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Germany discovers Covid variant in Bavaria

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Snow lies in front of the entrance to the Garmisch-Partenkirchen hospital. A possibly new variant of the coronavirus has been discovered at the Garmisch-Partenkirchen hospital. Samples are currently being examined at the Charité hospital in Berlin, the hospital announced on Monday.

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Germany is the latest country to discover a new mutation of the coronavirus, with a new variant identified among a group of hospital patients in Bavaria.

Local news outlets first reported on Monday that an unknown variant of the coronavirus had been discovered among 35 patients at a hospital in the Bavarian ski town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southeast Germany.

The altered virus was found in 35 of 73 newly-infected people in the hospital, Bavarian news outlet BR24 reported Monday. Samples are now reportedly being examined at the Charité university hospital in Berlin. CNBC contacted Germany’s health ministry for confirmation of the reports.

Officials said the variant is different from recently discovered variants in the U.K. and South Africa.

The hospital’s deputy medical director Clemens Stockklausner told a press briefing on Monday that there was no understanding, as yet, on whether the mutation made the virus more transmissible (as with the variants discovered in Britain and South Africa), or more deadly.

“At the moment we have discovered a small point mutation … and it is absolutely not clear whether it will be of clinical relevance,” Stockklausner said. “We have to wait for the complete sequencing.”

Neither the British nor South Africa variants have been found to cause more fatalities, although as a result of their ability to spread more easily, they have caused more infections, hospitalizations and, sadly, more deaths. The U.K. and Ireland, in particular, have seen a rapid spread of the mutated virus, which has caused a surge in infections and left some hospitals struggling with an influx of patients.

Information about the new variant found in Germany emerged on the same day that the country’s Health Minister Jens Spahn said the current level of coronavirus sequencing in the country was not sufficient and that laboratories would be obliged (and compensated) to sequence coronavirus samples to monitor virus mutations.

A handful of other countries that have discovered coronavirus mutations, including the U.K. and South Africa, are renowned for their large-scale surveillance and genome sequencing of coronavirus samples.

Last week, Dr. Janosch Dahmen, a physician and German parliamentarian with the Green party, told CNBC that “we need a more precise crisis mode here in Germany to fight the pandemic, and I’m very concerned that the numbers (of infections) will go far higher up like we can see in Great Britain and Ireland at the minute.”

Infections persist

Germany’s 16 state premiers are set to meet with Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to discuss whether to tighten or extend lockdown restrictions across the country that are due to end on Jan. 31.

Germany’s infection rate remains a significant concern, with a further 11,369 daily cases reported by public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, on Tuesday. That brings the total number of cases to just over 2 million. The death toll stands at 47,622.

Like other European countries, Germany has been anxious to avoid the spread of the more-infectious strains of the virus found in Britain and South Africa.

Merkel reportedly told her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party lawmakers last week that “if we don’t manage to stop this British virus, then we will have 10 times the number of cases by Easter … We need eight to 10 more weeks of tough measures,” German daily newspaper Bild reported.

On Monday, Spahn insisted that people should not call coronavirus mutation detected in Britain “the English variant.”

“Just as we didn’t talk about the ‘Chinese virus’ last year, now we shouldn’t talk about the ‘English variant,'” Spahn said, Reuters reported.

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Senate passes bill against China-funded Confucius Institutes at U.S. colleges

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The Senate on Thursday approved by unanimous consent — without a roll-call vote — a bill that would increase oversight on Confucius Institutes, China-funded cultural centers that operate on university campuses.

According to Human Rights Watch, Confucius Institutes “are Chinese government-funded outposts that offer Chinese language and culture classes.” However, some politicians, particularly Republicans, have accused them of spreading propaganda.

“Confucius Institutes are under the control of the Chinese Communist Party in all but name,” said Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., who introduced the bill. “This bill would give colleges and universities full control over their resident Confucius Institutes and restore freedom of thought on their campuses.” 

In 2020, Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., introduced a similar bill. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., one of that bill’s co-sponsors, said, “For far too long, the Communist Chinese government has attempted to infiltrate American universities through the disguise of the government-run Confucius Institute.”

The bill approved by the Senate on Thursday, S-590, would cut federal funding to universities and colleges that have Confucius Institutes on campus that don’t comply with new oversight rules and regulations.

The bill will next be sent to the House for consideration.

In her Senate confirmation hearing in January, recently confirmed U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield came under fire for a 2019 speech she gave at a Confucius Institute in which she appeared soft on China.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said during the hearing that Thomas-Greenfield was being overly optimistic about China’s relationship with African countries while not being tough enough on Beijing’s human rights record.

Thomas-Greenfield later said the speech was a mistake and didn’t portray her views on China, and she vowed to limit Beijing’s influence at U.N. General Assembly meetings.

The case against the institutions has gained steam in the past few years.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, in a 2019 report said U.S. universities have provided a level of access to the Chinese government that can “stifle academic freedom” and give an “incomplete picture of Chinese government actions and policies that run counter to U.S. interests at home and abroad.”

The bipartisan report followed a probe by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, of which Portman was chairman, into how American colleges and universities manage Confucius Institutes on their campuses.

The panel’s ranking member, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., said in the report that although the Senate had uncovered “no evidence that these institutes are a center for Chinese espionage or any other illegal activity,” it is “critical that we be vigilant in combatting foreign efforts to influence American public opinion.”

Congress’ 2019 annual defense spending package severely limited the autonomy of these China-funded cultural centers by threatening to withhold language program funding from their host universities, Human Rights Watch reported.

In turn, nearly 22 Confucius Institutes have closed since the act’s passage, according to Human Rights Watch.

The University of Missouri closed its Confucius Institute last year, after a notice from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs regarding visa concerns, amid a Trump administration drive to shutter the institutions.

Changes to State Department guidance on hosting the institutions would have made it too costly to maintain, a university provost said at the time.

Long before the lawmakers raised alarms, university professors signaled problems with the institutes.

The American Association of University Professors, or AAUP, released a report in 2014 that recommended colleges take a deeper look at curricula and agendas brought forth in the classroom.

“Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom,” the statement said, also highlighting a lack of transparency. “Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China.”

— CNBC’s Lynne Pate contributed to this report.

Correction: This story was updated to reflect that the bill was approved on Thursday.

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Jeff Bezos tours Relativity Space headquarters with Tim Ellis

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The row of two-story tall 3D printer bays at the company’s headquarters.

Relativity Space

The founders of two private rocket-building companies met today – one, the richest person on Earth; the other, leader of a venture pushing the boundaries of manufacturing.

Jeff Bezos stopped by the gleaming new “factory of the future” of Relativity Space on Friday, a person familiar with the visit told CNBC, for a tour of the Long Beach, California facility with CEO Tim Ellis. Relativity moved into the new facility last summer from its prior headquarters in Inglewood.

The nature of the visit to Relativity’s headquarters was unclear.

Ellis previously worked at Bezos’ space company Blue Origin as a propulsion engineer – and was credited for bringing the process of 3D printing metal rocket parts in-house. Ellis then left Blue Origin in 2015 to found Relativity with Jordan Noone, a college classmate and former SpaceX propulsion engineer.

Relativity declined CNBC’s request for comment on Bezos’ visit, while Blue Origin did not respond to requests for comment.

The factory floor of Relativity’s new headquarters in Long Beach, California.

Relativity Space

Relativity has gone all in on the 3D-printing approach, using enormous printers and metallurgy developed in-house to build 95% of the parts of its rockets. Ellis emphasizes that 3D-printing drastically cuts down on the complexity of its rockets, but also makes them faster to build and modify. Eventually, Relativity says its simpler process will be able to turn raw materials into a rocket on the launchpad in under 60 days.

The company’s first rocket, Terran 1, is expected to launch for the first time later this year. Terran 1 is priced at $12 million per launch and is designed to carry about 1,250 kilograms to low Earth orbit. That puts Terran 1 in the “medium lift” section of the U.S. launch market, between Rocket Lab’s Electron and SpaceX’s Falcon 9 in both price and capability.

Relativity is also working on a second, larger rocket called Terran R – aiming to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket in both launch capability and reusability. Terran R is the first of several new initiatives that Ellis expects Relativity to unveil in the year ahead, with the company having raised more than $680 million since its founding five years ago.

Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive officer of Amazon, speaks in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 19, 2019.

Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

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Build a cash position for the next stock sell-off

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CNBC’s Jim Cramer said the jobs report from the Labor Department Friday satisfied markets, at least for the interim.

The U.S. economy added 379,000 jobs last month and the unemployment rate inched down, with stocks managing to bounce from their lows of the day and snap a tough three-day trading stretch to end the week on a high note.

Economists had forecast the job market to grow by 210,000 in February.

“An employment number that’s strong, but not too strong, was just what this crazy market needed today, although it took half the day for Wall Street to figure that out,” Cramer said after the close on “Mad Money.”

The major stock indexes all swung nearly 2% higher at the close after trading in the red during the morning. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rallied 572 points, or 1.85%, to close at 31,496.30, finishing up 1.82% after a volatile week. The S&P 500 advanced 1.95% Friday to 3,841.94, also finishing the week in positive territory.

After closing down in the red Thursday, the Nasdaq Composite bounced 1.55% to 12,920.15 on Friday. The tech-heavy index ended the week down 2.06% as growth stocks sold off.

As the U.S. continues its recovery from last year’s coronavirus-induced business lockdowns and restrictions, the February labor report likely did not do enough to push the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to tamp down inflation as the economy grows, Cramer said.

“It was a hidden-Goldilocks report: A lot more people are getting hired, thanks to the vaccine rollout and the reopening, but not so many that the Fed will feel compelled to raise interest rates, and some are really being left behind,” he said.

Wall Street is on standby to see if the uptrend will continue or the downtrend in stocks will resume. The bond market is still in control, however, as investors continue to rotate from high-growth stocks to value and cyclical names until rising Treasury yields stabilize, Cramer added.

Longer-term Treasuries are a bellwether for lending rates. Higher rates make cyclical stocks more attractive, leading investors to reduce their appetite for riskier assets.

“I’m betting the bond bullies will be back, so get ready by using rallies like this one to lighten up, as we did for my charitable trust at the end of the day, and certainly lighten up on the high-flying dreamer stocks and the SPACs,” he said. “That way you’ll have some cash to deploy for the real companies the next time we get hammered like we did yesterday afternoon.”

Cramer gave his game plan for the week ahead. Earnings-per-share projections are based on FactSet estimates:

Monday: Stitch Fix

Stitch Fix

  • Q2 2021 earnings release: after market; conference call: 5 p.m.
  • Projected losses per share: 22 cents
  • Projected revenue: $512 million

“A great quarter won’t produce the kind of explosive reaction we got last time,” Cramer said. “Still, I’m betting the numbers are better than expected because this is a great business.”

Tuesday: Dick’s Sporting Goods

Dick’s Sporting Goods

  • Q4 2020 earnings release: before market; conference call: 10 a.m.
  • Projected EPS: $2.30
  • Projected revenue: $3.07 billion

“I expect Dick’s to deliver a very strong number, one that could send the stock flying,” he said.

Wednesday: Campbell Soup, Oracle

Campbell Soup

  • Q2 2021 earnings release: before market; conference call: 8:00 a.m.
  • Projected EPS: 83 cents
  • Projected revenue: $2.3 billion

“So far, these pantry stocks they’ve failed to impress,” Cramer said. “I can’t go against the prevailing wisdom here, although I think this company’s won over enough of the stay-at-homers with its snack offerings that you won’t be that disappointed, and you get that 3.2% yield.”

Oracle

  • Q3 2021 earnings release: after market; conference call: 5 p.m.
  • Projected EPS: $1.11
  • Projected revenue: $10.05 billion

“This is exactly the kind of lower-risk tech stock that people suddenly like … [as opposed to] the high-flyers,” he said. “Those are still getting torn to pieces, so I was ready to recommend Oracle [tonight], but I got beat to the punch. A big brokerage house pushed it today, sent the stock up 6%, stole my thunder.”

Thursday: JD.com, Ulta Beauty

JD.com

  • Q4 earnings release: before market; conference call: 7 a.m.

Cramer said JD.com is “one of the few Chinese stocks I like because it’s another ‘Amazon of China’ thing. It’s like Alibaba, which you know I like, but it’s got faster growth, though.”

Ulta Beauty

  • Q4 earnings release: after market; conference call: 5 p.m.
  • Projected EPS: $2.32
  • Projected revenue: $2.07 billion

“It’s about to experience a sales explosion when the country reopens. Ulta pivoted to e-commerce when the pandemic hit … but now that we’re getting vaccinated, their brick and mortar business can make a comeback,” he said. “Plus, they’re rolling out a new Target collection. I’d be a buyer ahead of that quarter.”

Disclosure: Cramer’s charitable rust owns shares of Amazon.

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