Bloomberg - Evening Briefing - Covid’s next generation

Bloomberg Evening Briefing

Moderna, which along with Pfizer-BioNTech led the way in producing mRNA vaccines against the novel coronavirus, announced some progress in the next generation of shots that could address the wildfire-like contagiousness of the omicron strain of Covid-19. The company said its omicron-targeting vaccine triggered the production of antibodies against its newest variants, though the immune response was less robust than seen with the original version of omicron. In the US, the Biden administration has been pleading with Congress to free up funding so the latest vaccines will be available when cold weather returns and booster efficacy fades. With America’s political divide hampering both new vaccine funding and the inoculation of young children, its latest wave as measured by hospitalization continues to rise. Globally, omicron is still driving surges in China and Singapore, which saw a 23% week-on-week increase. 

Bloomberg is tracking the coronavirus pandemic and the progress of global vaccination efforts.

Here are today’s top stories

US President Joe Biden called on Congress to suspend the federal gasoline tax, saying “by suspending the 18-cent federal gas tax for the next 90 days, we can bring down the price of gas and give families just a little bit of relief.” But the strategy, which has been blocked in the past by the GOP, is unlikely to gain traction. “For all those Republicans in Congress criticizing me today for high gas prices in America, are you now saying we were wrong to support Ukraine?” Biden said Wednesday. But even some Democrats oppose the measure, contending that Big Oil—which is profiting handsomely from the fallout of Vladimir Putin’s war—will just pocket the difference.

Retail traders piled into shares of bankrupt Revlon, driving its gains to 800% as the Reddit crowd looks to strike a quick profit while ignoring the fundamentals. We’ve seen this movie before. Here’s your markets wrap.

JPMorgan is firing hundreds of home-lending employees this week as rapidly rising mortgage rates drive down demand in what had been a red-hot housing market. Firms including Compass and Redfin have also been terminating workers. Compass said in a regulatory filing last week that it will cut about 10% of its workforce, or about 450 employees, while Redfin plans to slash about 6%, or roughly 470 people.

The Senate voted 64-34 to advance bipartisan gun-safety legislation Tuesday with final passage likely later this week. The bill will do nothing to limit the availability of military-style weapons used in most mass killings in America, or the attendant ammunition. Instead, it’s meant to improve background checks, secure schools and give states funds to combat gun violence. A few Republicans who have long followed the gun industry’s lead in opposing nearly all gun-related regulation bent slightly this time (The NRA is against the bill). Democratic Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a prime mover behind the bill, praised Republican Senator John Cornyn for his help. Relatedly, Cornyn was booed at his state’s Republican convention over the weekend. 

Pete Arredondo Photographer: Mikala Compton/USA TODAY NETWORK/Imagn

That state is Texas. With some of the loosest gun laws in the nation, it’s where 19 children and 2 teachers were cut down by an 18-year-old with an assault rifle in the town of Uvalde. A new claim this week by Texas state police sought to further single out Uvalde school district police employees and their chief, Pete Arredondo. In other words, the multiple explanations and recriminations from various Texas police agencies at the scene—many retracted or later discovered to be false—are changing again: While Uvalde police blocked parents outside the school from rescuing their children, inside police were in fact heavily armed and protected by body armor though having claimed otherwise, the state said. Nevertheless, they stood by for more than an hour as—just feet away—schoolchildren and teachers lay dead, dying or yet to be shot, said Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety. The Uvalde police and Arredondo, he concluded, prioritized their own safety over that of defenseless citizens.

With Russia already accused by NATO and others of weaponizing hunger through a growing global food crisis triggered by its war, the Kremlin reportedly launched a missile attack on a major agriculture port terminal in Ukraine, setting it ablaze. Meanwhile inside Russia, Kremlin-controlled media said a Ukrainian drone strike caused a fiery explosion at an oil refinery, halting production. But Russian oil is still flowing: Vladimir Putin has been touting how India and China are buying (at a steep discount) fossil fuel Europe has pledged to swear off—a pledge Europe seems to be breaking.

Beijing is ratcheting up directives to boost China’s embattled economy, with government officials planning more pro-growth policies and banks being told to step up lending for infrastructure projects. The government will further accelerate fiscal spending as well as the sale of special local government bonds, Finance Minister Liu Kun told state-controlled media. Special local bonds are mainly used for financing infrastructure investment, which China has ramped up along with massive tax relief for businesses to offset an economic downturn for the Asian country that’s been triggered by multiple headwinds

The “buy now, pay later” craze that’s proliferated over the past year is (as one might predict) creating a growing risk for consumer over-extension. Apps from companies like Afterpay, Affirm Holdings, Klarna Bank AB and soon Apple have surged in popularity by offering a slight twist on old-fashioned layaway plans: customers can take their purchases home right away and then pay for them in installments. That, of course, is where the trouble begins

What you’ll need to know tomorrow

How to Make $3 Billion? Decades of Patience

Gary Erickson was offered a tantalizing sum from Quaker Oats in 2000 to sell Clif Bar, his upstart energy-bar maker: $120 million. Twenty-two years later, the calculus has changed. Erickson and his wife, Kit Crawford, just accepted a much larger buyout.

Kit Crawford and Gary Erickson Photographer: Liz Hafalia/The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

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