What to watch: AstraZeneca pops on COVID-19 vaccine approval, sterling surges on EU Brexit endorsement and oil gains

Kumutha Ramanathan
·Contributor
·4-min read
Vials of Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at the Serum Institute of India. Photo: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters
Vials of Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine are seen before they are packaged inside a lab at the Serum Institute of India. Photo: Francis Mascarenhas/Reuters

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

AstraZeneca pops on COVID-19 vaccine approval

AstraZeneca (AZN.L) shares were among the leaders on the FTSE (^FTSE) in early trading on Wednesday as Britain became the first country to approve the Oxford COVID-19 vaccine for widespread use. Markets welcomed the news, boosting the share price as nations continue to struggle to contain case numbers, hampered further by new, highly contagious variants first found in the UK.

The stock continued its winning streak from Tuesday, heading higher as overall market sentiment improved in the wake of a Brexit deal being secured last week. At around 8.40am in London, shares gained 0.2%, but were as high as 3.3% at the start of the trading day.

“This is certainly good news because there is no doubt that the current coronavirus vaccine demand is nowhere close enough to supply,” said Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at AvaTrade.

Sterling surges on EU Brexit endorsement

Sterling has continued its ascent on Wednesday as news hit that the European Union’s top officials signed the post-Brexit trade deal with the UK on Wednesday.

The pound gained 0.5% against the US dollar (GBPUSD=X), sitting at $1.3569 at around 9.16am in London.

It also continued its winning streak against the euro (GBPEUR=X), up 0.5% as it sits at $1.1069.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel formally signed the documents on Wednesday morning during a brief signature ceremony in Brussels.

While Wednesday saw muted gains on the FTSE (^FTSE), analysts say the outlook for UK equities and the economy as a whole has also vastly improved in the wake of the Brexit deal.

Oil gains

Oil prices remained on solid footing Wednesday as the US COVID-19 fiscal aid package and lower crude oil inventories lifted prices.

Brent crude (BZ=F) was up 0.5% at around 10am in London, sitting at around $51.39 (£37.23) a barrel.

Brent has been gaining in early trading on Wednesday. (Chart: Yahoo Finance)
Brent has been gaining in early trading on Wednesday. (Chart: Yahoo Finance)

The crude standalone price (CL=F) is also up 0.8%, sitting at $48.38 a barrel.

Crude ticked higher on Wednesday, partly due to reassuring signs that a COVID-19 relief package is coming. (Chart: Yahoo Finance)
Crude ticked higher on Wednesday, partly due to reassuring signs that a COVID-19 relief package is coming. (Chart: Yahoo Finance)

“Oil prices have remained supported by a weaker U.S. dollar overnight and have finally found a friend in the API inventory report,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi, a broker.

The American Petroleum Institute reported a surprising larger draw versus consensus in crude oil inventories for the week ending 25 December.

Market confidence was also reinforced by signs that a second COVID-19 relief bill is coming, which will add to fiscal stimulus efforts. Such indicators should ultimately get Americans driving and using other gasoline-fueled means of transportation.

China, which has bounced back since the coronavirus pandemic began raging earlier this year, remains an outlier in terms of global oil consumption trends. Earlier this month, the International Energy Agency cut its 2021 global oil demand growth projection following another downgrade to jet fuel and kerosine consumption resulting from travel restrictions and border closures. These are expected to remain in place until COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.

WATCH: UK approves AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine

European stocks lose steam despite AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine approval

London’s FTSE (^FTSE) had a modest open on Wednesday as the focus for markets returned to the fight for COVID-19 after Brexit deal euphoria.

On Wednesday, the UK became the first country in the world to approve a coronavirus vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca (AZN.L), just as case numbers are driven higher by new, highly contagious variants of the virus.

Meanwhile, in the US politicians are divided on details of the $2.3tn (£1.68tn) stimulus bill, in particular the size of the payout cheques.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) opened up just 0.1% in London. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was flat in Frankfurt, while the CAC 40 (^FCHI) fell just 0.1% in Paris.

US futures were in positive territory. The S&P (ES=F) was up 0.4%. Dow Jones (YM=F) was up 0.3% and the Nasdaq (NQ=F) was higher 0.4%.

Asian markets were largely in positive territory as they focused on the global economic recovery. While Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) fell 0.5% at market close, the Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) leapt up 2.1%, and the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) gained 1.1% at market close. South Korea’s KOSPI (^KS11) headed higher 1.9%.

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