A screen grab captured from a video shows Magdalena Andersson, the first female prime minister in Sweden speaking during a press conference in Stockholm, Sweden on November 24, 2021. (Photo by Swedish Parliament/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Swedish Parliament | Handout | Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Sweden’s first-ever female prime minister, Social Democrat Magdalena Andersson, has resigned just hours after being appointed, deepening political uncertainty.
Andersson said Wednesday that she was forced to resign after her budget bill failed and the Green Party quit their two-party coalition government. She had been announced as leader earlier in the day to a standing ovation by some sectors of the parliament.
Instead, lawmakers in the Riksdag voted in favor of a budget tabled by the opposition that includes the anti-immigration right-wing party of the Sweden Democrats.
Andersson told reporters she hoped to be reappointed prime minister as the head of a single-party government.
“I have asked the speaker to be relieved of my duties as prime minister,” Andersson told a media conference. “I am ready to be prime minister in a single-party, Social Democrat government.”
The Green Party and the socialist Left Party have both said they are prepared to support the re-appointment of Andersson, who previously served as finance minister for seven years under her predecessor Stefan Lofven.
Sweden’s Center Party, meanwhile, has said it would abstain, which effectively paves the way for Andersson to get the top job once again.
The parties had been unable to approve a budget bill in a fragmented political landscape, but they are seen to be united in the aim of preventing the Sweden Democrats from having a role in government.
“Magdalena Andersson stands by her word to deliver on the agreement we have concluded and the Center Party will release her as Prime Minister,” Annie Loof, leader of the country’s Center Party, said on Wednesday via Twitter.
“We are now making sure, once again, that Sweden can have a government that is not dependent on [the Sweden Democrats],” she added.
Parliamentary speaker Andreas Nolen is expected to announce the next steps to form a new government on Thursday.
Andersson’s appointment at the head of a minority coalition government came after a last-minute deal with the opposition Left Party.
Under Sweden’s Constitution, prime ministers can govern if they have the backing of a parliamentary majority — which means a minimum of 175 lawmakers in the 349-member Riksdag.
The 54-year-old secured her role as prime minister after 117 members of parliament supported her candidacy, with a further 59 abstentions.
A total of 179 members of parliament had voted against her, meaning Andersson became the country’s first-ever female prime minister by just a single vote.
It represented a milestone in Sweden, viewed for decades as one of Europe’s most progressive countries on gender relations despite being the only Nordic state not to have had a woman in the role of prime minister.
Andersson had been picked as the Social Democrat’s leader after Lofven relinquished his roles as party leader and prime minister earlier this year.
Sweden’s next general election is scheduled for Sept. 11 next year.
WHO says omicron Covid variant has spread to 38 countries
STR | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The World Health Organization on Friday said the Covid omicron variant has been detected in 38 countries, up from 23 two days ago, with early data suggesting the strain is more contagious than delta.
“We do see an increasing growth rate, we see increasing numbers of omicron being detected,” Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s Covid-19 technical lead, said during a Q&A livestreamed on the group’s social media channels Friday. “But we have reports of omicron in 38 countries in all six WHO regions.”
“There is a suggestion that there is increased transmissibility, what we need to understand is if it’s more or less transmissible compared to delta,” Van Kerkhove said, noting that the delta variant is still dominant across the globe.
Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, said “clearly the virus does appear to be transmitting efficiently.”
“And we saw that before with delta. So again, there’s certain things we shouldn’t be surprised with,” Ryan said.
Omicron has some 30 mutations on the spike protein, which is the mechanism used to bind to human cells. Some of these mutations are associated with higher transmission and the ability to escape immune protection, according to the WHO.
South African scientists this week found that omicron is associated with a “substantial ability” to reinfect people who already had Covid, compared with past variants of the virus. The study, published by the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, has not yet been peer reviewed.
Van Kerkhove said it’s still too early to understand the severity of disease caused by omicron. Early reports of mild symptoms in some of the first cases where it was identified were based on a cluster of university students who tend to be younger and experience more mild symptoms than older adults, she said.
“There was initial reports that it tended to be more mild, but it’s really too soon,” Van Kerkhove said. “Everybody who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 regardless of what variant will always start out with a mild disease. And so maybe it will stop there with mild, some people are asymptomatic of course, but it may stop with mild disease or it may take some time.”
Van Kerkove said there are increasing hospitalizations in South Africa, but public health officials haven’t seen an increased risk of death yet, but they’re waiting on more data.
Ryan said public health officials initially saw mild cases with the alpha and delta variants as well. It could take two weeks to see increased mortality associated with omicron if the variant does, in fact, cause more severe disease.
“It takes time unfortunately,” Ryan said. “We saw that as well in previous waves of this pandemic. When the incidence rate goes up, it takes a week or two for that to result in hospital admissions and deaths.”
Van Kerkhove cautioned there’s a reporting bias at the moment which may obscure how virulent the variant really is. Many of the people around the world who have tested positive for omicron were healthy travelers, which could explain why the symptoms reported so far are mild.
“If you’re traveling, you’re not sick or you shouldn’t be traveling if you’re sick,” Van Kerkhove said. “So there’s a bias in terms of what is being detected at the moment, but that will change over time.”
The first person in the U.S. who tested positive for omicron was a fully vaccinated traveler between 18 and 49 years of age returning from South Africa to the San Francisco area.
Van Kerkhove called on nations around the world to increase genetic sequencing of Covid-19 cases to detect new variants and share the results publicly to better understand the evolution of the virus.
“Now is the time to beef up the systems,” she said. “You’ve heard us say that for quite some time now, but it’s not too late to do this — systems need to be reinforced.”
Van Kerkhove noted that South Africa was the first country to report omicron to the WHO, but the timeline could change as more countries sequence a backlog of Covid cases from November.
“So some of the earliest cases of this particular variant may very well not be in South Africa,” she said.
Van Kerkhove and Ryan said the current vaccines remain the most effective measure to slow transmission of the virus. Ryan said there’s a “clear relationship” between vaccine inequity and the development of variants around the world. The WHO has repeatedly criticized wealthy nations for not doing enough to get vaccines to people in poorer countries.
“Right now there is no need to change the vaccines we’re currently using,” Ryan said. “There is no evidence to support that. There is no evidence there to change, but there’s a lot of work going on to look at if we were to change, how might we change those vaccines and that work needs to be done upfront.”
Stocks could face more turbulence in the week ahead
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York City, U.S., November 29, 2021.
Brendan McDermid | Reuters
Volatility could continue to plague markets after a week of violent swings that sent many stocks plummeting.
In the week ahead, investors await more news on the omicron Covid variant and another inflation report Friday that is expected to show consumer prices remain the hottest in three decades.
In the past week, stocks sold off on worries about the omicron variant and concerns the Federal Reserve will move away from its easy policies and raise interest rates sooner than anticipated. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell told a Congressional panel Tuesday that the central bank will consider speeding up the taper of its $120 billion monthly bond-buying program when it meets Dec. 14 and 15. The Federal Reserve put its bond-purchasing program in place in early 2020 to prop up the economy during the pandemic.
“It’s going to be a somewhat turbulent December because we probably need to wait for earnings season to get regrounded, back to fundamentals,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset. “For as high as a lot of the ratios would suggest, price-to-sales, price-to-earnings, when you throw it into the hopper with interest rates and everything else, things aren’t that bad. I don’t think we’re teetering on the edge of a cliff.”
But Ablin did say the comments from Powell were unnerving investors, who fear the Fed will also speed up interest rate hikes. Powell acknowledged he was wrong about inflation being “transitory,” or temporary, spooking investors. The bond purchases are now scheduled to end in June.
“I’m not sure what investors’ read on inflation is. Do they think the Fed is going to raise rates, get ahead of it too early and everything is going to roll over? Ever since Powell took ‘transitory’ out of his talk, investors have been somewhat off balance,” said Ablin.
The consumer price index or CPI for November is expected Friday morning. Economists polled by Dow Jones predict it rose 0.6% on a monthly basis, or 6.7% year over year. That compares to a 0.9% gain in October, and a 6.2% jump year over year, the biggest move in three decades.
High fliers and growth were among the hardest hit Friday, as investors bailed out of some of the riskiest stocks. As stocks plunged Friday, Treasury yields fell. Yields move opposite price, and the move was seen as a flight to safety. The 10-year note yield fell to 1.35%.
The ARK Innovation ETF was down 12.7% for the week. Most of the growth names in the fund plunged into bear market territory. “I think investors have to keep in mind that’s not a 15-week strategy. It’s a 15-year strategy, as far as we’re concerned,” Ablin said.
For the week, the small cap Russell 2000 was down nearly 4%, while the S&P 500 was off just 1.2%. The worst performing major sector for the week was communications services, which includes internet companies. It was down 2.8%, followed by consumer discretionary, off 2.4%. Financials lost nearly 2%, and the S&P technology sector was down 0.4% for the week. But on Friday, tech lost 1.7%.
The Federal Reserve should be quiet in the week ahead. Fed officials traditionally do not make major speeches in the blackout period, which is the coming week, ahead of their Dec. 14 and 15 meeting. One exception is Minneapolis Fed President Neel Kashkari who speaks Thursday at the Center for Indian Country Development Research Summit.
Much of the focus will be on how the market itself is performing.
“Ever since the Nov. 22 outside bearish day, all strength has been sold with lots of damage underneath the hood,” said Scott Redler of T3Live.com. “Now finally some of the leadership names are showing faulty action.” He noted that both Microsoft and Apple were weaker.
The S&P closed below its 50-day moving average Friday, after closing below it Wednesday. The 50-day is at 4,544. That’s a signal to some market technicians that the index is on the verge of breaking down. The 50-day moving average is the average closing price over the past 50 days, and is viewed as a momentum indicator.
“Basically, it’s effectively a retest of support because we had the relief rally [Thursday],” said Katie Stockton, founder of Fairlead Strategies. She said the S&P 500 needs to close below the 50-day for two consecutive days before the move is considered a breakdown.
“The action in the high growth, high multiple names is not a good sign,” said Stockton. “We do have some signs of downside exhaustion but not as widespread as I would hope. We’re seeing some of the heavyweights, like Adobe for example, taking out levels like the 50-day moving averages.” She said some of those big names have now joined the selling.
“We’re just watching how bad it gets. Monday is going to be the tell,” said Stockton. “That also gives it the weekend to settle… Extremes have gotten a little bit more extreme. Sentiment is the most oversold from a contrarian perspective since the October low.”
Earnings: Coupa Software, Sumo Logic
8:30 a.m. Trade balance
8:30 a.m. Productivity and costs
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $54 billion 3-year notes
3:00 p.m. Consumer credit
7:00 a.m. Mortgage applications
10:00 a.m. JOLTS
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $36 billion 10-year notes
8:30 a.m. Unemployment claims
1:00 p.m. Treasury auctions $22 billion 30-year bonds
8:30 a.m. CPI
10:00 a.m. Consumer sentiment
Fauci says booster shots likely give cross protection against ‘wide range’ of Covid variants
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks about the Omicron coronavirus variant during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 1, 2021.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci on Friday said lab studies strongly suggest that booster shots will give you cross protection against a “wide range” of Covid-19 variants, but noted it has not been proven yet.
Booster shots “markedly” increase antibody titers against variants of the virus, Fauci said at a White House press briefing Friday. Third shots also increase so-called memory B cells and T cells, a line of defense produced by the immune system to fend off a virus.
Memory B cells create antibodies to fight bacteria and viruses, while T cells target and destroy other cells infected with a virus.
“There’s every reason to believe that if you get vaccinated and boosted that you would have at least some degree of cross protection,” Fauci said. “Very likely against severe disease, even against the omicron variant.”
Fauci’s remarks come as the world grapples with the new, highly mutated omicron variant of Covid-19.
The variant has some 50 mutations, more than 30 of which are on the spike protein, which is the mechanism used by the virus to attach to human cells. Some of the mutations are associated with higher transmission and a decrease in antibody protection, according to the World Health Organization.
The U.S. joins a list of at least 38 countries with confirmed cases of the omicron variant, the World Health Organization on Friday. At least six U.S. states now have more than a dozen cases of the variant after Nebraska officials confirmed six new infections on Friday.
Amid growing concern over omicron, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday strengthened its recommendation on Covid-19 booster shots, telling all adults that they “should” get an additional dose. Everyone 18 and older should get an additional shot six months after their initial Pfizer or Moderna series, or two months after their first Johnson & Johnson shot, according to the CDC’s new guidance.
The Biden administration has also encouraged the uptake of Covid-19 vaccine booster shots, promising to provide them for up to 100 million eligible Americans.
To aid the rollout, he promised: “More outreach, more appointments, more hours, more times and sites to walk in.”
To date, over 41 million Americans have already received a booster shot, including half of eligible seniors, the White House announced Thursday.
Health officials in the U.S. and worldwide still worry that the omicron variant may reduce the efficacy of vaccines to some degree.
A November study published in the journal Science showed that the Pfizer vaccine’s efficacy at preventing infection declined from 86% to 43% from February to October. The study also found Moderna’s vaccine dropped from 89% to 58%, and J&J’s fell from 86% to 13% against infection.
But Pfizer’s booster dose provided 95% protection against symptomatic infection in a clinical trial of 10,000 people.
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