What’s up in Markets : U.K. Border Reopens, Jobless Claims, Musk’s Apple Gambit

The U.S. releases its last jobless claims before the holidays, along with weekly oil stockpile data that may confirm fresh signs of faltering demand. France reopens its key border with the U.K. under pressure to keep internal trade flowing, and Elon Musk says he once approached Tim Cook with a view to selling Tesla to Apple. Here’s what you need to know in financial markets on Wednesday, December 23rd.

Jobless claims, personal income data due

The U.S. will release weekly figures on claims for jobless benefits at 8:30 AM ET, amid concerns that the new variant of the Covid-19 virus may lead to longer and tighter restrictions on the economy in the new year.

The key number for initial claims is seen staying high at 885,000. Separately, the U.S. will also report November data for personal income and spending.

The numbers come a day after President Donald Trump sowed confusion by demanding changes to the $900 billion stimulus package sent to him by Congress before signing it. Trump said Congress should increase the size of the direct stimulus checks and cut out various elements of government spending contained in the separate spending bill that was also passed at the weekend.

France reopens border with U.K.

France agreed to reopen its border with the U.K., after sealing it at the weekend in response to the discovery of a new and more contagious variant of the Covid-19 virus.

Many other countries have also severed transport links with the U.K., but the French border is particularly important as it covers the Channel Tunnel, a vital artery for trade within the continent. The closure had stranded many European truck drivers in England, while also threatening to lead to shortages of fresh food in the U.K. within days.

Those economic concerns trumped health ones, as the border was reopened despite the lack of any arrangement that would allow for quick and reliable testing of drivers for the disease.

Stocks set to edge higher; claims data eyed

U.S. stocks are set to open moderately higher, with signs of the market slowing down ahead of the Christmas holiday.

By 6:40 AM ET (1140 GMT), Dow Jones Futures were up 77 points, or 0.3%, while S&P 500 futures were up in line and NASDAQ Futures were up 0.2%.

The losses notched by the Dow Jones and S&P on Tuesday on the back of disappointing consumer confidence and home sales data suggest that markets may be sensitive to any more signs of the economy slowing down due to the pandemic.

Stocks likely to be in focus include Walmart (NYSE:WMT), which fell 1.2% on Tuesday after U.S. attorneys sued it for its alleged role in the opioid crisis. The company called the suit an attempt to deflect attention from shortcomings in government, notably in the DEA and Health departments.

Musk relates snub by Cook

Elon Musk said he had approached Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook with a view to selling out to Apple some years back, when Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) was still struggling to break even. Cook had refused to take the meeting, Musk said via Twitter.

The comments came a day after Reuters reported that Apple had revived its plans to build an electric, driverless vehicle, with a view to a mass-market product launch in 2024. The report suggested that Apple has identified a major advance in battery technology that analysts said may threaten to leapfrog Tesla’s.

The prospect of competition from Apple, one of few companies in the world to match Tesla’s brand power, helped push Tesla stock down 0.9% in premarket, after a 1.5% loss on Tuesday.

EIA inventories eyed for confirmation of fresh stock build

Crude oil prices edged higher overnight, rebounding after a surprise build in U.S. inventories last week. The American Petroleum Industry estimated that crude stockpiles rose 2.7 million barrels last week, the sixth straight weekly increase and the biggest in four weeks.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its data at 10:30 AM ET, as usual. Last week’s EIA data, which uses slightly different methodology, had shown stocks moving in a different direction from the API numbers, so today’s figures may help clarify the trend.

By 6:40 AM ET, U.S. crude futures were up 0.3% at $47.14 a barrel, while Brent futures were also up 0.3% at $50.23 a barrel.

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