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China looking to rely less on US for soybeans

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Soybeans are harvested Princeton, Illinois.

Daniel Acker | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Soybeans are harvested Princeton, Illinois.

China is looking to boost its domestic production of soybeans, potentially becoming less reliant on U.S. farmers amid a tit-for-tat trade war between the world’s largest economies.

China included lifting soybean production in a five-year plan issued in 2016, but in early April it announced that soybean farmers in China’s northeastern provinces would be getting higher subsidies than its corn producers this year. This notably came amid a fierce war of words between Beijing and Washington and just a day before China said it was going to slap a 25 percent levy on U.S. imports which included soybeans.

China is the biggest buyer of soybeans, importing 95.5 million tons in 2017— mainly from Brazil and the U.S. This was about seven times that of the country’s own soybean output.

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Stock futures flat to end record-setting week

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John Nacion | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Contracts tied to the major U.S. stock indexes held around the flatline Thursday evening as Wall Street appeared headed to close out the record-setting week on a muted note.

Dow futures lost 27 points while S&P 500 futures ticked slightly higher. Nasdaq-100 futures fell 5 points, or less than 0.1%.

The after-hours moves came after a strong showing from the Nasdaq Composite earlier in the day during the regular session.

The index rose to another record as investors set bets for strong tech earnings next week. The tech-heavy benchmark climbed 0.6% to close at a new high in large part thanks to a 3.7% pop in Apple shares.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both had more muted sessions, with the former dipping 12 points and the latter up less than 0.1% to eke out another fresh high.

Hopes for a robust earnings season from the country’s largest communications and tech stocks have kept the mega-cap stocks trending upward, and the major indexes near records, during the holiday-shortened week.

Apple and Facebook have risen 7.7% and 8.6%, respectively, this week ahead of their quarterly results, while Microsoft has gained 5.8%.

Wall Street’s eyes are still turned toward Washington as new President Joe Biden works to lay the early foundation of his Covid-19 and economic recovery agenda.

Investors are increasingly confident a pared-down version of Biden’s original $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill will be considered by Congress. Some moderate senators have expressed doubts over the need for another bill, especially one with such a price tag, less than one month after Congress passed a $900 billion stimulus in December.

Meanwhile, the Senate is expected on Friday to overwhelmingly confirm former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as Biden’s Treasury secretary. If confirmed, she would be the first woman to lead the department.

In corporate news, shares of IBM fell more than 6% in the extended session after the company reported fourth-quarter sales below where analysts were expecting. Revenue fell 6% on an annualized basis, the fourth consecutive quarter of declines.

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Dr. Fauci says Covid vaccines appear to be less effective against some new strains

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New data shows that the Covid-19 vaccines currently on the market may not be as effective in guarding against new, more contagious strains of the coronavirus, White House health advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Thursday.

A handful of new strains of the coronavirus have emerged overseas that have given scientists some cause for concern. Some variants that have been identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil appear to be more transmissible than previous strains but not necessarily more deadly.

While it’s no surprise the virus is mutating, researchers are quickly trying to determine what the changes might mean for recently developed lifesaving vaccines and therapeutics against the disease.

Some early findings that were published in the preprint server bioRxiv, which have yet to be peer reviewed, indicate that the variant identified in South Africa can evade the antibodies provided by some coronavirus treatments, and may reduce the efficacy of the current line of available vaccines.

However, even if the drugs are less effective, they will still likely provide enough protection to make the vaccines worth getting, Fauci said. Both vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have proven to be highly effective, creating a “cushion effect” that would allow for some dip in their effectiveness.

A dip in the vaccines’ effectiveness would be “all the more reason why we should be vaccinating as many people as you possibly can.” Mutations occur when the virus spreads and replicates itself, which can be suppressed if enough people are inoculated against the disease to build so-called herd immunity.

“Bottom line: We’re paying very close attention to it. There are alternative plans if we ever have to modify the vaccine. That’s not something that is a very onerous thing, we can do that given the platforms we have,” Fauci said during the White House press briefing.

This is a developing story. Please check back later for updates.

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Democrats file ethics complaint against Cruz, Hawley

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Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, right, and Josh Hawley, R-Mo., attend the Senate Judiciary Committee markup on judicial nominations and the Online Content Policy Modernization Act, in Dirksen Building on Thursday, December 10, 2020.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call, Inc. | Getty Images

Seven Democratic senators filed a formal complaint Thursday urging the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley’s efforts to overturn the presidential election results.

The complaint comes over two weeks after the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol led by supporters of former President Donald Trump.

“Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley lent legitimacy to President Trump’s false statements about election fraud by announcing that they would object to the certification of electors on January 6,” the senators wrote in a letter to Senate Ethics Committee leaders Chris Coons, D-Del., and James Lankford, R-Okla.

Cruz, a Republican from Texas, signed a written objection to certifying Arizona’s votes toward the beginning of the joint session to count electoral votes on Jan. 6, prompting a debate in both chambers. Then, pro-Trump rioters stormed the U.S. Capitol building and lawmakers evacuated.

After the Capitol was secured and lawmakers resumed the session, Cruz and Hawley along with other Senate Republicans voted against Arizona’s Electoral College results, even as others who had planned to object decided to vote for the certification following the deadly attack.

Hawley, of Missouri, also continued with his previously announced plan to sign a written objection to Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. Cruz and Hawley voted against accepting Pennsylvania’s election results.

“By proceeding with their objections to the electors after the violent attack, Senators Cruz and Hawley lent legitimacy to the mob’s cause and made future violence more likely,” the senators said in the letter.

The letter is signed by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Ron Wyden of Oregon, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Tim Kaine of Virginia and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.

In the letter, the senators ask Coons and Lankford to investigate whether the actions of Cruz and Hawley constitute “improper conduct” or otherwise violate the Senate code of ethics.

The offices of Cruz, Hawley, Coons and Lankford did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

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