Business briefing

The daily business briefing: March 25, 2021

AstraZeneca says updated data confirms vaccine is highly effective, gas prices rise as demand rebounds, and more 

1

AstraZeneca says updated analysis found COVID-19 vaccine 76 percent effective

AstraZeneca on Wednesday released an analysis with updated data that found its coronavirus vaccine was 76 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID-19, down slightly from the initial claim of 79 percent effectiveness. It is 100 percent effective at averting severe illness and hospitalization. Days earlier, government scientists said AstraZeneca had cherry-picked data from a predominantly U.S. study of 32,000 people, relying on "incomplete information" to come up with the initial estimate of its effectiveness. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, said Wednesday before AstraZeneca released its update that the controversy was an "unforced error," but he was confident that when all the data was vetted it would "turn out to be a good vaccine."

2

Gas prices rise as demand rebounds from pandemic slide

Gasoline prices hit an average of $2.88 per gallon over the past week, up by about one-third compared to the same time last year, according to AAA. Fuel prices have gotten a boost from rebounding oil prices as the global economy recovers from the devastation of coronavirus lockdowns. Crude oil prices, which had already been rising, jumped by 5.9 percent on Wednesday as a massive container ship went aground in the Suez Canal, blocking shipping traffic in a waterway that is vital to the international oil market. The rise of pump prices toward $3 a gallon ahead of the summer driving season is helping energy companies recover after being clobbered by a drop in demand as the pandemic halted most travel last year. Shares of fuel company Valero rose by 2.4 percent and those of Phillips 66 gained 3.9 percent on Wednesday.

3

GlaxoSmithKline fires Moncef Slaoui over sexual harassment allegation

GlaxoSmithKline on Wednesday fired Moncef Slaoui, the former scientific head of the government's COVID-19 vaccine push Operation Warp Speed, after an internal investigation found that he sexually harassed another employee several years ago. The company received a letter detailing the allegations in February. Emma Walmsley, GSK's CEO, told employees in a Wednesday letter that Slaoui's actions "represent an abuse of his leadership position and violate our company policies, our values, and our commitment to Trust — a commitment I know is shared by all of you." Slaoui left GSK in 2017 but continued to serve on the board of Galvani Bioelectronics, a GSK joint venture with Verily Life Sciences. Slaoui acknowledged the allegation "with deep regret" and said he felt "terrible that my actions have put a former colleague in an uncomfortable situation."

4

Dozens of ships delayed as huge vessel blocks Suez Canal

At least 150 commercial ships were blocked from passing through the Suez Canal on Thursday as crews continued efforts to refloat a massive container ship that wedged across the crucial waterway during a sandstorm. More than 20 of the delayed ships were tankers carrying crude oil or refined fuel. Companies said they might reroute their cargoes around Africa if the nearly quarter-mile-long Ever Given, which transports goods between China and the Netherlands, remains stuck in Egypt's man-made channel dividing continental Africa from the Sinai Peninsula. Experts said the delays could affect supply chains for months. "Blocking something like the Suez Canal really sets in motion a number of dominos toppling each other over," said Lars Jensen, chief executive of Denmark-based SeaIntelligence Consulting.

5

Stock futures edge higher ahead of jobless claims data

U.S. stock index futures rose slightly early Thursday following Wednesday's big losses for tech stocks. Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq were up by around 0.3 percent several hours before the opening bell. The Nasdaq plunged on Wednesday, closing down by 2 percent as technology stocks and other high-growth stocks came under pressure. Optimism about signs of a strengthening economic recovery and accelerating COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been offset recently by concerns about supply chain troubles for crucial products, including vaccines and electronic chips, and the possibility that new coronavirus stimulus checks could drive up inflation. Investors on Thursday will be looking at the latest numbers on jobless claims to see how the labor-market recovery is going.

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