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‘it’s the most important work I’m doing’

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Jeff Bezos believes his space company, Blue Origin — rather than Amazon or the Washington Post — is representative of his “most important work,” and imperative for humanity’s long-term survival, the mogul said in an interview published on Business Insider.

In a wide-ranging sitdown on the eve of a new rocket launch, Bezos said his vision for an interplanetary human society actually began as a child, and is culminating with the private space venture that’s in a race with SpaceX to send humans into outer space. On Sunday, Blue Origin — which has an ambitious plan to send tourists beyond the Earth as early as this year — is expected to launch its first rocket of 2018 on Sunday.

In an interview with the CEO of Business Insider’s parent company, Axel Springer, the billionaire was asked whether he considered space exploration more important than his other ventures.

“Yes,” Bezos replied. Sending humans to outer space “is super important to me. I believe on the longest time frame — and really here I’m thinking of a time frame of a couple hundred years, so over many decades…that Blue Origin, the space company, is the most important work I’m doing.”

His response was somewhat surprising, in the context of Bezos having built his online retail company into a global behemoth, and having purchased the venerable Washington Post in 2013. And just last year, Bezos sent shockwaves through the food retail industry by snapping up Whole Foods.

He added that “I’m pursuing this work because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing.” Humans “all enjoy a dynamic civilization of growth and change,” and space travel is integral to that continuing, he said.

Bezos predicted that heavy industry will be moved to other planets, while Earth, he said, would be reserved for living and for light industry. He also told Business Insider that he grows increasingly convinced of the necessity for space exploration and development “with every passing year.”

Blue Origin, which Bezos invests $1 billion in each year, is set to launch its New Shepherd rocket on Sunday morning from the company’s facility near Van Horn, Texas. It will be the rocket’s eight launch and its first flight of 2018.

The full interview can be found on Business Insider’s website.

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Stock futures rise ahead of the busiest week of earnings

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U.S. stock index futures were modestly higher in overnight trading on Sunday, as Wall Street prepares for the busiest week of earnings, which will include reports from some of the largest tech companies.

Futures contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 56 points, indicating a 73-point jump at the open. S&P 500 futures advanced 0.2%, while Nasdaq 100 futures rose 0.28%.

Stocks finished mixed on Friday — the S&P 500 and Dow finished in the red while the Nasdaq Composite closed at a record high — although all three posted a gain for the week. The Dow registered its fifth positive week in six while the S&P posted its third positive week in four. The Nasdaq advanced 4.19% last week for its best week since November and fifth positive week in six as shares of Big Tech names pushed the index to a new all-time high.

The move higher came as President Joe Biden tries to push through a $1.9 trillion stimulus program that many congressional Republicans oppose. The fiscal aid includes direct checks to millions of Americans, aid to state and local governments, funding for Covid vaccines and testing, a boost to the minimum wage and enhanced unemployment benefits, among other things.

Lindsey Bell, chief investment strategist for Ally Invest, noted any additional stimulus could lead to a surge in inflation.

“Right now, watch for signs of inflation as a temporary or more long-term trend. If it’s just a quick shock, we may see some market weakness without any major Fed action,” she noted. “On the other hand, persistently high inflation may force the Fed to consider raising rates and pulling back their market support.” 

In an inflationary environment, Bell said investors should favor the consumer staples, energy and financials sectors. She added that real estate and gold are among the other assets that can help hedge against inflation.

This coming week 13 Dow components and 111 S&P 500 companies are set to report earnings. Among the quarterly reports on deck include those from Apple, Microsoft, Netflix, Tesla, McDonald’s, Honeywell, Caterpillar and Boeing.

According to data from Bank of America, of the S&P 500 components that have already reported earnings, 73% have beaten on both sales and EPS. The firm said this is tracking similar to last quarter when the number of companies beating hit a record.

The number of coronavirus cases continues to tick up in the U.S. and abroad, but many economists are forecasting a return to growth later this year.

“We continue to expect that a reduction in virus risk due to mass vaccination coupled with fiscal support for consumer spending will lead to a mid-year consumption boom and very strong growth in 2021,” Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, said in a note to clients over the weekend. “We currently forecast GDP growth of +6.6% on a full-year basis, 2½pp above consensus,” he added.

However, the firm noted that while risks like insufficient fiscal aid look now look less likely, other risks remain. Hatzius cited consumers remaining more cautious than expected as well as the evolution of a vaccine-resistant virus strain as potential futures headwinds for the market.

Biden’s surgeon general pick said Sunday that the U.S. is racing to keep up as the coronavirus mutates.

“The virus is basically telling us that it’s going to continue to change and we’ve got to be ready for it,” Dr. Vivek Murthy told ABC News’ “This Week.”

“We’ve got to number one, do much better genomic surveillance, so we can identify variants when they arise and that means we’ve got to double down on public health measures like masking and avoiding indoor gatherings,” he added.

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Biden to sign South Africa travel ban to slow spread of new Covid-19 strain

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US President Joe Biden signs executive orders for economic relief to Covid-hit families and businesses in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, DC, on January 22, 2021.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

President Joe Biden will sign a travel ban Monday on most non-U.S. citizens entering the country who were recently in South Africa, where a new strain of Covid-19 has been identified, two White House officials told NBC News.

Biden will also reinstate travel restrictions that were rescinded by former President Donald Trump in January, which would ban the entry of non-U.S. citizens from the U.K., Ireland and much of Europe. Brazil would also be affected.

Reuters first reported news of the travel restrictions on Sunday. Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the outlet that the agency was “putting in place this suite of measures to protect Americans and also to reduce the risk of these variants spreading and worsening the current pandemic.”

Before Biden took office, incoming White House press secretary Jen Psaki criticized Trump’s move to lift international travel restrictions even as more contagious variants emerged across the world.

“We plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of Covid-19,” Psaki wrote in a tweet.

White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has said that available vaccines appear to be less effective against new, more contagious strains of Covid-19, but that they’ll still likely provide enough protection to be worth getting.

The CDC also announced that it will remove the option for airlines with flights from countries that lack Covid-19 testing to apply for temporary waivers for some travelers. The agency will implement the order on Tuesday.

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.

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China received more foreign investment last year than U.S., U.N. says

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Employees work on the production line of WEY Tank 300 SUV at a factory of Great Wall Motors on January 19, 2021 in Chongqing, China.

VCG | Visual China Group | Getty Images

The Chinese economy brought in more foreign direct investment than any other country last year, knocking the United States from its perch atop the list.

China brought in $163 billion in inflows last year, compared to $134 billion attracted by the U.S., the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development wrote in a report released on Sunday. In 2019, the U.S. received $251 billion in inflows and China received $140 billion.

Overall, the report found that foreign direct investment tanked globally, as the Covid-19 pandemic brought countries large and small to virtual stand-stills.

FDI plunged 42% in 2020, to $859 billion, a 30% drop from even the depths of the 2009 financial crisis. The economic measure accounts for investments in a country made by people and businesses in other countries, such as the construction of a factory or the opening of a satellite office.

Developed countries were hit harder last year than so-called “developing” countries. Investment in the U.S. fell 49%, slightly less than the developed country average of 69%.

FDI in developing countries fell a comparatively moderate 12%. China, included on that list, actually saw a small increase of 4% in its inflows.

The European Union saw FDI decline by two-thirds, according to the report, with the United Kingdom seeing no new inflows. The U.K. has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.

China managed to largely get coronavirus under control within its borders last year, despite being the first nation to be hit with the deadly disease.

Strict lock down measures, early mass testing and an abundance of personal protective equipment have been credited for the country’s relatively low death toll.

Since the start of the pandemic, China has had fewer than 100,000 confirmed Covid-19 cases and suffered about 4,800 deaths from the disease, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

The U.S., which has a much smaller population, has had nearly 25 million cases and more than 400,000 deaths.

Despite China surpassing the U.S. in the flow of foreign direct investment in 2020, the total stock of foreign investment remains much larger in the U.S. than in China, according to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Other economic data have also suggested that China has borne the brunt of the pandemic more nimbly than its peers. Beijing reported 2020 GDP growth of 2.3% earlier this month, and is expected to be the only major economy to report a positive annual growth rate.

The United Nations report comes one day before China’s President Xi Jinping will deliver an address at a virtual gathering of the World Economic Forum. President Joe Biden is not expected to attend the event.

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