Pfizer, BioNTech Say Covid-19 Vaccine Is Safe for Children Aged 5 to 11

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/pfizer-biontech-say-covid-19-vaccine-is-safe-for-young-children-generates-immune-response-11632134701

Excerpt:

Pfizer Inc. and partner BioNTech SE said their Covid-19 vaccine was found to be safe in children ages 5 to 11 years in a late-stage study and generated a strong immune response in them, bringing the prospect of broader vaccination coverage closer.

Pfizer said it would share the results with regulators in the U.S. and other countries and seek emergency-use authorization in the U.S. as early as the end of the month.

The companies said the two-dose shot was found to be safe and well tolerated among the children in the study. The vaccine generated levels of antibodies that were similar to those of younger adults, meeting the study’s measurements of success, according to the companies.

Pfizer and BioNTech said they hadn’t yet determined vaccine efficacy — how well it protects against Covid-19 — for children in the age group. Not enough young subjects in the study have become sick to compare rates between children who got a vaccine and those who got a placebo, but researchers could still learn more as the trial continues.

Author(s): Jared S. Hopkins

Publication Date: 21 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

How Beijing’s Debt Clampdown Shook the Foundation of a Real-Estate Colossus

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/how-beijings-debt-clampdown-shook-the-foundation-of-a-real-estate-colossus-11631957400

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Excerpt:

The party has ended. Years of aggressive borrowing have collided with Beijing’s crackdown on debt, leaving the developer on the brink of collapse. Construction of Evergrande’s projects in many cities has stopped. The company has faced a litany of complaints and protests from suppliers, small investors and home buyers who sank their savings into properties the company promised to deliver.

Cash is so short that this summer, the developer said it began paying bills to contractors and suppliers with unfinished apartments instead of actual money. A paint supplier based in the southeastern province of Fujian said Evergrande recently paid off the equivalent of $34 million in bills with three unfinished properties, which the supplier is trying to sell. At a construction firm in Wuhan, more than 200 employees have been forced to take pay cuts because some of Evergrande’s bills are past due, a manager at the firm said,

Former and current employees say layoffs are adding up, and free meals that Evergrande used to provide for staffers at its headquarters have been canceled. In central China’s Hubei province, Evergrande has asked the local government to take over homeowners’ funds held in escrow accounts so they can’t be seized in legal disputes with creditors, according to people familiar with the matter.

Evergrande didn’t respond to requests for comment. The company said on Sept. 14 that its apartment sales have slowed markedly since June, its asset-disposal plans haven’t materialized, and it has hired financial advisers — a move that brings it closer to a potential debt restructuring.

Author(s): Xie Yu and Elaine Yu

Publication Date: 18 Sept 2021

Publication Site: WSJ

Elon Musk’s Push to Expand Tesla’s Driver Assistance to Cities Rankles a Top Safety Authority

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/elon-musks-push-to-expand-teslas-driver-assistance-to-cities-rankles-a-top-safety-authority-11632043803

Excerpt:

Tesla Inc. is readying a major upgrade of its driver-assistance software but the top federal crash investigator says the move might be premature.

Chief Executive Elon Musk said last week that drivers would soon be able to request an enhanced version of what Tesla calls its “Full Self-Driving Capability.” The upgrade is expected to add a feature intended to help vehicles navigate cities, expanding the suite of driver-assistance tools that had been designed mainly for highways.

Despite its name, Full Self-Driving doesn’t make cars fully autonomous, and Tesla instructs drivers to remain alert, with their hands on the wheel.

Jennifer Homendy, the new head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said Tesla shouldn’t roll out the city-driving tool before addressing what the agency views as safety deficiencies in the company’s technology. The NTSB, which investigates crashes and issues safety recommendations though it has no regulatory authority, has urged Tesla to clamp down on how drivers are able to use the company’s driver-assistance tools.

Author(s): Rebecca Elliott

Publication Date: 19 Sept 2021

Publication Site: WSJ

Yellen, IRS Push Democrats to Require Banks to Report Taxpayers’ Annual Account Flows

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/yellen-irs-push-democrats-to-require-banks-to-report-annual-account-flows-11631727020

Excerpt:

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig pressed lawmakers Wednesday to give the Internal Revenue Service more information about taxpayers’ bank accounts, as the Biden administration tries to salvage its tax-compliance proposal.

In letters to lawmakers, the administration officials again asked Congress to require banks to report annual inflows and outflows from bank accounts with at least $600 or at least $600 worth of transactions, a proposal aimed at letting the IRS target its audits more effectively. It would generate about $460 billion over a decade to cover the costs of Democrats’ planned expansion of the social safety net and climate-change policies, according to the administration.

But after a flurry of opposition from banks and credit unions, House Democrats omitted the proposal from their list of tax-policy changes this week. That was a sign that it lacked the support in the party to advance, though a scaled-back version raising about half as much money could still emerge from ongoing talks between administration officials and Congress.

Author(s): Richard Rubin and Orla McCaffrey

Publication Date: 15 Sept 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

How to Stop Politicians From Cooking the Books

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/budget-reform-deficit-government-spending-3-5-trillion-reconciliation-bill-fasb-biden-11631465087

Excerpt:

The federal government ran budget surpluses from 1998 to 2001. Yet the national debt went up in every one of those four years. How can debt go up when you’re running surpluses? Easy, borrow the surpluses then flowing into the Social Security Trust Fund and call it income. Any corporate CEO who tried this stunt would go to jail. But no CEO would try because Wall Street made such boldface accounting fraud impossible more than a century ago.

…..

How can we stop politicians from so casually lying to their stockholders (you and me) for their own short-term political benefit and to the country’s long-term financial detriment? What’s needed is the equivalent of the reforms forced on corporations 140 years ago.

One justification for the Federal Reserve is to keep the power to print money out of the hands of politicians. A Federal Accounting Board would keep the power to cook the books out of their hands as well. Like the Fed, it would be run by a board of seven members, all professional accountants of long experience, serving 14-year terms. They could be removed only for cause. One member would be appointed chairman, serving a four-year term.

The board would take over the duties of the Congressional Budget Office, and the White House Office of Management and Budget would be reduced to formulating the annual budget. The board would estimate future revenue and the costs of all legislation. It would also set the rules for how the federal books must be kept (no calling borrowed money “income”), and would determine if they are accurate and complete, as a CPA does for corporate books.

Author(s): John Steele Gordon

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Libor Transition Stokes Sales of Risky Corporate Debt

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/libor-transition-stokes-sales-of-risky-corporate-debt-11631451601

Excerpt:

Managers of collateralized loan obligations — securities made up of bundled loans with junk credit ratings — are rushing to close deals ahead of the year-end move away from the London interbank offered rate. The interest-rate benchmark underpins trillions of dollars of financial contracts but was scheduled for phaseout after a manipulation scandal.

That is helping push CLO sales to records. U.S. issuance topped $19.2 billion in August, a monthly record in data going back a decade, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence’s LCD.

…..

A wave of CLO refinancings this year allowed some managers to include fallback language shifting to SOFR in their documents, analysts said. But for other deals, CLO managers and investors must negotiate that changeover, which could create conflicts if they have different rate preferences.

Disruptions to the transition could increase the extra yield, or spread, that investors’ demand to hold triple-A rated CLO debt during the fourth quarter of this year, depending on how quickly the loan market transitions and how new CLO deals and investors position themselves, said Citi analysts in a June note.

SOFR is based on the cost of transactions in the market for overnight repurchase agreements, where large banks and hedge funds borrow or lend to one another using U.S. Treasurys as collateral. Unlike Libor, which tends to rise during periods of market stress, it doesn’t adjust for shifts in credit.

During last year’s spring selloff, the difference between three-month Libor and SOFR rose to 1.4 percentage points at its peak, according to BofA. That means CLO debtholders received a higher rate than what they would have if their bonds were linked to SOFR.

Author(s): Sebastian Pellejero

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Covid-19 Could Become Like the Flu if More People Get Vaccinated

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-19-could-become-like-the-flu-if-more-people-get-vaccinated-11631439002

Excerpt:

Covid-19 might become a routine illness like a common cold or the flu one day, virologists and epidemiologists say. But it will take a lot to get there, and the ferocious spread of the Delta variant that has filled hospitals again shows how challenging that path could be.

More than 20 months after the pandemic began, people around the world are having to change the way they think about a disease that many public-health authorities once believed they could conquer. A terrifying emergency has become a long, grinding haul.

The supercontagious Delta variant has made the virus virtually impossible to get rid of. It has fueled surges in cases across the globe, even in countries like Australia that had largely kept the pandemic out.

…..

For Covid-19 to become mild, most people will need some immunity, which studies have shown reduces the severity of the disease. Infections provide some immunity, but that comes with the risk of severe illness, death and further spread of the virus, compared with vaccines. People could become vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 if that immunity erodes or is weak, or if the virus mutates.

….

A future Covid-19 could be less deadly than the flu, which kills up to a half-million people a year globally, because the most widely used Covid-19 vaccines are better than flu vaccines, said Dr. Garcia-Sastre, an influenza expert. The disease could still remain serious for people with weaker immune systems, doctors said.

Author(s): Betsy McKay

Publication Date: 12 September 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Main Street Pensions Take Wall Street Gamble by Investing Borrowed Money

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/main-street-pensions-take-wall-street-gamble-by-investing-borrowed-money-11630774800

Graphic:

Excerpt:

Many U.S. towns and cities are years behind on their pension obligations. Now some are effectively planning to borrow money and put it into stocks and other investments in a bid to catch up.

State and local governments have borrowed about $10 billion for pension funding this year through the end of August, more than in any of the previous 15 full calendar years, according to an analysis of Bloomberg data by Municipal Market Analytics. The number of individual municipalities borrowing for pensions soared to 72 from a 15-year average of 25.

Among those considering what is known as pension obligation borrowing is Norwich, a city in southeastern Connecticut with a population of 40,000. Its yearly payment toward its old pension debts has climbed to $11 million in 2022—four times the annual retirement contribution for current workers and 8% of the city’s budget. The city will vote in November on whether to sell $145 million in 25-year bonds to cover the pensions of retired police officers, firefighters, city workers and school employees.

….

In 2009, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research examined pension obligation bonds issued since 1986 and found that most of the borrowers had lost money because their pension-fund investments returned less than the amount of interest they were paying. A 2014 update found those losses had reversed and returns were exceeding borrowing costs by 1.5 percentage points.

Author(s): Heather Gillers

Publication Date: 4 September 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Social Security Costs Expected to Exceed Total Income in 2021 as Covid-19 Takes Financial Toll

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/social-security-costs-expected-to-exceed-total-income-in-2021-as-covid-19-takes-financial-toll-11630436193

Excerpt:

Trustees for the Social Security trust fund in an annual report released Tuesday said the program is expected to pay benefits that exceed its income in 2021, the same as it anticipated last year at the outset of the pandemic.

While the pandemic had a significant impact on the program, the trustees said, they expect Social Security’s reserves to be depleted by 2034, only one year sooner than they estimated in their April 2020 report. Once the reserves are exhausted, benefits would be reduced automatically unless Congress steps in to shore up the program, which lawmakers have done previously.

The trustees now project elevated mortality rates related to the pandemic through 2023, and expect lower immigration and child-bearing this year and next, compared with their 2020 estimates. They also expect the pandemic has lowered worker productivity and thus economic output permanently.

Author(s): Kate Davidson

Publication Date: 31 August 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Something Is Awry in the Treasury Market This Summer

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/something-is-awry-in-the-treasury-market-this-summer-11629034404

Excerpt:

The core of the problem is that as inflation soared, bond yields fell, creating an instant contradiction: Inflation is poison to bond investors, so they would normally be expected to sell. I have an explanation, but it isn’t perfect.

My take: Investors came to the realization that the huge post-pandemic debt burden will keep rates lower than in the past, while they kept faith that inflation will be manageable. There is little to indicate investors fear a recession-inducing mistake by the Federal Reserve, and they aren’t expecting runaway inflation either.

The market response from March to the start of this month can be thought of as pricing in a repeat of the secular stagnation brought on by the 2008 financial crisis, with the twist of slightly higher inflation than in the past decade.

….

And there is one more oddity that is far harder to understand: By Aug. 3, yields on 10-year Treasury inflation-protected securities, or TIPS, reached minus 1.2%, the lowest point for inflation-adjusted yields in history.

It could only make sense if investors were expecting stagflation, or weak economic growth combined with higher inflation. But if the risk of stagflation were rising, investors should be buying gold — which usually rises when TIPS yields fall — and dumping the junkiest corporate bonds, as defaults would be sure to rise. Instead, the relationship between gold and TIPS broke down, while junk bond yields rose only a little from what had been close to record low spreads over Treasurys.

Author(s): James Mackintosh

Publication Date: 15 August 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

China’s Corporate Crackdown Adds to Junk-Bond Distress

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/chinas-corporate-crackdown-adds-to-junk-bond-distress-11629019801?mod=e2tw

Excerpt:

The latest Chinese market to buckle under pressure from Beijing’s wide-ranging corporate crackdown: junk bonds.

Companies from China make up the bulk of Asia’s roughly $300 billion high-yield dollar bond market, thanks to a surge in borrowing by the country’s heavily indebted property developers.

But the investor optimism that drove that borrowing has collapsed.

…..

The widening regulatory crackdown that sparked a big selloff last month in the shares of internet-technology and education companies has also weighed on Chinese credit markets, pushing down prices of even investment-grade bonds.

The moves show China is getting more serious about reining in companies whose business practices are seen at odds with national priorities. Investors are now actively looking for sectors that might be next in the crosshairs.

Author(s): Serena Ng

Publication Date: 15 August 2021

Publication Site: Wall Street Journal

Fed Says Economy Has Progressed Toward Goals, Tees Up Bond Taper

Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/fed-says-economy-has-made-progress-toward-its-goals-teeing-up-bond-taper-11627495233

Excerpt:

The Fed cut its benchmark interest rate to near zero in March 2020 and has been purchasing at least $120 billion a month in Treasurys and mortgage bonds to provide extra stimulus to the economy. Officials since the end of last year said those purchases would continue until they see “substantial further progress” toward their goals of low unemployment and stable inflation.

Officials said in a statement Wednesday, at the conclusion of their two-day meeting, “the economy has made progress toward these goals” this year and indicated they would “assess progress in coming meetings.”

That is a clue the Fed could outline plans to start reducing, or tapering, the purchases, later this year. The central bank’s next meetings are scheduled for Sept. 21-22 and Nov. 2-3.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said at a virtual news conference Wednesday that the central bank was nowhere near considering plans to raise interest rates.

Author(s): Nick Timiraos

Publication Date: 28 July 2021

Publication Site: WSJ