What to watch today: Stocks to rise as Wall Street eyes stimulus talks, Fed meeting

Stock futures indicated a higher open, following a Tuesday rally that saw record closes for the Nasdaq and the Russell 2000. Dow futures implied a roughly 35-point gain at the bell, while S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures also were higher.

* European markets climb, following positive global trend; EU signals progress on Brexit talks (CNBC)

Optimism over stimulus negotiations helped the S&P 500 break a 4-day losing streak Tuesday and give the Nasdaq its seventh gain in nine sessions, pushing its year-to-date gain over 40%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average advanced 338 points, or 1.1%. The S&P 500 and tech-heavy Nasdaq both rose 1.3%.

The positive mood on Wall Street could shift depending on what today's Fed policy statement says and what Fed Chairman Jerome Powell may say during his post-meeting news conference. The Fed's statement will be out at 2:00 p.m. ET, with Powell's news conference beginning 30 minutes later.

* The Fed could disappoint markets Wednesday, even if it keeps a super dovish tone (CNBC)

Ahead of the Fed, the government released its latest read on U.S. consumer spending, against the backdrop of pandemic-driven high unemployment and stricter Covid-19 mitigation measures returning in many states. November retail sales dropped 1.1%, more than triple the expected decline. (Reuters)

October business inventories will be out at 10:00 a.m. ET, with expectations of a 0.6% rise after a 0.7% jump in September.  At the same time, the monthly sentiment index from the National Association of Home Builders will be out, expected to fall to 88 for December from November's reading of 90.

Mortgage rates set another record low last week, the 15th time it's happened this year, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association. Refinance applications for a home loan rose 1% for the week but they were higher by 105% compared with the same time period last year. Refinance applications are particularly sensitive to mortgage rate fluctuations. (CNBC)

Lawn and garden products maker Toro (TTC) is one of the few companies set to release quarterly earnings this morning. Homebuilder Lennar (LEN) and office furniture maker Herman Miller (MLHR) are scheduled to issue earnings after today's closing bell.

IN THE NEWS TODAY

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said congressional leaders made "significant progress" toward reaching an agreement on additional coronavirus stimulus and a government spending package. "I'm optimistic that we're gonna be able to complete an understanding sometime soon," the Kentucky Republican told reporters Tuesday night, according to NBC News. The remarks came after a meeting with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Government funding will expire after Friday. (CNBC)

Immunizations against Covid-19 continued across the U.S., with hundreds more hospitals delivering shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to health-care workers Tuesday; they will receive a second dose in a few weeks. Rollout of a vaccine comes at an important time in the pandemic. While new coronavirus cases have largely been steady in the last week, the country's seven-day average of new deaths from Covid-19 is at an all-time high of 2,491, according to a CNBC analysis of data from Johns Hopkins University. Hospitalizations also are rising in 23 states. (AP/CNBC)

* FDA staff recommends watching for Bell's palsy in Moderna and Pfizer vaccine recipients (CNBC)
* HHS Secretary Azar says the public will get Covid vaccine 'by the end of February into March' (CNBC)

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told CNBC he expects that the general population could start to receive Covid-19 vaccinations in just a few months. "I believe by the end of February, the end of March, of course, depending on the decisions by our governors, but I believe we'll have enough supply out there to be reaching out to the general public for administration — at your CVS, Walgreens, Kroegers — by the end of February into March," Azar said on "The News with Shepard Smith." (CNBC)

President-elect Joe Biden campaigned in Georgia for the two Democratic senate candidates ahead of the January runoff election that could tip the balance of power in the upper chamber. For that to happen, both Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock need to defeat their Republican opponents, Sens. David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, respectively. On Tuesday, Biden called on Democratic voters to keep up the same enthusiasm that helped him carry the state in the Nov. 3 presidential election. (CNBC)

* McConnell congratulates Biden, warns Senate Republicans not to reject president-elect's victory (CNBC)

Facebook (FB) is temporarily lifting its political advertising ban for the Georgia senate runoffs. In a blog post, the social media giant said it will reject political advertisements that are not targeting those elections. Facebook announced its initial crackdown on political ads earlier this fall ahead of the presidential election, as concerns around online disinformation rose. (AP)

Biden announced two more picks to lead government agencies, choosing former Democratic primary rival Pete Buttigieg to be his Transportation secretary and former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm to lead the Department of Energy. Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is expected to play a key role in Biden's plans to upgrade infrastructure throughout the U.S. Granholm, who served two terms as governor of Michigan from 2003 to 2011, has been an advocate for electric vehicles, and Biden has been vocal about the need to address climate change (CNBC/Reuters)

A significant winter storm is set to hit the East Coast starting Wednesday, with residents of New York City and North Carolina alike being advised to take precautions. New York City and Boston could see as much as a foot of snow, and parts of Pennsylvania may see even more than that. (NBC News)

Amazon (AMZN) has started to encourage its front-line employees in California to be tested weekly for Covid-19, which comes as the state implements new emergency workplace protections for the coronavirus. The company said it will reimburse Amazon employees for "time and travel" associated with getting tested. Separately, the company told workers at Whole Foods it will offer them a Covid-19 once per week. (CNBC)

* Facebook criticizes Apple as it welcomes Europe's new tech rules (CNBC)

STOCKS TO WATCH

Penumbra (PEN) recalled a certain type of catheter used during heart surgery, due to potential issues that could cause injury or death.  

Tilray (TLRY) and Aphria (APHA) will combine in an all-stock deal that will create the world's biggest cannabis producer, the companies announced. Aphria shareholders will hold 62% of the combined company, with the company paying a 23% premium over Tilray's Tuesday closing price.

Amazon (AMZN) called for a U.S. judge to throw out the awarding of the Pentagon's $10 billion JEDI cloud computing contract to Microsoft (MSFT), saying it was a "flawed and politically corrupted decision".  That call came in a redacted October court filing unsealed Tuesday.

Novartis (NVS) received a Food and Drug Administration panel endorsement to expand use of its heart failure drug Entresto, currently approved for patients whose heart muscles do not contract effectively. 

Gilead Sciences (GILD) said it would not pursue FDA approval for its experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug filgotinib, after meeting with FDA officials. The FDA declined to approve the drug earlier this year, after weighing benefits vs. its risk profile.

Pfizer (PFE) and the White House are in talks for additional doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine for 2021, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke to the New York Times.  The paper said the White House is trying to use its power to order Pfizer suppliers to prioritize Pfizer's requests for raw materials. 

American Outdoor Brands (AOUT) swung to a profit from a year-ago loss for its latest quarter, with the hunting equipment maker's sales improving as well.  The company said it benefited from customers spending more time on outdoor activities amid the pandemic.

Alphabet's (GOOGL) Google unit could be hit with a new antitrust suit from a coalition of states as soon as today, according to a Politico report.  The suit will focus on Google's search engine dominance.

Dish Network (DISH) is planning to offer $2 billion in convertible notes, with the proceeds used for general corporate purposes including 5G network buildout costs. 

Moderna (MRNA) was downgraded to "hold" from "buy" at Jefferies, which cited the significant runup in the drug maker's stock as well as high expectations surrounding its Covid-19 vaccine.  However, Jefferies did raise its price target on the stock to $150 per share from $90.

Twitter (TWTR) was upgraded to "overweight" from "neutral" at JPMorgan, which points to potential benefits from increased online advertising.

WATERCOOLER

The National Football League will not allow teams to set up local "bubbles" by requiring players to stay at designated hotel in hopes of preventing coronavirus cases, except for the night prior to games, according to a league memo obtained by The Associated Press. (AP)

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