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Single dose of vaccine can almost halve transmission

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A nurse Cindy Mendez wearing a protective mask holds a syringe with a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, at NYC Health + Hospitals Harlem Hospital in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, February 25, 2021.

Jeenah Moon | Reuters

LONDON — A single dose of a coronavirus vaccine can reduce transmission within a household by up to half, a study by Public Health England has found.

People who do become infected with the coronavirus three weeks after receiving a single dose of the PfizerBioNTech or AstraZeneca-University of Oxford vaccine were between 38% and 49% less likely to pass the virus on to their household contacts than those who were unvaccinated, the PHE study found.

Protection was seen from around 14 days after vaccination, with similar levels of protection regardless of age of cases or contacts.

This protection is on top of the reduced risk of a vaccinated person developing symptomatic infection in the first place, which is around 60% to 65% – four weeks after one dose of either vaccine, PHE noted. Having both doses of a coronavirus vaccine (the delay between doses is up to 12 weeks in the U.K.) confers an even higher level of protection against Covid infection.

The U.K.’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock hailed the study’s findings as “terrific news.” “We already know vaccines save lives and this study is the most comprehensive real-world data showing they also cut transmission of this deadly virus.”

“It further reinforces that vaccines are the best way out of this pandemic as they protect you and they may prevent you from unknowingly infecting someone in your household.”

“I urge everybody to get their vaccines as soon as they are eligible and make sure you get your second dose for the strongest possible protection,” he added.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are being widely deployed in the U.K., with the Moderna vaccine also now added to the immunization program.

The vaccine rollout has been a standout success in Britain, and one silver lining following the destruction of the pandemic, which has caused over 127,000 deaths so far in the country.

The U.K has seen cases, hospitalizations and deaths fall dramatically since its rollout started in December, alongside strict lockdown measures. To date, almost 34 million U.K. adults have had a first dose of a vaccine and over 13 million have had two doses, government data shows.

The PHE study noted that households are high-risk settings for transmission and provide early evidence on the impact of vaccines in preventing onward transmission. Similar results could be expected in other settings with similar transmission risks, such as shared accommodations and prisons, it noted.

The study, which is a pre-print that has not yet been peer-reviewed, included over 57,000 contacts from 24,000 households in which there was a lab-confirmed coronavirus case that had received a vaccination, compared with nearly 1 million contacts of unvaccinated cases.

By linking case and household contact data with vaccination status, the study compared the likelihood of transmission for a vaccinated case with an unvaccinated one.

PHE is also undertaking separate studies on the effect of vaccination on transmission in the wider population.

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Net loss after $2.8 billion antitrust fine

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Signage at the Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd. headquarters in Hangzhou, China, on Wednesday, March 24, 2021.

Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images

GUANGZHOU, China — Alibaba swung to a net loss in its fiscal fourth quarter as a massive antitrust fine it received last month weighed on its earnings, while revenue beat expectations.

Here’s how Alibaba did versus Refinitiv estimates: 

Revenue: 187.39 billion ($28.6 billion) vs. 180.41 billion yuan estimated, up 64% year-over-year.

Earnings per share: 10.32 yuan per share ($1.58) vs. 11.12 yuan per share estimated, up 12% year-over-year.

Alibaba swung to a net loss in the March quarter of 5.47 billion yuan. The market had expected a net profit of 6.95 billion yuan, according to Refinitiv estimates.

Alibaba will be hoping the latest results might draw a line over the company’s recent troubles with regulators, which began when the $34.5 billion initial public offering of Ant Group, its financial technology affiliate, was pulled in November.

Since then, over $240 billion of value has been wiped off of Alibaba’s stock as regulatory scrutiny continued, including the massive 18.23 billion yuan ($2.8 billion) fine it received as a result of an anti-monopoly investigation.

Alibaba said its loss from operations was 7.66 billion yuan as a result of the fine. But excluding that, its income from operations would have been 10.56 billion yuan, a 48% year-on-year rise.

China has been expanding its crackdown on the domestic technology sector. Last month, the market regulator opened an investigation into “suspected monopolistic practices” of food delivery giant Meituan, a company that Alibaba’s Ele.me competes with.

Alibaba’s U.S. shares were down 0.6% in pre-market trade.

The Chinese e-commerce giant said it expects to generate revenue of 930 billion yuan in its 2022 fiscal year. That would represent a roughly 29.65% year-on-year growth.

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Silver price rockets as investment and industrial demand continues

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Bars of 100-ounce silver are stacked inside The Safe House, a vault operated by Silver Bullion Pte, in Singapore.

Nicky Loh | Bloomberg | Getty Images

It’s often overlooked in favor of its lustrous cousin gold, but the price of silver has jumped over 70% in the last year, with commodity strategists saying the rally is likely to continue as the global economy reopens.

Demand for the precious metal has shot up in the past 12 months. Silver was trading around $27 an ounce on Wednesday, a 74% rise from a year ago when the spot price was around $15.5 per ounce. In comparison, gold prices have risen 6.4% in a year.

From electronics to photography, jewelry and coins, silver is integral to numerous everyday products.

Its high electrical conductivity and durability gives it industrial and technological applications, with almost every computer, mobile phone, automobile and appliance containing silver, according to the Silver Institute. The association’s data show there has been more demand than supply of the semi-precious metal so far in 2021.

But Ole Hanson, head of Commodity Strategy at Saxo Bank, told CNBC that although around 50% of the demand for silver was industrial, the rest came from investors. Still, its uses in industry was one of the main reasons driving its recent rise in value, he said.

“Industrial demand is probably the main reason why we’ve seen silver outperform gold, as it has over the last year … part of that (rise) is definitely coming from industrial metals which have really been on a tear. If you look at copper prices, they’ve more than doubled since hitting a low-point last year,” he added.

Additional factors have also played into silver’s rise, Hanson said, such as the shift towards green technologies which have spurred a rise in demand for industrial metals such as silver which are used in solar panel production, for instance.

Watching gold

The massive amount of central bank and government stimulus over the last year has also fueled concerns around inflation, with precious metals like gold seen as a hedge against rising prices and a decrease in the value of the dollar. On Wednesday, official U.S. data surprised markets with a bigger-than-expected 4.2% rise in consumer prices in April compared a year ago.

“If gold rallies then silver tends to rally, but even stronger,” Hanson noted. “So most silver investors are probably keeping a close eye on gold prices, the level of the dollar and the level of interest rates.”

While inflation might be seen as good for these precious metals, market watchers will also be keeping an eye on any tightening of monetary policy which aims to keep price rises under control.

Silver prices remain well-below a record high in 2011 when the metal almost reached the $50 per ounce mark. However Hanson said that, long-term, the demand for silver shows no signs of waning.

“If we are serious about the green transformation then that will continue to attract demand for silver,” he noted. In the meantime, the supply of silver — usually extracted during the process of mining other metals — is likely to remain restrained.

“If it catches some decent tailwinds then it can actually run higher and faster than potentially other metals would do.” Hanson added.

Extreme bullish scenario ‘off the table’ for now

Silver also stands to gain from the reopening of the global economy following the coronavirus pandemic given a ramp up in industrial production as well as maintained investment demand, according to Max Layton, managing director of Commodities Research at Citi Global Markets.

He told CNBC on Tuesday that silver had benefited from investment demand during the pandemic, and was likely to continue to do so.

“The pandemic resulted in a major decrease in U.S. real interest rates, and a shift in allocations out of wealth and household savings into gold and silver. This more than offset the weakness in industrial consumption, and continues to do so,” he said.

However, he noted that a third wave of Covid-19, largely caused by variants, could continue to dampen industrial demand and “has taken the extreme bullish silver scenario off the table for now.” Nonetheless, Layton said there was scope for silver’s rally to continue.

“An end to de-stocking in China and India would see the silver market really pick up steam,” he said.

“The rally can last as long as the world remains concerned about the impact of Covid-19 mutating and concerned about the impact of Covid on the services industry. Both of these concerns can drive policymakers to keep real rates at low levels and can sustain investment demand at high levels.”

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More big Vision Fund returns expected

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Off the heels of a blowout quarterly report, SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son told CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin that he expects to see even more exits from companies in the Vision Fund’s portfolio.

“I want to create an ecosystem… where we would have multiple companies going for IPOs,” Masa Son said in the interview, which was recorded Wednesday night. He said 14 of SoftBank’s Vision Fund companies had an IPO or other exit over the last 12 months, up from eight exits the year before.

SoftBank on Wednesday reported $45.88 billion in net profit for the last quarter, largely thanks to the IPO of one of the crown jewels in its Vision Fund portfolio, the South Korean e-commerce company Coupang.

SoftBank also benefitted from the rising stock price of Uber, which it had invested billions in before the ride-haling company had its IPO. DoorDash, another Vision Fund portfolio company, also had a successful IPO last year.

SoftBank’s Vision Fund, a $100 billion fund for placing big bets on technology start-ups, has investments in companies like the online grocer GoPuff, self-driving car company Aurora and fitness tech company Whoop. SoftBank is invested in about 200 companies through its two Vision Funds.

The huge quarter comes after a remarkable slump for companies SoftBank made huge bets on, especially WeWork. WeWork botched its high-profile IPO in 2019, nuking billions in value from the buzzy start-up and ultimately leading to the ouster of its co-founder and CEO, Adam Neumann.

Still, Masa Son seemed optimistic about WeWork when asked if he had any regrets about his investments.

“WeWork is turning around now,” Masa Son said, adding that he expects the company to be profitable “sometime in the next several quarters.”

But beyond the WeWork debacle, Masa Son said he has bigger regrets for the investments he passed on, such as Airbnb and software company Snowflake. He said he didn’t invest in Airbnb because he thought it was too expensive at the time. Shares of Airbnb are down about 4% year to date, but it still maintains an $85 billion market cap.

“I saw they’re a pretty good company, a great business model, great talent an so on,” Masa Son said of Airbnb. “I thought the price was a little too expensive. We were discussing to invest, but I was not smart enough to accept the price tag that they had a couple of years ago.”

Masa Son said most investments he missed happened because of the price to get in on an investment. He also said that even though the Vision Fund tends to invest in high-growth, money-losing companies, he still looks for a positive outcome in the long term.

“So you have to have a pretty long view… and you have to imagine and so on,” Masa Son said. “Sometimes you may imagine the result would be a bad result, as we have experienced, but sometimes you have to be brave enough to imagine, you know, more on the positive side.”

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