Wall St gains on upbeat economic data, encouraging Omicron update

(Reuters) – Wall Street’s main indexes pushed higher on Wednesday in a broad rally after upbeat consumer confidence and other economic data and hopeful developments about the severity of the Omicron coronavirus variant that is sweeping the world.

A trader in a face mask works on the trading floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in Manhattan, New York City, U.S., December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Stocks gained for a second straight session as volatility has ratcheted up in the last month of 2021 following the arrival of Omicron and an otherwise strong year for equities.

A South African study suggested reduced risks of hospitalization and severe disease in people infected with the Omicron variant versus the Delta one, but World Health Organization officials cautioned that it was too soon to draw firm conclusions.

“We are still struggling for direction in the face of the Omicron outbreak, but in the past few days … more and more evidence is building that the strain is potentially less severe than prior strains, specifically Delta, which bodes well for economic momentum in 2022,” said Mike Stritch, chief investment officer at BMO Wealth Management.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 188.51 points, or 0.53%, to 35,681.21, the S&P 500 gained 26.11 points, or 0.56%, to 4,675.34 and the Nasdaq Composite added 64.98 points, or 0.42%, to 15,406.06.

Tesla Inc shares rose 5.5%, boosting the S&P 500 and Nasdaq. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said in an interview he has sold “enough stock” following several weeks of share sales by the billionaire.

U.S. consumer confidence improved further in December, suggesting the economy would continue to expand in 2022. The survey from the Conference Board showed more consumers planned to buy a house and big-ticket items such as motor vehicles and major household appliances as well as go on vacation over the next six months.

Other reports showed U.S. home sales increased for a third straight month in November, and that gross domestic product increased at a 2.3% annualized rate in the July-September quarter, revised up from the 2.1% rate estimated last month.

All 11 major S&P 500 sectors were higher, led by consumer discretionary.

In another encouraging development against the pandemic, the U.S. authorized Pfizer Inc’s oral antiviral COVID-19 pill for at-risk people aged 12 and above, making it the first at-home treatment for the coronavirus. Pfizer shares were up 2%.

The benchmark S&P 500 is now up about 24.5% so far in 2021.

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 2.90-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.44-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted 14 new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 32 new highs and 72 new lows.

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