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In new blow to Trump, U.S. court rejects Pennsylvania election case

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday rejected an attempt by U.S. President Donald Trump’s campaign to block President-elect Joe Biden from being declared the winner of Pennsylvania, dealing another significant setback to Trump’s bid to overturn the Nov. 3 election.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after he participated in a Thanksgiving video teleconference with members of the military forces at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott

“Free, fair elections are the lifeblood of our democracy. Charges of unfairness are serious. But calling an election unfair does not make it so,” wrote Stephanos Bibas on behalf of a three-judge panel.

“Charges require specific allegations and then proof. We have neither here,” wrote Bibas, who was nominated by Trump.

“On to SCOTUS!” wrote Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign attorney, on Twitter after the ruling, referring to a planned appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. “The activist judicial machinery in Pennsylvania continues to cover up the allegations of massive fraud.”

Pennsylvania certified Biden, who won the state by 80,000 votes, as its winner this week. Under Pennsylvania law, the candidate who wins the popular vote in the state gets all of the state’s 20 electoral votes.

Trump, a Republican, has refused to concede to his Democratic rival and continues to claim, without evidence, widespread voter fraud.

But as his legal challenges to the results fail, Trump said on Thursday he will leave the White House if the Electoral College votes for Biden when it meets on Dec. 14, the closest he has come to conceding the election.

On Monday, Trump’s administration cleared the way Biden to transition to the White House, giving him access to briefings and funding even as Trump vowed to continue fighting the election results.

Biden won the election 306-232 in electoral votes, including Pennsylvania’s 20. Even if Trump overturned the outcome in Pennsylvania, he would still need to reverse the result in at least two other states to remain as president.

TIME RUNNING OUT

While Trump and his supporters continue to wage legal battles, time is running out as states as states have until Dec. 8 to resolve election disputes.

Legal experts have said the cases have no chance of success and may be aimed at undermining confidence in the election. Polls have showed a majority of Republicans believe Trump won the election and many believe the election was tainted, despite a lack of evidence.

Soon after Friday’s ruling, Trump posted a video from Newsmax on Twitter about alleged voter fraud in Nevada.

The Trump campaign filed the Pennsylvania case earlier this month, saying that county election officials had treated mail-in ballots inconsistently and asking U.S. District Judge Matthew Brann to halt certification of the results.

Some counties had allowed voters to fix minor deficiencies with their ballots, such as a missing “secrecy envelope,” while others did not.

Brann dismissed the case on Nov. 21, saying the case was based on “strained legal arguments” and “speculative accusations.”

The Trump campaign said it appealed on the “narrow” question of whether Brann improperly refused to let it amend the lawsuit a second time.

The campaign wants to add back allegations it dropped from the case, including a claim that its due process rights were violated.

The appeals court said many of the claims by Trump campaign are matters of Pennsylvania law but noted the campaign already lost on those issues in state court.

“It never alleges that anyone treated the Trump campaign or Trump votes worse than it treated the Biden campaign or Biden votes,” said the opinion. “The campaign’s claims have no merit.”

The other judges on the panel, Brooks Smith and Michael Chagares, were nominated by George W. Bush, a Republican.

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Factbox: The top contenders to run Biden's financial agencies

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s team has tapped a mix of progressives and centrist policy experts, including former derivatives market regulator Gary Gensler, to work on a transition plan for financial industry oversight.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers a pre-Thanksgiving speech at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

CNBC reported on Wednesday that Gensler was also being considered for the job of Treasury deputy secretary, a role that would see him work closely with the heads of financial agencies.

Here is how staffing could shake out at some of the key financial regulators, according to nearly two dozen lobbyists, officials and policy experts in Democratic circles.

CONSUMER FINANCIAL PROTECTION BUREAU (CFPB)

The CFPB director is a critical role for progressives such as Senator Elizabeth Warren who believe the agency can help tackle wealth inequality and racial injustice. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June handed Biden the power to fire Republican President Donald Trump’s CFPB director, Kathy Kraninger, and many policy experts expect the former vice president to quickly remove her after he takes office on Jan. 20.

Potential candidates to replace Kraninger include Warren’s protégée, U.S. Representative Katie Porter; Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra; Bharat Ramamurti, Warren’s former aide who sits on a pandemic congressional oversight panel; and Patrice Ficklin, the CFPB’s fair lending director who has been at the agency since its inception in 2011.

Some lawyers argue that while Biden’s pick is being confirmed by the Senate, the law bars him from parachuting in his choice of acting director and requires him instead to appoint Kraninger’s current deputy as interim agency head.

If Biden’s team agrees with that interpretation, Thomas Pahl, a Republican political appointee who has previously served stints at the Federal Trade Commission, would be promoted to acting director.

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION (SEC)

Biden is also expected to quickly staff up the SEC, which under Chair Jay Clayton, a Trump appointee, has pursued many rule changes opposed by Democrats and investor advocates.

Clayton is stepping down at the end of the year, positioning senior Democratic SEC Commissioner Allison Lee as acting chair under Biden until a new chair is sworn in.

Progressives are keen on former Democratic SEC Commissioner Kara Stein to chair the agency, although Rob Jackson, also a former Democratic commissioner who currently teaches at New York University School of Law, is preferred by moderates.

Gensler is also a contender, as is Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney in Manhattan who became a scourge of Wall Street wrongdoers before Trump fired him in 2017.

BANKING REGULATORS

There will be a handful of banking regulator roles to fill, with the first likely to be comptroller of the currency.

That’s because current Comptroller Brian Brooks is serving in an acting capacity, allowing Biden to replace him quickly. While Trump has said he plans to nominate Brooks for the role permanently, there is limited time to push his confirmation through the Senate before Biden takes office on Jan. 20.

Amy Friend, formerly senior deputy comptroller and chief counsel at the agency under former President Barack Obama, is seen as a leading candidate for the comptroller position.

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) Chair Jelena McWilliams cannot be removed by Biden and has said she wants to serve out her term, which ends in 2023. But Biden can still tilt the agency’s five-seat board, which passes rules via majority vote, by quickly appointing the heads of the CFPB and Office of the Comptroller of the Currency who always hold seats on the FDIC board too. Obama-era holdover and former FDIC Chair Martin Gruenberg already has a seat.

If McWilliams resigns, Michael Barr, a professor at the University of Michigan Law School and former Obama administration Treasury official, is seen as a contender for that or another banking slot, as is Graham Steele, a director at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and former Federal Reserve staffer. Barr is advising the transition team.

COMMODITY FUTURES TRADING COMMISSION (CFTC)

Current Republican CFTC Chair Heath Tarbert is expected to resign his role as chair, putting senior Democratic Commissioner Rostin Behnam in line to be acting chair. But the sources said Dan Berkovitz, the other Democratic CFTC commissioner and formerly general counsel to Gensler when he led the agency, is the front-runner for the permanent role of chair.

FEDERAL HOUSING FINANCE AGENCY (FHFA)

The FHFA is led by libertarian Mark Calabria who has said he is committed to overhauling the country’s housing finance market before his term ends in 2024. He is unlikely to resign, the sources said, and cannot currently be fired. That could change, however, pending a Supreme Court challenge to the agency’s structure, which could find the director can be removed.

If so, Biden, for whom affordable housing is a key policy, is likely to replace him. Potential contenders for his job include Eric Stein, who was special adviser to Democratic FHFA Director Mel Watt from 2014 to 2019, and Diane Yentel, chief executive of the National Low Income Housing Coalition. Stein is also advising Biden’s transition team.

All those named above, or their representatives, declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment, other than Ficklin. While Ficklin would not comment on whether she was in contention for a role, she said she would be honored to serve.

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Biden urges safe Thanksgiving amid pandemic; Trump pardons ex-aide Flynn

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden pleaded with Americans on Wednesday to take steps to remain safe over the Thanksgiving holiday as COVID-19 cases soar, while President Donald Trump pardoned a former aide who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.

Biden gave a presidential-style speech acknowledging people’s fatigue with restrictions amid the coronavirus pandemic, but urged them to exercise caution as caseloads surge.

“I know the country has grown weary of the fight. We need to remember – we’re at war with the virus, not with one another,” Biden said as he urged Americans to forgo the type of big family gatherings normally associated with Thursday’s holiday, wear protective masks and maintain social distancing.

The Democratic former vice president again said he would take immediate steps to address the coronavirus pandemic when he takes office on Jan. 20. During the campaign, Biden accused Trump, a Republican, of panicking and surrendering in the face of a public health crisis.

Shortly after Biden spoke, Trump pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the former Russian ambassador in Washington. [nL1N2IB2JX]

It marked the latest instance in which Trump has used his power of executive clemency to benefit a friend or associate.

Prominent Democrats responded quickly and angrily.

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“President Trump’s pardoning of Michael Flynn, who twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with a foreign adversary, is an act of grave corruption and a brazen abuse of power,” House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement.

More than 261,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, with the daily toll on Tuesday surpassing 2,000 for the first time since May, as infections and hospitalizations surge nationally. The United States leads the world in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

Biden said the United States faced “a long hard winter” but that it was during the most difficult circumstances that “the soul of our nation has been forged.”

He said he hoped the recent positive news on vaccine development – the first shots potentially could be made available to some Americans within weeks – would serve as an incentive for people to take simple steps to get the virus under control.

Since winning the Nov. 3 election, Biden has offered a message of healing and reconciliation after Trump’s tumultuous term, while the president still refuses to concede and falsely claimed again on Wednesday that Biden’s victory was stolen.

Without mentioning Trump, Biden addressed the messy aftermath of the vote.

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“Our democracy was tested this year,” Biden said. “In America, we have full and fair and free elections and then we honor the results. The people of this nation and the laws of the land won’t stand for anything else.”

ECONOMIC APPOINTMENTS

Biden plans next week to name his choices for some important positions in his administration, including his economic team, his communications director, Kate Bedingfield, said. They are expected to include former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury secretary.

Trump’s administration gave the green light on Monday to formal transition efforts even as he continues to make unsubstantiated claims of voting fraud. As a result, Biden will begin receiving presidential daily intelligence briefings.

Bedingfield said Biden’s team had been encouraged by the “professional and welcoming response” of civil servants.

Trump has waged a failed legal battle to overturn the election results. The outgoing president on Wednesday canceled a trip to accompany his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to a meeting of Republican state legislators in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where Giuliani repeated his unsubstantiated allegations of voting fraud.

Trump spoke to the participants by speaker phone, repeating his debunked claims that the election had been stolen, drawing cheers from the partisan crowd.

“This election was lost by the Democrats. They cheated. It was a fraudulent election,” Trump said, without offering evidence.

In addition to beating Trump by 306-232 in the Electoral College, Biden won the nationwide popular vote by more than 6.1 million ballots.

Bedingfield called the Gettysburg event “a sideshow.” State and federal officials have said there is no evidence of large-scale fraud.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro rejected Trump’s claims.

“The sitting president’s remarks today were devoid of reality,” Shapiro, a Democrat, said on Twitter. “The election is over. Pennsylvania has certified results & declared Joe Biden the winner of our Commonwealth. Lying through a cell phone at a fake hearing changes nothing.”

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Trump pardons former adviser Flynn, who pleaded guilty in Russia probe

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn who had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

FILE PHOTO: Former national security adviser Michael Flynn exits a vehicle as he arrives for his sentencing hearing at U.S. District Court in Washington, U.S., December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon. Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

A retired Army general, Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about interactions he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

He has since sought to withdraw the plea, arguing that prosecutors violated his rights and duped him into a plea agreement. His sentencing has been deferred several times.

It was the highest-profile pardon granted by Trump since he took office. Among others, the Republican president has pardoned Army personnel accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff and hardliner against illegal immigration.

Flynn served as Trump’s first national security adviser but the president fired him in early 2017 after only 24 days as a controversy broke over the former general’s contacts with then Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Flynn was one of several former Trump aides to plead guilty or be convicted at trial in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election to boost Trump’s candidacy. Russia denied meddling.

Trump in March said he was strongly considering a full pardon for Flynn. He said the FBI and Justice Department had “destroyed” Flynn’s life and that of his family, and cited an unspecified, unsubstantiated report that they had lost records related to Flynn.

Flynn was supposed to help cooperate with the government as part of his plea deal. But he later switched lawyers and tactics, arguing that prosecutors in the case had tricked him into lying about his December 2016 conversations with Kislyak.

The Justice Department has repeatedly denied allegations of prosecutorial misconduct, and U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan rejected all of Flynn’s claims in December 2019.

Federal prosecutors had asked the judge in January to sentence Flynn to up to six months in prison, arguing in a court filing that “the defendant has not learned his lesson. He has behaved as though the law does not apply to him, and as if there are no consequences for his actions.”

Flynn also served as head of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency but was forced out in 2014 in part due to his management style and opinions on how to fight Islamist militancy.

He joined the Trump 2016 election campaign and at the Republican National Convention that year he led supporters in chants of “Lock her up,” in reference to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Other former Trump aides were convicted of federal crimes following the Russia inquiry. Trump’s longtime friend and adviser Roger Stone was sentenced on Feb. 20 to three years and four months in prison for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and lying to lawmakers investigating the Russian election interference.

Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was sentenced last year to 3-1/2 years in prison after being convicted of unlawful lobbying and witness tampering, which combined with a sentence in a related case equaled a term of more than seven years behind bars.

Trump, defeated in a presidential election on Nov. 3, is due to leave the White House on Jan. 20 when President-elect Joe Biden takes office.

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Mexico's president again declines to recognize Biden win

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday again declined to congratulate Joe Biden for winning the U.S. presidential election, making him stand out increasingly among world leaders who have withheld their recognition.

FILE PHOTO: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes part in the virtual meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) summit, November 22, 2020. Mexico’s Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

Speaking shortly after China’s President Xi Jinping congratulated Biden for his victory, Lopez Obrador reiterated that it would be wrong to offer congratulations until the electoral process has been formally concluded.

“We do not agree with offering congratulations in advance,” Lopez Obrador told reporters at a regular government news conference. “What’s the best thing? For us to wait.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has launched legal challenges in an effort to overturn the election result, accusing Biden’s Democrats of trying to steal the election. However, without conceding defeat, he has now signaled that transition to a Biden administration can proceed.

Lopez Obrador, who has repeatedly accused opponents of electoral fraud over the years, again referred to the 2006 Mexican presidential election by way of justifying his stance.

Lopez Obrador insists he was robbed in 2006. His use of that example in defending his stance on Biden has upset some U.S. officials, who regard the comparison as inappropriate.

The Mexican president said he had nothing against any candidate or political party in the U.S. electoral process.

Privately, Mexican officials say he is wary of antagonizing Trump, who during his presidency threatened to hurt Mexico economically if it did not curb illegal immigration.

The Mexican president said some in his security cabinet suggested in a meeting on Tuesday that it was time to recognize Biden.

A number of U.S. Democrats have expressed frustration with Lopez Obrador’s reluctance to recognize Biden, and one former official of the last Democratic administration said the Mexican president’s stance was starting to look “foolish.”

“The world is moving on,” said the ex-official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, noting that other countries were moving ahead with their business with the incoming Biden administration.

“Mexico is getting left behind,” said the former official. “But that’s Mexico’s fault.”

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Mexico's president again declines to congratulate Biden on election win

FILE PHOTO: Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador takes part in the virtual meeting of the Group of 20 (G20) summit, November 22, 2020. Mexico’s Presidency/Handout via REUTERS

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Wednesday again declined to congratulate Joe Biden for winning the U.S. presidential election, reiterating that once the process is finished in the United states he will make a pronouncement.

Lopez Obrador added he has nothing against any candidate or political party in the U.S. electoral process, but prefers not to offer his congratulations until it is concluded.

“What’s the best thing? To wait,” he said.

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U.S. imposes fresh Iran-related sanctions on four entities, envoy warns of more to come

FILE PHOTO: Elliott Abrams speaks during a news conference at the State Department, in Washington, U.S., March 31, 2020. Andrew Harnik/ Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday will impose Iran-related sanctions on four entities, U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Elliott Abrams said, accusing the entities in China and Russia of activities promoting Iran’s missile program.

Abrams warned that Washington would continue to apply pressure on Iran, with sanctions expected over the coming weeks and through December and January related to arms, weapons of mass destruction and human rights.

“We will have next week, and the week after, and the week after – all through December and January, there will be sanctions that deal with arms, that deal with weapons of mass destruction, that deal with human rights. … So this will continue on for another couple of months, right until the end,” Abrams said during a virtual Beirut Institute event.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have risen since Trump two years ago abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and restored harsh economic sanctions designed to force Tehran into a wider negotiation on curbing its nuclear program, development of ballistic missiles and support for regional proxy forces.

President-elect Joe Biden, set to take office on Jan. 20, has said he will return the United States to the nuclear deal, if Iran resumes compliance.

Abrams on Wednesday said it would be wrong to assume that a new administration could reverse Iran policy like switching a light and that negotiations to return to the Iran nuclear deal would take many months.

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Wall Street Week Ahead: COVID-19 vaccine adoption rates are 'wildcard' for U.S. stock rally

NEW YORK (Reuters) – News this month of three promising coronavirus vaccines has helped push the Dow Jones Industrial Average over 30,000, but some investors worry that slow vaccination rates may weaken next year’s expected economic recovery.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S. flag is seen on a building on Wall St. in the financial district in New York, U.S., November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

Overall, 58% of Americans said in a Gallup poll here that ended Nov. 1 that they would get vaccinated, up from 50% who were willing in a September poll. Forty-two percent said they would be unwilling to get a vaccine, citing reasons such as the rushed development timeline and concerns about safety.

Delays in vaccine distribution or widespread refusal to be vaccinated would allow the virus to continue to circulate longer and delay the development of herd immunity, which occurs when enough people in a population have some form of protection that prevents the easy spread of a disease.

“To be certain that the world will be back to normal by mid-next year because a vaccine is available is an aggressive assumption,” said David Albrycht, chief investment officer at Newfleet Asset Management.

“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel but we’re not sure how long that the tunnel is going to be,” he said, citing uncertainties including whether a vaccine will be free or covered by insurance plans, its rollout and its public acceptance rate.

Citi Research wrote in a note on Monday that herd immunity would not form until late 2021, boosting global Gross Domestic Product growth by only 0.7% next year compared with an estimated 3% gain in 2022 as vaccination rates rise.

“The answer is not the vaccine; it’s vaccinations. The vaccine needs to be widely adopted and accepted for it to work,” said Ernesto Ramos, head of equities at BMO Global Asset Management.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will likely grant approval in mid-December for distribution of the vaccine developed by Pfizer Inc and German partner BioNTech and some healthcare workers could start getting shots a day or two later, Dr. Moncef Slaoui, chief scientific adviser for the U.S. government’s Operation Warp Speed, said on Sunday.

Some 70% of the U.S. population of 330 million would need to be inoculated to achieve herd immunity, which is possible by May, he said.

Ramos said those estimates may be overly optimistic and the economic benefits of vaccinations will not be apparent until the second half of next year, increasing chances that the recent U.S. economic slowdown could worsen.

Investors will get the latest U.S. economic snapshot with data next week, including the monthly employment report. Economists polled by Reuters expect the Dec. 4 jobs report to show unemployment dipped to 6.8% from 6.9%, still well above the 4.5% rate in March, before much of the U.S. economy went into lockdown.

Targeted vaccinations could revive the economy even with delays in widespread adoption, said Jonathan Golub, chief U.S. equity strategist at Credit Suisse Securities.

“The successful vaccination of seniors and front-line workers could expedite the renormalization process well before herd immunity is achieved,” he said. The S&P 500 may reach 4,050 by the end of 2021, up about 13% from its current level, he estimated.

While vaccine adoption rates are a “wildcard,” their availability removes the risk of another widespread economic lockdown, said John Buckingham, portfolio manager at Kovitz Investment Group.

He remains bullish on companies that will benefit from an economic recovery, including JPMorgan Chase & Co, Foot Locker Inc and Whirlpool Corp, even if the U.S. economy remains bumpy over the next few months and coronavirus cases keep rising.

The United States recorded its 12 millionth COVID-19 case on Nov. 21, and health experts have warned that Americans traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday will likely push case counts steeply higher.

“If the situation were reversed and you had good data on cases and hospitalizations for COVID but vaccines were flops, the stock market would be cratering,” Buckingham said.

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Dow scales 30,000 on vaccine headway, Biden transition

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks rallied on Tuesday and the Dow breached the 30,000 level for the first time, as investors anticipated a 2021 economic recovery on coronavirus vaccine progress and the formal clearance for President-elect Joe Biden’s transition to the White House.

Of the 11 major S&P sectors, 10 gained ground, led by economically sensitive stocks such as financials, materials and energy, while industrials hit a record.

President Donald Trump finally gave the green light for the formal transfer of power to begin on Monday, a process that was delayed for weeks despite Democrat Joe Biden emerging as the clear winner in the U.S. elections. The General Services Administration told Biden he could formally begin the handover process.

Sentiment this week was also boosted by reports that Biden planned to nominate former Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen as Treasury Secretary, which could shift the focus heavily toward efforts to tackle growing economic inequality.

Recent data suggesting a COVID-19 vaccine could be available before the end of the year has put the S&P 500 on course for its best monthly performance since April and sparked demand for value-linked stocks that were hammered following the coronavirus-driven crash earlier this year.

“A little bit of decreasing uncertainty on the election front, the market seems pretty favorable on the Yellen announcement, it just seems like one of those good days where all things are moving a little higher,” said Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at Baird.

“If 2020 has shown us anything it is that stock markets have a tremendous ability to look past bad news if there is sun on the horizon.”

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 454.97 points, or 1.54%, to 30,046.24, the S&P 500 gained 57.82 points, or 1.62%, to 3,635.41 and the Nasdaq Composite added 156.15 points, or 1.31%, to 12,036.79.

The Dow rose as high as 30,116.51 during the session and the S&P 500 also closed at a record high. While the 30,000 mark represents a psychological milestone, it means little to professional investors.

U.S. officials said on Tuesday they plan to release 6.4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses nationwide in an initial distribution after the first one is cleared by regulators for emergency use.

Electric-car maker Tesla Inc jumped 6.43% to boost its market value to over $500 billion, as investors lapped up its shares in the run-up to its addition to the S&P 500 index.

Boeing Co gained 3.29% after European regulators gave draft approval to its 737 MAX jets, paving the way for a formal flight clearance in January.

BlackRock Inc, the world’s largest asset manager, on Monday upgraded U.S. equities to “overweight,” turning bullish on quality large-cap technology companies and small cap firms that tend to perform well during a cyclical upswing.

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Still, with coronavirus cases surging by the day and millions of Americans still unemployed, some analysts suggested the U.S. stock market could be prone to a pullback and volatility from record levels in the next few months.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 3.16-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 2.09-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 56 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 197 new highs and 12 new lows.

Volume on U.S. exchanges was 14.18 billion shares, compared with the 11.18 billion average for the full session over the last 20 trading days.

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U.S. consumer confidence slips; house prices surge

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. consumer confidence fell more than expected in November amid a widespread resurgence in new COVID-19 infections and business restrictions, reinforcing expectations for a sharp slowdown in economic growth in the fourth quarter.

FILE PHOTO: Servers package food at a table at a pop up restaurant set up in Times Square for ‘Taste of Times Square Week’ during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo/File Photo

The survey from the Conference Board on Tuesday followed on the heels of reports this month showing a moderation in job growth and retail sales in October. The number of people filing new claims for unemployment benefits increased in mid-November.

The economy is losing speed as more than $3 trillion in government coronavirus relief has lapsed. The fiscal stimulus helped millions of unemployed Americans cover daily expenses and small-to-medium sized companies keep workers on payrolls, leading to record economic growth in the third quarter.

Another rescue package is expected only after President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20. President Donald Trump is heavily focused on contesting his electoral loss to Biden. Daily new coronavirus cases in the United States have exceeded 100,000 since early November, according to a Reuters tally.

The consumer confidence index dropped to a reading of 96.1 this month from 101.4 in October. Economists polled by Reuters had forecast the index falling to a reading of 98 in November. The index was at 132.6 in February.

The cut-off date for the survey was November 13, before more encouraging news on vaccines for the respiratory illness.

The survey’s present situation measure, based on consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, slipped to a reading of 105.9. from 106.2 in October. The expectations index based on consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business and labor market conditions fell to 89.5 from a reading of 98.2 in October.

“Heading into 2021, consumers do not foresee the economy, nor the labor market, gaining strength,” said Lynn Franco, senior director of economic indicators at The Conference Board. “In addition, the resurgence of COVID-19 is further increasing uncertainty and exacerbating concerns about the outlook.”

Stocks on Wall Street were trading higher as the formal go-ahead for Biden’s transition to the White House ended weeks of political uncertainty. The dollar slipped against a basket of currencies. U.S. Treasury prices were lower.

The survey’s so-called labor market differential, derived from data on respondents’ views on whether jobs are plentiful or hard to get, edged up to a reading of 7.2 this month from 7.1 in October. That measure closely correlates to the unemployment rate in the Labor Department’s employment report. It was as high as 38.3 in August last year.

The share of consumers expecting an increase in income was unchanged at 17.6% this month and the proportion anticipating a drop fell to 13.3% from 14.2% last month.

Growth estimates for the fourth quarter are below a 5% annualized rate. The economy grew at a 33.1% rate in the July-September quarter after contracting at a 31.4% pace in the second quarter, the deepest since the government started keeping records in 1947.

Despite consumer trepidation about the future, the housing market continues to boom. The pandemic has fueled a migration from city centers to suburbs and other lower-density areas as Americans seek more space for home offices and schooling.

A separate report on Tuesday showed the S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller 20-metro-area house price index jumped 6.6% from a year ago in September after rising 5.3% in August.

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