S&P 500 retreats from record to start the week

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 after the index 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 S&P 500 fell 0.4% and sits about 0.8% from its intraday record. The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded 220 points lower, dragged down by a 2% drop in Boeing’s stock. The technology-focused Nasdaq Composite was down 0.2%.

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 3% 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.

Elsewhere, Apple moved closer in its quest to become the market’s first $3 trillion company, gaining about 1% following an upgrade from JPMorgan.

Monday’s action followed a strong week on Wall Street as investors shrugged off a hot inflation reading. The blue-chip Dow gained 4% last week, breaking a four-week losing streak with its best weekly performance since March. The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite jumped 3.8% and 3.6%, respectively, last week, both posting their best weekly performance since early February.

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.

“The fact is that inflation is likely to remain on the higher side for a while and risks of sticky inflation remain, although we believe that the passing of base effects and the easing of supply chain constraints by the end of the first quarter of next year should slowly bring inflation down to more comfortable levels,” Rick Rieder, BlackRock’s chief investment officer of global fixed income, said in a note.

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.

“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.

Stocks bounced back last week as investors bet that the initial worry about the Covid strain is overblown. Many also took solace in the news from Pfizer and BioNTech that a study found three doses of their vaccine provides a high level of protection against the variant.

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

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