What to watch: US dollar falls, AstraZeneca sparks hope and firms named and shamed for not paying minimum wage

Kumutha Ramanathan
·Contributor
·4-min read
Trading trends and economic statistics.
The US dollar has been losing steam as the market fixates on a global economic recovery spurred on by AstraZeneca vaccine's rollout. Photo: Getty

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world.

US dollar falls on COVID-19 vaccine hopes

The US dollar is trading lower against major currencies, allowing them to trace gains against the greenback as investors see a robust global recovery coming as the cheaper, more easily transportable AstraZeneca (AZN.L) vaccine is rolled out.

The pound rose 0.3% against the dollar (GBPUSD=X), sitting at $1.3658 at around 8.40am in London. Overnight in London, it was higher 1%.

Japan’s yen gained 0.1% against the dollar (JPYUSD=X), sitting at $0.0097.

A number of forces have led to the moves, including Wednesday’s announcement that Oxford-AstraZeneca’s (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine had been approved by the UK government, which boosted market hopes of an effective delivery method to execute mass immunisation programmes given the drug’s cheap cost and higher storage threshold than its peers — created by Pfizer (PFE)-BioNTech (BNTX) and Moderna (MRNA). If this holds true, exponential growth in COVID-19 case counts should start to recede, despite newer, more transmissible variants of the virus coming to the fore.

AstraZeneca sparks hope

News of the Oxford-AstraZeneca (AZN.L) COVID-19 vaccine being widely distributed in the UK has markets excited by the prospect of an eventual end to the global pandemic that has rocked 2020.

“The rapid roll-out of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in the UK, which brings forward a potential end to further restrictions given the easier logistical and storage requirements, offers a huge level of knock-on optimism worldwide,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi.

The stock (AZN.L) is trading down 1.7% at around 9.45am in London, coming off solid gains over 3% on Wednesday when the news was announced.

AstraZeneca shares are coming off their high from earlier in the week, but news of its vaccine being widely distributed is strengthening market confidence. Chart: Yahoo Finance
AstraZeneca shares are coming off their high from earlier in the week, but news of its vaccine being widely distributed is strengthening market confidence. Chart: Yahoo Finance

The UK’s rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine has also helped the trajectory for sterling.

“Given that the UK is a heavily services-sectional economy, the rapid vaccine deployment is supercharging the Pound,” said Innes. “The vaccine cannot get here quickly enough for the depleted travel and restaurant industry for all concerned.”

WATCH: AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine approved by UK regulator

Firms named and shamed in minimum wage blacklist

More than 100 companies have been fined and called out by the UK government for failing to pay their workers the legal minimum wage.

Britain’s biggest supermarket Tesco (TSCO.L), pharmacy chain Superdrug, restaurant chain Pizza Hut, dairy brand Müller, wholesaler Costco, and rugby league club Wigan Warriors are among the 139 organisations singled out.

Collectively the employers were found by HMRC to have under-paid more than 95,000 staff by £6.7m ($9.1m) between September 2016 and July 2018.

It is the first time in two years employers have been named in a bid to deter others.

“Naming and shaming” had been paused and a review carried out into its effectiveness last year. The government decided to highlight breaches more frequently, but only spotlighted arrears of more than £500 in recognition that many breaches were unintended administrative errors for small sums.

European markets open lower on last day of 2020 as dollar dips on investor confidence

European equities opened in the red in early trading on Thursday as a difficult year hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic draws to a close. The dollar was trading at its lowest point in 2.5 years, giving a basket of currencies a step up, though a reversion may be likely.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) opened lower 1.3% in London. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was closed in Frankfurt, while the CAC 40 (^FCHI) was down 0.6% in Paris.

US futures were rather muted. The S&P (ES=F) and Dow Jones (YM=F) were flat and the Nasdaq (NQ=F) was higher 0.1%.

Asian markets were largely in positive territory as they focused on the global economic recovery. The Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) was higher 0.3% at market close, and the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) gained 1.7% at market close.

WATCH: Will Interest rates stay low forever?

-With additional reporting by Tom Belger