leaders on Capitol Hill appear to be making progress toward agreements on funding the government and another round of coronavirus economic stimulus. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., met Tuesday with time running out before the end of the year. McConnell told reporters that Congress won't leave for the holidays "until we get a Covid package, no matter how long it takes." A partial federal shutdown could happen this weekend if there's no agreement on government funding.
In remarks on the Senate floor Tuesday, McConnell explicitly acknowledged Joe Biden as president-elect for the first time after weeks of Republican delays in recognizing the 2020 election result. The Senate majority leader later warned Republicans not to object to the Electoral College outcome when Congress affirms Biden's victory on Jan. 6, multiple sources told NBC News. Still, some GOP members, including Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue of Georgia, have refused to accept Biden's win. Both incumbents face Jan. 5 runoffs that will determine whether McConnell and the GOP will keep control of the Senate.
A major snowstorm is developing and could be the most severe to hit the New York City area in years. The wintry blast is expected up and down the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions Wednesday and Thursday. The Weather Channel predicts a foot of snow and high winds from western Maryland to southern New England. Some areas could see a wintry mix of sleet and freezing rain.