The major averages are mixed at midday to begin the holiday shortened week. An announcement from AstraZeneca that its COVID-19 vaccine was effective in trials leaves a third tool in the works, supportive of an upbeat medium-term outlook for the economy. Additionally, there were signs of progress on Brexit, which has also provided some support for equites.
ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., the Chicago Fed national activity index rose 0.51 points to 0.83 in October. Markit's manufacturing PMI climbed 3.3 points to 56.7 in the flash reading for November.
Data from the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering shows there are now 58.8M confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, including 12.26M in the U.S., and 1.39M deaths due to the disease, including about 257,000 in the U.S.
TOP NEWS: AstraZeneca (AZN) announced that results from an interim analysis of clinical trials of AZD1222 in the U.K. and Brazil showed its vaccine with Oxford was "highly effective" in preventing COVID-19, the primary endpoint, and that no hospitalizations or severe cases of the disease were reported in participants receiving the vaccine. One dosing regimen of 2,741 participants showed vaccine efficacy of 90% when AZD1222 was given as a half dose, followed by a full dose at least one month apart, and another dosing regimen of 8,895 participants showed 62% efficacy when given as two full doses at least one month apart. The combined analysis from both dosing regimens resulted in an average efficacy of 70%, the company reported. Following the announcement, SVB Leerink analyst George Porges said the company is "likely to be roundly criticized" for its disclosure that "no serious safety events related to the vaccine have been confirmed," and claimed that the company "tried to embellish" its results by highlighting a reported 90% efficacy in a relatively small sub-set of subjects in the study who received a modified initial vaccination. Porges believes that this product will never be licensed in the U.S., given the design of the company's pivotal trials and the occurrence of severe safety events that resulted in the extended clinical hold on enrollment into the trials in the U.S., he added in his note to investors following the company's press release.
In other COVID-19 news, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals (REGN) announced that the antibody cocktail casirivimab and imdevimab administered together, a therapy currently being investigated for use in COVID-19, has received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in adults, as well as in pediatric patients at least 12 years of age and weighing at least 40 kg, who have received positive results of direct SARS-CoV-2 viral testing and are at high risk for progressing to severe COVID-19 and/or hospitalization. Regeneron expects to have REGEN-COV2 treatment doses ready for approximately 80,000 patients by the end of November, approximately 200,000 patients by the first week of January, and approximately 300,000 patients in total by the end of January 2021.
In additional news on the search for pharmaceutical answers to COVID-19, Merck (MRK) announced a deal to acquire OncoImmune, a privately-held, clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company, for an upfront payment of $425M in cash as well as sales-based payments and payments contingent on the successful achievement of certain milestones. OncoImmune recently announced positive top-line findings from an interim efficacy analysis of a Phase 3 study evaluating its lead therapeutic candidate CD24Fc for the treatment of patients with severe and critical COVID-19.
MAJOR MOVERS: Among the noteworthy gainers was Blink Charging (BLNK), which surged 26% despite Andrew Left's Citron Research attacking the company, saying the stock should trade back to $10.
Also higher was Front Yard Residential (RESI), which gained 22% after it signed an amended merger agremeent with Pretium and Ares (ARES).
Among the notable losers was Kellogg (K), which slid 2% Credit Suisse analyst Robert Moskow downgraded shares to Neutral from Outperform.
Also lower was Huami (HMI), which declined 8% after reporting quarterly results.
INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was up 152.62, or 0.52%, to 29,416.10, the Nasdaq was down 30.33, or 0.26%, to 11,824.64, and the S&P 500 was up 1.17, or 0.03%, to 3,558.71.