2020’s bonkers IPOs, shipping costs, sexy colonel

Indian farmers.

Good morning, Quartz readers!

Here’s what you need to know

Covid-19 vaccines received a boost. The US Food and Drug Administration gave high marks to the Pfizer/BioNTech shot; a peer review confirmed the safety and efficacy of the AstraZeneca effort; and the UAE said a Chinese vaccine also works.

But there was also a warning. The UK drug regulator said that people with “significant” allergies should not take the Pfizer jab, after two health workers (out of the hundreds vaccinated) suffered adverse reactions.

Joe Biden’s victory is all but assured. US states had until Tuesday to certify their results and approve electors. Biden also promised that 100 million people will receive vaccines in his first 100 days in office.

Uber sold its flying taxi business. Elevate becomes the second experimental unit Uber has sold off this week, after effectively paying a startup to take on its self-driving car division.

Tesla drives into legal problems in Germany, again. Environmental groups obtained another court order to halt construction, because of hibernating snakes, of the “gigafactory” near Berlin. Meanwhile, Elon Musk moved to Texas.

Royal Dutch Shell is losing clean energy executives. Several have quit, the Financial Times reports (paywall), because of internal tensions over the oil giant’s transition to greener fuels.

JD Health’s stock market debut was a hit. Shares in the Chinese company, which part of e-commerce giant JD.com,  closed more than 50% higher on the Hong Kong exchange on its first day of trading.

What to watch for

IPO madness. DoorDash and Airbnb are going public today and tomorrow, respectively, with hiked listing prices that reflect seemingly insatiable demand. They’re the latest two companies to join a flood of billion-dollar IPOs that have added to the list of Historic Things About 2020, a year that combined low interest rates with a pandemic-fueled passion for both food delivery and weird workcations.

A chart showing a massive increase in US IPO values in 2020.

That state of affairs may raise alarm bells, given that the last year to set a record for US IPOs was 2000—the height of the tech-led dot-com boom and its subsequent bust. But while valuations are certainly inflated, the businesses themselves might be more structurally sound.

Charting minimum wage in the US

If Covid-19 has unwittingly helped create a hunger for huge IPOs, it has also advanced another arguably more important battle in the US—the fight for a $15 minimum wage. The pandemic has increased recognition for America’s hardest workers and lowest earners, and proponents see raising wages as an opportunity to boost the broader economy while reducing poverty and narrowing income inequality.

Before the virus hit, companies were already changing their tune about raising their hourly pay, or at least ceasing efforts to fight mandated minimum wage increases. With a federal increase unlikely due to a Republican-controlled Senate, states will continue to make the most impactful moves.

A chart showing states and counties who exceed federally mandated minimum wage levels.

Home field advantage in India

Farmers listen to a speaker during a protest against the newly passed farm bills at Singhu border near Delhi, India, December 5, 2020.
Calling out.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi

Thousands of Indian farmers are protesting against new agriculture legislation—and two of the country’s richest men. Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani and Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani have been eyeing the farm sector, and the protesting farmers believe that three new laws drafted by the government of prime minister Narendra Modi favor large corporations and eliminate safeguards for farmers.

All three men were burned in effigy on Saturday. Negotiations between the government and farmers’ unions have yet to go anywhere, as agricultural workers continue to strike and demonstrate. Niharika Sharma describes how the protests are providing fertile ground for international support.

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Surprising discoveries

China and Nepal finally agree on how tall Mount Everest is. The world’s highest mountain gained about 0.86 meters (2 ft 10) in a new official measurement.

A Chinese women’s university football team had to forfeit over hair. One player’s locks were deemed “not black enough,” under an official ban on hair dying.

The coronavirus is even tanking fake travel. A Royal Caribbean “cruise-to-nowhere” had to return to Singapore and quarantine 2,000 passengers in their cabins after one tested positive.

Argentina might put Diego Maradona on its money. The proposed banknote would also feature an image of one of the player’s most famous goals.

KFC made a sexy Christmas movie. The 15-minute film stars Mario Lopez as Colonel Sanders.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, deeply black hair dye, and Maradona tributes to hi@qz.com. Get the most out of Quartz by downloading our iOS app and becoming a member. Today’s Daily Brief was brought to you by Hasit Shah, Liz Webber, and Susan Howson.