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Trump says he still likes Gary Cohn, might come back to the White House



President Donald Trump praises his outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn (L) during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, March 8, 2018.

Kevin Lamarque | Reuters

President Donald Trump praises his outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn (L) during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington, March 8, 2018.

Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president, resigned Tuesday after losing his fight against stiff tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Trump’s remarks came after the titans of Wall Street lamented over Cohn’s departure.

J.P. Morgan chief Jamie Dimon said Thursday the news of Cohn leaving the administration is “unfortunate” and “terrible.”

In similar fashion, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein expressed his concern Tuesday.

“Gary Cohn deserves credit for serving his country in a first-class way. I’m sure I join many others who are disappointed to see him leave,” Blankfein said in a Tweet.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

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UK to reportedly warn EU that it may override key Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland



A lorry passes through security at the Port of Larne in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland on December 6, 2020.

PAUL FAITH | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is expected to warn the European Union that it is willing to unilaterally override the Northern Ireland Protocol, a key tenet of the Brexit agreement, according to British media reports.

The British government’s Brexit minister, Lord Frost, is expected to tell Parliament on Wednesday that the agreement needs drastic changes in order to eliminate most checks on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Meanwhile Brandon Lewis, secretary of state for Northern Ireland, will explain the government’s proposals to members of Parliament in the House of Commons. The BBC reported that the government will warn the EU that it will override the Protocol should the two parties fail to renegotiate its implementation.

In a call with Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin on Tuesday, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the way the protocol is currently operating in practice is causing “significant disruption” for the people of Northern Ireland.

A readout from 10 Downing Street said Johnson stressed that the EU “must show pragmatism and solutions needed to be found to address the serious challenges that have arisen with the Protocol.”

The Protocol was agreed in Oct. 2019 as an accompaniment to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and underwent further negotiation in 2020. It helps prevent customs checks and an effective land border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., and the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU.

The preservation of frictionless trade between the two islands is central to the Good Friday Agreement, a historic truce which brought an end to three decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland between Irish separatists and British loyalists.

However, it has led to port inspections on goods traveling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, a development that has angered businesses and drawn criticism for effectively creating a border in the Irish Sea. Prior to winning the U.K. election in 2019, Johnson had promised that there would be unfettered trade access between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

The Financial Times has reported that Frost’s proposals will seek to eliminate most of these checks in order to make the protocol work in practice.

Paul Donovan, global chief economist at UBS Global Wealth Management, said Wednesday’s proposals will simply be the latest in a “tedious and interminable” tit-for-tat between the U.K. and the EU.

“Both sides will be very dramatic. As the drama is more a signal of the poor state of U.K.-EU relations than a catalyst for immediate disruption, markets are unlikely to react,” he said.

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What is the beta variant? Here’s what we know so far



People enjoy the sun and the warm weather at the Segur de Calafell Beach in Spain, where beta cases are rising.

SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images

While the world is busy tackling further Covid-19 waves caused by the highly infectious delta variant, there are growing concerns in parts of Europe about a “beta” coronavirus strain first discovered in South Africa.

Last week, the British government announced that anyone traveling to the U.K. from France would have to quarantine even if they were fully vaccinated because it was concerned over “the persistent presence of cases in France of the Beta variant.”

France has defended its case record, noting that most cases of the beta variant are in its overseas territories of La Reunion and Mayotte which are situated in the Indian Ocean, rather than on mainland France.

On Tuesday, France’s European Affairs Minister Clément Beaune described the U.K. measures as “excessive” and on Monday, France’s Ambassador to the U.K. Catherine Colonna cited data showing cases of the beta variant were declining.

There has previously been concerns that Covid vaccines developed over the last year might not be so effective against the beta variant, and that it could evade antibody drugs.

So is the U.K. government right to be worried? CNBC has the lowdown on what we know about the beta variant:

What is the beta variant?

As with all viruses, the coronavirus has mutated multiple times since its emergence in China in late 2019, although some mutations have been far more significant than others, with several going on to supplant previous dominant strains.

The alpha variant first discovered in Kent, England, for example, became globally dominant earlier this year before it was usurped by the delta variant that was first detected in India.

Unlike those other “variants of concern” (according to the World Health Organization), the beta variant emerged around the same time as alpha did but failed to take off in the same way, being largely confined to South Africa and its surrounding countries where it was first detected last fall.

Nonetheless, there have been cases detected all around the world. The WHO’s latest weekly report on Tuesday showed that beta has been detected in 130 countries (and seven new countries in the last week).

Why is it of concern?

The variant, also known widely as B.1.351, has several significant mutations to the virus’ spike protein —E484K, K417N and N501Y — that make it easier for this variant to infect people, as well as potentially making it harder to treat, or to prevent with Covid vaccines.

The WHO has stated that the beta variant is associated with increased transmissibility, a possible increased risk of in-hospital mortality and that there was evidence it could neutralize antibodies against Covid.

In its latest weekly report, the WHO cited a Canadian study published in July (but not yet peer-reviewed) that had analyzed data from over 200,000 Covid-19 cases. It found that in comparison to non-“variant of concern” strains of Covid, the risks associated with variants containing the N501Y mutation (i.e. the alpha, beta and gamma variants) were significant and carrying a much higher risk of hospitalization, intensive care unit admission and death.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which also classes beta as a variant of concern and says it’s associated with around a 50% increased transmission rate) has noted that lab studies suggest specific monoclonal antibody treatments may be less effective for treating cases of Covid caused by variants with “certain substitutions or combinations of substitutions in the spike protein,” such as the combination of K417N, E484K, and N501Y substitutions present in the beta variant.

Do vaccines work against it?

The Covid vaccines currently available and predominantly used in the West, such as Moderna, PfizerBioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford University, are all largely effective at helping to prevent severe Covid infection caused by the handful of variants of concern (including beta) and are proven in studies to reduce hospitalizations and deaths.

However, the WHO noted on Tuesday that when it comes to the beta variant, while “protection (is) retained against severe disease” there is “possible reduced protection against symptomatic disease and infection.”

Lawrence Young, a virologist and professor of molecular oncology at the Warwick Medical School at the U.K.’s University of Warwick, told CNBC Wednesday that “we know that the delta variant outcompetes beta when it comes to transmissibility, but beta’s been hovering in the background for quite a while.”

“We know it’s more able to resist the vaccine. And all the data we have on that, particularly from South Africa, does raise concerns about that [the beta variant] being able to avoid vaccines in a population that’s only partially vaccinated or not vaccinated.”

The WHO noted that two recent studies in the U.S. and Qatar had provided further evidence of the solid performance of mRNA vaccines (those of Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech) against both the alpha and beta variants.

The first, a U.S. study not yet peer-reviewed, found that, tested against all variants, the overall vaccine effectiveness of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines (after two doses) at preventing hospitalization was 86.9% — although it should be noted that the alpha variant was the most common type (59.7% of sequenced viruses) in the study data.

A second study, from Qatar and published in the Nature Medicine journal on July 9, found Moderna’s effectiveness against infection from the beta variant was 61.3% after the first dose and 96.4% after the second dose. Effectiveness against any severe, critical or fatal Covid-19 disease due to any Covid infection (predominantly the alpha and beta variants) was 81.6% and 95.7% after the first and second dose, respectively.

Where is it?

WHO’s map showing the global prevalence of variants

World Health Organization

In South Africa, the mutation accounted for 5.3% of virus samples that were sequenced. Gisaid noted that the data can be skewed by sampling and reporting biases and do not represent the exact prevalence of Covid variants, however.

So, is the U.K. right to ask arrivals from France to quarantine? Young isn’t convinced, attributing the move more to “panic” than reason.

“If you look at the current rates of beta infection across Europe then Spain has a much higher rate. Recent data suggests its over 20% of positive cases in Spain whereas it’s around 3.8% in France,” he noted.

“There’s a lot of inconsistency and I dare say, ‘knee-jerkism’. I don’t see why France has been singled out in this way,” he added.

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Bitcoin (BTC) price climbs back above $30,000



A bitcoin sign with a graph pictured in the background.

STR | NurPhoto via Getty Images

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies recovered on Wednesday after a brutal sell-off, with the world’s biggest digital coin climbing back above $30,000.

The price of bitcoin rose almost 4% in the last 24 hours, to $30,798 at 5:25 a.m. ET, according to Coin Metrics data. Smaller cryptocurrencies ether and XRP also rebounded, up around 7% and 3% respectively.

The crypto market saw significant selling on Tuesday, with bitcoin falling below the $30,000 mark for the first time since June 22.

The plunge came on the back of news that the New Jersey attorney general issued a cease and desist letter to crypto lending firm BlockFi, ordering it to stop offering interest-bearing accounts.

The reason for the move higher Wednesday wasn’t immediately clear. Cryptocurrencies often undergo severe price swings. Bitcoin, for example, rallied to an all-time high of almost $65,000 in April before halving in value in the months that followed.

‘Dead cat bounce’

Vijay Ayyar, head of Asia-Pacific at cryptocurrency exchange Luno, said Wednesday’s price move was likely a “dead cat bounce,” where an asset briefly recovers from a prolonged decline before continuing to slide.

Unless bitcoin can climb above $32,000, Ayyar expects more downside, with the top cryptocurrency potentially tumbling as low as $24,000.

“We saw broad market rallies across the board last night as well, and I think crypto is just playing off of that,” Ayyar told CNBC.

“In general, there are lot of macro factors weighing down on risk-on assets at the moment — inflation worries, Covid, and with crypto we’ve got more specific worries such as much more regulatory oversight.”

Regulatory pressure

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