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The daily business briefing: December 29, 2020

1.

The Democrat-controlled House on Monday voted overwhelmingly in favor of increasing COVID-19 relief checks to $2,000, up from the $600 direct payments included in the $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package President Trump signed on Sunday. Trump had urged Congress to boost the amount to $2,000. The measure now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it is expected to die. Senate Republicans have opposed the idea of increasing the payments due to concerns about the rising federal budget deficit. Rep. Kevin Bradey (R-Texas) said the proposal had been “hastily dropped on us at the last minute.” He added that he worried “that this whopping $463 billion won’t do what’s needed, stimulate the economy or help workers get back to work.” [The New York Times]

2.

U.S. stocks surged to record highs on Monday after President Trump caved and signed the coronavirus stimulus package and an omnibus spending deal needed to avert a government shutdown. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose by 0.7 percent. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq gained 0.9 percent and 0.7 percent, respectively. The gains were enough to lift all three of the main U.S. indexes to record highs. Trump’s signing of the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package clears the way for the Treasury Department to send American households $600-per-person direct payments as the latest coronavirus surge prompts new restrictions on businesses. The bill also renews just-expired extra unemployment benefits. Stock futures edged higher early Tuesday. [The Wall Street Journal]

3.

Novavax announced Monday that it was starting the Phase 3 trial of its coronavirus vaccine in the United States and Mexico. Novavax is the fifth company to begin late-phase testing of a coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. The trial, funded by up to $1.6 billion from Operation Warp Speed, will evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine candidate, NVX-CoV2373, in 30,000 people age 18 and older. Earlier trials suggested the vaccine safely provoked an immune response. “With the COVID-19 pandemic raging around the globe, this trial is a critical step in building the global portfolio of safe and effective vaccines to protect the world’s population,” Stanley C. Erck, president and chief executive officer of Novavax, said in a news release. [CNN]

4.

American Airlines on Tuesday is resuming Boeing 737 MAX commercial flights in the United States. Boeing’s MAX jets were grounded in March 2019 after two other airlines had fatal crashes overseas in five months that killed 346 people. The Federal Aviation Administration lifted the grounding order in the U.S. last month after Boeing provided software upgrades and other new safety measures in a flight control system linked to both crashes. American also conducted flight control updates and maintenance work. It also provided pilot training and town hall meetings with flight crews to inform them about the changes and address their concerns. “We would have never brought this back if the pilots and flight attendants didn’t feel comfortable,” American Chief Operating Officer David Seymour said in early December. [Reuters]

5.

Switzerland’s Federal Ministry of Justice said Monday that the country would return $150 million held in blocked Swiss bank accounts to victims of convicted con artist Robert Allen Stanford by the end of the year. Stanford, a former Texas financier, was convicted of fraud in 2012 in connection to a $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme that went on for two decades. About $50 million has already been returned. The Swiss criminal court in October rejected appeals against seizing the assets. Stanford is serving a 110-year prison term. While running the fraud scheme, Stanford moved millions from his Antigua-based Stanford International Bank to the Swiss arm of France’s Societe Generale bank. [Reuters]

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