The major averages are mostly lower at midday, but only modestly so, as risk-off sentiment supports fixed income and weighs on stocks this morning. Renewed shutdowns in Germany just ahead of the busy Easter travel season have prompted some erosion in investor sentiment. Meanwhile, rising tensions with China are also a factor after the U.S., EU, UK, and Canada sanctioned Chinese officials over human rights abuses in Xinjiang and China responded with its own punitive measures.
ECONOMIC EVENTS: In the U.S., the current account deficit widened sharply to a 13-year high of $188.5B in Q4, up $7.6B from a 12-year high of $180.9B in Q3. New home sales plunged 18.2% in February to a 775,000 home pace, which was weaker than expected. The Richmond Fed manufacturing index rose 3 points to 17 in March.
TOP NEWS: The National Institutes of Health said in a statement: "Late Monday, the Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) notified NIAID, BARDA, and AstraZeneca that it was concerned by information released by AstraZeneca on initial data from its COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial. The DSMB expressed concern that AstraZeneca may have included outdated information from that trial, which may have provided an incomplete view of the efficacy data." In response, AstraZeneca said the Phase 3 trial numbers published yesterday were based on a pre-specified interim analysis with a data cut-off of February 17. "We have reviewed the preliminary assessment of the primary analysis and the results were consistent with the interim analysis. We are now completing the validation of the statistical analysis. We will immediately engage with the independent data safety monitoring board, or DSMB, to share our primary analysis with the most up to date efficacy data. We intend to issue results of the primary analysis within 48 hours," the company added.
In other COVID-19 news, Pfizer (PFE) announced that it is progressing to multiple ascending doses after completing the dosing of single ascending doses in a Phase 1 study in healthy adults to evaluate the safety and tolerability of an investigational, novel oral antiviral therapeutic for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
In M&A news, The Hartford (HIG) announced that its board of directors, after consultation with its financial and legal advisors, has unanimously rejected Chubb's (CB) March 11, 2021, unsolicited proposal to acquire The Hartford and "determined that entering into discussions regarding a strategic transaction would not be in the best interests of the company and its shareholders."
MAJOR MOVERS: Among the noteworthy gainers was Oramed Pharmaceuticals (ORMP), which rose 5% after announcing that it has screened the first patient in its ORA-D-013-2 study, the second of two concurrent Phase 3 studies of its oral insulin capsule, ORMD-0801, for the treatment of type 2 diabetes. Also higher was BioLife Solutions (BLFS), which gained 7% after the company reported Q4 results and announced a deal to buy Stirling Ultracold, which makes ultra-low temperature bio freezers.
Among the notable losers was Frequency Therapeutics (FREQ), which dropped 76% after announcing that day-90 data from its FX-322 Phase 2a study show that four weekly injections in subjects with mild to moderately severe sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL, did not demonstrate improvements in hearing measures versus placebo. Also lower was Ionis Pharmaceuticals (IONS), which fell 19% after the company announced that its partner Roche (RHHBY) has elected to discontinue dosing the Phase 3 GENERATION HD1 study of tominersen in manifest Huntington's disease based on a pre-planned review of data.
INDEXES: Near midday, the Dow was down 42.14, or 0.13%, to 32,689.06, the Nasdaq was down 32.42, or 0.24%, to 13,345.12, and the S&P 500 was up 0.30, or 0.01%, to 3,940.89.