Saudi Arabia, Cirque du Soleil reach deal on shows despite past criticism

Cirque strikes Saudi deal

Saudi Arabia says it has reached a deal with Cirque du Soleil that could see the struggling circus company perform a slew of shows in the kingdom.

In a release, the Saudi Ministry of Culture says a newly inked agreement means Cirque will "have the potential" to debut at least five of its touring performances including the Blue Man Group and Paw Patrol, as well as a possible resident show unique to the country.

The government also specifies that the two parties will develop a plan to set up a regional Cirque training academy there.

Cirque last pitched its tent in the kingdom in 2018, raising the ire of some of its artists who hoped the company would cancel shows amid international condemnation of the regime following the killing of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and a diplomatic dispute between Canada and Saudi Arabia.

Soon after the COVID-19 pandemic struck two years ago, Cirque scrapped its performances and cut nearly 3,500 employees, but began to add shows again last summer.

The Montreal-based company was sold to a group of its creditors led by Catalyst Capital Group in late 2020 after the circus troupe was forced to file for creditor protection.

Cirque is not the only Canadian franchise to have faced calls to cancel shows in Saudi Arabia. Pop star Justin Bieber heard similar demands ahead of his concert in the Red Sea city of Jidda last month during the kingdom's Formula One race.

Teck says coal sales down from extreme weather, COVID-19 affecting operations

Teck coal sales fall

Teck Resources Ltd. said Friday that its coal sales fell below its guidance because of extreme weather in British Columbia and warned that COVID-19 was leading to higher costs and could disrupt production.

Shares in the company were down $2.32, or 5.7 per cent, at $38.36 in mid-morning trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Teck said steelmaking coal sales for the fourth quarter came in at 5.1 million tonnes, below the 5.2 million to 5.7 million tonnes in its revised guidance it issued Dec. 5 after the record rainfall in B.C. that knocked out rail and road infrastructure.

The lower sales came as extreme cold weather in B.C. this winter led to further interruptions and substantial reductions to rail service and port activities.

The company had guidance for 6.4 million to 6.8 million tonnes sold for the quarter before the November deluge.

Vancouver-based Teck said coal production at Elk Valley wasn't affected by the November events because inventories at its operations were low at the time, but that the cold weather disruptions have led to near-record inventories and the company could be forced to reduce production if there are further transportation disruptions.

The disruptions have also increased costs at its operations, but Teck said higher steelmaking coal prices should offset those costs and it expects to substantially make up the lost sales volume in the first half of this year.

Teck also said that the Omicron variant of COVID-19 is leading to increased staff absences at its coal operations in B.C. as well as at its QB2 project in Chile.

It says that while absences have yet to have a major impact, the situation poses a risk to first quarter production and that costs have risen because of labour inefficiencies related to COVID-19.

The company said it has updated its COVID-19 capital cost guidance for QB2 to between US$900 million and US$1.1 billion, up from its previous estimate of US$600 million.

The company also warned that it was seeing inflationary cost pressures, especially on diesel prices, supplies and labour costs, and that increases it saw in the fourth quarter are expected to continue into this year.

National Bank analyst Shane Nagle said in a note that while fourth-quarter results still showed a record quarter, he expects earnings to take a hit.

He said, however, that he expects improvements in Teck's coking coal operations this year once the Neptune terminal expansion in North Vancouver, B.C., is complete, while record coal prices should also help the company.

"Teck's strong balance sheet, cost reduction initiatives, organic growth within the copper division and long-term commitment to returning capital to shareholders are all supportive of a higher valuation than currently ascribed by the market."

Toyota working with Japan space agency on vehicle to explore lunar surface

Toyota to drive on moon

Toyota says it's working with Japan’s space agency on a vehicle to explore the lunar surface, with ambitions to help people live on the moon by 2040 and eventually live on Mars.

The vehicle being developed with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency is called Lunar Cruiser, whose name pays homage to the Toyota Land Cruiser sport utility vehicle.

Its launch is set for the late 2020’s.

Takao Sato, who heads the Lunar Cruiser project at Toyota, told The Associated Press the company sees “space as an area for our once-in-a-century transformation."

An executive whose company developed a robotic arm for the cruiser says robots come in handy for working in space, which holds dangers for astronauts.


Key inflation gauge rose 5.8% in 2021, most in 39 years

Inflation highest since 1982

A measure of prices that is closely tracked by the U.S. Federal Reserve rose 5.8% last year, the sharpest increase since 1982, as brisk consumer spending collided with snarled supply chains to raise the costs of food, furniture, appliances and other goods.

The report Friday from the Commerce Department also said that consumer spending fell 0.6% in December, with purchases of cars, electronics, and clothes declining. Higher prices might have discouraged some shoppers, along with a wave of omicron cases that kept many Americans from traveling, eating out or visiting entertainment venues.

At the same time, incomes rose 0.3% last month, providing fuel for future spending.

Stubbornly high inflation has hammered household budgets, wiped out last year's healthy wage gains and posed a severe political challenge to President Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress. It also led the Federal Reserve to signal Wednesday that it plans to raise interest rates multiple times this year beginning in March to try to get accelerating prices under control.

Excluding the volatile food and energy categories, so-called core prices rose 4.9% last year, the biggest increase since 1983. That was up from a 4.7% year-over-year rise in core prices in November.

From November to December, prices rose 0.4%, down from a 0.6% increase from October to November. Core prices rose 0.5% for a second straight month.

The economy is expanding at its fastest pace in decades, and job creation reached a five-decade high last year. But the rebound occurred so quickly after the pandemic shutdowns that it left many companies flat-footed, with fewer workers and supplies than they needed.

Besides raising interest rates, Chair Jerome Powell said Wednesday that the Fed will move to shrink its huge $8.9 trillion of bond holdings this year, another step that will likely tighten credit, slow spending and potentially weaken the economy.

Speaking at a news conference, Powell acknowledged that inflation has gotten “slightly worse” in the past month. He cautioned that higher prices “have now spread to a broader range of goods and services," after initially affecting sectors of the economy, like factory-made products for homes, that were most disrupted by the pandemic.

Powell also said the Fed is increasingly focused on the question of whether rising wages are acting as a primary driver of inflation, by forcing companies to charge more to cover their higher labor costs. Such a “wage-price spiral," which the United States hasn't experienced since the 1970s, can make inflation difficult to cool.

A separate report Friday said that workers' salaries and benefits jumped 4% last year. It was the biggest increase in 20 years. Powell has said that a sharp rise in pay and benefits, reported in November, was a key reason why the Fed began shifting its policy toward higher interest rates. While rising wages are good for employees, they can also elevate inflation if they aren't offset by efficiency gains.

The inflation figure that the government reported Friday is its personal consumption expenditures index. Though the consumer price index is a better-known barometer, the Fed tends to track the PCE in setting its interest rate policies. The PCE index tracks actual purchases consumers make each month, while the CPI follows a fixed market basket of goods.

Earlier this month, the government said the CPI jumped 7% last year, also the fastest pace in nearly four decades.

Prices have jumped in the past year as Americans have spent freely, helped by large stimulus checks in the spring and higher pay. Spending on autos, electronics and other goods jumped 12% in 2021, the government reported Wednesday, the biggest increase since 1946.

At the same time, bottlenecked supply chains and shortages of components, notably semiconductors, have left many retailers and auto dealers with fewer cars and other goods to sell. Powell has blamed mainly ongoing “supply and demand imbalances” for driving inflation.

On Thursday, McDonald’s said that while sales last year grew at a healthy pace, higher costs for food and paper products and the need to raise pay to attract and keep workers eroded profits even after it had raised prices 6% last year.

Likewise, Procter & Gamble said last week that it plans to raise prices for detergents like Tide, Gain, and Downy and for personal care products. The company anticipates price increases for chemicals and other commodities this year.

Higher prices may be weighing on some Americans’ willingness to spend. Still, last month’s drop in consumer spending is likely to be temporary. Americans are already showing signs of heading back out to restaurants and movie theaters as the huge jump in omicron infections has started to decline.

JPMorgan Chase says spending on its credit cards for hotels, travel, and entertainment venues has rebounded this month, after falling in December. Spending has risen more in states where COVID-19 cases have come down the most.

Canadian Pacific Railway grain revenues take hit in aftermath of 2021 drought

Grain revenues take hit

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.'s grain-hauling revenues took a hit in the fourth quarter of 2021, even as the company increased corn shipments from south of the border to address a livestock feed shortage in Western Canada.

The Calgary-based railway company saw freight revenue from grain tumble to $440 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2021. That represents a 13 per cent decline from the same period in 2020, when grain represented CP's top revenue source at $508 million.

CP says its total grain volumes transported were down 21 per cent in its most recent quarter, a decline the company attributes to this year's widespread drought that affected crop outputs in Western Canada.

"The 40 per cent reduction in the Canadian crop is driving this decline in volumes," said John Brooks, CP's chief marketing officer, on a conference call with analysts Thursday. "The good news is, we've taken the decline in the Canadian grain crop and created an opportunity."

Brooks added CP worked with shippers and receivers to create a new supply chain moving corn from south of the border to Canadian cattle feedlots suffering from a lack of livestock feed in the wake of the drought.

"We had an all-time record quarter and year for our U.S. grain franchise," he said.

Last week, Western Canadian agriculture groups publicly criticized CP for slow train shipments which they said have exacerbated an unprecedented livestock feed shortage on the Prairies.

In an emailed statement Thursday, federal Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau confirmed she has since been in touch with the railway company over the issue.

"I recently expressed my concerns about the dangerously low feed supply for cattle across the Prairies to the CEO of Canadian Pacific Railway, who recognized the sense of urgency and assured me that this is top of mind for CP," Bibeau said.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said in an email Thursday that some of the awaited shipments of feed corn arrived over the weekend and more are expected in the coming days.

"We appreciate the high priority that CP has placed on addressing the shortage," said CCA spokeswoman Michelle McMullen. "This has put us in much better shape, and we are not aware of anyone who is not able to get the feed they need this week. But the feed supply remains tight."

For its part, CP said it has been challenged by a number of issues this winter, including the Omicron variant and an increase in the number of employees out sick as well as extreme cold that has forced the company to run shorter trains and at reduced speeds.

CP was also impacted in the fourth quarter by November's extreme flooding in B.C. The company's rail corridor sustained damage in some 30 locations between Vancouver and Kamloops, B.C., and hundreds of employees and contractors worked around the clock for days to restore service in the area.

Brooks said Thursday the railway expects its revenue challenges with respect to Canadian grain to continue until this year's harvest.

"We will start to get some better visibility into the potential of the 2022 crop in the spring, but we are certainly happy to see snow on the ground across the Prairies providing much needed moisture," he said.

CP earned $532 million, or 74 cents per diluted share, in the fourth quarter, down from $802 million, or $1.19 per diluted share in the same quarter of 2020.

On an adjusted basis, CP said it earned 95 cents per diluted share for the quarter, down from $1.01 a year earlier.

Total revenues for the company increased one per cent to $2.04 billion, up from $2.01 billion in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Its operating ratio, a key industry measure of railroad efficiency where a lower number is considered better, increased to 59.2 per cent from 53.9 per cent.

CP said its operating ratio in the fourth quarter included $36 million in costs related to the acquisition of Kansas City Southern, a US$31-billion deal that paves the way for North America's only railroad stretching through Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.

The deal closed into voting trust in December, but is still awaiting final approval from U.S. regulators.

CP did not issue any forward earnings guidance Thursday, in part because CP and KCS are still operating as two separate companies and CP had no control over KCS' 2022 business plan.

"With the timing and conclusion of the regulatory process in the hands of the STB (Surface Transportation Board) as well as with Omicron and other macro factors presenting some near-term uncertainty, we felt it was prudent not to provide formal guidance," CP's chief financial officer Nadeem Velani told analysts.

Teck Resources to electrify its haul fleet

Teck to electrify haul fleet

Teck Resources Limited has struck a deal with Caterpillar Inc. to buy up to 30 of Caterpillar’s zero-emissions large haul trucks for its mining operations.

The plan to electrify its fleet of mine haul trucks is part of the company's target of reducing the carbon intensity of its operations by 33% by 2030 and becoming carbon-neutral by 2050.

“Teck is already one of the world’s lowest carbon intensity producers of copper, zinc and steelmaking coal, and now we are taking further action to develop and implement the technology needed to reduce the carbon footprint of our operations and support global efforts to combat climate change,” Teck CEO Don Lindsay said in a press release.

“Decarbonizing our haul truck fleet is a critical step forward on our road to carbon neutrality and we are pleased to collaborate with Caterpillar to advance this work.”

Teck plans to begin phasing in electric haul trucks starting in 2027, and plans to start in B.C. with its Elk Valley metallurgical coal mines.

"The operations are already powered by a 95% clean electricity grid, making it an ideal location to introduce one of Canada’s first zero-emissions large haul truck fleets, with options for trolley-assist technology," Teck said in its news release.

Zymeworks seeks to raise US$100m after month of upheaval

Zymeworks seeks $100M

B.C. biotech Zymeworks Inc. (NYSE:ZYME) is seeking to raise US$100 million through a public offering after facing a tumultuous month that saw its co-founder depart as CEO and a quarter of its staff laid off.

After shares peaked at a historical high of US$56.81 in January 2021, they've since sunk to US$8.92 as of 8 a.m. PT

That’s below the US$13 they debuted at when the company went public in 2017 and below the US$11.23 they were trading at when major layoffs were announced last.

Now the company, best known for developing platforms that help other drugs more accurately identify and target cancerous cells, is pricing 9,160,000 common shares at $8 a share.

Pre-funded warrants to purchase up to 3,340,000 common shares are being offered to certain investors at $7.99 a share.

Zymeworks is also granting the underwriters a 30-day option to purchase up to an additional 1,875,000 common shares for $8 a share. The offering is expected to close by Jan. 31.

In addition to laying off 25% of its overall workforce — about 100 employees — the company has cut its senior management team by half. That includes its chief people officer, chief commercial officer and chief scientific officer.

The layoffs come as talent in the biotech industry remains in high demand, with B.C. companies such as AbCellera Biologics Inc. (Nasdaq:ABCL), Stemcell Technologies Inc. and Aurinia Pharmaceuticals Inc. (Nasdaq:AUPH) seeking to grow significantly in the coming years.

Tehrani told BIV last spring the recent and rapid growth of B.C.’s life sciences sector has been stemming the tide on any brain drain the province once faced.

“Now we have companies, now we have critical mass that is enabled to hire [local talent], give them a chance to shine, give them a chance to grow,” he said.

“At the same time, because of our success, we've been able to bring talent … that historically has stayed in the United States or in Europe. Our friends south of the border, American citizens, European citizens now feel like that's where I want to go.”

After Kenneth Galbraith took over the top job Jan. 15, the company said it intended to seek additional financing after previously raising US$320 million in January 2020 as part of an underwritten public offering. Its 2017 initial public offering raised nearly $60 million.

A representative from Zymeworks did not immediately respond to an inquiry from BIV.

Rogers Communications profit down from year ago, but revenue up

Rogers profits dip

Rogers Communications Inc. reported a fourth-quarter profit of $405 million, down from $449 million in the same quarter last year, while revenue rose.

The telecoms company says earnings amounted to 80 cents per diluted share for the quarter ending Dec. 31, down from 89 cents per share for the same quarter last year.

Revenue came in at $3.92 billion, up from $3.68 billion in the same quarter last year, as it added wireless subscribers and its media division got a boost from the return of live sports broadcasting ads.

On an adjusted basis, Rogers says it earned 96 cents per diluted share, down from 99 cents per share a year ago.

Analysts on average had expected an adjusted profit of 92 cents per share, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The company's guidance for 2022 includes revenue growth of four to six per cent, not including any boost from its planned takeover of Shaw Communications Inc. that it says remains on track for the first half of the year.

Global stocks sink after Fed says US rates will rise 'soon'

Global stock markets sink

Global stock markets and Wall Street futures sank Thursday after the Federal Reserve indicated it will raise interest rates soon to cool inflation.

London and Frankfurt opened lower. Market benchmarks in Tokyo and Seoul fell by an unusually wide margin of more than 3%.

The Fed said Wednesday in a statement that it “expects it will soon be appropriate” to raise rates. Investors expect as many as four increases this year, starting in March. Monthly bond purchases that push down long-term rates by injecting money into the financial system would be phased out in March, the Fed said.

“The Fed’s decision will reverberate globally, meaning that the era of low interest rate, ultra-low interest rate, is over,” said Francis Lun, CEO of Geo Securities in Hong Kong. “All the central banks will start to fight inflation instead of trying to stimulate the economy.”

In early trading, the FTSE 100 in London was down 0.2% at 7,452.31 and Frankfurt's DAX lost 1.5% to 15,233.46. The CAC 40 in Paris fell 1% to 6,918.14.

On Wall Street, futures for the benchmark S&P 500 index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.5%.

On Wednesday, the S&P 500 ended down 0.1% following the Fed announcement after being up 2.2% earlier in the day.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.4%. The Nasdaq composite ended little-changed, shedding a 3.4% gain earlier.

In Asia, the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo fell 3.1% to 26,170.30 and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong retreated 2% to 23,807.00.

The Kospi in Seoul sank 3.5% to 2,614.49 after a stunning market debut for LG Energy Solutions, one of the biggest makers of batteries for electric cars. It ended the day with South Korea's second-highest stock market value behind Samsung Electronics after its initial public offering drew 13 trillion won ($11 billion) in bids.

The Shanghai Composite Index declined 1.8% to 3,394.25 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 shed 1.8% to 6,838.30.

India's Sensex lost 0.8% to 57,423.10. New Zealand declined after inflation accelerated to a 30-year high of 5.9% over a year earlier in the final quarter of 2021. Jakarta advanced while Bangkok and Singapore fell.

On Wednesday, major Wall Street indexes rose immediately after the Fed statement but gave up their gains as Chair Jerome Powell took questions about how and when the central bank will let its balance sheet shrink after buying trillions of dollars of bonds through the pandemic. That would put upward pressure on market interest rates.

The selling accelerated as Powell acknowledged high inflation that has squeezed businesses and consumers isn’t getting better. That could force the Fed to get even more aggressive about raising rates and removing its support for markets.

The last time the Fed raised rates and shrank its balance sheet at the same time was in late 2018. The S&P 500 lost nearly 20%.

“Since the December meeting, I’d say the inflation situation is about the same but probably slightly worse,” Powell said.

Powell said there is room to raise interest rates without hurting the labor market, and wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the Fed could raise short-term rates at any of its seven remaining meetings this year or opt for a larger-than-usual increase at any one of them.

The Fed's near-zero interest rates helped to boost stock prices for nearly two years, but markets have been volatile since Powell and other officials in mid-December said plans to wind down economic stimulus might be accelerated to fight surging inflation.

In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude lost 30 cents to $87.05 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose $1.75 to $87.35 on Wednesday. Brent crude, the price basis for international oils, shed 39 cents to $88.35 per barrel in London. It advanced $1.76 the previous session to $89.96.

The dollar edged up to 115.00 yen from Wednesday's 114.55 yen. The euro declined to $1.1200 from $1.1254.

Uber Canada signs deal with union offering workers dispute representation

Uber signs union deal

Uber Technologies Inc. has signed an agreement with a private sector union that will provide representation to Canadian drivers and couriers, but does not unionize workers.

The San Francisco, Calif-based tech giant said Thursday that it is partnering with United Food and Commercial Workers Canada, a union representing at least 250,000 workers at companies including Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Loblaw Companies Ltd. and Molson Coors Beverage Co.

The partnership will give UFCW Canada the ability to provide representation to about 100,000 Canadian drivers and couriers, if requested by the workers, when they are facing account deactivations and other disputes with Uber.

Workers will not be charged for the representation services, which will be jointly covered by Uber and UFCW.

"We’ve come together to find common ground and blaze a new trail towards a better future for app-based workers,” said Andrew Macdonald, Uber's senior vice-president of global rides and platform, in a release.

“Through this agreement, we’re prioritizing what drivers and delivery people tell us they want: enhancing their flexibility to work if, when, and where they want with a stronger voice and new benefits and protections.”

Uber drivers and couriers are considered to be independent contractors because they can choose when, where and how often they work, but in exchange, they have no job security, vacation pay or other benefits.

The move to offer Uber workers more supports in Canada comes as the tech giant is facing increasing global pressure to recognize couriers and drivers as employees and to, at least, better compensate and give them more rights.

UFCW Canada previously said drivers often spent more than 100 hours logged onto the Uber app and awaiting work each week, leaving them paid well below minimum wage for the hours they spend providing rides.

It has also complained that Uber drivers are subject to deactivation if their ratings — scores offered as feedback by consumers — drop below a certain threshold. UFCW Canada has said this practice can force a driver out of work, if they refuse customer demands to ignore traffic rules or city bylaws.

The union has also raised concerns about what little recourse Uber drivers and couriers have when they face harassment and abuse on the job because they are not eligible for workers' compensation, vacation pay, overtime or pension protection.

As part of UFCW Canada's agreement with Uber, both groups say they will work to encourage provinces to mandate policies providing gig workers with new benefits and other rights.

"This is just a starting point for the many issues we need to address," said Paul Meinema, UFCW Canada's national president, in a video announcing the agreement.

"Uber Canada and UFCW Canada will jointly advocate for industry-wide legislative standards like minimum wage guarantees, a benefits fund, a path to organizing, and other rights for workers in the app-based sector."

Uber spent much of last year pitching Canadians on a model it calls Flexible Work+. The model asks provinces and territories to force Uber and other app-based companies to create a self-directed benefit fund to disperse to workers for prescriptions, dental and vision care, RRSPs or tuition.

Workers have said the model still won't offer all the protections they desire and accused Uber of using the pitch to avoid treating drivers and couriers as employees.

Fed plans to raise rates starting in March to cool inflation

Fed signals March hike

The U.S. Federal Reserve signaled Wednesday that it will begin a series of interest-rate hikes in March, reversing pandemic-era policies that have fueled hiring and growth — and stock market gains — but also stubbornly high inflation.

Chair Jerome Powell said at a news conference that inflation has gotten “slightly worse” since the Fed last met in December. He said raising the Fed’s benchmark rate, which has been pegged at zero since March 2020, will help prevent high prices from becoming entrenched.

Seeking to calm fears that higher rates might hurt the economy, Powell said the central bank can manage the process in a way that prolongs growth and keeps unemployment low. “I think there is quite a bit of room to raise interest rates without threatening the labor market,” he said.

Economists said they were surprised by the likely timing and intensity of rate hikes sketched out by Powell, who said the economy is stronger now than in 2015, when the Fed began to raise rates slowly. “The Fed is signaling that they are going to be moving earlier, and maybe at a quicker pace, than we thought,” said Steve Rick, chief economist at CUNA Mutual Group.

The Fed’s rate hikes will make it more expensive, over time, to borrow for a home, car or business. The Fed’s intent is to temper economic growth and cool off inflation, which is at a 40-year high and eating into Americans’ wage gains and household budgets.

“The best thing we can do to support continued labor market gains,” Powell said, “is to promote a long expansion, and that will require price stability.”

The central bank’s latest policy statement follows dizzying gyrations in the stock market as investors have been gripped by fear and uncertainty over just how fast and far the Fed will go to reverse its low-rate policies, which have nurtured the economy and the markets for years.

The broad S&P 500 index fell nearly 10% this month and fell slightly Wednesday.

Asked about the stock market’s wild volatility, Powell stressed that the Fed’s “ultimate focus” is on the “real economy.” But he suggested that the recent market moves are a positive sign: “We feel like the communications we have with market participants and the general public are working.”

High inflation has become a serious political threat to President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats, with Republicans pointing to rising prices as one of their principal lines of attack as they look toward the November elections.

Biden said last week that it was “appropriate” for Powell to adjust the Fed’s policies. And congressional Republicans have endorsed Powell’s plans to raise rates, providing the Fed with rare bipartisan support for tightening credit.

“The risk is for a faster pace of Fed tightening given the stickiness of inflation,” said Kathy Bostjancic, an economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm.

Supply-chain and labor-market constraints have lasted longer than the Fed anticipated. Consumer prices are rising at 7% — well above the Fed’s long-run inflation target of 2% — and Powell said the outlook for the U.S. economy remains uncertain.

Powell said that while he thinks shipping bottlenecks and labor constraints will ease over time, it’s critical for Fed policymakers to have “humility” and to be “nimble’’ in their decision-making.

For now, Powell said Fed policymakers are “of a mind to raise the federal funds rate at the March meeting, assuming that conditions are appropriate for doing so.”


Moderna begins testing omicron-matched COVID shots in adults

Omicron vaccine tests start

Moderna has begun testing an omicron-specific COVID-19 booster in healthy adults.

The company announced Wednesday that the first participant had received a dose. Earlier this week, competitor Pfizer began a similar study of its own reformulated shots.

It’s not clear whether global health authorities will order a change to the vaccine recipe in the wake of the hugely contagious omicron variant. The original vaccines still offer good protection against death and severe illness. Studies in the U.S. and elsewhere show a booster dose strengthens that protection and improves the chances of avoiding even a milder infection.

Moderna pointed to a small study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday that showed antibodies able to target omicron persisted for six months after a booster dose, although the levels were dropping.

Moderna’s new study will enroll about 600 people who already have received either two doses of the company’s original shots or two plus a booster dose. All the volunteers will receive a dose of the experimental omicron-matched version.

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