Morning Brief

What to watch today: S&P 500 set to open above its record close level

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BY THE NUMBERS

U.S. stock futures rose Thursday, one day after the S&P 500 finished just 1 point shy of last week's record close, while the Nasdaq did finish at another record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average on Wednesday dropped modestly but remained less than 64 points away from its record from earlier this month. Heading into the new trading day, Wall Street watches the government's jobless claims data, coronavirus stimulus talks in Washington and a FDA advisory panel's meeting on Moderna's Covid-19 vaccine. (CNBC)

Even as strong as the Nasdaq's over 40% rise has been in 2020, it's nowhere near the 370% surge this year for bitcoin, which early Thursday shot up to a new all-time high above $23,600. Behind the gains, crypto bulls point to increased demand from institutional investors, looking at bitcoin like gold as a hedge against inflation during the unprecedented U.S. spending to boost the pandemic-stricken economy. (CNBC)

The government on Thursday reported higher-than-expected 885,000 initial jobless claims for the week ending Dec. 12; the second straight week above 800,000, reflecting the job market's struggles lately as coronavirus cases keep spiking, leading local and state governments to reimpose Covid mitigation measures. (CNBC)

Despite those troubling pandemic trends, the Federal Reserve boosted its economic expectations slightly for the end of the year and for next year, according to the central bank's Summary of Economic Projections released Wednesday afternoon after its final two-day meeting of 2020. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said stock prices are not necessarily high considering the low level of interest rates. (CNBC)

IN THE NEWS TODAY

Negotiators on Capitol Hill are nearing agreement on a $900 billion coronavirus relief package, which would deliver additional help to U.S. businesses, a $300-per-week federal unemployment benefit boost, and $600 stimulus checks for most Americans. A deal has remained elusive for months on the first significant legislative response to the pandemic since the landmark $2.2 trillion CARES Act in March. (CNBC)

Exactly one week after recommending emergency use of Pfizer's Covid vaccine, a key FDA advisory committee is expected to do the same Thursday after it meets on Moderna's vaccine. While the FDA doesn't have to follow the panel's recommendation, it often does as it did last Friday when it cleared the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on an emergency basis. (CNBC)

* 5 things to know before FDA panel votes on Moderna's Covid vaccine (CNBC)
* FDA says extra doses from vials of Pfizer's Covid vaccine can be used (CNBC)
* U.S. quarantines some vaccine shipments after transit 'anomaly' left vials too cold (CNBC)
* Two Alaska health workers got emergency treatment after receiving Pfizer's vaccine (NY Times)
* Labeling confusion led to wasted doses of Pfizer vaccine in first days of rollout (Stat News)

Possibly bringing another weapon to the fight against the coronavirus could help slow the exploding case count. On Wednesday, there were more than 247,400 new cases in the U.S., the worst single day of the pandemic, and a record 3,656 deaths. Overall, as of Thursday morning, America neared 17 million total cases and exceeded 307,500 deaths. (JHU data)

* Fauci says U.S. could return to normal by mid-fall if most people get vaccinated (CNBC)

French President Emmanuel Macron has become the latest world leader to test positive for Covid. The diagnosis was established "as soon as the first symptoms appeared," Macron's office said on Thursday. Macron, who turns 43 next week, will continue to work remotely, the statement added. Other leaders who got the coronavirus, including U.S. President Donald Trump, Britain's Boris Johnson and Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro, all recovered. (CNBC)

Vice President Mike Pence, head of the White House coronavirus task force, will publicly receive a vaccine Friday, while President-elect Joe Biden is expected to get a shot as soon as next week. It's unclear when Trump will get vaccinated. Former presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton have all volunteered to go before cameras to get vaccine shots to help build public trust. (CNBC)

* Antibody drugs used to treat Trump, others could cut Covid-19 hospitalizations by half, but they’re not being used by the general public (CNBC)

Dave Clark, who runs Amazon's (AMZN) retail operations, wrote to a CDC panel, asking that the company's front-line employees "receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the earliest appropriate time." Health-care workers and nursing homes have been given first priority to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, but essential workers are expected to be among the groups prioritized in the second wave of recipients. (CNBC)

The day after launching an attack on Apple's (AAPL) upcoming privacy change, Facebook (FB) ran another ad, urging consumers to consider whether they would pay for apps that are currently free. Apple will soon be making a change to settings on users' iPhones in the name of privacy, and it will fundamentally change the way mobile advertising works on those devices. (CNBC)

* Google says Texas was wrong about its deal with WhatsApp; it’s just a backup service (CNBC)

A powerful winter blast dumped more snow in New York City than it got all last winter. As the snowstorm persisted early Thursday, some parts of the tristate area could end up with two feet. By the afternoon, the metro region should start seeing clear skies but still frigid temperatures and biting wind chills. (NBC New York)

STOCKS TO WATCH

Accenture (ACN): The consulting firm earned $2.32 per share for its fiscal first quarter, compared to a consensus estimate of $2.05 a share. Revenue beat estimates as well. Accenture also raised its full-year forecast, with demand for digital and cloud services remaining strong as U.S. employees continue working from home. The shares jumped 5% in premarket trading as of 7:30 a.m. ET.

General Mills (GIS): The food producer beat estimates by 9 cents a share, with quarterly earnings of $1.06 per share. Revenue also topped estimates, helped by homebound consumers buying more of its cereal and baking products.

Rite Aid (RAD): The drugstore operator reported an unexpected profit of 40 cents per share, compared with forecasts of a 5 cents per share loss. Revenue also exceeded estimates, driven by growth in both the retail pharmacy and pharmacy services segments. The shares added 9% in premarket trading as of 7:30 a.m. ET.

Lennar (LEN): Lennar reported quarterly profit of $2.82 per share, beating the consensus estimate of $2.37 a share. The home builder's revenue also came in above Wall Street forecasts. Lennar and other home builders continue to benefit from low mortgage rates, and high demand due to the pandemic. The shares gained 3.7% in premarket trading as of 7:30 a.m. ET.

Roku (ROKU): Roku will carry AT&T's (T) HBO MAX streaming service beginning today. Roku had been the only streaming platform not to carry HBO MAX, which launched in May, but the two sides finally came to terms on a carriage agreement. Roku rose 7% in premarket trading as of 7:30 a.m. ET.

Twitter (TWTR): Twitter withdrew changes to its retweet function that had been implemented to prevent the spread of misinformation during the U.S. presidential election.

Boeing (BA): Boeing CEO David Calhoun told CNBC that the jet maker was not planning a massive stock sale to cut debt, as suggested in a Morgan Stanley analyst report. Separately, Boeing is said to be hiring up to 160 pilots that it will embed at airlines to ensure a smooth comeback for its 737 Max jet's return to service, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke to Reuters.

Tyson Foods (TSN): The food producer halted production at an Iowa pork plant, after a mechanical malfunction in the plant's refrigeration system. Tyson said operations at the plant may be halted for a few days while the system is repaired.

Herman Miller (MLHR): Herman Miller reported quarterly earnings of 89 cents per share, compared to the 56 cents a share consensus estimate. The office furniture maker's revenue also came in well above forecasts. Herman Miller said it was hopeful that Covid-19 vaccines will start to spark higher demand for office furniture and other office-related items.