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US stocks rise as Omicron worries recede

Wall Street’s main indexes rose for a third straight session on Thursday after early data suggested the Omicron variant of the coronavirus was less severe than feared, lifting the mood ahead of Christmas break.

The S&P 500 was within striking distance of its record high hit on November 22, riding on broader gains, including in travel-related stocks, which are highly sensitive to pandemic-related news.

Casino operators Melco Resorts & Entertainment Ltd, Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts rose between 1 per cent and 6 per cent, while the S&P 1500 airlines index advanced 0.7 per cent.

Two vaccine makers said their shots offered protection against Omicron, as UK data suggested it may cause proportionally fewer hospitalisations than the Delta coronavirus variant, supporting conclusions reached in South Africa.

World Health Organisation officials have, however, warned against drawing firm conclusions about its virulence.

As investors head into the new year following what has been a bumper year for the stock markets, the impact of Omicron variant on the global economy is expected to be in focus.

The S&P 500 is on track for an 87 per cent gain since the end of 2018, its best three-year performance in more than two decades.

“2022 is actually going to be a better year than people are currently forecasting,” said Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA Research.

“We have reopening of the economy, reduction in the supply chain disruptions and we just learn to tolerate new variants of the COVID virus.”

With trading volumes thinner than usual ahead of Christmas and New Year holidays, Wall Street’s main indexes looked set to wrap up a short week on an strong note.

Thirteen minutes after the open, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 231.77 points, or 0.65 per cent, at 35,985.66, the S&P 500 rose 28.11 points, or 0.60 per cent, at 4,724.67, and the Nasdaq Composite was up 66.38 points, or 0.43 per cent, at 15,588.27.

All 11 major S&P 500 sector indexes were higher, with industrials and financials – which typically gain when the economic outlook improves – posting the sharpest gains.

Boosting sentiment, the US Food and Drug Administration authorised Merck & Co’s antiviral pill for COVID-19, after giving the go-ahead to a similar treatment from Pfizer Inc a day earlier.

New York-listed shares of JD.com slumped 9 per cent after the e-commerce company’s largest shareholder, Tencent, said it would transfer its stake in the company worth $US16.37 billion ($A22.64 billion) to shareholders.

Latest data showed the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits held below pre-pandemic levels but price pressures continued to build up, with a measure of underlying inflation recording its largest annual increase since the 1980s in November.

The personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index – the Federal Reserve’s preferred gauge of inflation – rose 0.5 per cent last month, slightly above economists’ forecast of 0.4 per cent.

Crocs Inc slumped 15 per cent as the rubber clogs maker said it would buy privately owned footwear label Heydude for $2.5 billion in a cash-and-stock deal.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by 2.5-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and by 1.6-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P 500 posted 29 new 52-week highs and no new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 56 new highs and 69 new lows.

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