Stocks are marginally firmer in morning trading following choppy action overnight. Sentiment remains cautious, with the focus on the virus after new cases in the U.S. posted a fresh record of 60,000 per day. Also, U.S.-China relations are in the spotlight again after a report circulated that President Trump's advisers put forth a plan to destabilize Hong Kong's currency peg in order to retaliate against China following the passage of the security law. President Trump is also increasing his rhetoric regarding school re-openings, stating in two tweets this morning that he disagrees with the CDC's "very tough & expensive guidelines" and that he "may cut off funding" if schools are not open in the fall.
ECONOMIC EVENTS: In U.S. data, MBA reported mortgage applications rebounded 2.2% in the week of July 3.
The latest data from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering shows there are now 11.87M confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including about 3M in the U.S., and 544,996 deaths due to the disease.
At the state level in terms of current hot spots, Arizona now reports 108,614 COVID-19 cases while Florida reports 223,783 cases.
TOP NEWS: Facebook's (FB) meeting with civil-rights advocates on Tuesday preceded the anticipated release of a civil-rights audit commissioned by Facebook from outside attorneys on Wednesday, The Wall Street Journal's Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman reported.
Meanwhile, the Facebook Oversight Board has announced that it won't officially launch until later this year. "We understand many people are eager for the Board to officially begin our task of providing independent oversight of Facebook's content decisions. We share this urgency, but the Board won't be operational until late Fall. Our first members were announced in May 2020 and the Board is currently focused on the critical steps required to stand up a new institution," the group stated via Twitter.
Shares of Biogen (BIIB) are up 5% near noon after the company announced it has completed the Biologics License Application submission to the FDA for aducanumab, its potential Alzheimer's drug. Stifel analyst Paul Matteis said that submitting a BLA is "obviously just step one" and the next event that will be telling will be FDA acceptance, and whether or not the agency awards the aducanumab submission priority review, which Biogen has requested.
In M&A news, Allstate (ALL) announced an agreement to acquire National General (NGHC) for approximately $4B in cash, or $34.50 per share. "National General provides a wide range of property-liability products through independent agents with a significant presence in non-standard auto insurance. The company also has attractive Accident and Health and Lender-Placed Insurance businesses," said Allstate, whose shares are down 3.5% at midday following the deal announcement. Shares of National General have surged 65% higher on the news.
MAJOR MOVERS: Among the noteworthy gainers was Intersect ENT (XENT), which rose 29% after Bloomberg reported that Medtronic (MDT) has made an offer for the company, and it is reviewing the offer.
Also higher was Nikola (NKLA), which gained 23% after JPMorgan analyst Paul Coster upgraded shares to Overweight from Neutral with an unchanged price target of $45.
Among the notable losers was Gilat Satellite (GILT), which slid 15% after Comtech (CMTL) filed a complaint against the company relating to the agreement and plan of merger dated January 29, 2020 providing for the acquisition of Gilat by Comtech.
INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was up 7.69, or 0.03%, to 25,897.87, the Nasdaq was up 73.37, or 0.71%, to 10,417.26, and the S&P 500 was up 4.58, or 0.15%, to 3,149.90.