US Stocks: S&P 500 hovers near record high as Omicron worries recede

The S&P 500 is on track for an 87% gain since the end of 2018, its best three-year performance in more than two decades.

The S&P 500 was set to open near record highs on Thursday after early data suggested the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was less severe than feared, easing worries about its impact on the global economy.

Shares of travel-related companies gained ground, with casino operators Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts rising between 3% and 5% in premarket trading. Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines were also up about 1% each.

Two vaccine makers said their shots offered protection against Omicron, as UK data suggested it may cause proportionally fewer hospitalizations than the Delta coronavirus variant, supporting conclusions reached in South Africa.

World Health Organization officials have, however, warned against drawing firm conclusions about its virulence.

As investors head into the new year following what has been a bumper year for the stock markets, the impact of Omicron variant on the global economy will be in focus.

The S&P 500 is on track for an 87% gain since the end of 2018, its best three-year performance in more than two decades.

“2022 is actually going to be a better year than people are currently forecasting,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research.

“We have reopening of the economy, reduction in the supply chain disruptions and we just learn to tolerate new variants of the COVID virus.”

With trading volumes thinner than usual ahead of Christmas and New Year holidays, Wall Street’s main indexes looked set to wrap up a short week on an strong note.

At 8:49 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 84 points, or 0.24%, S&P 500 e-minis were up 10.5 points, or 0.22%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 20 points, or 0.12%.

New York-listed shares of JD.com slumped 6.8% after the e-commerce company’s largest shareholder, Tencent, said it would transfer its stake in the company worth HK$127.69 billion ($16.37 billion) to shareholders.

Latest data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held below pre-pandemic levels but price pressures continued to build up, with a measure of underlying inflation recording its largest annual increase since the 1980s in November.

The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index – the Federal Reserve’s preferred gauge of inflation – rose 0.5% last month, slightly above economists’ forecast of 0.4%.

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