US shares set records as investor optimism grows

US shares hit fresh records on Tuesday with the Dow Jones index closing above 30,000 points for the first time amid hopes of a strong economic recovery and end of political uncertainty.

The S&P 500 also hit an all-time high as investors bought economically sensitive financial and energy stocks.

Trading was fuelled by positive Covid vaccine news and moves to start the Joe Biden presidential transition.

Europe’s main markets also jumped, with London’s FTSE 100 closing up 1.5%.

President Donald Trump has given the green light for the formal transfer of power to begin following Mr Biden’s election victory.

And positive news about coronavirus vaccines has boosted hopes that the US and global economies could be on the path to normality next year.

“The possibility of having a vaccine next year increases the odds that we’re going to see demand return in the new year,” said Phil Flynn, senior analyst at Price Futures Group in Chicago.

Ross Mayfield, investment strategy analyst at US-based Baird, said: “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.”

Analysts say market sentiment was also helped by news suggesting Mr Biden wants former Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen as his treasury secretary.

Yellen tipped as first US female treasury secretary

Fed fights move to end some Covid support measures

Among the big Wall Street share movers were plane-maker Boeing, up 3.3%, and oil company Chevron, 5% ahead. Investment banks Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase closed up 3.8% and 4.6% respectively.

Other big gainers included Disney, American Express and IBM. A rise in Tesla shares took the electric carmaker’s market value above $500bn (£374bn).

At the close, the Dow Jones was up 1.54% at 30,046.2, while the S&P 500 gained 1.62% to 3,635.4. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index rose 1.3%, to 12,036.7.

Oil prices also rose, with US crude up 4.25% to $44.89 a barrel and Brent up 4% at $47.89. The gold price, a favoured asset when investors are fearful, fell 1.6% to $1,806 an ounce.

But the bullish sentiment comes despite US coronavirus cases surging and millions of Americans still unemployed, and some analysts fear shares are due a reality check.

Rising Covid-19 cases and delayed economic stimulus measures are red flags, said James McDonald, chief executive of Hercules Investments.

But it is not just in the US where shares are surging. Japan’s Nikkei closed at its highest since 1991 and European stocks ended at their highest since February.

The pan-European STOXX 600 index rose 0.91%, while the MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe gained 1.44%, putting it on track to close at a record high.

Death of two-year-old in Edinburgh suspicious

Detectives have named a two-year-old boy who died in suspicious circumstances in Edinburgh.

Lucasz Czapla was found with serious injuries after the alarm was raised in the Muirhouse area at about 09:30 on Saturday.

He was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later.

On Monday Lucasz Czapla, 40, appeared before Edinburgh Sheriff Court charged with assault following the toddler’s death.

Mr Czapla was also charged with driving over the alcohol limit, dangerous driving and failing to stop a vehicle.

He made no plea and was remanded in custody.

Police Scotland have since confirmed the death is being treated as suspicious following a post-mortem examination.

A force spokeswoman said inquires were ongoing.

MSP Michelle Ballantyne quits Scottish Tories

MSP Michelle Ballantyne has resigned from the Scottish Conservatives and will see out the Holyrood term as an independent.

The South Scotland MSP left the party nine months after she was defeated in a leadership contest by Jackson Carlaw.

She cited policy differences with new leader Douglas Ross – who replaced Mr Carlaw – saying she and the party were no longer “a good fit”.

Mr Ross thanks Ms Ballantyne for her service and wished her well.

The former Scottish Borders councillor entered Holyrood in May 2017 via the South Scotland list after fellow Tory Rachael Hamilton quit to successfully contest a by-election.

She served as the party’s social security spokeswoman, but was dropped from the frontbench team by Mr Carlaw after she contested the leadership election against him.

Mr Carlaw had been the clear favourite for the post – and won comfortably – but Ms Ballantyne said the party should not have a “coronation”.

However when Mr Carlaw himself quit the leadership six months later, she stood aside as Mr Ross took the role without a contest.

Ms Ballantyne broke the party whip to vote against the latest set of coronavirus restrictions on Thursday.

She told the Telegraph newspaper that travel restrictions being enforced in law had been “the straw that broke the camel’s back”, adding that the party “need to question a lot harder” the government’s approach.

In a statement confirming she was resigning the whip, the MSP cited “differences” on policy with the new leadership, saying: “Sadly for me this means I no longer feel the party and I are a good fit.”

In a joint statement with group leader Ruth Davidson, Mr Ross thanked Ms Ballantyne for “her service to the Scottish Conservatives over the years”.

The resignation leaves the Scottish Conservatives with 30 MSPs until the election next May.

The Great British Bake Off crowns its 2020 winner

Spoiler alert! After providing much-needed escapism, the Great British Bake Off has made Peter Sawkins, 20, its youngest winner to date.

Peter beat fellow finalists Laura Adlington and Dave Friday in Tuesday’s finale, which included custard slices, a walnut whirl and dessert towers.

Peter, a finance student from Edinburgh, said he felt like “an excited giddy kid.”

He was nick-named the “baby-faced assassin” by host Noel Fielding.

“This is going to be a huge chapter in my life,” Peter said but added he would be still be finishing his degree while continuing to bake.

He’s also the first Scottish winner: “I hope I have made Scotland proud. I enjoyed using Scottish flavours and themes when I could throughout the competition.”

Peter won star baker twice and impressed right from the beginning with his accuracy and polished creations.

He went slightly off the boil mid-series, only to come back with a vengeance in the semi-final with his second star baker win, prompting judge Paul Hollywood to exclaim: “Welcome back!”

Talking about the final challenges set by Paul and fellow judge Prue Leith, Peter said: “Honestly it was never in my mind that I thought I could win this.

“But I was pleased with my first challenge of a Cranachan custard slice – Prue said it was lovely flaky pastry with good custard and that I had ticked every box.”

The ganache for his walnut whirl in the technical was described as “good” by Paul.

Peter went all out for the showstopper challenge with his Bonker’s Bake Off bubble cake, which was praised for its flavours.

“Dave, Laura and I were so happy to be in the final together, we were so close and really supported each other,” said Peter.

“This year particularly all the bakers helped support each other through the journey, from day one. It’s a shame we can’t all win.”

He added that hosts Noel and Matt Lucas “were great to be with in the tent” .

It was Lucas’s first series after taking over from Sandi Toksvig

“When Noel called me the baby-faced assassin and said Paul knows that the apprentice takes over from the master – it was quite a funny nickname to be given but I wouldn’t expect anything less wacky from Noel. And I promise you I didn’t kill the master at the end of the series.”

He revealed that after his win, which happened in August, he had to smuggle his trophy on the plane back to Edinburgh.

Once home, it stayed on the family worktop in the kitchen hidden in a box.

Judges Prue and Paul said it was the closest final they have had to judge and the hardest decision to make, but it was to be Peter’s year.

“Peter should be exceptionally proud,” said Paul. “He is the youngest winner we have ever had and the first Scottish winner.”

Prue added: “Do you know I am terribly proud of Peter and I feel as if he is my grandson. He is such a nice guy and he is so eager to learn, you can’t not like him.”

Runners-up Dave and Laura congratulated Peter on his success with Dave saying: “I gave Peter a good run for his money, but he really deserves it.

“I am not at all disappointed, if someone had told me at the beginning that I would be a runner-up, I would take that, all day long.”

Laura added: “I am overjoyed but it’s bittersweet that it’s all over. I am looking forward to going home, and I am really made up that I got some flowers, to be honest! You genuinely couldn’t ask for a better winner, he really does deserve it.”

This series the bakers have made everything from battenbergs to biscuits and rainbow bagels to brownies. They faced caged tarts in pastry week, steamed buns in Japanese week, and in 80s week, faced making quiches and ice cream cake in the middle of a heatwave.

And like almost everything else, the show’s production was shaped by the Covid-19 pandemic.

One of the changes was a shortened production period, reduced to about half the usual time.

“Bake Off is normally filmed across 12 or 13 weeks, predominantly at weekends, and that’s what the bakers were told would happen at the start,” producer Kieran Smith said earlier this year.

“But within a month we asked, ‘Can you take six weeks off work and come and live in a biosphere?’ Everything was complicated, everything was different, but everybody wanted to do it.”

The show moved location from Welford Park in Berkshire to a hotel in Essex.

Before entering the hotel, everyone involved with he production – including contestants, judges, hosts, crew, staff, and cleaners – were required to self-isolate for nine days and take three Covid-19 tests.

Upon arrival, they quarantined at the hotel for 14 days before production began and stayed together in the bubble until filming ended.

Graham Snell murder trial: Accused fed body parts to badgers

A man who killed and dismembered a retiree in a bid to steal his money dumped his victim’s remains in a badger sett, a court has heard.

Daniel Walsh, 30, is accused of murdering Graham Snell, 71, whose body parts were found in various locations around Chesterfield.

On the last day he was seen alive, Derby Crown Court heard, Mr Snell told police the defendant had been stealing from his bank account.

Mr Walsh denies murder.

Prosecutor Peter Joyce QC told jurors Mr Snell went to a police station on 19 June last year and told officers he had “a problem with a man who comes and stays at my house without being invited”.

By the time officers went to his home in Marsden Street the next morning, Mr Joyce said, “Graham Snell was lying dead in his house”.

“Also in his house but not answering that door was Daniel Walsh,” he said.

The next day, the court heard, the defendant purchased 10 rubble sacks and two large saws “to cut through the bones of Graham Snell”.

On 24 June, jurors were told, Mr Walsh loaded two or three large black bags containing “many parts of Mr Snell’s body” into a taxi.

He then travelled to Barbon Close where he “buried or pushed” them into various parts of a badger sett, Mr Joyce said.

Three days later, he once again travelled by taxi to dump parts of the victim’s torso in communal bins at a block of flats.

They were discovered on 2 July, the court heard.

Mr Snell’s head and arms were eventually found in a wood “a little way away” in February this year, the prosecutor said.

“What he did was awful and what he did was murder,” Mr Joyce said.

“He killed him, he chopped him up, he fed him to the badgers, he put… his torso in a communal bin.

“It was murder to get his hands on this old, retired man’s money and just dispose of him as a piece of rubbish.”

The jury was also told Mr Walsh had previous convictions for stealing £5,000 from Mr Snell in 2009 and assaulting him in 2014.

Jurors were told the trial had originally begun in March but was stopped due to Covid-19.

Amazon sorry for Sidewalk confusion

Amazon has apologised after UK customers received an email announcing the launch of a service available in the US only.

Amazon Sidewalk uses customer broadband accounts to create a neighbourhood-wide network for local devices.

It can be accessed by certain Amazon-branded devices up to 500m (0.3 miles) away if the home wi-fi is out of reach or not working.

But customers with a US-registered device only should have been contacted.

And UK customers who received Amazon’s email have told BBC News this was not the case.

“We recently began emailing customers with Echo devices registered in the US to give them more information about Amazon Sidewalk,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

“This service will only be available in the US when it launches.

“We apologise for any confusion.”

Sidewalk was originally announced in 2019.

It means Amazon-branded security cameras and smart speakers can still function without a connection.

For US customers, the update will arrive in the form of a software update and owners of devices which can use it – including the Ring security camera and Amazon Echo – have to opt out of being part of it.

Only certain Amazon devices will be able to access it – not, for example, individual smartphones.

Amazon says in the email that Sidewalk “uses a small portion of your internet bandwidth” for the service.

“Sidewalk can also extend the coverage for Sidewalk-enabled devices, such as Ring smart lights and pet and object trackers, so they can stay connected and continue to work over longer distances,” it adds.

Security researcher Kevin Beaumont tweeted Amazon appeared to be offering only very limited access to other people’s broadband connections.

“It isn’t blindly allowing anybody to browse the internet from your connection,” he said.

Amazon has published a paper outlining Sidewalk’s security set-up.

However, Prof Alan Woodward, a cyber-security expert from Surrey University, said he thought people should not be added to the network by default.

“I think you should opt in rather than opt out of these things,” he said.

“It feels wrong not knowing what your device is connected to.”

Grammys 2021: Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa lead nominations

Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Dua Lipa lead the nominations for the 2021 Grammy Awards.

Beyoncé leads the field, with nine nominations overall, including four for Black Parade, a protest anthem released at the height of the Black Lives Matter protests this summer.

Swift, with six nods, could win album of the year for a record-breaking third time with her lockdown album Folklore.

Dua Lipa also picked up six nominations for the disco-tinged Future Nostalgia.

The British star, who was named best new artist by the Grammys two years ago, was also on hand to read out some of the nominees – including best children’s album and best historical album – in an online livestream.

Rapper Roddy Ricch also tied with Swift and Lipa on six nominations, the majority of which recognised his hit single The Box, which spent 11 weeks at number one earlier this year.

However, there was disappointment for R&B star The Weeknd, who failed to pick up any nominations, despite having the biggest-selling album of 2020 in the US.

The star, who is due to perform at the Super Bowl half-time show in February, had been expected to dominate the main categories.

There was better news for Billie Eilish, who picked up multiple nominations for her single Everything I Wanted, as well as her Bond theme No Time To Die.

The 18-year-old also made history earlier this year by becoming the first female artist to win all four of the Grammys main categories – best new artist, song of the year, record of the year and best album.

The nominees in the main four categories were:

Record of the year

Song of the year

Album of the year

Best new artist

British nominees included Harry Styles – picking up his first ever Grammy nominations for his solo album Fine Line in the pop categories. His previous band, One Direction, were consistently overlooked by the Grammys despite their international success.

Coldplay were listed in the best album category for their eighth album Everyday Life, while Mercury Prize-winner Michael Kiwanuka was nominated for best rock album and Laura Marling was listed alongside the late Leonard Cohen in the best folk album category.

Beyoncé’s nine nominations increased her historic lead as the Grammys’ most-nominated female artist ever. She now has 79 nominations, tying her with Sir Paul McCartney for the second-most nominations of all time.

Ahead of her are Thriller producer Quincy Jones, and her husband Jay-Z, who both have 80.

Three of Beyoncé’s nominations came for a guest verse on Savage (Remix) – the breakout hit by fellow Texan musician Megan Thee Stallion. Megan, whose real name is Megan Pete, also picked up a coveted slot in the best new artist category.

“What? Who me? Oh my God!” said the star as the nominations were revealed.

Korean band BTS scored their first musical nomination – with the single Dynamite gaining attention in the best group performance category (the band had previously been cited for the obscure ‘best album packaging’ award).

And rapper Pop Smoke picked up a posthumous nomination for his hit single Dior.

Many of the nominees are far from being household names, with retro rock band Black Pumas and multi-instrumentalist Jacob Collier listed in the main categories.

There is also a notable presence for songs inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement – most notably H.E.R.’s moving ballad I Can’t Breathe, which is up for song of the year.

The 84 categories also threw up a few quirks. Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill – which won best album in 1996 – is now nominated in the best musical theatre album category, thanks to a Broadway show based on her landmark album.

And Kanye West finds himself in the best contemporary Christian music category, thanks to his devotional rap album Jesus Is King,

These are the first nominations to be announced since the Recording Academy updated its award categories and rules earlier this year.

Amongst the changes, it dropped the term “urban” as a way of describing music of black origin, to ensure the awards were “inclusive and reflect[ed] the current state of the music industry”.

The rules on voting were also tightened up following allegations of irregularities by the Academy’s former president, Deborah Dugan.

The latest winners will be announced at the 63rd Grammy Awards ceremony on 31 January, 2021. Comedian Trevor Noah will host the show, the Recording Academy announced.

“Despite the fact that I am extremely disappointed that the Grammys have refused to have me sing or be nominated for best pop album, I am thrilled to be hosting this auspicious event,” said The Daily Show presenter, who was previously up for best comedy album at the 2020 ceremony.

“I think as a one-time Grammy nominee, I am the best person to provide a shoulder to all the amazing artists who do not win on the night because I too know the pain of not winning the award.

“This is a metaphorical shoulder,” he added. “I’m not trying to catch Corona.”

Coronavirus: Three NI households allowed to meet over Christmas

People from three households in Northern Ireland will be allowed to meet indoors for five days over the Christmas period, the first and deputy first ministers have said.

The decision will apply to all four devolved nations.

Three households will be allowed to bubble from the 23 to 27 December.

NI is due to begin a two-week lockdown from this Friday until 11 December, in a bid to curb the spread of the virus before Christmas.

First Minister Arlene Foster welcomed the announcement and said she hoped it would give people space to plan over the holiday period.

She added that it was difficult to “balance” Christmas festivities with managing the spread of the virus.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill described Tuesday’s announcement as a “message of hope”, but urged people to be responsible, safe and mindful of healthcare workers.

“There is a risk associated with allowing people to come together,” she said.

Each Christmas bubble will be allowed to meet at home, at a place of worship or in an outdoor public space.

It will also mean families can travel from one part of the UK to another without any sanctions.

But the four governments have said existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and meeting in other venues will be maintained over the Christmas season.

The Stormont Executive will meet on Thursday to consider the Christmas arrangements in more detail.

It is understood people travelling to and from Northern Ireland could be permitted an additional day either side (22 or 28 December) for travel.

The first minister said she recognised many people were looking forward to Christmas “get-togethers” as it had been a difficult year due to the pandemic.

“We hope that this clarity from ourselves today will give people that space to do a little bit of planning,” added Mrs Foster.

The Republic of Ireland is due to set out its plans for socialising and travel over Christmas later this week.

Ms O’Neill said the executive also wanted to look to the Irish government for a “common approach” to managing the situation together.

“It’s important to be honest – in a pandemic there’s so little to be certain about but it’s our intention to allow families to have some space over Christmas,” she added.

When a Christmas bubble is formed it must remain fixed and must not be changed; households within it have to be exclusive.

People can gather in private homes and overnight stays will be permitted.

People sharing a bubble can also meet up in places of worship or in an outdoor public space.

But people will not be allowed to meet with their Christmas bubble in hospitality settings or other entertainment venues.

You can meet people outside your bubbles, but this must be done in line with existing regulations.

At present, six people from two households can meet in a private back garden, while no more than 15 people can gather in a public space.

A support bubble counts as one household – so for this Christmas period this bubble can join with two other households.

Those households can be any size.

The executive has already said this will not be a normal Christmas, and recognises that that the arrangements will not work for everyone.

But the first and deputy first ministers said they presented an opportunity to allow people in Northern Ireland to have some more contacts with family and friends over the Christmas season.

Elon Musk becomes worlds second richest person

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has topped Microsoft founder Bill Gates to become the world’s second richest man after a meteoric rise in his personal fortune.

Mr Musk’s net worth jumped by $7.2bn (£5.4bn) to $128bn after shares in his car firm Tesla surged.

Only Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is richer, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

It comes after Tesla was added to the S&P 500, one of the main share indexes in the US.

The new sent shares in the electric carmaker up by 34% on Tuesday, boosting the value of Mr Musk’s holdings in the business.

Tesla is already the most valuable car firm in the world, despite producing a fraction of the vehicles of rivals such as Toyota, VW and General Motors.

And after years of losses, it has seen five consecutive quarters of profit as sales of its cars perform well despite the pandemic.

The California-based firm will be the biggest new entrant on the S&P 500, with a market value of more than $500bn.

It means investment funds tracking the index will automatically hold its stock and benefit from gains in its share price – news that has excited investors.

Bill Gates, who co-founded Microsoft, was the world’s richest person for years before Mr Bezos knocked him off the top spot in 2017.

Mr Gates’s fortune is worth $127.7bn but would be higher had he not donated large sums to charity over the decades.

Jeff Bezos’s net worth is estimated at £182bn by Bloomberg. He too has seen his personal fortune rise this year as demand for Amazon’s services climbed in the pandemic.

Mr Musk, who regularly courts controversy, has had an eventful past few weeks.

Last weekend he tweeted that he “most likely” had a moderate case of Covid-19 and has had symptoms of “a minor cold.”

It came the day before four astronauts were launched to the International Space Station in a rocket built by Mr Musk’s SpaceX.

Spending Review: Sunak pledges to make jobs number one priority

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is promising a £4.6bn package to help hundreds of thousands of jobless back to work as he prepares to unveil his Spending Review.

He said in an announcement ahead of Wednesday’s review that it would include £2.9bn for a new Restart jobs scheme and £1.4bn to expand the Jobcentre Plus agency.

Mr Sunak said his “number one priority is to protect jobs and livelihoods”.

The review will outline spending for such things as roads, police and NHS.

But it comes against a backdrop of an economy hit by the coronavirus pandemic and huge job losses.

Earlier this month, official figures showed the UK’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8% in the three months to September, up from 4.5%. There was a big rise in the number of 16 to 24-year-olds out of work.

Under the Restart scheme, people who have been out of work for more than 12 months will be provided with regular intensive support tailored to their circumstances.

Mr Sunak will also confirm in his Commons statement on Wednesday more funding for the next stage of his Plan for Jobs – including £1.6bn for the Kickstart work placement programme, which the Treasury says will create up to 250,000 state-subsidised jobs for young people.

The scheme, first launched in August, offering employers £2,000 for every new worker they take on, is to be extended to the end of March.

There will also be a £375m skills package, including £138m of new funding to deliver Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Lifetime Skills Guarantee.

Mr Sunak said on Tuesday: “This Spending Review will ensure hundreds of thousands of jobs are supported and protected in the acute phase of this crisis and beyond with a multibillion package of investment to ensure that no-one is left without hope or opportunity.”

The package has won the support of business and industry. Matthew Fell, policy director at the CBI employers’ group, said the chancellor was right to focus on job creation.

“Covid-19 has swept away many job opportunities, for young people in particular,” he said. “The scarring effects of long-term unemployment are all too real, so the sooner more people can get back into work the better.”

Claire Walker, co-executive director, at the British Chambers of Commerce, said retraining and reskilling was vital to getting people back to work.

“Investment in Kickstart, in which Chambers are playing a leading role, and the launch of the Restart scheme, will be critical in helping support the recovery,” she said.

However, economist Nye Cominetti, from the Resolution Foundation, said the government must learn lessons from previous schemes which failed to meet expectations.

“The chancellor is right to put in place help for those out of work for long periods as they often struggle most in periods of high unemployment.

“The Restart Scheme is a big step up in terms of job support. The £2.9bn allocated for the coming three years exceeds that spent on the Work Programme over five years after the financial crisis.

“But for the new approach to be effective, ministers must learn lessons from the patchy record of that scheme, particularly the need for more intensive support for harder-to-help groups, who were too often side-lined.”

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