FDA & CDC Recommend Pause Of J&J’s COVID-19 Vaccine On Rare Blood Clotting Disorder Concern

Plus, airlines shares are down on the J&J news, bitcoin surged to a new high above $63,000, Taco Bell is opening its first digital-only store in the U.S., and a SoftBank-backed ride hailing company is going public in the U.S. via a SPAC merger.

Stocks were mixed at the open on Tuesday with the Dow dropping 24 points, or less than 0.1%. The S&P 500 traded just above the flatline, while the Nasdaq added 0.4%.

Johnson & Johnson shares are down nearly 3% this morning after the FDA and CDC recommended pausing using its COVID-19 vaccine “out of an abundance of caution” after six women in the U.S. developed a rare blood-clotting disorder that left one woman dead and another in critical condition. “Right now, these adverts events appear to be extremely rare,” the FDA and CDC said in a joint statement. “COVID-19 vaccine safety is a top priority for the federal government, and we take all reports of health problems following COVID-19 vaccination very seriously.” More than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine have been administered in the U.S. through Monday, the agencies said. “This announcement will not have a significant impact on our vaccination plan,” Jeff Zients, the White House COVID-19 response coordinator, said in a statement, adding that the U.S. will make 28 million doses of the Pfizer and Moderna shots available this week. “This is more than enough supply to continue the current pace of vaccinations of 3 million shots per day, and meet the president’s goal of 200 million shots by his 100th day in office – and continue on to reach every adult who wants to be vaccinated.”

Even still, airline and other travel stocks fell this morning after authorities called for a pause in the use of J&J’s COVID-19 vaccine. Shares of Delta and American Airlines are both down more than 2% at the time of writing, while Southwest and United Airlines were both down just under 1%. In other airline news, American Airlines is delaying deliveries of more than three dozen Boeing aircraft for as long as three years and projected a deeper loss than analysts expected as the coronavirus pandemic continues to put pressure on corporate and international travel. Elsewhere, United said today that it has partnered with global firms including Nike and Siemens in an “Eco-Skies Alliance” to finance use this year of about 3.4 million gallons of low-carbon, sustainable aviation fuel derived from trash. 

Bitcoin surged to a new all-time high of $63,209 this morning as investors await the highly-anticipated stock market debut of cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase, which is set to go public on Wednesday through a direct listing that could value the company at as high as $100 billion. Ether, the second-most valuable cryptocurrency, also set a fresh record, rising as high as $2,266.68. Coinbase’s debut “will mark the first official juncture between the traditional financial avenue and the alternative crypto path,” said Ipek Ozkardeskaya, a senior analyst at Swissquote. “As such, a successful addition to Nasdaq should act as endorsement of cryptocurrencies by traditional investors.”

Yum Brands’ Taco Bell is opening its first digital-only store in the U.S. on Wednesday in New York’s Times Square. Customers will be able to place their orders online ahead of their visit to the new store, or use one of the 10 self-order kiosks inside the restaurant. The new digital-only store design is meant to cut down on square footage and do away with long, winding lines during the store’s busy times. The restaurant will employ around 70 staff, double the number in an average Taco Bell, and will have twice as many lines in the kitchen at four, putting it on track to be the highest volume Taco Bell globally. 

And SoftBank-backed ride-hailing giant Grab is going public in the U.S. via a SPAC merger. The Southeast Asian company will merge with Altimeter Growth Corp in a deal that values Grab at $39.6 billion, making it the largest blank-check merger to date. On the deal’s completion, Grab will list on the Nasdaq under the ticker symbol GRAB. “I remember years ago when we were talking to investors, some folks didn’t even know where Southeast Asia was on a map,” Grab co-founder and CEO Anthony Tan said. “So, today as we announce what is expected to be the largest U.S. equity offering in Southeast Asia… it shows validation of the tremendous offering right here in this region, and that the ‘super app’ strategy works.”

Stocks We’re Watching

Ballantyne Strong Inc (OTC: BTN): Ballantyne Strong shares are up 16% today following the company’s announcement that its portfolio company, GreenFirst Forest Products, has entered into a binding asset purchase agreement to acquire a portfolio of forest and paper product assets from Rayonier A.M. Canada G.P. and Rayonier A.M. Canada Industries Inc, both subsidiaries of Rayonier Advanced Materials. “We are very pleased with the progress that GreenFirst is making driving its growth strategy,” said Ballantyne Strong CEO Mark Roberson in a statement. “This is a transformative acquisition that will make GreenFirst a top ten lumber producer in Canada, and we are excited about GreenFirst’s future as it expands its focused Canadian timber strategy. Prior to this transaction, Ballantyne Strong had an approximate $17 million unrealized gain on our investment in GreenFirst, and we look forward to continuing to participate in GreenFirst’s growth.”