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Business Highlights: Stocks rise, consumer confidence gains

December 22, 2021 GMT

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Biden and Dems scramble to salvage social, climate package

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden, along with progressive and moderate Democrats, appears determined to return to the negotiating table with Sen. Joe Manchin. Manchin is the holdout Democrat who effectively sank the party’s signature $2 trillion domestic policy initiative. Republicans are voicing greater confidence now that they can beat back much of what they don’t like in the so-called Build Back Better package. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, says that what he considers the “worst” of it “appears dead.” But Democrats say they will press forward. They’ve been told by their leadership to expect a vote in January.

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US economy grew at 2.3% rate in Q3, up from earlier estimate

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy grew at a 2.3% rate in the third quarter according to a third and final estimate of the nation’s economic growth for that period. But prospects for a solid rebound going forward are being clouded by the rapid spread of the latest variant of the coronavirus. The Commerce Department said Wednesday that the nation’s total output of goods and services, was higher than last month’s estimate of 2.1% growth in the third quarter. The new-found strength came from primarily from stronger consumer spending than previously thought and a stronger performance by businesses in rebuilding their inventories..

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Russian pipeline faces big hurdles amid Ukraine tensions

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Russia’s natural gas pipeline to Europe is built and filling with gas. But the Nord Stream 2 pipeline still faces a rocky road ahead before the gas can flow to customers in Germany and Europe. First, the U.S. secretary of state has said gas won’t start if Russia launches military aggression against Ukraine. German officials are more cautious but say Russian aggression would carry high costs and sanctions. Even if it doesn’t come to that, Nord Stream 2 faces an extensive regulatory review and possible lawsuits after that from pipeline opponents such as Poland who say it gives Russia too much leverage over Europe. It’s all happening as Europe faces winter with a shortage of gas that has sent prices surging.

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US consumer confidence rises despite omicron, higher prices

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WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. consumer confidence rose this month as Americans shrugged off concerns about rising prices and COVID’-19′s highly contagious omicron variant. The Conference Board, a business research group, said Wednesday that its consumer confidence index — which takes into account consumers’ assessment of current conditions and the their outlook for the future — rose to 115.8 in December, the highest reading since July. In November, it registered 111.9. Consumers’ view of current conditions dipped slightly, but their outlook for the next six months brightened. Their expectations for inflation actually dropped this month — even though the government reported that prices rose in November at the fastest year-over-year rate since 1982.

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White House downplays Secret Service estimate of COVID fraud

The White House is downplaying a statement by the U.S. Secret Service that nearly $100 billion at minimum has been stolen from COVID-19 relief programs. When asked Wednesday to comment, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said, “There is no new research, data or analysis of fraud here.” The Secret Service told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the estimate is based on Secret Service cases and data from other agencies. An agency spokesperson now says they were not amending a statement on their website, but did add a clarifying note to explain the figure is based on those reports.

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Stocks rise on Wall Street ahead of Christmas holiday

Stocks closed higher on Wall Street Wednesday, adding to the week’s gains ahead of the Christmas holiday. The S&P 500 rose 1%, the Nasdaq rose 1.2% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.7%. The Russell 2000, a measure of small-company stocks, rose 0.9%. Technology companies and a mix of retailers led the gains. Major indexes are still on track for weekly gains after a rally on Tuesday. European and Asian markets also closed higher. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 1.46%. U.S. markets will be closed Friday in observance of Christmas.

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Belgium to tighten COVID rules to counter rise of omicron

BRUSSELS (AP) — Belgium has decided to further tighten restrictions in anticipation of the surging omicron variant. But the country has shied away from a full lockdown like the neighboring Netherlands has done. Belgian authorities on Wednesday decided to close cinemas, theaters and concert halls and ban most indoor activities. Sports fans won’t allowed into stadiums and indoor venues. Shopping will be curtailed with visitors spread out and groups entering a shop limited to two adults, possibly accompanied by children. The measures take effect Sunday. Families were advised to keep visitors to a minimum for Christmas but did not face exact limits.

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WHO chief: Blanket booster drives risk prolonging pandemic

BERLIN (AP) — The head of the World Health Organization is warning that blanket booster programs in rich countries risk prolonging the world’s battle with COVID-19. He says that “no country can boost its way out of the pandemic.” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the priority must be to reduce deaths and help all countries meet minimum vaccination targets that many still haven’t reached. And he noted that “the vast majority of hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated people, not unboosted people.” Tedros said Wednesday that the unequal sharing of vaccines “has cost many lives.”

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Spain to adopt mask-wearing outdoors amid record virus surge

MADRID (AP) — Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is convening a special Cabinet meeting Thursday to pass a decree-law that makes it mandatory to wear masks outdoors amid a record surge in COVID-19 cases. His office said at a meeting with the leaders of Spain’s regional governments, Sánchez offered to deploy the armed forces to help step up their vaccination rollout and put military hospital beds at their disposal. Also, medical teams in Spain may be reinforced with retired staff and specialists who earned their qualifications outside the European Union. Fully vaccinated people won’t need to quarantine if they have been in contact with an infected person.

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Biden calls COVID pill ‘significant step’

U.S. health regulators on Wednesday authorized the first pill against COVID-19, and President Joe Biden said it marks a “significant step forward” on the path out of the pandemic. The pill is a Pfizer drug that Americans will be able to take at home to head off the worst effects of the virus. Biden said his administration will work with states to ensure equitable distribution. The drug, Paxlovid, is a faster way to treat early COVID-19 infections, though initial supplies will be extremely limited. All of the previously authorized drugs against the disease require an IV or an injection.

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The S&P 500 rose 47.33 points, or 1%, to 4,696.56. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 261.19 points, or 0.7%, to 35,753.89. The Nasdaq rose 180.81 points, or 1.2%, to 15,521.89. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 18.96 points, or 0.9%, to 2,221.90.