S&P 500 in Ugly Close as First U.S. Omicron Case Rattles Markets

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S&P 500 in Ugly Close as First U.S. Omicron Case Rattles Markets

By Yasin Ebrahim

Investing.com – The S&P 500 closed lower Wednesday, after cutting its intraday gains as the U.S. confirmed its first case of the new Omicron Covid-19 strain, triggering a fresh wave of uncertainty across on Wall Street.  

The S&P 500 fell 1.2%, and had been more than 1% higher intraday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.3%, or 462 points, and the Nasdaq slipped 1.8%.

U.S. health officials confirmed Wednesday that the first case of the Omicron variant of Covid-19 was identified in California. 

The individual – who returned from South Africa on Nov. 22 and tested positive on Nov. 29 – was “fully vaccinated and experienced mild symptoms, which are improving at this point,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser.

The news triggered a bout of uncertainty, with the CBOE Volatility Index , or so-called fear index, surging 16%, triggering a wave of selling in the broader market and overshadowed better-than-expected labor market data.      

Private payrolls grew by 534,000 in November, less than the 570,000 in October, but ahead of expectations for 525,000.

The better-than-expected jobs data comes just days ahead of the monthly nonfarm payrolls due Friday, and strengthened expectations for the Federal Reserve to step up the pace of bond tapering.

In his second day of testimony on Capitol Hill, Fed Chair Jerome Powell continued to reiterate that speeding up the taper of bond purchases would be on the agenda at the December meeting, but added that there was no reason for faster taper to be disruptive to markets.

In sign of skittish investor sentiment, utilities, a typically defensive corner of the market, was the only sector to close in the green.

AES Corporation (NYSE: AES ), Alliant Energy (NASDAQ: LNT ), WEC Energy (NYSE: WEC ) were among the biggest gainers.

Health care stocks were pushed higher by a more than 9% surge in Vertex Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: VRTX ) after the pharmaceutical company reported a positive update from its mid-stage focal glomerular sclerosis study.

Moderna (NASDAQ: MRNA ), meanwhile, slumped more than 11% after losing an appeal against a court ruling on patents – used in the making of its Covid-19 vaccine – held by Arbutus Biopharma (NASDAQ: ABUS ). Arbutus surged 44%, but was well off its session highs. 

In energy, Exxon Mobil (NYSE: XOM ) was in focus after the oil major forecast a doubling of earnings and cash flow by 2027 amid plans to lower capital expenditure.

In tech, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) erased its intraday gains as the broader market reversed. The tech giant was up more than 1% intraday as some on Wall Street highlighted improving signs of improving supply chain pressures that could help the tech maker roll out its latest line of iPhones.

Citing signs of improved wait times for iPhones, UBS forecasts Apple to sell 80 million iPhones in the December quarter, compared with 82 million last year.

Twitter (NYSE: TWTR ), meanwhile, fell more than 2% even as Cathie Wood revealed that ARK purchased 1.1 million shares of the social media company on Tuesday, amid optimism about the future of the company under the leadership of new Chief Executive Parag Agrawal.

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