Omicron Variant and the Impact on Markets

A volatile week sent U.S. equity indexes lower after a disappointing jobs report, dampening Fed comments, and negative Omicron variant news. December kicked off with some fireworks, and the rest of the month looks ready for more volatility as opposed to the seasonal Santa rally investors have come to expect. All three major indexes finished lower for the week; the Dow down 0.76%, S&P down 1.18%, and Nasdaq down 2.6%.

Last Week – Omicron Variant

The S&P 500 recorded its second consecutive weekly loss. The index finished the month of November down 0.83% after rising to record highs early in the month. Equity markets dropped on the announcement of the omicron variant. The variant originated in South Africa but has made its way to the U.S. The VIX volatility index spiked over 100% from an October low to the highest level seen since January of this year.

Fed chair Powell’s Senate testimony surprised markets by implying a potentially quicker path for tapering and eventually rate hikes. Even in the face of the omicron variant. Adding it’s probably time to stop using the word “transitory” to explain the recent surge in inflation. Powell also warned the omicron variant could slow the labor market’s recovery and increase supply chain disruption. The market is currently anticipating one rate hike by July 2022.

Job reports were mixed last week. U.S. private sector job growth was robust in November, with the ADP report coming in above estimates at 534K. On the other hand, the non-farm payroll report disappointed with only a 210K rise in November payrolls. This figure was less than half the estimate, despite the unemployment rate falling more than expected to 4.2%. The 4.2% mark is the lowest since February 2020. The U.S. economy has now recovered 83% of the jobs lost in March and April of 2020.

In other economic news, U.S. ISM Manufacturing PMI ticked up to 61.1 in November. The services PMI recorded another all-time high of 69.1 as strong demand was boosted by supply chain improvements. According to the Conference Board’s report, consumer confidence fell to a 9-month low on rising prices and pandemic concerns. Despite rising mortgage rates, pending home sales jumped 7.5% in October as buyers returned.

Week Ahead

This week the main U.S. events include Treasury auctions, which did not go well the last time around, and the JOLTS job openings report on Wednesday. CPI report comes out on Friday. The market is anticipating a blowout November CPI inflation rate to be announced in the week ahead. The median estimate of 6.7% growth would be the highest since 1982. On the international calendar, China headlines with inflation data and trade balance numbers. US investors will also continue to monitor exposure to China as pressure from Chinese regulators led Didi Global Inc. to make the decision to delist from the NYSE in favor of a Hong Kong listing. Year-to-date index performance; Dow up 12.98%, S&P up 20.83%, and Nasdaq up 17.05% through the close on Friday.

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