Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 19, 2021

European regulators conclude AstraZeneca's vaccine is safe, oil prices fall on concerns about demand, and more

1

European regulators declare AstraZeneca vaccine safe, effective

The European Medicines Agency has concluded that the coronavirus vaccine AstraZeneca developed with Oxford University is safe despite decisions by several European countries to suspend its use due to suspicions it could be linked to blood clots. The EMA's executive director, Emer Cooke, said the drug regulator had "come to a clear scientific conclusion: This is a safe and effective vaccine." The EMA group found that the vaccine was "not associated with an increase in the overall risk of thromboembolic events, or blood clots," Cooke said, although the agency said it could not definitively rule out a link to a rare blood clotting disorder. Regardless, Cooke said, the vaccine's benefits outweighed any risk.

2

Oil prices drop on concerns of weak European demand

U.S. crude oil prices fell by 7.1 percent to $60 per barrel on Thursday in their biggest one-day drop since September. It was the fifth consecutive day of declines as Europe's slow and faltering vaccine rollout could lead to economic problems and weaken fuel demand while supplies are high. Oil prices remained up by 25 percent in 2021 after hitting a nearly two-year high of $66 per barrel recently. Big supply cuts by Saudi Arabia and other large producers have been boosting prices. Some investors suggested a commodity "supercycle" could push prices far higher. But Thursday's fall suggested prices had risen as far as demand warranted, giving the "supercycle" talk "a bit of a reality check," said Louise Dickson, oil-markets analyst at consulting firm Rystad.

3

Labor Department says weekly new jobless claims rose to 770,000

The Labor Department said Thursday that 770,000 Americans filed initial jobless claims last week. That was up 45,000 claims from the level of the previous week, which was initially reported to be 712,000 but was revised up to 725,000. It was also about 70,000 claims higher than expected, as economists thought claims would decline this week to about 700,000. The number of new claims remains higher than the record prior to the pandemic, which was 695,000. The number of claims is also still higher than any week during the Great Recession. The most recent U.S. jobs report had surpassed expectations earlier this month. But Glassdoor senior economist Daniel Zhao wrote that while "the engine of economic recovery is restarting," there "is still a long way to go."

4

Nasdaq dives as Treasury yields spike

The tech-heavy Nasdaq plunged by 3 percent on Thursday as rising Treasury bond yields fueled fears of overvalued stocks, causing sharp declines for some growth shares that flourished during the first year of the coronavirus pandemic. The S&P 500 fell by 1.5 percent, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.5 percent a day after closing above 33,000 for the first time. The declines came as the 10-year Treasury yield jumped by 11 basis points to more than 1.75 percent at one point during the session, hitting its highest point in more than a year. The 30-year rate surpassed 2.5 percent for the first time since August 2019. U.S. stock index futures rose slightly early Friday as bond yields pulled back.

5

Boeing successfully tests engines for moon mission

Boeing's new deep-space rocket passed a crucial engine test on the ground on Thursday in a major step forward for NASA's plans for a lunar mission this year. The four Space Launch System engines, previously used in the space shuttle program, ran for eight minutes as planned, twice as long as the time necessary to collect data needed to prepare for a rocket launch. The success came after a failed test in January raised concerns about meeting the space agency's goal of returning U.S astronauts to the moon by the middle of the 2020s. NASA hopes to use the SLS rocket in November for the Artemis 1 moon mission, which will send a crewless capsule around the moon and return it to Earth.

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