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Iran-based hacking group expanding spying operations in Middle East

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Security experts have further traced a number of subsequent attacks back to Iran, including hacks on Saudi, American and South Korean companies. Iran has not commented on those accusations.

In February, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC that Iran was “the most dangerous nation” for cyber threats.

“Iran is the only country that has attacked us repeatedly and tried to attack us repeatedly,” Al-Jubeir said. “In fact, they tried to do it on a virtually weekly basis.”

He added that Saudi Arabia is taking “all the steps necessary” to defend itself and training its people to “be able to engage in offensive operations to make it hopefully impossible for people to penetrate those systems.”

The Iranian government has previously denied accusations of cyber-aggression. It did not respond last month to a request for response to Al-Jubeir’s comments.

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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Stocks will fall at least 30% in a drawn-out bear market: David Tice

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Asia markets: Coronavirus, currencies and oil

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SINGAPORE — Stocks in Japan were set to open little changed on Monday as investors continue to monitor the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

Futures pointed to a muted open for Japanese stocks. The Nikkei futures contract in Chicago was at 28,660 while its counterpart in Osaka was at 28,630. That compared against the Nikkei 225’s last close at 28,631.45.

Shares in Australia edged higher in morning trade, with the S&P/ASX 200 up 0.24%.

Amid the pandemic, China surpassed the U.S. as the world’s largest recipient of foreign direct investment, according to a report released Sunday from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

China brought in $163 billion in inflows last year, compared to $134 billion attracted by the U.S., according to the report.

Developments around Covid-19 are likely to be watched by investors, as the world races to adapt against the mutating coronavirus which has produced a number of potentially more infectious variants.

Globally, more than 99 million people have been infected by Covid-19 and at least 2,127,206 lives have been taken, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Currencies

The U.S. dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of its peers, was last at 90.237 after seeing a recent decline from levels above 90.6.

The Japanese yen traded at 103.79 per dollar following levels below 103.5 against the greenback seen last week. The Australian dollar changed hands at $0.7719, off levels above $0.776 seen last week.

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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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