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Wall St subdued as Omicron concerns linger

US stock indexes are struggling for direction, cooling off after a day-earlier rally, as worries lingered around the Omicron variant of the coronavirus and its impact on global economic recovery.

Wall Street’s main indexes ended with hefty gains on Tuesday, but few market-moving catalysts and thin volumes in the last two weeks of trading this year are likely to push up volatility. For 2021, the S&P 500 index is up about 24 per cent.

Investors looked for updates on the Omicron variant after Germany, Scotland, Ireland, Portugal, the Netherlands and South Korea re-imposed lockdowns or other curbs.

“We’ve really seen significant selling days in a row followed by a bounce back day. That gets us back to neutral territory and priced in some of the new headwinds, including the rapid pace of transmission of the Omicron variant, and the shelving of the Build Back Better bill,” said Art Hogan, chief market strategist at National Securities in New York.

US Democratic Senator Joe Manchin earlier this week rejected President Joe Biden’s social and climate policy plan, delivering a blow to financial markets.

Six of the 11 major S&P 500 sector indexes were higher in early trading.

Tesla Inc jumped four per cent, leading gains among mega-caps. According to an interview released on Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said he had sold “enough stock” to reach his plan to sell 10 per cent of his shares in company.

In early trading on Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 3.55 points, or 0.01 per cent, at 35,496.25, the S&P 500 was up 2.66 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 4,651.89 and the Nasdaq Composite was down 17.04 points, or 0.11 per cent, at 15,324.04.

Pfizer rose 0.9 per cent after saying it will provide an additional 2.5 million doses of its COVID-19 pill Paxlovid to the United Kingdom.

Additionally, the US Food and Drug Administration is set to authorise COVID-19 treatment pills from both Pfizer and Merck as early as Wednesday, as per a Bloomberg News report. Merck climbed 0.3 per cent.

Caterpillar Inc gained 1.9 per cent after brokerage Bernstein said it expects the industrial equipment maker to be the biggest beneficiary of an easing monetary policy in China.

Markets also awaited President Joe Biden’s meeting later in the day along with US officials and private sector companies, including FedEx, to talk about ongoing efforts to address supply chain disruptions.

A final reading of gross domestic product data showed economic growth slowed sharply in the third quarter amid a flare-up in COVID-19 infections, but activity has since picked up, putting the economy on track to record its best performance this year since 1984.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners by a 1.10-to-1 ratio on the NYSE. Declining issues outnumbered advancers for a 1.60-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

The S&P index recorded five new 52-week highs and no new low, while the Nasdaq recorded 10 new highs and 29 new lows.

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