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Asian shares open higher following stellar month of gains – Reuters

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(Corrects to China’s index, not futures, in paragraph 3)

SYDNEY/NEW YORK, Dec 1 (Reuters) – Asian share markets opened slightly higher on Tuesday buoyed by the prospect of a COVID-19 vaccine, reversing the previous day’s dips as investors took profits at the end of a record-breaking month.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan added 0.26% on Tuesday after closing the month 9% higher, the best November since 2001. Japan’s Nikkei and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 were each 0.9% higher, while South Korea was up 1.4%.

China’s blue-chip CSI300 index was 0.72% higher on Tuesday, after data on Monday that pointed to a continued recovery in the world’s second-largest economy against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve seen clearly a huge wave of liquidity coming to equities in response to the vaccine news and in response to U.S. election news,” said Hamish Tadgell, a portfolio manager at SG Hiscock & Company.

“But there are still risks, and as a result we could see the market pull back, I think, particularly as we come into sort of the Christmas period.”

Wall Street was weaker on Monday, partly driven by a rebalancing of portfolios, as investors cashed in on gains after a strong month punctuated by updates of COVID-19 vaccines progressing and hopes of a swift economic rebound next year.

“There was profit taking around the world so we ended a record month with a whimper not a bang, and you know, taking a little bit of a breather,” said Interactive Brokers Chief Strategist Steve Sosnick.

“I think that markets are pricing in, if not fully pricing a recovery, they are pricing in the vast majority of it (and) it’s very hard to meet these elevated expectations.”

MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe was roughly flat. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index futures were down 0.36%, while China’s CSI 300 futures were 0.36% higher.

In the United States the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.91% on Monday while the S&P 500 lost 0.46%. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite ended down 0.06%.

Moderna Inc applied for U.S. emergency authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine after full results from a late-stage study showed it was 94.1% effective with no serious safety concerns.

“U.S. markets were a little bit lower, that’s what was holding us back a little bit,” said Chris Weston, head of research at Melbourne brokerage Pepperstone. “People are pretty optimistic for a good 2021.”

The dollar was under pressure on Tuesday, after closing out its worst month since July with a little bounce and as investors reckon on even more U.S. monetary easing.

Oil prices were slightly lower on uncertainty about whether the world’s major oil producers would agree to extend deep output cuts at talks this week.

U.S. crude eased back 11 cents to $45.23 a barrel on Tuesday, while Brent crude futures were largely unchanged at $47.86.

Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney and Jessica DiNapoli in New York; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Stephen Coates

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Ontario's first major COVID-19 vaccination site will pause after just 5 days due to supply shortage – CTV Toronto

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TORONTO —
Toronto Fire Chief Matthew Pegg says a pilot COVID-19 vaccination clinic that just opened today at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre will have to pause vaccinations on Friday because of a shortage of vaccine supply in the province.

The proof-of-concept clinic opened Monday and is meant to help develop a blueprint for how shots should be administered in non-medical settings as soon as this spring. So far, COVID-19 vaccines have only been administered at long-term care homes and at 19 hospital sites across Ontario.

Pegg said last week the facility would be “scale-able” and capable of increasing output with little notice, with an initial target of 250 doses per day.

But at the city’s media briefing on Monday, he said the province has now asked the city to pause vaccinations at the new clinic by the end of Friday.  

“We were all disappointed to learn that the delivery of Pfizer vaccine to Canada is expected to be delayed as a result of manufacturing delays in Europe. As a result, we have now been advised by the province that we will only be able to operate this proof of concept clinic for an initial five days due to the lack of availability of COVID-19 vaccine,” Pegg said.

He said anyone with an appointment at the clinic from Jan. 23 on should expect that their appointment will be cancelled.

Peg said those who receive their first dose at the clinic this week will still be able to get their second dose within the proper timeframe.

The clinic will resume vaccinations once it gets word from the province that it may do so. In the meantime, Pegg said the city is continuing to plan for a quick rollout of the vaccine when more doses become available.

“We are continuing to explore all options to accelerate our ability to administer vaccines to Toronto residents once larger quantities of vaccine are available,” he said. “This will include planning for extended hours of clinic operations, expanded clinic capacity targets and implementing innovative delivery methods that meet the needs of our city, including mobile vaccine clinics, priority neighborhood response, hospital-led clinic operations and widespread public access via pharmacies and primary care physicians.”

The site had been expected to run for at least six weeks in order to gather data about how best to host vaccination drives in larger settings.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Tory toured the site at MTCC’s North Building just on Sunday.

While the clinic was meant to use the Moderna vaccine, the Pfizer delays mean that some of that supply will now be redistributed to other parts of the province.

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Couche-Tard to pursue other deals after Carrefour failure – BNN

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Executives at Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. defended a failed bid for Carrefour SA and said they would still like to buy the French grocer some day, but will turn their focus to other potential deals.

The Canadian convenience store operator made a US$20 billion offer that was shot down by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Friday. The bid caught investors off guard because Couche-Tard does not operate supermarkets.

The shares tumbled nearly 11 per cent last week. On Monday, they were up 2.4 per cent to $38.90 as of 9:36 a.m. in Toronto.

In response to criticism of the deal, Couche-Tard executive chairman Alain Bouchard said previous large deals — including the 2003 acquisition of Circle K — also surprised the market, but they worked out.

“Over the last decades while growing our business we have made many bold moves, some of which were not always obvious to our stakeholders,” Bouchard said on a conference call with investors Monday.

“Was I hoping our bold approach to Carrefour would have turned out differently? Of course. Yet I’m tremendously proud that Couche-Tard had the financial strength and acumen to make such an offer.”

The companies announced the end of negotiations on Saturday, four days after Bloomberg first reported the talks, and said they’ll work instead on a looser alliance in areas including fuel purchasing and product distribution.

Couche-Tard executives gave few details on that alliance Monday, calling the talks exploratory. Chief Executive Officer Brian Hannasch said there is a “robust” set of other acquisitions to examine as it pursues a five-year goal of doubling profit by 2023.

Hannasch said the door is open to a future Carrefour merger if the political climate in France changes.

“I’m old enough to believe there’s no such thing as permanently,” he said. “We’d love to do the transaction, so if we got signals that the environment could change or would change from the French government or the key stakeholders, we’d love the opportunity to re-engage — under the right conditions and assuming we haven’t found another way to create more value for our shareholders.”

The Laval, Quebec-based company has been making headway on its growth plans even without a major acquisition in recent years. Analysts expect adjusted earnings per share to be 16 per cent higher for the fiscal year that ends in April, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Even so, its valuation has dipped.

The chain has been improving its coffee and adding fresh food offerings, which come with higher margins. It’s digging into analytics to improve pricing and promotions, and planning to roll out electric vehicle charging stations in North America after learning from its experience in Norway.

Couche-Tard strengthened its foothold in Asia by buying about 370 stores in Hong Kong and Macau that previously were Circle K brand licensees. But a large takeover has remained elusive since it signed a US$4 billion purchase of Texas-based CST Brands Inc. in 2016.

In April, the company walked away from a US$5.6 billion proposal for gas station chain Caltex Australia Ltd. (now known as Ampol Ltd.), citing pandemic uncertainty. And it missed out on Marathon Petroleum Corp.’s Speedway gas stations, which were scooped up in August by Japan’s Seven & i Holdings Co., the world’s largest convenience store operator, for US$21 billion.

Balance Sheet

Couche-Tard executives have scoffed at the valuation of Speedway. Addressing shareholders at the company’s annual meeting in September, Bouchard cited it as an example of the company’s discipline around acquisitions.

The balance sheet leaves it in a good place to hunt for deals. The company had about US$5.5 billion in net debt at the end of its October quarter, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. It’s earned US$3.5 billion in operating profit in the last four quarters.

Chief Financial Officer Claude Tessier told analysts in November that the current debt ratio is at half of Couche-Tard’s comfort level.

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Hacked emails allegedly detail how EU drug regulator was pressured to approve Pfizer jab despite ‘problems’ with the vaccine – RT

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An alleged cache of email exchanges between EU officials and the European Medicines Agency show that the drug regulator was uncomfortable about fast-tracking approval for the Pfizer and Moderna Covid jabs, Le Monde has reported.

The EMA has claimed that the contents of the messages, which were obtained by hackers and published on the dark web, were tampered with in order to undermine confidence in the drugs, without providing further details. However, the agency acknowledged to the French newspaper that the correspondences reflect “issues and discussions” that took place in the lead-up to the decision to grant approval to the vaccines. The agency said it can’t specify which documents are genuine. 

Some of the “discussions” appear to have been less than congenial. For example, in a document dated November 19, a senior EMA official described a “rather tense, sometimes even a little unpleasant” conference call with the European Commission regarding the review process for the drugs. The official said he felt there was a clear “expectation” that the vaccines would be approved. A day later, the same individual had an exchange with the Danish Medicines Agency in which he expressed surprise that Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, had announced that the Moderna and Pfizer jabs could receive the green light before the end of the year. 

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Woman who suffered convulsions after taking Pfizer Covid jab being screened for permanent neurological damage, son tells RT

“There are still problems with both,” the unnamed EMA official noted in the leaked correspondence. 

According to Le Monde, the hacked documents primarily detail issues that the EMA had with the Pfizer/BioNTech drug. The regulator apparently had three “major issues” with the vaccine: certain manufacturing sites used for its production had not yet been inspected, data on batches produced for commercial use were still missing, and, most importantly, available data revealed qualitative differences between the commercial batches and those used during clinical trials. 

The EMA expressed particular concern about the last point, noting that mass production had decreased the purity of the RNA contained in the vaccine. The Pfizer jab uses a mRNA strand, a sequence of molecules that tell cells what to ‘build’ in order to produce a disease-specific antigen.   

The EU drug regulator signaled that it was worried that less rigorous manufacturing methods would make the vaccine less effective and safe. However, Pfizer appears to have agreed to make necessary adjustments in order to meet the EMA’s standards. 

Despite its hesitancy, it appears the EMA understood that it was under a clear deadline. In an email exchange between colleagues at the agency, one employee said the EMA needs to “accelerate the process to align [with other agencies],” and risks facing “questions and criticisms” from Brussels, the media and the general public if it did not fast-track approval. 

The Pfizer jab was granted approval by the EU on December 21, while the Moderna variant was given the go-ahead earlier this month. Since then, numerous reports have emerged of both drugs being linked to adverse effects in countries around the world, prompting investigations by health authorities. 

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