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Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy As OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

Five big oil stocks to buy as OPEC+ nations cut supply have slipped to the lowest levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while starting to rise…

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Five big oil stocks to buy as OPEC+ nations cut supply have slipped to the lowest levels since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, while starting to rise again with petroleum prices as Russia President’s Vladimir Putin proceeds with his military invasion of Ukraine and attacks on his neighboring nation’s power plants, residential areas and civilians.

Led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, the 23 oil-producing countries known as OPEC+ sparked criticism from President Joe Biden and other leaders in Washington who criticized rising energy prices and their negative economic impact on consumers and businesses. But members of the oil-producing OPEC+ bloc defended their decision by warning a weakening economy could depress oil demand.

Even though the “easy money” for many of the “old energy,” oil-weighted stocks has been earned after a “generational recovery” began in 2020, BofA Global Research wrote in a recent research note that exceptions include the recognition of value through asset quality, growth in sustainable free cash flow or balance sheet rehabilitation. Despite natural-gas-weighted exploration and production (E&P) oil companies offering the greatest absolute value opportunity in the U.S. energy industry, big oil stocks should benefit from future price increases. Recent intervention by OPEC+ may be an early signal of firming oil price support, BofA added.

Economic Trends Show Inflation Weighing on Markets and Affecting Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

Interest rates are rising rapidly, with mortgage rates close to 7%, according to the Forecasts & Strategies investment newsletter led by Mark Skousen, a presidential fellow in economics at Chapman University. The 10-year Treasury rate is 4.24%, topping the 30-year rate of 4.15% and showing the start of a negative yield curve that is “bad news for the economy,” Skousen wrote in his latest edition.

Mark Skousen, Forecasts & Strategies chief and Ben Franklin scion, meets Paul Dykewicz.

“The Fed is famous for overdoing it, both when fighting recession by sending rates too low and fighting inflation by sending rates too high,” warned Skousen, who also leads the Five Star Trader advisory service that features both stock and option recommendations.

Fed Policies Aid Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

The U.S. central bank and its monetary policy are largely responsible for the boom-bust cycle in the economy and on Wall Street, Skousen cautioned. The latest employment report was especially robust, adding 263,000 jobs as the unemployment rate fell to a multi-decade low of 3.5%, he added.

“This labor report confirmed what I have been saying with my gross output (GO) statistic, arguing that the United States is not in a recession quite yet, but it’s moving in that direction,” Skousen wrote.

The Fed is seeking to clamp down on high inflation that has topped 8% in the past year. Those who may have been inclined to trust the Fed’s past view that price hikes were “transitory” should note that the U.S. money supply rose 40% during the pandemic. Plus, Social Security payments will rise 8.7% in January 2023, boosting the buying power of 70 million American retirees but exacerbating inflation.

ExxonMobil Leads Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply and Russia Intensifies Attacks on Ukrainian Power Plants

After a bellwether quarter for both ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM) and Chevron Corporation (NYSE: CVX), BofA expects both companies to reduce their risk exposure to an evolving macro-economic backdrop that is supported by “legacy industry underinvestment.” BofA predicted that sustained OPEC+ intervention, led by Saudi Arabia, will support oil prices.

“With that said, we see the relative investment case for both CVX and XOM diverging — with CVX anchored on legacy capital discipline and portfolio oil leverage, but with momentum swinging behind XOM, as five years of counter-cyclical investment drives divergence in free cash flow,” BofA opined. “While we see greater value with XOM, both names continue to offer low-risk leverage to higher long-term oil prices.

The dominant weight in the S&P energy sector is 1.4% for XOM and 1.0% for CVX, respectively. With both stocks moving quickly towards zero net debt within the next year, based on BofA estimates, the investment firm adjusted its price objectives to $136 per share for ExxonMobil and to $190 per share for Chevron. Those estimates assume BofA commodity team’s projected price of $100 per barrel for Brent in 2023, and a long-term $80 per barrel base case by 2025.

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

President Biden recently pledged that the federal government would buy crude oil for the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) near $70 a barrel. The move showed bullishness from a “price floor” standpoint, said Jim Woods, who leads the Bullseye Stock Trader advisory service.

Paul Dykewicz meets with Jim Woods, head of Bullseye Stock Trader.

President Biden’s announcement gave oil traders a new reason to take long positions in the sector, Woods said. For income and share-price momentum, ExxonMobil is an Income Multiplier recommendation in his Intelligence Report investment newsletter.

Chevron Shines Among Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply and Russia Attacks Ukrainian Civilians

Both companies have reset their balance sheets to step up cash returns, mainly through share buy backs, even though that practice was criticized by President Biden last week as he urged oil companies to give motorists reduced prices at the pump. At present, the absolute scale of buy backs is the same for both companies at $15 billion.

In light of their different absolute market values, the per share impact for CVX is about 30% higher than for XOM, but does not reflect buyback capacity, according to BofA. Assuming both management teams maintain buy backs at the current pace, BofA estimates suggest CVX net debt stabilizes at $3-7 billion.

However, with greater cash flow growth from projects secured at the bottom of the cycle, BofA sees XOM net cash building to more than $30 billion by 2025 and topping $60 billion by 2030. This is exactly what happened to Chevron with a slowdown in organic spending in 2015 that led to an inflection in free cash flow and significant outperformance compared with ExxonMobil for most of 2016-19.

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

ExxonMobil and Chevron Grow Free Cash Flow as Two of Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

The two stocks have moved together but with growth in free cash flow, the funds a company can safely invest or distribute to shareholders. The investment firm projects a pending acceleration in free cash flow underpinning an extended period of relative outperformance for XOM, which remains BofA’s top U.S. oil major idea.

In addition, BofA has laid out in multiple reports a view that the long-term oil outlook is resetting after a period of industry underinvestment that “pushed control of oil markets” back toward OPEC+. With sustained intervention, risks to what the market is prepared to discount across the broader oil sector will skew higher, BofA added.

Using the midpoint of the recent trading range for Brent as a benchmark for where Saudi Arabia seemingly intervened to support a price range of $80-$100 per barrel, BofA sees $90 Brent as an upside level that would point to a potential rise of more than 20% for CVX and 30%-plus for XOM.

Marathon Oil Makes List of Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy As OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE: MRO) has benefited from a recent rally in the price of oil to become the top commodity recommendation in Skousen’s Five Star Trader advisory service. In early November, dividend-paying Marathon Oil is expected to report annual earnings of $4.75 per share, up more than 200%, on revenues of $8.3 billion, climbing 52%, Skousen wrote to his subscribers.

Houston-based Marathon Oil is “dirt cheap,” selling for a price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio of 7.2, Skousen wrote. It has a price-to-earnings to growth ratio (PEG) of only 0.61. compared to the U.S. Oil and Gas industry’s 0.51, according to Zacks Research. Anything less than one is considered excellent, Skousen added.

A trailing 12-month (TTM) PEG ratio equals the P/E ratio divided by its growth for the past 12 months. The PEG ratio is aimed at giving a more complete picture of a company’s prospects than just a P/E ratio alone.

Marathon Oil is up 15.78% since Skousen recommended the position in his Five Star Trader advisory service on Aug. 14. BoA Global Research wrote that risks to Marathon Oil shares include oil and gas prices, a possible correction in refining profit margins, significant delays to the company’s new upstream projects that are critical to its production targets, as well as other factors.

 

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

Shell is One of Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

Shell plc (NYSE: SHEL), a multinational oil and gas company headquartered in London, England, beat earnings estimates by 5% when reporting quarterly results on Oct. 27. The company’s earnings and production businesses were strong but its liquefied natural gas (LNG) operation, which involves trading, came in slightly weak, said Michelle Connell, who leads Portia Capital Management, of Dallas, Texas.

Connell pointed out a shareholder-noteworthy announcement of a 15% increase in Shell’s dividend that will begin in 2023. It marks a reversal from when the company cut its dividend in 2020 to clean up its liabilities, she added.

While the dividend cut initially was viewed negatively, it gave the company room to expand its green energy business, Connell said.

Shell also announced it will begin a $4 billion share buyback. While this is not definitively a signal that the shares are cheap, it does telegraph that the company’s management does not consider the shares “too expensive” at this point, Connell continued.

Shell is the world’s fourth-largest oil company in the world, following the largest three: Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil and Chevron. Of these four, Connell called Shell the “most environmentally friendly.”

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

Shell is targeting net-zero emissions by 2050, while Saudi Aramco, Exxon Mobil and Chevron are considered to be “very damaging” to the environment, Connell counseled. Plus, Shell will be building the largest green hydrogen plant in the European Union (EU), Connell added.

“Most oil stocks have appreciated so much this year that it’s difficult to buy them a discount,” Connell said. “However, Shell is selling at a significant discount to Exxon and some of its competitors.”

For example, Shell’s current price-to-earnings (P/E) ratio is 4.86, while ExxonMobil’s current P/E is 9.12. The difference may stem from Shell being viewed by some investors as a pure European Union play, while Exxon and Chevron are seen as U.S. energy stocks, Connell said.

Michelle Connell heads Portia Capital Management, of Dallas, Texas.

ConocoPhillips Is One of Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy as OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply

BofA’s price objective of $140 per share on ConocoPhillips (NYSAE: COP) assumes $80 Brent and $75 West Texas Intermediate (WTI) long-term prices. The investment firm also assume long-term Henry Hub natural gas at $4.25.

Risks to BofA’s price objective are an uncertain oil and gas price and margin environment, significant delays to new upstream projects critical to its production targets and challenges in capturing the price environment due to cost pressures such as operating expenses, capital expenditures and taxation. Outperformance could occur through increased oil prices and cuts to capital expenditures, BofA wrote.

Chart courtesy of www.stockcharts.com

Bivalent COVID-19 Booster Vaccines Could Help Sustain Oil Demand

A new bivalent COVID-19 booster in the United States offers protection against the omicron BA.5 variant, now the predominant strain of the virus. As a resident of Maryland, I arranged to receive the new booster after the state’s health department called me and informed me of the new booster’s availability at pharmacies near my house. Even though I obtained the vaccine on Oct. 16, there still are an additional 200-plus million Americans, who are eligible, but have not yet gained the protection offered by the latest booster.

COVID cases and deaths can hurt supply and demand for oil stocks, so availability of a new booster to enhance the vaccine’s efficacy could help protect from the virus. Cases in the country totaled 97,423,583, as deaths hit 1,070,138, as of Oct. 28. America has amassed the most COVID-19 cases and deaths of any nation.

Worldwide COVID-19 deaths totaled 6,587,818, as of Oct. 28, according to Johns Hopkins. Global COVID-19 cases reached 629,740,541.

Roughly 80.1% of the U.S. population, or 266,031,472, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as of Oct. 27, the CDC reported. People with at least the primary doses total 226,933,827, or 68.4%, of the U.S. population, according to the CDC. The United States also has given a bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccine to 22,197,891 people who are age 18 and up, accounting for 8.6% of the U.S. population in that age range.

The five big oil stocks to buy as OPEC+ nations cut supply seem positioned for free cash flow growth, regardless of whether President Biden opposes their share buybacks. Despite high inflation, Russia’s continued attacks in Ukraine and rising recession risk after 0.75% rate hikes by the Fed in June, July and on Sept. 21, the five big oil stocks to buy as OPEC+ nations cut supply appear posed to avoid geopolitical pitfalls in the coming months.

Paul Dykewicz, www.pauldykewicz.com, is an accomplished, award-winning journalist who has written for Dow Jones, the Wall Street JournalInvestor’s Business DailyUSA Today, the Journal of Commerce, Seeking Alpha, Guru Focus and other publications and websites. Paul, who can be followed on Twitter @PaulDykewicz, is the editor of StockInvestor.com and DividendInvestor.com, a writer for both websites and a columnist. He further is editorial director of Eagle Financial Publications in Washington, D.C., where he edits monthly investment newsletters, time-sensitive trading alerts, free e-letters and other investment reports. Paul previously served as business editor of Baltimore’s Daily Record newspaper. Paul also is the author of an inspirational book, “Holy Smokes! Golden Guidance from Notre Dame’s Championship Chaplain,” with a foreword by former national championship-winning football coach Lou Holtz. The book is great as a gift and is endorsed by Joe Montana, Joe Theismann, Ara Parseghian, “Rocket” Ismail, Reggie Brooks, Dick Vitale and many othersCall 202-677-4457 for multiple-book pricing.

The post Five Big Oil Stocks to Buy As OPEC+ Nations Cut Supply appeared first on Stock Investor.

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Weekly Digest – December 16, 2022

Friday, December 16, 2022Volume 3, Issue 59 Quote of the Week “Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put…

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Friday, December 16, 2022
Volume 3, Issue 59


Quote of the Week

“Remember that you must behave as at a banquet. Is anything brought round to you? Put out your hand and take a moderate share. Does it pass by you? Do not stop it. Is it not yet come? Do not yearn in desire toward it, but wait till it reaches you. So with regard to children, wife, office, riches; and you will some time or other be worthy to feast with the gods. And if you do not so much as take the things which are set before you, but are able even to forego them, then you will not only be worthy to feast with the gods, but to rule with them also. For, by thus doing, Diogenes and Heraclitus, and others like them, deservedly became divine, and were so recognized.”

— Epictetus, The Enchiridion, 15


Fortune Cookies

Fortune cookies are entertaining because they come with a vague statement that can often be interpreted positively. But they are usually not to be taken seriously. This is why I find myself annoyed when I read “fortune cookies” on Twitter that provide vapid advice claiming to make inherently difficult things easy to accomplish. 

Since we are approaching the end of the year when many people start thinking about New Year’s resolutions, I thought that I would provide eight (hopefully) higher quality “fortune cookies” of my own that took many years to figure out. 

  • Almost nothing worthwhile can be achieved without considerable effort. If you want something, be prepared to work very hard to get it.
  • If you hate your job, find a different one or switch to a different career. If you are still young, “retirement” is almost certainly a mistake. Find something that you are good at and enjoy doing and then commit to it wholeheartedly. 
  • Commit to reading 25 pages per day. That is over 9,000 pages per year and will put you at the very top in terms of attainment of wisdom, provided that you read with purpose. While difficult at first, it will get easier in time. Eventually, it will be very difficult to not read on a daily basis. Such days will feel incomplete.
  • Start a journal. Writing for fifteen minutes every morning can make a big difference in setting the tone for the day and keeping your goals on track.
  • Avoid hatred at all costsHatred leads to disaster and harms the person doing the hating more than the target of hatred. Instead of falling into hatred, disassociate from toxic people, especially in cases of lies and deception.
  • Be kind to others, especially those who through no fault of their own have been dealt a bad hand. But never allow someone to take advantage of your kindness. Provide a helping hand, not a handout, and never facilitate dysfunctional behavior. Cut people out of your life who are only interested in money.
  • Avoid envy. The people you see on social media who appear to have “perfect lives” almost certainly do not. Many are secretly miserable and hide behind beautiful fictions posted on social media to fool themselves as well as others.
  • Do not confuse frugality with cheapness. Default to generosity when it makes sense. Being cheap when it comes to health and well-being is stupid, and the same is true for intellectual pursuits. Books distill thousands of hours of the author’s time for the cost of a restaurant meal or less. Never budget for books.

These might be “fortune cookies”, but they could actually make a positive impact even though none are necessarily easy to implement. I can say that all of these concepts have helped me despite taking years or, in some cases decades, to really figure out.


Articles

Consoles and Competition by Ben Thompson, December 12, 2022. This article provides over forty years of history of the video game industry before analyzing the FTC’s attempt to block Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision. As someone who is not familiar with the intricacies of this case, I found the lengthy discussion of the industry’s history very valuable since it provides necessary context. “For the record, I do believe this acquisition demands careful overview, and it’s completely appropriate to insist that Microsoft continue to deliver Activision titles to other platforms, even if it wouldn’t make economic sense to do anything but. It’s increasingly difficult, though, to grasp any sort of coherent theory to the FTC’s antitrust decisions beyond ‘big tech bad’.” (Stratechery)

Sea Change by Howard Marks, December 13, 2022. In this memo, Howard Marks points out that forty years of declining interest rates represented a major tailwind for investors. He likens falling interest rates to a moving walkway in an airport. Just as moving walkways make life easier for weary travelers, falling interest rates act as an assist for investors. However, this secular decline in interest rates appears to be at an end which represents a sea change in the investment landscape. Investors need to be aware that the strategies that worked well over the past forty years may not lead to outperformance in the future. (Oaktree Capital)

The California Effect by Mr. Money Mustache, December 10, 2022. The cost of living is famously high in the San Francisco Bay Area where Mr. Money Mustache recently spent a few days observing the attitudes of people with very different approaches to spending money. The reality is that even in the most expensive regions, spending excessively is always a choice, not an inevitable mandate. “San Francisco professionals live in a place where 25-year-old tech workers enjoy $200,000 starting salaries, yet still have credit card debt and car loans, and they think that is normal.” (Mr. Money Mustache)

The College Essay Is Dead by Stephen Marche, December 6, 2022. Will artificial intelligence kill the college essay? Anyone who has played with ChatGPT, a new AI tool that recently opened to the public, might be asking the question which this article explores. I admit to being a little baffled about the handwringing. After all, when I was in college three decades ago, we took exams using technology no more advanced than blue books and a pen or pencil. AI might help students cheat on work done outside the classroom, but you cannot fake your way through an exam where there is no technology other than paper and a writing implement. (The Atlantic)

Ideas That Changed My Life by Morgan Housel, December 7, 2022. Among other topics, Morgan Housel makes an excellent case for reading. Otherwise, your personal experiences will excessively influence your perception of how the world works. “Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works. People believe what they’ve seen happen exponentially more than what they read about has happened to other people, if they read about other people at all. We’re all biased to our own personal history.” (Collaborative Fund)

Thankfully, Life Is Full of Problems by Lawrence Yeo, December 7, 2022. I was reminded of Viktor Frankl when I read this article. Frankl held that people gain a sense of purpose not through a tensionless state but by struggling and striving toward a personally meaningful goal. Lawrence Yeo makes a similar case. What we must do is to “upgrade” from dealing with meaningless problems to a focus on addressing “heavyweight” problems. (More to That)

The Gift of Time by Nick Maggiulli, December 13, 2022. Almost everyone thinks about money in terms of goods or services it can buy. But money is really the gift of time: “Because everything I write isn’t really about money, it’s about time. Time with your loved ones. Time to enjoy yourself. Time to live the life you want. In the end, all of your money will be converted back to time anyways. If not now, then later. And if not by you, then by someone else. Possibly after you’re gone.” (Of Dollars and Data)

Be Wary of Imitating High-Status People Who Can Afford to Countersignal by Rob Henderson, December 11, 2022. This article argues that we should avoid emulating people who have achieved status far above ours, and instead look to those who are just somewhat ahead of us. People with very high status can afford to exhibit unusual behavior. For example, a famous author doesn’t need to use Twitter personally to surface his writing because his fans will do this for him. That’s not the case for most authors seeking wider distribution of their work. (Rob Henderson’s Newsletter)

How Neuroscience Confirms the Most Ancient Myths About Music by Ted Gioia, December 12, 2022. Music has a tremendous capacity to influence our lives as listeners, often putting us into flow states conducive to productivity. For example, I often listen to The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s performance at Carnegie Hall in 1963 when I want to get serious work done. For musicians, performing can induce an even deeper flow state, as Ted Gioia describes: “In the midst of an intense performance, the music seemed to be playing itself.” This article on music and neuroscience is part of a book being published in installments on Substack. (The Honest Broker)


Podcasts

Tom Gayner Discusses the Evolution of Markel, December 14, 2022. 56 minutes. This is a wide-ranging interview covering topics including Berkshire Hathaway’s recent investment in Markel, the growth of Markel Ventures in the context of the company’s overall capital allocation strategy, the use of leverage, and how investing during the pandemic was more challenging than the financial crisis. (Boyar Value Group)

The Essays of Warren Buffett, January 20, 2022. 1 hour, 58 minutes. According to Lawrence Cunningham’s newsletter, which you can sign up for here, the sixth edition of his compilation of Warren Buffett’s shareholder letters will be released early next year. I have the first and second editions and highly recommend the book. While all of the letters are available on Berkshire’s website, the compilation is organized by topic and adds significant value. In this podcast, David Senra provides his enthusiastic commentary about what he took away from this book. (Founder’s Podcast)

Master of Precision: Henry Leland Founder of Cadillac, May 31, 2020. 1 hour, 10 minutes. I think Steve Jobs and Henry Leland had much in common in terms of insisting on high quality and viewing their role as craftsmen, paying obsessive attention to details. “There always was and there always will be conflict between Good and Good Enough. In opening up a new business one can count on meeting resistance to a high standard of workmanship. It is easy to get cooperation for mediocre work, but one must sweat blood for a chance to produce a superior product. —Henry Leland” (Founders Podcast)

DoorDash: Looking for Profitable Routes, December 14, 2022. “DoorDash was founded in 2013 by four Stanford students, who saw an opportunity to make it easier for people to get the food they love delivered to them. Today, DoorDash’s three-sided marketplace serves as one of the largest local delivery companies in the world, serving millions of customers and partnering with hundreds of thousands of restaurants across 27 countries, run rating at over $50 billion of gross merchandise value.” (Business Breakdowns)


Twitter Threads

This is a brief thread on the importance of reading. It is based on The Use of Letters, a journal entry I wrote early last year. Why would anyone voluntarily limit their understanding of the world to just their own direct experiences?

Checking quotes frequently is counterproductive. There is too much noise in quotes when checked on a daily basis and doing so is likely to make most investors miserable.

The origin story of the Eiffel Tower:


A Shepherd and His Flock in Winter

From Wikipedia:

Frederick Ferdinand Schafer (August 16, 1839 – July 18, 1927) was a German-born American painter. He was born in Braunschweig, Germany and he emigrated to the United States in 1876, at age 37. 

Schafer’s paintings, which mostly depict landscape scenes in California and other western states, are dated between 1873 and 1911. There are many scenes of Yosemite National Park included in a catalog of his paintings. As the weather turns colder, I thought that this scene of an unknown location captures the season quite well.

A Shepherd and His Flock in Winter, Frederick Ferdinand Schafer (public domain)

Here is a description of this painting by Jerome H. Saltzer, Professor of Computer Science Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

“This painting might be described as luminist in style. Paintings such as this one may be the basis for the suggestion that Schafer’s later work was lighter, but the shortage of dated paintings makes it difficult to confirm that suggestion.”


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FDA advisory committee votes unanimously in favor of a one-shot COVID-19 vaccine approach – 5 questions answered

Many questions remain about next steps for US vaccine policy. But the FDA advisory panel’s hearty endorsement of a single-composition COVID-19 vaccine…

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The FDA advisory committee discussed vaccine safety, effectiveness of the current shots, potential seasonality of COVID-19 and more. wildpixel/iStock via Getty Images Plus

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s key science advisory panel, the Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee, met on Jan. 26, 2023, to chart a path forward for COVID-19 vaccine policy. During the all-day meeting, the 21-member committee discussed an array of weighty issues including the efficacy of existing vaccines, the composition of future vaccine strains and the need to match them to the circulating variants of SARS-CoV-2, the possibility of moving to an annual-shot model, the potential seasonality of the virus and much more.

But the key question at hand, and the only formal question that was voted on, following a proposal from the FDA earlier in the week, had to do with how to simplify the path to getting people vaccinated.

The Conversation asked immunologist Matthew Woodruff, who has been on the front lines of studying immune responses to COVID-19 since the early days of the pandemic, to walk us through the big questions of the day and what they mean for future COVID-19 vaccine strategies.

What exactly did the advisory committee vote on?

The question put before the committee for a vote was whether to move to one COVID-19 vaccine consisting of a single composition for all people – whether currently vaccinated or not – and away from the current model that includes one formulation given as a primary series and a separate formulation administered as a booster. Importantly, approved formulations could come from any number of vaccine manufacturers, not just those that have currently authorized vaccines.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently requires that the primary series of shots, or the first two doses of the vaccine that a patient receives, consist of the first generation of vaccine against the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, known as the “Wuhan” strain of the virus. These shots are given weeks apart, followed months later by a booster shot that was updated in August 2022 to contain a bivalent formulation of vaccine that targets both the original viral strain and newer subvariants of omicron.

The committee’s endorsement simplifies those recommendations. In a 21-to-0 vote, the advisory board recommended fully replacing, or “harmonizing,” the original formulation of the vaccine with a single shot that would consist of – at least for now – the current bivalent vaccine.

In doing so, it has signaled its belief that these new second-generation vaccines are an upgrade over their predecessors in protecting from infection and severe illness at this point in the pandemic.

If the FDA panel’s recommendation is endorsed by the CDC, only a single composition of vaccine – in this case, the updated bivalent shot – will be used for both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

Will the single shot remain a mixed-strain, or bivalent, vaccine?

For now, the single shot will be bivalent. But this may not always be the case.

There was a general agreement that the current bivalent shot is preferable to the original vaccine targeted at the Wuhan strain of the virus by itself. But committee members debated whether that original Wuhan vaccine strain should continue to be a part of updated vaccine formulations.

There is no current data comparing a monovalent, or single-strain, vaccine that targets omicron and its subvariants against the current bivalent shot. As a result, it’s unclear how a monovalent shot against recent omicron subvariants would perform in comparison to the bivalent version.

What is immune imprinting, and how does it apply here?

A main reason for the debate over monovalent versus bivalent – or, for that matter, trivalent or tetravalent – vaccines is a lack of understanding around how best to sharpen an immune response to a slightly altered threat. This has long been a debate surrounding annual influenza vaccination strategies, where studies have shown that the immune “memory” that forms in response to a prior vaccine can actively repress a robust immune response to the next.

This phenomenon of immune imprinting, originally coined in 1960 as “original antigenic sin,” has been a topic of debate both within the advisory committee and within the broader immunological community.

Although innovative strategies are being developed to overcome potential problems with routinely updated vaccines, they are not yet ready to be tested in humans. In the meantime, it is unclear how bivalent versus monovalent vaccine choices might alter this phenomenon, and it is very clear that more study is needed.

Is the committee considering only mRNA vaccines?

While a significant portion of the discussion focused on the mRNA vaccine platform used by both Pfizer and Moderna, several committee members emphasized the need for new technologies that could provide broader immunological protection. Dr. Pamela McInnes, a now-retired longtime deputy director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, highlighted this point, saying, “I would make a plea for ongoing research on broader protection, maybe different platforms, maybe a different approach.”

A good deal of attention was also directed toward Novavax, a protein-based formulation that relies on a more traditional approach to vaccination than the mRNA-based vaccines. Although the Novavax vaccine has been authorized by the FDA for use since July 2022, it has received much less national attention – largely because of its latecomer status. Nonetheless, Novavax has boasted efficacy rates on par with its mRNA cousins, with good safety profiles and less demanding long-term storage requirements than the mRNA shots.

By simplifying the vaccine schedule to include only a single vaccine formulation, the committee reasoned, it might be easier for competing vaccination platforms to break into the market. In other words, newer vaccine contenders would not have to rely on patients’ having already received their primary series before using their products. Companies seemed ready to take advantage of that future flexibility, with researchers from Pfizer, Moderna and Novavax all revealing their companies’ exploration of a hybrid COVID-19 and flu shot at various stages of clinical trials and testing.

Would the single shot resemble flu vaccine development?

Not necessarily. Currently, the influenza vaccine is decided by committee through the World Health Organization. Because of its seasonal nature, the strains to be included in each season’s flu vaccine strain for the Southern and Northern hemispheres, with their opposing winters, are selected independently. The Northern Hemisphere’s selection is made in February for the following winter based on a vast network of flu monitoring stations around the globe.

Although there was broad consensus among panelists that the shots against SARS-CoV-2 should be updated regularly to more closely match the most current circulating viral strain, there was less agreement on how frequent that would be.

For instance, rapidly mutating strains of the virus in both summer and winter surges might necessitate two updated shots a year instead of just one. As Dr. Eric Rubin, an infectious disease expert from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, noted, “It’s hard to say that it’s going to be annual at this point.”

Matthew Woodruff receives funding from the National Institute of Health and the US Department of Defense to support his academic research.

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Novavax gets ready to take another shot at Covid vaccine market with next season plans

While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine…

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While mRNA took center stage at yesterday’s FDA vaccine advisory committee meeting, Novavax announced its plans to deliver an updated protein-based vaccine based on new guidance.

Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) members voted unanimously in favor of “harmonizing” Covid vaccine compositions, meaning all future vaccine recipients would receive a bivalent vaccine, regardless of whether they’ve gotten their primary series.

As Mark Sawyer, pediatrics professor at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, put it: “Bivalent is better. Simple is better.”

However, bivalent doesn’t have to mean mRNA, said Pamela McInnes, a temporary voting member and retired deputy director of the NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.

“I want to urge making plays for other platforms,” she said. “mRNA has been fantastic. They can produce it really, really quickly. But it may not give us the breadth of coverage, which is really what I think our problem is right now. We know we induce really good neutralizing antibody with mRNA vaccines, but it seems to be pretty short-lived.”

In July, now-retired NIAID Director Anthony Fauci called for “innovative approaches” against “coronaviruses known and unknown,” such as pan-coronavirus candidates and mucosal options that can be administered intranasally. Nuvaxovid won the FDA’s emergency use authorization back that same month, becoming the first protein-based Covid vaccine available in the US, after Novavax suffered delay after delay for its EUA filing.

However, sales have been lackluster. The vaccine earned $626 million in Q3, leading CEO Stanley Erck to drop his full-year sales guidance to the lower end of a $2 billion to $2.3 billion range previously projected in Q2.

On Thursday, Novavax CMO Filip Dubovsky said during the VRBPAC meeting that the company is prepared to deliver “either a monovalent or a bivalent vaccine for the 2023-2024 vaccination season based on guidance from the FDA.”

“Our recommendation is that the regulatory bodies and manufacturers move to an influenza-like model, where strain recommendations are made by the end of the first quarter,” he continued.

Silvia Taylor

The company also presented data suggesting a homologous booster dose of their vaccine administered eight to 11 months after the primary vaccine series resulted in similar antibody levels compared to the company’s previous Phase III trials.

“Offering vaccine choices — and ensuring continuous access to those choices — must be at the center of any strategy to protect public health against COVID-19,” executive VP and chief communications officer Silvia Taylor said in an emailed statement.

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