Congress Nearing Agreement For A New Coronavirus Stimulus Deal

Plus, bitcoin rose to more than $23,000, the SEC charged commission-free trading firm Robinhood with deceiving customers, and Roku shares hit a new all-time high.

Stocks were higher to start Thursday with the Dow gaining 135 points, or 0.5%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both also rose 0.5%.

Congress is scrambling to put the finishing touches on a coronavirus relief deal today as Washington moves closer to letting the government shut down and allowing millions to lose unemployment benefits. People briefed on the ongoing negotiations say the draft of the proposal includes $600 direct payments to individuals, $300 per week in supplemental unemployment insurance payments, aid for small business, and roughly $17 billion for airlines, and omits aid to state and local governments and liability protections for businesses. Leaders plan to attach the coronavirus relief proposal to a $1.4 trillion bill that would fund the federal government through the end of the fiscal year on September 30, which has to pass by Friday in order to avert a partial government shutdown unless another temporary stopgap bill can be employed. “We need to get to an agreement. I’m hopeful, and I talked to [House Speaker Nancy Pelosi] this morning and she thinks we’re making real progress,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. “It is long past the time we need to act. Hopefully we will get to an agreement today, put it on the floor, pass it and give some relief in this crisis that our families, our businesses, our individuals are facing.”

As congressional leaders continue to negotiate, jobless claims unexpectedly rose last week as rising coronavirus cases led to reimposed lockdowns. Initial unemployment claims rose to 885,000 for the week ending December 12, the highest level since September 5 and far higher than the 808,000 claims expected by economists. In all, 20.6 million Americans were receiving some kind of unemployment benefits through November 28, the Labor Department said. “Clearly the rise in claims is a troubling sign for the labor market,” said Michelle Meyer, head of U.S. economics at Bank of America. “There’s a variety of indications that when you put the pieces of the puzzle together shows a weakening in the labor market in December.” Rubeela Farooqi, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, said, “The health crisis is likely to get worse after the upcoming holiday which will translate into even wider limitations on activity, business closures and mounting job losses. Combined with lapsing federal support programs, the impact on incomes and spending will be substantial, which will weigh on growth prospects in the near term.”

It sure feels like Christmas 2017 all over again. Bitcoin hit another fresh record above $23,000 today, rising as high as $23,770.85, pushing the digital coin’s year-to-date gains to more than 227%. “This run is completely different to the one in 2017,” said Eric Demuth, CEO and co-founder of cryptocurrency trading app Bitpanda. “Back then, the price was driven by mainly retail investors. Now, we additionally have billionaires praising bitcoin and investment funds securing significant positions worth hundreds of millions. The big players that were once very distant from bitcoin and were outspoken critics are now joining in with the run.” One such fund manager is Scott Minerd of Guggenheim Investments, who argues bitcoin will be worth $400,000. “It’s based on the scarcity and relative valuation such as things like gold as a percentage of GDP,” Minerd said. “So you know, Bitcoin actually has a lot of the attributes of gold and at the same time has an unusual value in terms of transactions.”

The SEC charged commission-free stock trading platform Robinhood with deceiving customers about how the app makes money and failing to deliver the promised best execution of trades. “Between 2015 and late 2018, Robinhood made misleading statements and omissions in customers communications, including in FAQ pages on its website, about its largest revenue source when describing how it made money – namely, payments from trading firms in exchange for Robinhood sending its customer orders to those firms for execution, also known as ‘payment for order flow,’” the SEC said. “One of Robinhood’s selling points to customers was that trading was ‘commission free,’ but due in large part to its unusually high payment for order flow rates, Robinhood customers’ orders were executed at prices that were inferior to other brokers’ prices.” Robinhood agreed to pay a $65 million civil penalty, without admitting or denying SEC’s findings, while a lawyer for the company said the practices “do not reflect Robinhood today.”

And Roku shares are up more than 4% this morning after the biggest U.S. streaming TV provider agreed to carry AT&T’s HBO Max streaming service, putting an end to an impasse that kept the video service from reaching a wider audience. Roku shares jumped as much as 8.1% to a new all-time high of $352.12 following the news. Heightening the stakes for both HBO Max and Roku was WarnerMedia’s announcement last week that it would debut all 17 of its films for next year on HBO Max, following the upcoming debut of Wonder Woman 1984 on the service on Christmas Day. “Reaching mutually beneficial agreements where Roku grows together with our partners is how we deliver an exceptional user experience at an incredible value for consumers and we are excited by the opportunity to deepen our longstanding relationship with the team at WarnerMedia,” said Scott Rosenberg, senior vice president of Roku’s platform business. 

Stocks We’re Watching

Blink Charging Company (NASDAQ: BLNK): Blink Charging shares are up 19% over the last two days following the electric vehicle charging equipment company’s announcement that it has signed an exclusive 5-year contract with two 5-year renewal options for the deployment of 20 Blink-owned IQ 200 units at four Blessing Health System locations in Quincy, Illinois. “Through this exclusive, long-term contract, we look forward to a multi-year partnership with Blessing Health providing the best available charging solution for their patients, visitors, and employees,” said Brendan Jones, Chief Operating Officer of Blink Charging. “Healthcare facilities are an important market for us, and we’re excited to bring our Blink IQ 200 chargers to the employees and patients of Blessing Health System. We are excited about the uptick in interest and deployment across hospital facilities. The potential utilization at these locations is significant, with the 24-hour availability of chargers for both staff and patients.”