Stock market news live updates: Stock futures point to higher open as Wall Street's last trading week of 2021 begins

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U.S. stocks charged higher on Monday as trading commenced after the holiday weekend, building on a strong start to the typically-bullish end-of-year-run known to investors as the Santa Claus Rally.

All three major indexes gained in the session’s open heading into a quiet final week of 2021. The Dow, S&P and Nasdaq each ticked up modestly amid lower trading volumes and light economic and corporate calendars ahead.

The S&P 500 closed at a record on Thursday, along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq, buoyed by positive data that suggested the Omicron variant was less likely to lead to hospitalizations. The indexes recouped losses after recent volatility as the market assessed the impact of the virus on the economy.

Investors will tune in to see whether Thursday’s gains sustain momentum for the year-end Santa Claus Rally — one in which stocks climb higher in the final seven trading sessions of a year, plus the first two trading days of the new year.

For reasons unclear, over the past 92 years, the S&P 500 gained 77% of the time during the year-end rally period, according to data from Sundial Capital Research. The average gain in this nine-day trading period tallied 2.66%.

The market will head into 2022 with several key considerations to weigh but with its biggest focus on the course of the pandemic and rising inflationary pressures as well as on measures the Federal Reserve could take in response.

“Inflation and Omicron are the two most important catalysts for the stock market right now,” APAC CEO at Qraft Technologies Francis Oh told Yahoo Finance. “I think that those catalysts are priced in through the market volatility… still I think the market will cautiously move off.”

Merck (MRK) received authorization last week from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its at-home COVID-19 drug, just one day after Pfizer (PFE) was also approved for use of its own treatment.

The pill developed by Merck in conjunction with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics, called molnupiravir, was shown to reduce hospitalizations and deaths by around 30% in clinical trial data. Pfizer’s pill was reported to be 90% effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients.

“One of the ways pandemics end is significant mutation of the virus. It looks like Omicron may be our friend in that regard, significant mutations different enough from the parent that it doesn’t make people as sick,” True Health Initiative President Dr. David Katz told Yahoo Finance Live.

Investors processed a trove of economic releases ahead of the holiday weekend.

The Labor Department reported that initial jobless claims totaled 205,000, sustaining a downward trend from the highs of their pandemic peak and reflecting labor market tightness brought on by a demand for workers heading into the new year. The latest print brings the four-week moving average for new claims to its lowest in 52 years, ticking up by 2,750 week-over-week to reach 206,250.

Meanwhile, U.S. consumer prices accelerated at the fastest pace in nearly four decades as shoppers confront rising inflation levels ahead of the holidays.

“Workers have a lot of power, and that’s likely to result in continued wage gains,” Girard chief investment officer Timothy Chubb told Yahoo Finance. “What worries us from an inflation standpoint is, at what point do we potentially see some of those inflation risks sort of hand the baton to the labor market?”

Meanwhile, November sales of new U.S. homes jumped 12.4% to a seven-month high of 744,000, buoyed by low mortgage rates and higher demand in the housing industry.

U.S. durable goods orders rose by 2.5% in November, up from the prior month, boosted by a sharp rise in aircraft orders.

“We’ve been saying that this is definitely a buy the dip sort of market because we expect more earnings upgrades to come,” Anik Sen, PineBridge Investments global head of equities told Yahoo Finance Live. “We think that the real debate should be about the length and strength of the economic cycle ahead.”

9:53 a.m. ET: Airline stocks descend following weekend of cancellations

U.S. travel stocks slumped in early trading after major airlines reported hundreds of cancellations and delays amid staffing shortages caused by an uptick of COVID-19 cases among crews and personnel.

More than 2,800 flights were disrupted over the Christmas weekend, caused by the latest coronavirus wave and inclement weather from a winter storm in the northwestern part of the country.

American Airlines (AAL) dropped -2.70% to $17.77 per share at market open. United Airlines (UAL) and Delta Air Lines (DAL) each tumbled 2% to $44.01 and $38.47 per share, respectively.

Cruise ship operators also took a hit, with Carnival Corp. (CCL) sinking 3.5% to $20.45 per share, Royal Caribbean Cruises (RCL) down 3.1% to $77.07 per share and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) trading down 4.14% to $21.78 per share.

9:30 a.m. ET: Markets open higher heading into final trading week of 2021

Here were the main moves at the start of the trading session ET:

  • S&P 500 (^GSPC): +11.51 (+0.24%) to 4,737.30

  • Dow (^DJI): +61.77 (+0.17%) to 36,012.33

  • Nasdaq (^IXIC): +131.47 (+0.85%) to 15,653.37

  • Crude (CL=F): -$0.25 (-0.34%) to $73.54 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$1.50 (-0.08%) to $1,810.20 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -1.2 bps to yield 1.4810%

7:10 a.m. Monday ET: Futures inch higher after Christmas weekend

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): +8.00 (+0.17%), to 4,723.75

  • Dow futures (YM=F): +13.00 points (+0.04%), to 35,845.00

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): +39.50 points (+0.24%) to 16,338.50

  • Crude (CL=F): -$1.07 (-1.45%) to $72.72 a barrel

  • Gold (GC=F): -$4.80 (-0.26%) to $1,806.90 per ounce

  • 10-year Treasury (^TNX): -0.09 bps to yield -0.07%

Alexandra Semenova is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alexandraandnyc

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