Pfizer’s vaccine setback spoils Wall Street’s bullish mood

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Good evening, Bull Sheeters. This is Fortune finance reporter Rey Mashayekhi, filling in this week for Bernhard with a special PM edition of the newsletter.

Positive data around U.S. jobless claims and economic activity drove markets in New York higher Thursday—but reports that Pfizer is having issues distributing its COVID-19 vaccine saw gains deteriorate late in the afternoon. Brexit negotiations led to an uneven day for the European bourses, while Chinese companies continue to grapple with new U.S. auditing regulations.

Markets update


  • The S&P 500 hit an all-time high during Thursday’s session and was on pace for a second consecutive record close—until the aforementioned Pfizer vaccine news prompted a late-day slide. In the end, the S&P closed down slightly (-0.1%), while the Dow gained 0.2% and the Nasdaq climbed 0.3%.
  • The market’s bullish mood was partly fueled by jobless claims that beat expectations, though the Thanksgiving holiday may have impacted the Labor Department’s data model. Friday will bring the government’s more comprehensive November unemployment report, which is expected to show slowing job growth.
  • Stimulus talks rumble on in D.C., with a compromise believed to be within reach after talks between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
  • After much speculation, President-elect Joe Biden has officially tapped Brian Deese to head his National Economic Council. Deese is an Obama administration alumnus whose most recent role at BlackRock—where he served as the asset management giant’s global head of sustainable investing—has drawn scrutiny from some on the left.
  • The Senate has confirmed Christopher Waller to the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, while President Trump’s nomination of Judy Shelton—a fierce Fed critic who believes in a return to the gold standard—to that same body appears all but dead.
  • Movie theater operator AMC is aiming to sell more than $700 million in stock as it looks to avoid bankruptcy in the wake of the pandemic’s devastating impact on its business.


  • The European bourses had a mixed Thursday as all eyes remained on Brexit. London’s FTSE gained 0.4%, Frankfurt’s DAX fell -0.5%, and the CAC 40 in Paris slipped nearly -0.2%. The pan-European STOXX 600 was up marginally.
  • British and European negotiators continued their marathon, pizza-fueled Brexit trade talks, with mixed signals on how those talks are going, depending on which side you ask. With less than a month to go until the U.K.’s “transition period” out of the EU comes to an end, work remains to be done on everything from data-sharing terms to fishing rights.
  • European business activity contracted sharply in November, as a surge in coronavirus cases across the continent forced countries to reinstitute lockdown measures.
  • Poland indicated that it would be willing to drop its veto over the EU’s proposed 1.8 trillion euro budget.
  • The EU is planning to introduce new tech regulations that would impact U.S. giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.


  • The Asian markets were mostly flat-to-up on the day. While Tokyo’s Nikkei inched up only marginally, it is now trading at its highest levels since 1991. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng and South Korea’s KOSPI each climbed more than 0.7%. On mainland China, the major indexes in Shanghai (-0.2%) and Shenzhen (+0.1%) drifted slightly.
  • The fallout continues from a new U.S. law that will impose stricter auditing rules on U.S.-listed Chinese companies. It could well prompt more companies to pursue secondary listings in Hong Kong and mainland China, while also stemming a trend that has seen the market capitalization of U.S.-listed Chinese firms exceed $2.2 trillion.
  • In other U.S.-China tensions, the Department of Defense has blacklisted four Chinese firms—including chipmaker SMIC and oil company CNOOC—for their alleged ties to the Chinese military.
  • And a day after the U.S. banned imports from a Chinese cotton producer for allegedly using forced Uighur labor, China accused the U.S. of fabricating such allegations.
  • India’s central bank has hit the nation’s largest private bank, HDFC, with sanctions after a data center outage shut down its digital payment services for more than 12 hours last month.


  • Gold gained on more stimulus conjuncture.
  • The dollar continued its decline.
  • Bitcoin climbed on the long, slow march to $20,000.
  • Crude oil perked up on positive OPEC+ talks, with Brent trading at under $49/barrel.


That’s all for today. Please be sure to check out today’s reads below, featuring a selection of stories from Fortune‘s new December/January issue. Have a pleasant evening and see you tomorrow.

Rey Mashayekhi

As always, you can write to or reply to this email with suggestions and feedback.

Today's reads

Master of cards (and more). Over the course of a decade-plus at the helm of Mastercard, CEO Ajay Banga has delivered shareholder returns that are nearly five times that of the S&P 500, grown revenues and profits at a rate outpacing the firm’s biggest rivals, and set the company on a forward-thinking path that braces for the digital economy of the future. As he prepares to leave his post at the end of this year, Banga spoke with Fortune editor-in-chief Clifton Leaf to reflect on his remarkable run and look forward to what’s next.

A startup’s second act. Robinhood has carved out an enviable position as the buzzy, stock-trading app of choice for millennials—deploying a zero-commission model that forced established competitors to adapt or risk being left behind. With a valuation now approaching $12 billion, Fortune’s Jeff John Roberts examined the startup’s meteoric rise and the challenging task that lays ahead: profitability.

Selling others short. Short selling has long been a tried-and-tested practice on Wall Street, but there’s a new generation of small activist firms now finding success at keeping overhyped companies in check. Bull Sheet's own Bernhard Warner profiled several of these investors, who are making a killing while keeping public firms on their toes.

Some of these stories require a subscription to access. There is a discount offer for our loyal readers if you use this link to sign up. Thank you for supporting our journalism.

Market candy

“In some ways, it’s awesome and surreal to be a part of this, going public. In other ways, it just makes a lot of sense.”

That’s Austin Russell, the 25-year-old, newly-minted billionaire founder and CEO of Luminar Technologies, which develops sensor technology for self-driving cars. Russell founded Luminar eight years ago at the age of 17, after leaving Stanford University to launch the startup. On Thursday, he rang the opening bell of the Nasdaq, on which Luminar now trades via special purpose acquisition company Gores Metropoulos.

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