Global equities waver, oil up as investors weigh Omicron impact

U.S. stocks were mixed after the close on Wednesday, as gains in the Healthcare, Utilities and Basic Materials sectors led shares higher while losses in the Telecoms, Oil & Gas and Technology sectors led shares lower. At the close in NYSE, the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.25% to hit a new all time high, while the S&P 500 index climbed 0.14%, and the NASDAQ Composite index declined 0.10%. Data on Wednesday showed the U.S. trade deficit in goods mushroomed to the widest ever in November as imports of consumer goods shot to a record, as the coronavirus pandemic has limited spending by Americans on services.

European shares inched lower on Wednesday as record coronavirus infections made investors wary and falls in technology, healthcare and travel stocks led the selling in thin holiday trade. The pan-European STOXX 600 slipped 0.1%. Most other European bourses fell. Germany’s DAX, France’s CAC 40 and Spain’s IBEX shed between 0.7% and 0.2% with only Britain’s FTSE 100 gaining 0.6%. Britain’s FTSE 100 jumped 0.6% on higher oil prices and as traders ruled out a lockdown in the country before the year-end. Global COVID-19 infections hit a record high over the previous seven-day period, Reuters data showed on Wednesday, as the Omicron variant raced out of control, keeping workers at home and overwhelming testing centres.

Asian shares flatlined on a slow Thursday as the spread of Omicron clouded what is the last trading day of the year for many exchanges. There was some positive economic data from South Korea where a 5.1% surge in November industrial output could signal an easing in global supply bottlenecks. Chinese blue chips added 1.0% as Beijing signaled lower rates in 2022, though that was still off 5.5% for the year. Japan’s Nikkei slipped 0.2%. Tokyo is shut on Friday.

The Russian stock market finished trading on Wednesday with a decrease in indicators (the Moscow Exchange and RTS indices) after the daily global downward correction. The Moscow Exchange index fell by 0.97% and amounted to 3741.07 points. The RTS index lost 1.37% to 1,589.74 points.

Oil prices rose on Thursday to extend several consecutive days of gains, buoyed by data showing U.S. fuel demand holding up well despite soaring Omicron coronavirus infections. Brent crude futures rose 0.3%, up for a fourth day. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures rose 0.3% for a seventh session of gains. U.S. Energy Information Administration data on Wednesday showed crude oil inventories fell by 3.6 million barrels in the week to Dec. 24, which was more than what analysts polled by Reuters had expected.