FirstFT: Today’s top stories | Financial Times

Jannie Delucca

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Welcome back. We hope you had a restful holiday week. Now, on to the news . . .

Donald Trump repeatedly pressed Georgia’s top election official to change the vote tally in the state to secure victory over Joe Biden, in one of the US president’s most brazen attempts to cling to power.

In an hour-long call on Saturday with Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s secretary of state, Mr Trump urged the Republican official to “find” the 11,780 votes he would need to win the state, insisting that there was “no way” he was defeated.

transcript and audio clips of the conversation were posted on The Washington Post’s website as voters in Georgia prepared to cast their ballots in two run-off Senate races. The outcome of Tuesday’s votes will determine control of the upper chamber of Congress and Mr Biden’s ability to enact his agenda.

Meanwhile, some of Mr Trump’s staunchest Republican allies were expected to vote against approving Mr Biden’s electoral college win on Wednesday during a normally routine joint session of Congress. The obstruction could delay congressional recognition of Mr Biden’s victory ahead of the inauguration on January 20 and further erode the incoming president’s legitimacy among conservative voters. (FT, Washington Post)

Coronavirus digest

  • Leading US medical officials on Sunday contradicted outgoing President Donald Trump’s claims that the country’s escalating Covid-19 death figures had been grossly exaggerated. The number of fatalities from the disease rose above 340,000 over the weekend. A figure Mr Trump dismissed as “fake news”.

  • Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s prime minister, has warned that a state of emergency could soon be declared in Tokyo.

  • Germany is preparing to extend its nationwide lockdown until the end of January as governments across Europe consider prolonging or strengthening restrictions to battle highly contagious mutations of coronavirus.

  • The UK has become the first country to administer the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine to its population as Boris Johnson put England on alert for possible tougher Covid-19 restrictions. The UK economic recovery will lag that of its rivals, according to a poll of leading economists.

  • Israel has become a leader in vaccinations, with more than 1m people having received the first shot of a two-phase BioNTech/Pfizer jab.

  • China has given conditional approval for the first general use of a locally made Covid-19 vaccine. In Taiwan, thousands have chosen to return home or stay and spend during the pandemic, creating an economic boom. (FT)

Column chart of When do you expect the UK economy to return to its pre-pandemic level?                         % of respondents showing The UK is set for a slow recovery

The US broke its record for new daily coronavirus cases as vaccinations continue to fall short. Follow our live coronavirus coverage for more.

In the news

Global stocks jump as markets kick off 2021 European equities bounded into 2021 with indices up across the board, while the British pound hovered at its highest level since early 2018. Gains in Asia also helped push MSCI’s World Price Index to another record high, surpassing its previous late-December peak. Bitcoin climbed above $34,000 for the first time on Sunday, extending a rally that delivered a more than 300 per cent gain last year. (FT)

Line chart of Price of a coin in $ showing Bitcoin's dizzying climb continues in 2021

UK gambling group rejects MGM bid Entain, one of the UK’s biggest gambling groups, has rejected an $11bn takeover proposal from MGM Resorts. The approach for the FTSE 100 company by the owner of the Las Vegas Bellagio casino, comes as US operators battle for a share of America’s fast-growing online gambling and sports-betting market. (FT)

Discovery bets on live sport as it joins streaming wars Discovery is banking on its €1.3bn deal to screen the Olympic Games as one of the main ways to propel subscriber numbers for its new streaming service, as the US television group bets that live sport will allow it to take on rivals offerings from Disney, Apple and Netflix. (FT)

UK court blocks Assange extradition to US A London court has blocked the extradition of the WikiLeaks’ founder to the US to stand trial on criminal charges, on the grounds that the move would put him at risk of suicide. If found guilty Julian Assange, who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, faces up to 175 years in jail. (FT)

Chile populists challenge elite as voters seek new direction When Pamela Jiles pranced around Chile’s lower house of Congress sporting a pink cape and w
aving matching feathers after the approval of a law allowing pensioners to withdraw their funds early, she was not the only one celebrating. (FT)

Chile’s opposition deputy Pamela Jiles celebrates after voting on a bill that allows for early withdrawal of private pension funds in Santiago © AFP via Getty Images

Ireland boosts direct EU freight Ireland is increasing direct freight shipments to and from Europe as businesses move to bypass snarl-ups at British ports after Brexit. How will the prime minister use Britain’s hard won “freedom” from Brussels? Separately, the FT talks to three companies at the sharp end of the UK’s £689bn export industry. (FT)

Iraq boosts coffers with China oil deal Iraq is set for a $2bn boost from a Chinese oil company paying upfront for a year’s supply of fuel. Opec secretary-general Mohammad Barkindo warned that there were “many downside risks to juggle” for oil markets in the first half of 2021. (FT, Reuters)

NYSE begins delisting China telcos The NYSE on Friday began delisting China’s three largest state-run telecom groups to comply with a Trump administration executive order barring US investors from holding stakes in suspected Chinese military-linked companies, prompting shares to slide. (FT)

The day ahead

WHO vaccine meeting The World Health Organization’s vaccine advisory panel holds a closed-door meeting on Monday to examine the safety and efficacy data of the BioNTech/Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. (FT)

FCA-PSA merger approval Fiat Chrysler’s planned $47bn merger with Peugeot owner PSA is set to receive the green light from shareholders on Monday. Approval of the deal will create Stellantis, the world’s fourth-largest automaker.

What else we’re reading

Pitfalls, opportunities and people to watch in 2021 Here is our cross-industry round-up of leading figures, events and trends that will shape the business landscape this year. As we head into 2021, we can share the final ranking of 2020s corporate winners. Where will year two of the pandemic take us? (FT, Atlantic)

Will Trumpism outlast Trump? With the US president still claiming a stolen election, the 2024 Republican field is filled with contenders hoping to inherit his mantle. The question is whether Donald Trump’s ideology will outlast him once he is no longer the centre of attention.

‘Agreeing with the “stolen election” narrative will probably be a litmus test for ambitious Republicans for the foreseeable future,’ said a Republican congressman from Wisconsin © FT montage

America’s dangerous reliance on the Fed Here are the potential seeds of America’s next populist crisis. The Fed is pledging to do what it takes, while America’s elected officials seem unlikely to agree on fiscal policy, writes Edward Luce. A stress test looms for financial system in 2021, says John Plender. (FT)

Shonda Rhimes, an impresario rewriting television’s script The executive producer behind the Netflix period drama hit show Bridgerton has become one of television’s most bankable talents and is on her way to creating a multimedia empire. (FT)

© Joe Cummings

Why Bosnia was ‘left in the dust’ Bosnia had help putting itself back together after the 1992-95 Bosnian war. But for more than a decade, it has been mired in a stagnation many attribute to the Dayton deal that was supposed to be a catalyst to repair relations. Instead, it has cemented ethnic divides, say critics. (FT)

Nicolás Maduro strengthens grip The failure of US policy on Venezuela comes as the political, economic and humanitarian crisis in the South American oil exporter deepens, presenting the incoming Joe Biden administration with one of its biggest foreign policy challenges. (FT)

Line chart of GDP (2013 = 100) showing Venezuela's economy has shrunk by three quarters since Maduro took power

What’s in the EU-China investment treaty? After seven years of talks, the EU has secured an investment agreement with China that Brussels insists will resolve longstanding problems faced by European companies. Here is what we know about the deal so far. (FT)

How to make flexible jobs work It is time for managers to look beyond the crisis and develop long-term strategies to support staff, writes Emma Jacobs. Now is a good moment to rethink business principles and put humans before profits, says Ravi Mattu, and Isabelle Berwick lists the words that sum up where we are heading in terms of workplace culture and practices this year. (FT)

Lunch with the FT Exiled Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya spoke with James Shotter on a year of protest and why she believes President Alexander Lukashenko’s days in power are numbered. (FT)

Video of the day

Will tech stocks end their bull run in 2021? The FT’s Robert Armstrong asks if the 2020 stock market rally — mostly driven by tech stocks — is coming to an end and if value stocks are due a rebound in 2021. (FT)

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