Stimulus Hangs In The Balance As House GOP Rejects Call For $2,000 Checks

Plus, there’s finally a Brexit deal between the U.K. and EU, Alibaba shares are down on Chinese anti-monopoly probe, and Google is partnering with Aramco to deliver cloud services to Saudi Arabia.

Stocks were higher to start the shortened session for Christmas Eve with the Dow adding 46 points, or 0.15%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both gained 0.2%.

House Republicans blocked a Democratic attempt to pass $2,000 direct payments to Americans, as the fate of the coronavirus aid and omnibus spending bill hang in the balance. Democrats had moved to raise the size of the checks after President Donald Trump threatened to oppose the bill unless payments were increased to $2,000 from $600. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the pro forma measure was defeated that she would hold a full recorded vote on the proposal on Monday. “If the President is serious about the $2,000 direct payments, he must call on House Republicans to end their obstruction,” Pelosi said.

The U.K. and EU delivered a last-minute Christmas gift. Britain and the European Union agreed on a new Brexit trade deal more than four years after the U.K. voted to leave the bloc. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted “the deal is done,” while EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen praised the agreement that arrived just in time to avoid a potentially disastrous no-deal scenario. “It has been a long and winding road but we have got a good deal to show for it,” von der Leyen said at a press conference announcing the deal. “It is fair, it is a balanced deal and it is the right and responsible thing to do for both sides.”

In not so merry Christmas news, experts are issuing new warnings of a COVID-19 holiday wave in January as Americans travel for Christmas and New Year’s. “If we don’t make the choice now to change the future, then what I’m worried about is we’re going to see a Christmas Day and a New Year’s wave in January, and hospitals will be beyond the breaking point, that’s what we’re really facing,” said Dr. Stephen Parodi, director of Kaiser Permanente’s nationwide COVID response. “This year, we’ve got to make the sacrifice. What I tell my patients is that, this Christmas has to be different, so that next year all those people we like to gather will will be here next year.” The U.S. once again broke coronavirus records this week, with Wednesday marking the second deadliest day of the pandemic and setting a record for the highest hospitalizations at 117,000 nationwide. 

Alibaba shares are down nearly 17% this morning following reports that the Chinese government is conducting an anti-monopoly probe into the tech giant. China’s State Administration for Market Regulation said through official online channels Thursday that it has opened an investigation into Alibaba over monopolistic practices, including forcing merchants to choose one of two platforms, rather than being able to work with both. “It’s clearly an escalation of coordinated efforts to rein in Jack Ma’s empire, which symbolized China’s new ‘too-big-to-fail’ entities,” said Dong Ximiao, a researcher at Zhongguancun Internet Finance Institute. “Chinese authorities want to see a smaller, less dominant and more compliant firm.”

And Google is partnering with Aramco to access Saudi Arabia’s $10 billion cloud market as the coronavirus pandemic prompts a landmark acceleration in digital adoption across the Gulf. “The collaboration taps into rapidly expanding cloud services demand in Saudi Arabia, which is forecast to reach a market opportunity up to $10 billion by 2030,” Aramco said in a statement on Monday. Under the agreement, Aramco said Google will deliver “high performance, low-latency cloud services to enterprise customers in Saudi Arabia.” The new infrastructure will also accelerate Saudi Arabia’s tech industry, which has one of the fastest-growing cloud adoption rates in the region, according to Oxford Business Group.

Stocks We’re Watching

VivoPower International Plc (NASDAQ: VVPR): VivoPower shares have gained 25% this week after the company announced that it and its Tembo e-LV B.V. subsidiary have entered into a non-binding agreement with GB Auto Group Pty Limited and GB Electric Vehicles Pty Ltd in Australia that will confirm and expand GB Auto’s position as the exclusive distributor within Australia for the Tembo electric Toyota Land Cruiser, electric Toyota Hilux, and Tembo electric vehicle conversion kits. Executive Chairman and CEO of VivoPower, Kevin Chin said, “We are very pleased to be entering this partnership with GB Auto in Australia given their long established track record and reputation with their customers, who comprise some of the world’s pre-eminent mining houses.”