Here are the most important news, trends and analysis that investors need to start their trading day:
- Wall Street steady after four straight days of record highs
- Fed to start tapering this month as it begins pulling back on pandemic aid
- Moderna cuts vaccine sales forecast; White House pushes back key deadlines
- Ford to impose vaccine mandate, plans to back buy high-cost debt
- House prepares to vote after Democrats boosted Biden bill
1. Wall Street steady after four straight days of record highs
U.S. stock futures were slightly higher Thursday, one day after the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all closed at record highs for the fourth straight session. Investors were undeterred by the Federal Reserve's well-telegraphed post-November meeting announcement Wednesday afternoon of the start of tapering Covid-era bond purchases as the economy improved.
One day before releasing its October employment report, the Labor Department reported Thursday initial jobless claims of 269,000 for last week, a better-than-expected reading and a drop to another pandemic low. On Wednesday morning, ADP's October read on U.S. companies' hiring was much better than expected.
2. Fed to start tapering this month as it begins pulling back on pandemic aid
The Fed will begin slowing down later this month the purchase of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities by $15 billion each month from the current $120 billion per month. The central bank held interest rates steady at near zero, saying that tapering pandemic monetary stimulus should not be viewed as a signal that rate hikes are imminent.
On the current schedule, bond purchases would end around July 2022. Officials have said they don't envision rate increases beginning until tapering is finished. Projections released in September indicate one hike at most coming next year. At his post-meeting news conference, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell said decades-high inflation is largely due to supply chain disruptions.
3. Moderna cuts vaccine sales forecast; White House pushes back key deadlines
Shares of Moderna sank roughly 14% in premarket trading after the company on Thursday cut its Covid vaccine sales forecast for the year to between $15 billion and $18 billion from $20 billion. By comparison, Pfizer has said it expects Covid vaccine sales of $36 billion this year. On Thursday, Moderna also announced lower-than-expected adjusted third-quarter earnings and revenue. Pfizer on Tuesday beat estimates with third-quarter adjusted earnings and revenue. Pfizer also boosted its outlook.
The Biden administration ordered U.S. companies Thursday to ensure their employees are fully vaccinated or regularly tested for Covid by Jan. 4 — giving them a reprieve over the holidays. The White House also pushed back the deadline for federal contractors to comply with a stricter set of vaccine requirements for staff from Dec. 8 to Jan. 4 to match the deadline set for other private companies and health-care providers.
4. Ford to impose vaccine mandate, plans to buy back high-cost debt
Ford will require its roughly 32,000 salaried employees in the U.S. to be vaccinated against Covid by Dec. 8 or face unpaid leave, CNBC has learned. The mandate does not include Ford's factory workers, parts depots and financial arm. The largest of that unaffected group is the company's 57,000 workers represented by the United Auto Workers union. While encouraging its members to get vaccinated, the UAW has not been supportive of making it mandatory. Ford is the first major U.S. automaker to impose a vaccine mandate.
A spokesman for Ford sent a statement to CNBC via email: "We are working with the small number of employees who need to be vaccinated and want to do everything we can to help work through questions and or concerns, but to comply with Federal contract and our policy. If there isn't a solution employees could be placed on unpaid leave with job protection to allow employees to further consider their options."
Ford plans to repurchase up to $5 billion of its high-cost debt as part of a wider plan for the automaker to reduce liabilities and focus on more sustainable business operations. A "vast majority" of the debt will be from $8 billion in bonds the company issued last year during the early onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
5. House prepares to vote after Democrats boosted Biden bill
The House is preparing to vote as soon as Thursday on a revised draft of President Joe Biden's now-$1.85 trillion social and climate spending package and a separate bipartisan, Senate-passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill. In a flurry of last-minute adjustments, after months of negotiations, Democrats added back a new paid family leave program, work permits for immigrants, and changes to state and local tax deductions. Democrats want to make gains on Biden's proposals after their party lost the tight Virginia governor's race and barely hung on in New Jersey's unexpectedly close gubernatorial contest.