S&P 500 retreats from record to start the week, Dow sheds nearly 300 points

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on December 08, 2021 in New York City.

Spencer Platt | Getty Images

The S&P 500 pulled back on Monday as investors remained cautious about how the omicron variant will impact the economy and what the Federal Reserve will announce on Wednesday.

The S&P 500 fell 0.6% and sits about 1.3% from its intraday record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 330 points lower, dragged down by a 2% drop in Boeing’s stock. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite was down 0.6%.

Reopening plays like airlines and cruise lines were some of the biggest losers on Monday. American Airlines fell 4% and Delta Air Lines dropped 3%. Carnival Corp. ticked 4% lower.

On the positive side, Moderna shares were among the strongest gainers Monday, rising 5% a day after the White House’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci called Covid booster shots “optimal care,” but said the definition of fully vaccinated would not change. Reuters also reported that the Pfizer Covid vaccine protected against the omicron variant. Pfizer shares rose 4%.

Still, the new variant has pushed some government officials to reinstate health restrictions to slow the spread. As of Sunday, the U.S. was approaching 800,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

Monday’s action followed a strong week on Wall Street as investors shrugged off a hot inflation reading. The S&P 500 notched its best week since February and a fresh record close, rebounding from a big sell-off triggered by fears of the omicron coronavirus variant. The blue-chip Dow gained 4% last week, breaking a four-week losing streak with its best weekly performance since March.

Investors digested a jump in headline inflation data, which came in at 6.8% in November year over year for the biggest surge since 1982. The print was marginally higher than the 6.7% Dow Jones estimate.

“We believe markets can continue take a higher inflation reading in their stride, though additional volatility remains a risk. With Fed policy staying relatively accommodative, the backdrop for equities is still positive, and we favor winners from global growth,” said Mark Haefele, chief investment officer of UBS Global Wealth Management.

The key inflation reading came ahead of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting this week where the policymakers are expected to discuss speeding up the end of its bond-buying program.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell, as well as a parade of Fed speakers, all recently suggested the central bank could end the $120 billion monthly bond purchase program sooner than the current timeline of June 2022. Accelerating the timeline for tapering could also move forward the central bank’s plans for interest rate hikes, which could spook investors.

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